Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Aftermath of EHHS Fire

After assessing the damage and salvageable portions of East Hampton High School (our current Center School) which was nearly half consumed by fire on March 27, 1962, the Fire Marshall determined that only the auditorium/gymnasium was deemed usable and accordingly it was subdivided into 4 classrooms in addition to the stage becoming a fifth. The old grammar school section was not affected by the flames and continued to be used as classrooms. The Congregational Church, American Legion and Library were also used for classes as we began double sessions - a way less than half a usable facility could still accommodate the entire high school population.

For the remainder of the 1962 school year, I attended afternoon sessions. Depending on ones point of view, that could be good or bad. If you liked to sleep late in the morning, starting classes at 12:15 PM was probably wonderful. If you were a morning person like me, the afternoon really dragged.

In September, my freshman Class of 1966 was split - half attending morning session and the other half afternoon. That was the most devastating aspect of the fire and aftermath. My class was the only one split. The reason related to the number of teachers. The class was split according to those in the college preparation program versus students in the secretarial or industrial arts programs. Because teachers couldn't work both morning and afternoon sessions and foreign language or advanced math or science teachers mainly taught the upper classes, it was deemed most economical and effective to split our freshman class to follow the teachers.

Most distressing and something that still bothers me today was that at the one point where students and classmates need to bond and build relationships and a comradely with their peers, we became two different and distinct Classes of 1966. Some of those scars probably exist to this day, and I, for one, am truly sorry for what it did to isolate and maybe alienate friends and classmates from one another.

If a similar tragedy occurred today, parents and students alike would not stand for such treatment. At that point, the decade of protest had not begun. In 1962, we had not yet emerged from our sheltered cocoons and complacency of the 1950s. JFK was still President. Walter Cronkite was just beginning to report about race riots and freedom marches in the South and our biggest concerns centered on nuclear missiles from the Soviet Union.

Those last 2 months of the 1962 were dreadful. The late afternoons were hot and sticky and the buildings reeked of that musty smoke that permeated the whole downtown.

Many events shape our lives. I think the fire molded me and many others to appreciate what we had and to use our given talent for the public good.

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