Ghosts of Central High School

I got permission to wander around the halls at what used to be Central High School, but I had to double pinkie swear that I wouldn’t show any student faces. That’s a big switch from the old days when you could shoot just about anything, but I agreed to the rule. I wanted to show those stairs we had climbed so many times, but a shot without students was dull and a shot WITH students would have landed me in detention.

You can click on any photo to make it larger. (If you see any recognizable faces, don’t tell on me.)

How to shoot a time exposure

This was my compromise. I shot a time exposure of the kids during class change. The pictures weren’t as successful as I had hoped – those kids cleared the halls way too fast, so I didn’t have time to experiment with settings.

To be able to shoot with a slow shutter speed, I had to drop my film speed down to ISO 200 and put my camera in shutter priority mode. That meant that I locked down two variables: film speed and shutter speed and let the camera control the lens aperture or opening (f/stop). The top photo was one second at f/11.

The light must have changed a little on this photo, because it had the same ISO 200 and one-second exposure, but the lens was at f/10. The one below was f/13.

These weren’t the only ghosts

The old stairs still made the same sounds as they did when we were there. They are as solid as ever. I hope the school board isn’t looking to turn it into a pile of rubble like Washington and Franklin Schools. If they try, I think they’ll have more than bees to contend with.

Terry Kitchen describes in a video just how unhappy the spirits were when he tried to move the old trophies out of our Central to the new school out in the hinterlands. You don’t muck with Central spirits.

Gary Schemel: Casualty of Vietnam War

A Facebook friend my age said she had been showing her teenage son her old yearbook. “As we went through it I had to say at several photos ‘this one is dead.’ It was sobering to us both to see those young faces and know that some of them are gone now, some for a long time. But then I remembered his yearbook had two in memory pages. Some die so young and never have a chance at life.”

Gary Schemel 1946 – 1965

While looking for something else, I ran onto an obituary photo of Pfc. Gary Leroy Schemel, who was No. 22 in the photo above of the 1963-64 Conference Basketball Champions.

I remembered that Gary had gone into the service right out of school, and I vaguely remembered that he was one of the first of our classmates to die in Vietnam, but I didn’t know any details.

The Oct. 8, 1965, Missourian story was equally vague. It just gave the date of the funeral and that military rites would be conducted at St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Gary’s name is on Freedom Corner

All of a sudden, it seemed like I was running into Gary’s name all over the place.

When I photographed Cape Girardeau’s Freedom Corner honoring the war dead from World War I onward, I noticed his name.

When Terry Kitchen was telling the story about ghosts at Central High school, he pulled out some of the yellowing championship team photos  he had salvaged from the dumpster, Gary was in two of them: the Conference Basketball Champs above and on the 1964 Conference Track Champions.

1964 Track Champ

Gary is the fourth from the left in the top row.

I couldn’t find anything in the Google News Archives of The Missourian about Gary, but that’s probably because of errors in the index.

Schemel profile on

I did find this profile at The Virtual Wall:

Gary Leroy Schemel

Private First Class


Home of Record: Cape Girardeau, MO

Date of birth: 01/04/1946


Service: United States Marine Corps

Grade at loss: E2

Rank: Private First Class

MOS: 3500: Basic Motor Transport Man

Length Service: 01



Start Tour: ——

Incident Date: 09/26/1965

Casualty Date: 09/26/1965

Age at Loss: 19

Location: Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam

Remains: Body recovered

Casualty Type: Non-hostile, died of other causes

Casualty Reason: Ground casualty

Casualty Detail: Drowned or suffocated

ON THE WALL Panel 02E Line 095


Remembrances on The Wall

The Virtual Wall says that two remembrances have been left on The Wall for Gary:

  • From his niece, Ramona Hobbs: Gary Leroy Shemel was the second oldest of six children, Barbra, Daniel, Donna, Joyce and Randy. He was also survived by his mother Anna. His father passed away from cancer when Gary was a child.
  • A 1932 poem by Mary Frye posted by Bob Ross, a fellow Vietnam veteran:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.


Terry Kitchen and The Ghosts of Central High School

Terry Kitchen, Class of 1970, and athletic director of Central Junior High School (our OLD Central High School) was one of my stops when I toured the school last fall.

Kitchen was a standout athlete at Central in his day and went on to play baseball at SEMO. He’s been with the Cape school system for more than three decades.

Some of those trophies just didn’t want to leave

I have to admit that I was just going through the motions when I talked with Kitchen. I nodded politely when he went through a litany of athletes who had passed through the school. Then he mentioned the Ghosts of Central and my ears perked up.

With little prodding, he launched into a tale that sounded like something Mississippi story-teller Jerry Clowers would cook up, including the Southern drawl and the speech cadence of a tent revival preacher.

I immediately kicked myself for not being in a better position. Kitchen was severely backlit, so a lot of detail is lost in the shadows. Still, this is one of those stories that doesn’t need visuals. (That’s a tough admission for a photographer.) Kitchen’s voice carries the account.

Watch the video to see what I mean.

Terry Kitchen’s Ghostly Encounter

Gallery of team photos

Here are a gallery of photos that Kitchen rescued from the trash when the school was being transformed from Central High School to Central Junior High school.