« Some Stretchers | Main | Xmas Thoughts »

December 08, 2006

Comments

SD

SINGING
My recollections of school assemblies and the songs we sang there are happy ones from elementary school, but not so happy from junior high. I remember that on assembly day boys had to wear dark pants, white shirts, and red ties, but other than that I recall more vividly what my teachers wore than what I did.

In PS 269 elementary school in Flatbush we pupils in the fourth grade sang mostly show tunes, led by enthusiastically musical Mrs. Augusta Bose (she favored roomy gray suits) with the increasingly more pregnant Mrs. Rosenbloom on piano (by the end of June she seemed quite large and wore the usual two-piece maternity skirt and top with the addition of a thin leather belt above her baby bump presumably to disguise the ensemble as less of a maternity combo). From Oklahoma I remember "Oh, what a beautiful mornin'"; from Carousel, "June is bustin' out all over" and "You'll never walk alone"; from The King and I, "Getting to know you" and "Whistle a happy tune"; from The Pajama Game, "(This is our) once a year day"; from Guys and Dolls, "Sit down you're rockin' the boat"; from My Fair Lady, "I could have danced all night" and "On the street where you live." My happy recollection was that these songs were either melodious and easy to sing, or else rollicking and lots of fun.

From this time I also remember singing "Stout-hearted men" and "This land is your land," the latter absent controversial lyrics in all likelihood. We at that time also saw a geographically focused documentary collage about Woody Guthrie's famous song. I don't think we sang in fifth and sixth grades because I have no visual or aural memory of doing this at all.

Then on to PS 89 junior high (where music was taught in a classroom with piano) and the dreadful Sylvia Beach, she of the storied name but who was not bibliophilic nor Bardic nor sapphic from what I can remember. Mrs. Beach was positively ancient and seemed best to like older traditional Anglo Saxon songs: "Believe me, if all those endearing young charms," the impossible to sing without screeching "Annie Laurie," the thankfully more rousing "Land of hope and glory," and the patriotically American "Columbia, the gem of the ocean." She also wore a dress exactly like one my mother had: a gay Paris-in-springtime-patterned number, with silver gray background, that my mother would have called a housedress. 

All of this hid a dark side that was there but hard to prove. It seemed that Mrs. Beach approved of students as long as their ethnicity was based in the British Isles or in the heart of America. She wound up giving me two "Needs Improvement" grades for no understandable reason (I had excellent attendance, always sang, never acted up in class, etc.), except that I had her in the year of Sputnik and that my surname sounded Russian. My sister certainly thought this and she decided she would visit Mrs. Beach on Open School Night. I'm sure nothing confrontational took place but my sister made herself understood (it helped that she was a teacher and her married name was Jackson) and I was subsequently deemed to be musically and one gathers ethnically "Satisfactory" according to Mrs. Beach.

SONGWRITING
Also back at PS 269 the teachers, particularly the female ones, were thrilled when Principal Selig Shapiro (I'm almost certain that his bald brother Harry, a substitute at our school, was the same teacher who earlier taught at your PS 217) penned a school song sung to the tune of "Buckle down, Winsocki" from the 1941 Broadway musical Best Foot Forward:

We are glad we're in 269
It's the school that stands for everything that's fine.
When the whistle blows
Talking stops not goes
And everybody knows
That this is never never done!

The teachers apparently liked the call to order of the song, despite the ambiguity of the "this" in the last line, which had the effect of suggesting that "talking stops not goes" was not practiced at our otherwise orderly school. The female teachers were a lot less impressed with Mr. Shapiro when he later used the PA system to broadcast a truly terrible joke, PA messages theretofore being used for serious purposes only: "Why are hurricanes named only after women? Because they're not called himmicanes." I didn't get it at all but my teacher, Mrs. Gertrude Auerbach, groaned and was not amused, nor were her female colleagues who later contributed their concurring two cents to her in the hallway.

Meanwhile at PS 260 in Canarsie, where my sister taught (an exact replica of my own PS 269), songwriting also flourished. A song written by a waggish teacher and sung to the tune of The Ballad of Davy Crockett from the Disneyland TV miniseries, touted Principal Israel Solemnick and the out-of-the-way reputation of Canarsie and ended rousingly, thus: "Israel, 'Iz' Solemnick, king of the wild frontier!" My sister, incidentally, once took me with her to Open School Night at PS 260 because she didn't want to drive alone at night. She thought that an attractive woman with a young boy in a car would discourage potential miscreants from mischief. It was OK thinking for 1957 but today's tabloid headline would tell a different story: "OPEN GHOUL NIGHT; Canarsie Sex Gang Bloodbath Fells Teacher, Kid Brother."

YIPES -- sung three times con brio!!!

Tina Beck-Shapiro

My brother Robert "Bobby" Beck went to 217 and I think graduated in 1954..I have the program somewhere....the valedictorian was Erich Segal
I lost my brother in 1996...he was 58 and I continue to look for people who might have known him...I saw a few names from the class picture that I recognize
My brother was a Brooklyn Dodger fan and played softball on a team that was sponsored by The Ten Thirty Bar
Tina

Don Z. Block

Two bags of bones are worth noting: McNulty and Neenan, skeletal figures who stalked the halls of 217 and probably still do. Neenan was another bible reader in the assemblies; she never, never smiled, and she had a way of closing the book with an audible puff sound that suggested to my brainless young mind great depths of profundity. The other bony one, McNulty, ran a secret service of hooligans who reported to her the things the rest of us were doing wrong, usually gum chewing. McNulty, armed with the stoolie's report, would slide through the seats of the assembly and pull out the guilty party. She specialized in making use of the worst kids in the school. And does everyone remember the monitors who wrote down on a pad the names of students who were making too much noise on the stairwells. Are you out there, Richard Landis? Do you still have your little notepad?

Susan Kleppel Serotte

I stumbled upon this blog while searching for the name of the pizza place that predated DiFara's on Avenue J. What fun I've had, reading the blog and comments, and reliving many memories!

While I graduated from 217 in 1960, I remember all the songs you quoted. Miss Bildersee was a very scary gal - did she ever smile or laugh? I liked Mrs. Driscoll, who was a stern but friendly assistant principal. Bildersee left while I was there, and Nathan Dessott (sp?) took over. He wasn't terribly warm either. My teachers were Sadie Rabinowitz, Jean Shulman, Bea Solodkin, Janet Kramer (only young one!), Martha Meyer, Mrs. Warshauer, and Mr. Friedman. He ran the after-school "dramatics club" and taught us to play basketball in gym class. We all used "boys' rules."

A few years ago, my son and I walked from Newkirk Plaza to PS 217. He was incredibly awed by the building, having grown up in sprawling suburban schools in Maryland. We weren't allowed to explore the building, even though the school day had just ended - a big disappointment!

I went to Midwood, after Ditmas JHS ( grew up near Barry Greenberg) and haven't lived in NYC since I left for college. But, my son now lives in Ditmas Park!

Barry Greenberg

I graduated PS 217 in 1954 and went on to Midwood HS. I lived on Ave H and E10th St. I of course remember Mrs Bildersee and Ms Neenan with great trepidation. The teachers I remember are : Harry Shapiro (the bald headed hero), Max Proshon (sp?), Mrs Prenkee (sp?), Mrs Kares,Mrs Kieselbach. I remember Dorthy Morris (I was very short and she was very tall) and Gayle Leben. Also Beverly Geller. Our class was divided between Jews and Catholics (mostly Italians)but I never remember any friction.

Nathaniel H. Goldman

There have been various postings about the ethnic makeup of P.S. 217, among the student population in the 1950's. Based upon the demographics of my 8th grade graduating class, I can state that our graduating class was 47% Jewish, 50% were Irish and Italian Catholic, and 2% Protestant. There were also two Asians, and two Blacks in our graduating class. In 1990, the Class of 1957 held a reunion at a nightclub on Ocean Parkway. I regret that I didn't attend, although I spoke to the organizer, who sent me a VCR tape of the event. Of 184 graduates, I believe that 83 former students were located. Of those, about 60 attended the event. In 1995, on a visit to Brooklyn, I took a photo of P.S. 217 from the school yard facing Westminster Road. It was a strange feeling, as I wasn't there for nearly thirty eight years. In any event, when I again visited Brooklyn, in 2002, and drove by Westminster Road, the former school yard facing that street was gone, as a new extension of P.S. 217 was built over the school yard. The remaining school yard still exists, facing Coney Island Avenue. I saw a U-Tube taken inside the lobby of P.S. 217, which showed the circular staircases, (leading up to the Principal's office), and the plaque inscription at the foot of the stairs. The name of the contractor which oversaw the construction of 217 in 1927, is indicated on the plaque. Last, regarding the school yard facing Westminster Road, we used to line up there to go to our home room in the mornings, and again in the afternoon, after lunch. There were various student guards who used to supervise that the lines going into the building were orderly. Also, the teachers, at a predetermined time would blow their whistles very loudly, to get us to line up. I remember the various propeller driven commercial airliners, which would fly overhead, on their way to LaGuardia Airport. It seemed that they flew quite low, on their final approach.

Nathaniel H. Goldman

In reference to the assemblies at P.S. 217, I have some pleasant memories of them. In 1954, some members of the Hopi Native American Indian tribe, came to P.S. 217, and entertained us; they were wearing their native costumes, and did various ceremonial dances. At the end, their hostess stated "Children, I hope that you can all visit us at our reservation in Arizona". For many years, I was always impressed, as I couldn't get over how many hundreds of miles those Hopi Indians came to Brooklyn to entertain us. However, I later found out that some Hopi Indians were in fact living in Brooklyn, NY. I don't know if they were the same ones who entertained us, but it is quite possible.
Regarding other assemblies, in 1952, Mrs. Wengraf's 4th grade class (which I was a member of) produced an excellent play about the Pilgrims and their first Thanksgiving in America. Mrs. Wengraf had the highest praise for all of us, as a lot of hard work went into that production, including the various costumes, which were worn by us. I don't remember if Miss Bildersee saw that play or not; however, in the 5th grade (Mrs. Goldstein's class), we had a play about the life of Abraham Lincoln. When that play was concluded, Miss Bildersee actually complimented us!

Nathaniel H. Goldman

I attended P.S. 217 from 1949-1957. We were in the last 8th grade graduating class at P.S. 217. After 1957, it became a Kindergarden-to 6th grade school. Now, P.S. 217 classes extend through the 5th grade. I don't know when the 6th grade was eliminated.

Regarding the former Principal, Miss Dorothy Bildersee, I don't have pleasant memories of her. She was a very autocratic individual. She used to come into our classrooms unexpectedly, and state "GOOD MORNING CHILDREN". In turn, the students were expected to state "Good morning, Miss Bildersee". She used to have a monocle, which was kept on a strap, which would hang from her neck. Her assistant was a Miss Neenan, who was always clearing her throat. In 1953, I had emergency surgery, and had to miss several weeks of school. When I came back, I was warmly welcomed by Mrs. Wengraf, and her fourth grade class. However, I had a pass to leave earlier, because of my surgery. I had to wait by the benches outside of Miss Bildersee's office, for my Mother to pick me up. This went well for several days, until one day, when we were surprised by Miss Bildersee. In spite of my pass, she read my Mother "the riot act", and told her in no uncertain terms, that she was not to come and meet me at that location. To this day, I don't know what Bildersee's problem was, and why she didn't want my Mother coming to pick me up, at that location. Many years later, my Mother was still speaking about that incident to me. A person such as Miss Bildersee, and her autocratic domineering personality, would certainly not be tolerated today.

In 1955, some miscreant in our 6th grade class set off a firecracker in the clothing closet. In those days, the teachers assumed that the boys in the class were behind that deed. Hence, only the boys were marched down to Bildersee's office, and had to stand with our faces to the wall, until someone would confess to setting off the firecracker. To this day, over sixty years later, I still don't know who did it. I couldn't enough gratitude when Miss Bildersee retired, shortly thereafter.

Two years later, at my graduation, in June, 1957, someone actually invited her to the ceremony. I couldn't believe it. She stated "children, I missed you all". I said to myself "Well, I certainly haven't missed you"!

Anna Rousakis

I can't find a "contact me" button on your blog, so I am posting a comment in hopes that you may read this. I am a current parent at PS 217 and a founder of the non profit The Friends of PS 217. I have enjoyed reading your posts about the school in the 1950s, and I would like to correspond with you about several things:

1. We are hosting an event at PS 217 featuring Sonny Fox, former host of "Wonderama" and graduate of 217. I wonder if you would be willing to announce this event to your readers.

2. The Friends of PS 217 tries to include a column about an alumnus/a in its biannual newsletter, and I wonder if you would be willing to write a brief column for us.

Please contact me at friendsof217@gmail.com or www.fo217.org.

Thanks,
Anna Beth Rousakis

SD

By the time I entered Erasmus in 1959 the cutoff had obviously moved from Foster Avenue to Farragut Road. Otherwise I would have gone to Midwood. My two friends lived on the Erasmus side of Farragut Road and they would definitely have gone to Erasmus if their mother, a Spanish teacher there, had not had them placed in Midwood. She did not want her kids going to a school where she herself taught.

Similarly the cutoff for PS 89 (two-year junior high school) had probably at one time been Farragut Road as well, but later had been moved to Foster Avenue. The eldest daughter of our tenants therefore went to PS 89, but when it was time for me to go a few years later, the cutoff change meant that it would have been necessary for me to go to PS 198. I was inconsolable because all of my friends were going to PS 89. Fortunately for me my older sister was a teacher in the NYC school system and she knew how to work the system so that her little brother could go to the school he wanted to attend.

Pulling rank? Sure. Manipulating an arbitrary system? Yes. But I'm glad my sister was able to. She was amazing to me then and forever after!

Dorothy Morris

Stumbled across the site while searching out PS 217. What a kick to read your great article about those God awful assemblies. The photo of the Class of 1952 on the steps of 217 is just the same as my Class of 1954 photo with the exception we had a lot more kids on the steps. The cutoff for attending Erasmus or Midwood was Foster Avenue. I went to Midwood and sure missed my friends from the other side of Foster Avenue. Gayle Leben who went to Erasmus was my best friend at 217 and I still think about her. Thanks for your great site! A real trip down memory lane!

Toby Ballin

The blouse we wore with the orange scarf was called a "middy," as in "a woman's or child's loose blouse with a collar that is cut deep and square at the back and tapering to the front, resembling that worn by a sailor."

Does anyone remember the ten qualities posted on the walls in our classrooms and, if it was your time period, near Mr. Blickstein's office? Someone remembers that there were ten but can only come up with four (Self Control, Courtesy, Dependability, Cooperation) so any help with the other six would be greatly appreciated.

Many thanks.

Herb Yussim

Hmmm, are my memories that foggy (writing from my secluded home in the Oregon woods)? I was born in Dec '48 so I began school at PS 217 in '54? We had one Chinese boy, one Italian girl and one Black boy; everyone else was Jewish middle class. I dont remember the color of the tie, just that we wore them, had to have clean fingernails and a hankie in a (back) pocket too. I remember singing 'My Name is Dr Ironbeard', twiddle widdle wick, boom, boom. My teachers were Mrs Solotkin, Mrs Rice, Mr Frieidman, and I seem to remember an Asst Principal, Miss Driscall (sp?)...and she was a tall WASP and I think she knew she was out of place.
I remember singing Do Ya Ken John Peale...but I thought I sang that at the Brooklyn Museum's Children's Chorus under the direction of John Motley. There were also Saturday mornings in the basement of the Library near Erasmus Hall High School off Flatbush Ave, where kids sang folk songs under the direction of one of the Banjo picking beatnicks of the day...for all I know it was Pete Seeger, but I was too young to know or care. I have 8mm film of all that so maybe I should look at the film (if it doesnt fall apart due to ancient splices). Also Dad liked to go to the fountain at Washington Square Park in the Village on Sunday mornings to listen, sing with, speak with and meet the beatnicks of the day.

Helen Bloch

I went to PS 268 but the routine you've described and the uniforms are almost identical to my memories. At 268, the boys wore these short red crossover ties that had a snap in the middle. I have no idea what you would call them. We also had a color guard who would march into the auditorium carrying the flags. Sometimes students would get to read the hymn at assembly. I wonder if these practices were
citywide or just in Brooklyn? Separation of church and state wasn't a big issue then I guess.

Vivian

Did I remember all the lyrics out of my own head? No, Stu, I remembered bits and pieces and googled for the rest of the words. Sorry to disappoint you.

Stuart Blickstein

3 notes ....
1. Vivian - Do you really remember all of those lyrics, or did you use a cheat sheet, so to speak.
2. The girls wore 'middie blouses'. And for boys forgot their ties, Mrs. Graves kept a ready supply of green fabric scraps (an unusually kind description) for us to wear.
3. I'd like to contact the person who went to PS 193. My uncle was the principal there.

David Schacker

Maybe the P.S. stood for "Public Stalag."

David Schacker

Loved the bit about “size places.” Did you have to “square your corners” on your way into Assembly, or when entering the building from the schoolyard? We did, or else you got put in “the coop” (not the co-op, the coop) by a Guard or one of his Monitors. Three times in the coop and you were sent to Mr. Burke.

epearl

I went to P.S. 193 in Brooklyn and while I don't recall what the boys wore to assembly, I can tell you what the girls wore: Dark blue or black skirts, with a white blouse and an orange scarf around our necks. Why we wore orange scarfs is a mystery to me. I can't attach any significance to the color other than pumpkins at Halloween, but that was what the elders at P.S. 193 considered acceptable for young girls going to assembly.

David Schacker

What did we sing at P.S. 102? Every morning in 8th grade Miss F (an old isolationist who used to rail against FDR getting us into WW2) had us start the day with songs from a big silver-colored songbook. I remember two of the songs, songs that any red-blooded Brooklyn kid would love singing: “Hi Ho, Come To The Fair” and “Do Ye Ken, John Peale?”. Do you believe it: “Hi F---ing Ho, Come To The Fair”??? One morning Miss F made the mistake of asking us what song we’d like to sing, and the class bad boy, Victor J, who was always cracking wise, piped up: “Brooklyn Boogie.” Needless to say, young Master J was dealt with severely, but in retrospect he must be given points for honesty. We also sang a lot in Assembly (white shirt and red tie at P.S. 102); lots of Stephen Foster songs. I used to wince at the word “black” every time we sang “Old Black Joe,” but that was before it was okay to be black. (There were no blacks in the school.) At Thanksgiving, of course, the hymn which, until you filled me in, I remembered as: “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing / With something and something alive alive-o....” (I once had some lines to say in a Thanksgiving pageant, a gripping reenactment of the first Thanksgiving. I remember I couldn’t understand my line which started: “It is meat that we gather here...” Nobody would explain it to me so I obediently said it: “It is meat that we gather here...” I figured it had to do with the turkey, but no one ever explained whether it was white meat or dark meat.) At Christmas we sang carols, lots and lots of carols. Miss F, who led the assembly-singing, used to get very upset when we sang “Silent Night.” During the upward glissando in “Sleep in heavenly pe-e-e-e-eace” we would slide through every intermediate quarter-tone on our way up, everyone ascending at different rates. We must have sounded like 200 out-of-tune Hawaiian guitars. I always enjoyed singing Christmas carols, but as one of the two or three Jews in the whole school I didn’t think it was right for me to sing the words “Jesus” and “Christ.” Whenever these words came up I would slur over them, so at the end of the second verse of “Silent Night” it always came out something like “Crelmm our savior is born.”

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Blogs I Read

Archives