You’d never know one of Cape’s westward expansion elementary schools ever existed. When Friend Shari, who lived down the block from the school, and I visited it February 12, there wasn’t a trace left. Oh, sure, if you look closely, the old building’s cupola barely peeks above the new building, but that’s kind of like hearing the echo of the music and not the concert.
We were curious about all the playground balls scattered about. Maybe the kids kicked them out into the mud and then were told not to retrieve them. They provided an interesting colorful counterpoint to the gumbo clay mud.
View looking south
This is the northeast corner of the old school lawn looking to the south.
Huge paved play area
There’s plenty of space for basketball and other sports. The perimeter of the paved area is marked off for a running track, but I’d sure hate to think of running laps on concrete. (OK, to be honest, I hate to think of running laps on anything.)
See that DONATE Button at the top left of the page? You folks owe me. I took one for the team Wednesday afternoon at Franklin School.
A couple of Facebook friends posted that demolition of the old school had started, so I figured I’d better get over there before it was too late. I saw a story in The Missourian that said that workers had hit a snag when they stirred up some honeybees. One worker had to be taken to the hospital and a beekeeper was brought in to deal with the situation.
What happened to Ben Franklin?
I had something else I could shoot to let things cool down, so I didn’t get to Franklin until early afternoon. The job site was quiet. No equipment was working and no workers were around. I held my camera over the fence to take a photo of the ripped-up pedestal where Benjamin Franklin, the school’s namesake, used to stand at the southeast corner of the campus. (I wonder if he was salvaged.)
Steps and sidewalk coming out
Then, I wandered to the front of the school to take some shots of the steps where it has been said that some introductory biology classes had been offered. Class looks like it has been dismissed for good.
I saw an open gate on the north side of the school. An open gate to me means an invitation, so I walked into the parking lot to see an open supply trailer and a couple of trucks. My intention was to find the foreman to get permission to walk around the site since there was no work going on, but I couldn’t find anyone.
Since there was no one to ask, and because I was already there, I opted to observe the “it’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission rule.” I REALLY wanted to see if they had preserved the old flag pole.
Bees and rattlesnakes
I had just taken the first photo of it being on the ground when I saw a dark object buzzing around my nose. “This isn’t good,” I thought. Just about that time, I felt somebody stick a red-hot poker onto my lip.
I knew that feeling. In the mid-70s, on the way back from covering a trucker strike in Georgia and Alabama, I read that Whigham, Ga., was holding a rattlesnake roundup. I called the office, told ’em I’d be on the road another day
I soon found myself wandering around a Georgia pine forest on a chilly foggy morning with a guy who said the unusually warm weather was keeping the snakes above ground instead of curled up in gopher turtle burrows. (My new buddy would stick a long plastic pipe down the gopher hole, pour down a couple of ounces of gasoline and wait for the fumes to drive the snake to the surface. They weren’t home, unfortunately.)
Since they were on top of the ground, that meant the snakes had as good of a chance of finding us as we did of finding them. I finally got a shot of him draping a four-foot rattler around his neck, and we headed back to the snake pen where the hunters dumped their catches (live and very unhappy, by the way) into a fenced-off area. They were destined for skinning and being eaten.
I was invited into the area. Much against my better judgement, I stepped into the pen. I was assured that rattlers can’t strike longer than their length, so I was “perfectly safe.” I was concentrating on (a) trying to figure out how long my subject was (and adding a couple of feet for safety), and focusing on his flickering tongue when I felt that red-hot poker hit my thumb.
Dead in Whigham
“This boy is dead,” I thought. “Somewhere in the back of Editor & Publisher, the journalism trade magazine, my passing will be dutifully noted: ‘Ken Steinhoff, Palm Beach Post director of photography, died in the line of duty. He wasn’t covering a war; wasn’t trapped in a burning building trying to save an old woman’s Cocker Spaniel; didn’t sacrifice his life pushing a child out of the path of a speeding auto; no, he died of stupidity by stepping into a pen of unhappy rattlesnakes in a nowhere town in Georgia.'”
I found out to my chagrin, surprise and pleasure that I was not dead: that I hadn’t tangled with a rattlesnake, but had stirred up a nest of ground wasps. Still, I decided that the photographs I had taken in the pen were sufficient for my needs and exited quickly.
Back to Franklin
The bee had friends
After the red-hot poker to the lip, I noticed half a dozen other buzzing objects starting to circle my head. Having read that having one bee sting someone will sometimes set the whole hive into a frenzy, I took two more frames and walked quickly and calmly back to my car. I yanked the stinger out of my lip, taking some small satisfaction in knowing THAT bee isn’t going to sting anybody else. (The tiny object at the end of my thumbnail is the stinger.)
Sister-in-law Marty Riley lives a few blocks away from the school, so I stopped by her house to get some ice for a rapidly swelling lip. She, unfortunately, wasn’t home.
I decided drop by The Missourian to see librarian Sharon Sanders, figuring that if I went into apocalyptic shock and fell twitching on the floor Fred Lynch, could shoot a picture of me, filling his spot news quota without leaving the office. Photographers stick together.
One final bee story: my only Workers Comp claim as a photographer came from a bee-related incident. When I got back to the office, I dutifully filled out H.R.’s Description of Injury form: “I was assigned to photograph what was supposed to be 14 million dead bees. The beekeeper wanted to show me his 14,000,000 bee loss, so he kicked the hive apart. 13,999,999 bees were dead. One was not.”
Stings more than the bee
I didn’t go to Franklin, so I shouldn’t have any strong feelings about the school. Still, seeing the flag pole on the ground gave me a feeling of loss. I wondered how many proud youngsters had raised and lowered the flag on that pole. I could hear the sound of the metal clips that secured the flag to the halyards banging against the pole on a windy day.
I also thought of how this flag pole and base was a mirror image of one I photographed in front of Washington School before it was torn down. They could save a few pieces of facade, but not a classic flag pole.
Photo Gallery of Franklin School
I wish I had more photos, but you guys don’t pay enough to keep me shooting with bees swarming around. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.
Brother Mark, Mother and I were taking a short cut through New Lorimier Cemetery so we could see if the flowers were still on Dad’s grave. They were. Instead of cutting through Fairmount Cemetery and coming out near the library, I whipped a left to get a mug shot of the old Notre Dame High School. I knew I had some photos of some school plays and other activities, so it would be good to bag something new to go along with them.
As it turned out, the light was really nice on the building this afternoon. What surprised me when I was half-way to the entrance was all the graffiti on the front of the building. And, it looked old. Surely this wouldn’t have been allowed to stay there when I was in school.
On closed examination, though, it was a mural or artwork. The drawing styles were different, but the line thickness and spacing indicated they had been done by the same artist. I did a quick Google and Missourian archive search, but didn’t come up with anything that would tell when it was done or who the artist was.
I was also quite taken by the simple Madonna on the southeast wall.
I decided to take another look at the historic building, which was the last segregated black schoolhouse in town.
It wasn’t encouraging. When I walked back to the car, I told Mother, “It’s going to be a race between tearing it down and having it fall down. I can see through some of the upstairs windows that the roof has collapsed. The east wall has cracks and looks like it’s bulging out.”
Maybe it’s not that bad
I happened to be talking with a man whose family has built and restored masonry buildings in Cape for decades. He said that he took a look at the building about six months ago and didn’t share my impression that it couldn’t be salvaged. The cracks around and above the windows aren’t anything that can’t be fixed, he claimed.
“I can look at a wall and tell if it’s straight or not. If the bottom’s broken and sheared, there’s nothing you can do but work from the bottom to the top, but if it’s just cracks around the windows at the tops, you can tuckpoint them.” He said that the foundation stones and walls are in good shape.
Landmark or rubble?
Will someone with the will and cash to restore the building step in at the last minute? If the fellow I talked with is correct, it MIGHT be a building worth saving. I’d like to see a living building there the next time I come to town and not another lost landmark.
Jefferson School photo gallery
Here is a gallery of what I have to admit are some pretty disheartening photographs. Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.