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December 08, 2006

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Michael Chriss

GOING HOME AGAIN


Thomas Wolfe once wrote that you can't go home again. But he was wrong. Last month, after an absence of almost half a century, I went home again, to P.S. 217.
The first time I entered P.S. 217 was in 1941, when I began 1st grade. I stayed there until 1949, when I graduated from the 8th grade. At that time P.S. 217 went from Kindergarten to 8th grade, after which you went to high school, which for me was Midwood. Eventually, my family moved west, to Arizona, where I finished high school and then went on to the University of Arizona. I fulfilled a boyhood dream when I later became a professor of astronomy, teaching this subject for over 30 years at colleges in California, where I live now.
Now 30 years of teaching is a long time. It is an even longer time back to when I was a child at P.S. 217. But I remember those days well. And although I had never -until last month- been back to see P.S. 217 again, I have never really forgotten those days. They were the days of my childhood, the days of World War Two, and the days when I grew up. And ever since those days, hanging on the wall of whatever home I was living in over the years, has been the picture taken of my class on the front steps of P.S. 217 on that day in 1949 when I graduated. No, I haven't forgotten those days at all. However, they were dimming with the passage of time. Until last month, that is, when these scenes from my childhood took life again. Let me tell you about it.
In the years since I moved away from New York I found myself returning every so often in connection with my work, or to visit family. But as I grew older, these visits became fewer and fewer, until it began to seem that I might never return again. A letter from a colleague in the Ukraine changed all that. It came from someone I had visited a few years back when I went to the Soviet Union -when it was the Soviet Union- to deliver a series of lectures. Now she was taking a group of her students to New York for two weeks, and I decided to join them. I knew it would very likely be the last time I might see New York. It was with such a thought in my mind that the irresistible desire came over me that I must go back to Brooklyn, to the place where I grew up, and walk the streets I used to walk as a child on my way to my classes at P.S. 217. That day of return, which I shall never forget, came on my last day in New York. My friend and her students had departed for home, and an uncertain future. Now was my time, to return to my past.
It was a strange feeling that I had as I emerged from the Avenue H subway stop of the Brighton line. As I walked toward Coney Island Avenue there was a surreal quality to what I was seeing. Things seemed at the same time both familiar ... and unfamiliar. There was the candy store I hung around all those years. But it wasn't the same. There were the stores I went to on errands my mother sent me on ... but they were all different now. Signs that used to be in English and Hebrew were now in Russian and Pakistani ... and English. The Kent Theater, where for 11 cents I used to spend every Saturday afternoon looking at Errol Flynn or Betty Grable, along with the newsreels of the war and a cartoon, was now a triplex, and not quite as elegant as I remembered it. The alleys where I used to play hide-and-seek were now all locked behind cyclone fences. My old apartment house looked ... well, old. Inside the lobby, I checked the names on the directory -almost thinking I might see familiar ones... maybe even my own. Most names were missing. Those that were there were all changed now. I walked the streets looking for familiar faces. Again, all changed. And, strangest of all, was the realization that no one knew me or who I was .... here, on a block where I used to know everyone, and they knew me. Here where I grew up, I was now a stranger. Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right after all ... maybe you really couldn't go home again. But, as I was soon to find out, although he was right, he was also wrong!
I turned away from my familiar but strange street, and started toward the school I had spent those years in, P.S. 217. How often I had walked this path to school, once in the morning at 8:30, once again to come home for lunch at noon, and then, repeating this trip for the afternoon session, from 1 to 3. Crossing Foster and Coney Island Avenues, I spotted it. Oh, the cyclone fence around the yard was a bit caved in, and there also seemed to be something being built in that yard where I had stood on line innumerable times at the start of each day, and where I had clapped erasers when I was lucky enough to be chosen by my teacher for that much-sort-after job. But the school looked the same. I walked up to Newkirk Avenue to see the front entrance. Still the same. I could almost see the faces of my classmates as they stood there on that now long ago day when we had our graduation picture taken. And then, I did what would have been unthinkable when I was a child attending this school: I walked up the stairs, opened the door of the main entrance, and entered into the school lobby. (The Main Entrance was only for adults, teachers, the Principal, and other important persons back in my day; never for students!)
After all these years. From 1941 to 1949. Here I was again! My "greeting" came from the Security Officer (-we never had such a person in my time): "What do you want?", she said. "Can I look around?", I asked. "What for?", she shot back. (I was beginning to understand that nothing got past this lady where the security of the students was concerned.) I told her that I used to go to this school, hoping that might work. It didn't. "Sorry", she said, "I can't let you go walking around the halls". I must have looked crushed, and wondering what to say next. To come all this way, after all this time, and not to get past the lobby! But seeing my expression of dejection, she softened. "When were you at this school", she asked me. I brightened. "From 1941 to 1949", I quickly told her. She smiled. "Well. you're older than I am", she informed me, in what I had come to recognize as a lilting Jamaican accent. A man standing nearby, someone I thought who might be also working at the school, joined in now. "I attended here at about that time. That was when Bildersee was the Principal", he said. "Right", I answered, eager at this friendly recognition of a shared time, "and Neenan was the Vice-Principal". I was beginning to feel a little happier, a feeling which increased when a young, good-looking woman walked through the door and joined our group. After a brief explanation to her from the Security Guard, this new person turned to me and said, "Wait here a while. I have some things to do, and then I will be able to help you". Wonderful! But who was this woman? I asked her. She told me: Mary Teatum, the Principal of P.S. 217.
Mary Teatum was to spend the next hour and a half with me, taking me on a tour of the school which took us up through every floor in the building, from the bottom to the top. Now, when I was a student here, I had classes on every floor, starting on the ground floor when I entered into the 1st grade, and then going to higher levels in the building as I went to higher levels in my classes, finishing on the top floor when I reached the 7th and 8th grades. So as we climbed up each floor, I was ascending through the various years of my life: 8 years of classes in 1 1/2 hours.
We began on the first floor. I glanced over and saw the boy's bathroom, where I struggled with buttons and the leggings we wore in the winter in that fateful year of 1941. I saw the cafeteria facilities where none ever existed in my day -we all went home for meals then. Ms. Teatum poked her head into the room where I had Mrs. Recht for 1st grade. Now there was another teacher and other students, all smiling at us. Ms. Teatum told them who I was and how long ago I had been a student in this room. The teacher smiled even more brightly (-perhaps incredulously too?-) and the students greeted me in unison. This scene was to be repeated by Ms. Teatum, the teachers, and the students in every class we went into as we worked our way up through my years at P.S. 217. Did I feel good? You bet I did!
We then went to the Auditorium, where I have vivid memories of going to Assembly every Friday. The boys wore white shirts and yellow or green ties, which were the school colors. The girls wore white middy blouses with a yellow or green scarf. The Assembly began with the Color Guard procession. This Guard was made up of two lines of about 6 boys and 6 girls who marched down the center aisle, behind another student who carried the American Flag up to the stage, where they all faced us to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance. All were very silent as Miss Bildersee, the Principal, would then solemnly walk across the stage to the podium. Miss Bildersee was a woman with a stern face and reputation to match. She had closely waved, steel-grey hair, which fitted her head like a cap. Hung around her neck, and dangling from a black ribbon, was her pince-nez spectacles. All eyes were on her as she positioned these peculiar eyeglasses on her nose and began to read something from the Bible (Psalm 123 I think was the usual selection). Then Miss. Guinan (I think most of our teachers then were Miss; large and imposing spinster-type women -very different from the young and attractive teachers I was introduced to by Ms. Teatum) would wave a huge baton at us to lead us in singing the various songs that we had been taught at previous assemblies. Or we might hear a recital of a song or piano piece by some student who might be talented enough and nervy enough to do such a thing. Each class would also present a class play for the rest of us, one play per semester per class, and always about something uplifting, like a pageant or a lesson about other cultures.
On the 3rd floor I saw the same familiar oak doors with their brass doorknobs that I remembered in my time. But, across all those years, I suddenly remembered something else, something I had quite forgotten: the windows in the doors at that time had all been taped with strong packing tape. Also the windows in the rooms. The tape made a sort of tic-tac-toe pattern on the windows. The reason for this was our fear, in 1942 and 1943, of possible German air raids on the school. The tape was to prevent the windows from shattering shards on the children. And we used to routinely file out in a quiet line into the hallways, where we were thought to be safer from any bomb attack. I remember that the school had issued each of us with a plastic disk which we wore around our necks. The disks had our names, addresses, and maybe our birthdate. I liked it because it reminded me of the "dog-tags" which soldiers wore around their necks. I also remember that we used to sing patriotic songs while we sat with our backs against the walls, waiting for Miss. Bildersee to come and see that all had gone well. Then a bell would sound and we would all go back to what we were doing in class. And once a week, we all brought 10 to 25 cents to school to buy War Stamps. I remember the day President Roosevelt died. I remember the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. And I remember the day the war ended.
The classrooms, which now I saw decorated with a variety of drawings and such done by the students, were at that time more formal in appearance. Above the blackboard, behind the teacher's desk at the front of the room, hung the ubiquitous portrait of George Washington (by Gilbert Stuart). Under that were the also ubiquitous series of cards around the room showing, in perfect penmanship, exactly how to make cursive upper and lower case letters of the alphabet. I seem to remember that we practiced doing that every day. Under the windows were usually rubber or geranium plants. Our desks were the standard school issue kind, bolted to the floor in neat rows, with the fold-down seats being attached to the desk behind. Each desk had one ink-well in the right-hand corner, and each ink-well had a rounded brass lid, which we religiously kept in a high degree of polish by a daily cleaning with our erasers (the ink erasers worked much better than the pencil erasers for this task). Starting in the second grade we were allowed to use ink in the practice of our alphabet and penmanship. The ink was dutifully dispensed each morning by one of the students -the ink monitor- from a large bottle with a long neck and a spout at the end. Our pens were the straight kind, with replaceable brass or steel points, that broke when you pressed too hard, which I always did, splattering ink on my shirt. By 5th grade, I got a fountain pen for a present, and this made the job a lot easier. (And then, about 1946, ball-point pens were invented, and the world has not been the same since.)
When we entered the gym I saw something I haven't thought about since I was a student here: a stick figure of a man painted on the gym wall, with one hand held out like a catcher's mitt. What a surprise to see it ... and to recall how we used to hurl balls (Spaldings, or Spaldeens as we used to call them) at the target of the catcher's mitt. I recall that the boy scouts and the sea scouts used to meet in this room once a week. By now we had climbed to the top floor. That was where the 7th and 8th grade had been, and where we started "departmental" classes, which meant that we had different teachers for different subjects - not the same teacher all day as in the lower grades. It was here that I really became interested in science, taught by Mr. Shapiro, and it was here that I felt the keen disappointment when another student was awarded the science medal when we graduated. The corner room on the 5th floor -the one with the built-in cabinets still in place- was where we had "shop", a carpentry class where we all made corner "bric-a-brac" shelves (mine wobbled!) while the girls went off to another room for "cooking". (These rooms have long since been converted for classrooms it seems.) It was a special time for us. I was elected the President of the Student Body in my last year. I remember at that time my feeling of being so "mature" when I had finally reached the top floor. We kidded with the girls, and a few of us, maybe, did a little more. We listened to music together -78 rpm records of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, the Ink Spots, Nat King Cole, Dinah Shore. I can still remember the words and music of the pop songs of that time. They were joyful and hopeful. The war was over and a new world waited, both for our country, and for us in high school.
At the end of our tour, Ms. Teatum took me to her office -the Principals office. (I had never been to that office before; in my day this happened only when you had done something truly bad!) There she gave me a current copy of "News & Views". I had asked about this publication because my name had appeared in it in December 1941 for winning 2nd Prize in the Narcissus Contest (Naiomi Selkow won 1st Prize as I recall). I had wondered if this magazine was still being printed. I have long since lost my coveted copy from 1941, and it seems that P.S. 217's earliest copy dates from 1949. However, I am very glad to now have the newest edition. Ms. Teatum invited me to write something for the next issue, which I am glad to do. More than that, I am honored to do so. My afternoon at P.S. 217 was very special for me. I was seeing two P.S. 217's that afternoon: one as it is now, and the other as it was when I was there as a child. To see it now, 54 years after I first came to it, to remember it as I saw it then, and to think of it and all the students who were educated in it over all those years, is a unique experience, and one of the truly rich experiences in my life. I do not know if I shall ever get back to see it again. But that's alright. Because I now know that Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You see, for one brief, magic moment last month, thanks to Mary Teatum and P.S. 217, I was able to go home again.

P.S. 217 ALMA MATER

Oh 217
Dear 217Thy days we'll ne'er forget
The golden haze
Of student days
Is round about us yet
The days of yore
Will come no more
But through the future years
The thought of you
So good, so true
Will fill our eyes with tears
The thought of you
So good, so true
Will fill our eyes with tears


Michael Chriss, Class of 1949
[email protected]

Joel RUBIN

I was a graduate of the class of 1957. I loved reading this.
Many memories.
Lived on 18th Avenue E8th Street.
You mentioned Miss Bidersee she wore a monicle.
Miss McNaulty was the disciplinarian.
She kept our class after school one day and you couldn't leave till you recited a part of a poem from memory.
" Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime and departing leave behind us footprints on the sands of time."
Funny I still remember it.
The leader theater around the corner.
Casa del ray across the Street. A lunchinet on Coney Island Ave and another one on Newkirk Avenue.
Petito's Italian restaurant and new Toy Sun Chinese restaurant.
Safaris candy store Singers drug store Congregation Aguthath Shalom. And St Rose of Lima.
Going home for lunch every day.
Those were the days.
Joel Rubin

Don Z. Block

Steve Kutay, an alumnus from 900 Avenue H, how the hell are you? That McNulty seemed to take pleasure in terrorizing. I never had her for anything but had several unpleasant run-ins with her over gum chewing. A student with a name that was something like James Van Damme was one of her hit men; her way of controlling him was to hire him, and he would rat out gum chewers. He enjoyed his work. The McNultys of this world give public education a bad rep. These memories of her are far more accurate than anything written on her tombstone. Does anybody know where it is?

Steve  Kutay

Since several people mention Miss McNulty, I can add a couple of comments. I went to PS 217 from around 1946-1953. No Junior High in those days. Miss McNulty was m homeroom teacher in 8th grade. Sepulchral is a good way to describe her. She was stricter than strict. There was only 1 kid in the class, Salvatrore Carbone, who was not afraid of her. What I particularly recall is the way she would have us move when we left the classroom. She would snap her bony fingers and say "Stand, face, pass."

Don Z. Block

It was Miss Bildersee, right? Bildersee had a brother named Isaac Bildersee, also a principal, and he managed to get into trouble over a church-state issue. He did not want religion in public-school classrooms. He died well before his sister, and I suspect he and sis did not get along. Dorothy Bildersee wrote a book. It lacks a dustjacket and is on sale for a fancy price and has been on sale for a very long time. I suspect it still is available.

Maxwell Proshan (known as Slapsy Maxie) could not control a classroom. He had a deep, intimidating booming voice, and the first impression a student got was that this guy was nobody to mess with. But he was. He was a sad figure.

Prentky was a departmental teacher for me. I am glad I saw her only for one class a day. She tried to come up with provocative topics, such as why the great wealth of the Queen of England was an obstacle to her happiness. These days, the Queen's face and her nauseating kids would appear to be more significant obstacles. The biggest obstacles the Prentky I knew had to overcome were her recurrent headaches. She always seemed to be suffering from one. How many kids did she have?

Shapiro was definitely bald but he was a hero only because of the rhyme. Occasionally, he would pose a mathematical puzzle that nobody but he could solve. Once, however, a student brought in a mathematical puzzle from Ripley's Believe it or Not, and believe it or not, the hero not only could not solve or explain it, but his anger suggested that he felt the student was trying to show him up. It was okay to make the student look foolish but not the teacher.

Don Z. Block

One of the songs we sang was "Faith of Our Fathers." I liked it. I still like it. I hate religion, but I liked and still like that song. Old Luther had a good ear. To me, it was just good music. Awful lyrics but good music. "In spite of dungeon, fire and sword!" How stupid, but what a great melody. It's important to teach the performers to focus on the sound and ignore the non-sense. "Faith of our Fathers, holy faith, we will be true to thee, til death." The hell I will, and keep your grubby religious claws off my tax money. Now play it again, maestro, this time the instrumental version.

Sonia Smith

I was Searching my history for PS 217
Back in 1965/Ms J.Kramer was my Teacher
In the 4th or 5th Grade
And 6th grade Mr Pomerantz..
What Fond Memories would like to know of any Class Pictures (Around that Time)?

Matty Perlstein

Found this blog and another one like it while Google searching for class pictures of PS 217. I graduated 6th grade at PS 217 in June 1960. I remember Mr. Dessot as the principal. He died in the summer of 1960. My kindergarten teacher was Miss Rabinowitz, 1st grade was Miss Waugh, 2nd Mrs. Schwartzberg, 3rd Mrs. Brickman, 4th Mrs. Kandel, 5th Mrs. Warshauer and 6th Mrs. Prentky for the first half and when she went on sabbatical, we had a pretty new young teacher named Mrs. Okun who lived nearby on Newkirk Ave. I don't know if I got all the Miss/Mrs. correct. Just guessed.

I notice two posters above who were in a class or two of mine, Susan Kleppel Serotte and Herb Yussim. I've posted some class pics on Facebook and the Brooklyn Board. I think you're both in at least one pic. Susan, even came across your sister Harriet on the Avenue J Facebook group.

I still see or communicate with some 217 people like Bernard Johnson and Jeffrey Nagler. My email is [email protected] if anyone wants to write.

Nathaniel H Goldman

In 1955, in Miss Kieselbach's 7th grade music class, there were a number of students of all religions, playing with a Chanukah dreidel. I was not one of them. All of a sudden, Kieselbach started screaming "DON'T YOU BRING RELIGION INTO CLASS". I couldn't have been more than ten feet from her, and I still remember the way that she looked at me, with those hateful, brown eyes. It was my first experience in my life, with anti-semitism. It really galled me (and still does), because for weeks prior to that incident, Miss Kieselbach was requiring all of the students to sing "Holy Night", "Deck the Halls", "The L-d's Prayer", etc. I guess that in her bigoted mind, she didn't consider the above as having to do with religion. Some twelve years later, in 1967, I saw Mrs. Prentky (also a teacher at 217), in Manhattan. I happened to mention that disturbing incident with the dreidel. She told me that she was not surprised, as Miss Kieselbach was an old time anti-semite. I later found out that in 1947, there was an attempt to stop forcing students to sing Christmas songs in the NYC public schools, but the effort failed.

Nathaniel H Goldman

I noticed a reference to a Miss McNulty. I forgot to mention in a prior posting, a very unpleasant experience that I had with her, around 1955. I remember the event, as if it was yesterday. My class was in the hallway changing classes. I can't recall whom I was looking for, when I happened to look in through a window of a classroom, while in the hallway. I could not have been at the window for more than 5 seconds, at the most. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, Miss McNulty came charging at me, with such venom and hostility, that I froze in my tracks. She screamed at me "I'LL KILL YOU". One would have thought that a major crime was being perpetrated. Today, if a teacher treated a student in that manner, for the above, they would be in hot water. Unfortunately, in those days, they got away with that sort of verbal abuse. Incidentally, there was a Miss Driscoll, who was the temporary Principal, after Miss Bildersee left in 1955. She also had a big mouth, and would scream at the students in the hallway. In retrospect, it is my opinion that many of those teachers who were never married, and were old spinsters, took their sexual frustrations out on the students, with their screaming.

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 [email protected] 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.”

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