Kage School, a Picture with a Question Mark

Students in front of Kage School in Cape Girardeau circa 1965-66

It wasn’t until I had looked at this picture five or six times that I realized that the students are forming a question mark.

That leads me to believe that I must have shot the picture for a “What’s going to happen to Kage School?” story.

Since the school, which was established in 1880, closed May 20, 1966, exactly 112 years after its creation, that’s probably what it was.

One of the last one-room schools

Interior of Cape Girardeau's Kage School before it closed in 1966

The National Register of Historic Places Registration Form has fascinating factoids buried all through it.

  • It was one of the last one-room school houses in the area, right up until it closed.
  • It was unusual because of its racial and economic diversity. Enrollment included white children from well-established families, the district’s African-American students from as far back as 1889 or earlier and children from the County Poor Farm.
  • Because of the need for children to work on family farms, the school term was usually only the three or four winter months.
  • The current brick building was erected in 1880 for a low bid of $1,200. (Additions and changes brought the total to $1,600).
  • The original log cabin school cost $180.25, including a $9.25 fireplace. After the new building was completed, the old one was sold to Henry Klaproth for $13.
  • Electricity and lights were installed January 21, 1938, most likely as a result of a WPA project to upgrade schools.

The long, cold walk

Outhouse behind Cape Girardau's Kage School

The school started serving hot lunches in 1933 once a week. Later a makeshift cafeteria was created by erecting a partition in a back corner of the classroom. Times were tough and Kage was the first rural school in the area to serve a hot lunch.

One thing the school DIDN’T have was indoor bathrooms. Outhouses were used until the school closed.

Updated photos

Here’s what Kage School looks like today, including old initials carved into the brick walls.

They Have Vampires; WE had Beatles

September, 1965, I heard that The Beatles’ movie Help! was going to play at the Esquire. It had gotten all kinds of buzz everywhere else it played, so I decided to do something unusual to cover it.

Beatles movie Help! plays at the Esquire Theater in Cape Girardeau in 1965I was going to use infrared film and infrared flashbulbs to photograph the audience’s reactions without drawing attention to myself. If you were looking directly at the flashbulb when it went off, you might see a dull glow of the filament, but it was otherwise invisible.

Infrared light makes some colors and skin tones look strange and the years have not been kind to the negatives, but it’s still fun to look back at a more innocent age.

The goal was to be unobtrusive

The Missourian normally wanted full names, addresses and the names of parents, but the editor understood that I needed to be unobtrusive and waived the rule.

Because of that, I only know (or can guess) at a few of the audience members.

The girl on the left, for example, is Marty Perry Riley, who would become my sister-in-law four years later.

A few Central High students showed up

Pat Sommers, second from left and Phil Vinyard, to his right, watch Help!The person second from the left is Pat Sommers; Phil Vinyard is next to him on the right. I think the popcorn muncher on the right is Jim Stone, but he denies it. He thinks the fellow on the far left is Bill Wilson; Terry Hopkins guessed Jim Wilson. I’ll let someone else make the call.

Pat Johnson watches Beatles movie Help!I’m sure the girl on the right is Pat Johnson. We not only went to high school together, but we spent eight years as classmates at Trinity Lutheran School.

Everyone else is a mystery to me. Feel free to comment and I’ll update the information.

Denny O’Neil wrote the story

Denny O’Neil was the reporter assigned to do the story to accompany my pictures. He went on to gain fame in the comic book business after he left The Missourian.

His best-known works include Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman with Neal Adams, The Shadow with Mike Kaluta and The Question with Denys Cowan, all of which were hailed for their sophisticated stories that expanded the artistic potential of the mainstream portion of the medium. As an editor, he is principally known for editing the various Batman titles. Today, he sits on the board of directors of the charity The Hero Initiative.

Beatles movie Help! plays at the Esquire Theater in Cape Girardeau in 1965He was one of the best newspaper feature writers I ever worked with. You’ll hear more later about us pairing up to cover Millie the Duck at Capaha Park and Buck Nelson’s Flying Saucer Convention.

Excerpts from The Southeast Missourian

By Dennis O’Neil

Missourian Staff Writer

Dim the house lights. Let the ritual begin.

Beatles movie Help! plays at the Esquire Theater in Cape Girardeau in 1965The screen flickers, there are a few lines of dialog, a few titters from the assembled worshipers, then the ear-splitting shriek of a hundred young female voices raised in simultaneous adoration.

A great, natural phenomenon is present. On the movie screen four young men – The Beatles, the pop-songsters supreme, the Twentieth Century’s equivalent of minor deities – are singing “Help, I need sumbodah” and every girl in the audience would like to be that sumbodah.

Beatles movie Help! plays at the Esquire Theater in Cape Girardeau in 1965Grandmothers and spinsters, too, would like to help these shaggy performers. Because, astonishingly, their’s is not sex appeal. Other pop singers raised to the stars on heaps of adolescent dollars – Elvis, the young Frank Sinatra, and going way back, Rudy Valle – made a strong appeal to the three-lettered feeling. Not the Beatles.

They are funny, these Beatles, they generate giggles, not sighs. they are cuddly, like teddy bears. And they are genuinely talented. Leonard Bernstein, conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, composer and conductor of the classics, calls their home-brewed music a “small art form.”

Enjoy the gallery

Click on any image to make it larger, then step through the photos by clicking on the left or right side. And, like the Beatles, I need help from sum-bodah to put names with the pictures. Please leave comments if you recognize yourself or a friend.