Thank God My Father Moved Us to Cincinnati

When I was at least 12, Marion and Esther, my G.I. generation parents took me to Coney Island. I was still too scared to ride the roller-coasters but the ‘Dogems’ appealed to my passive-aggressive nature. Once back home Marion asked me if I noticed the black kid I had banged into several times? “No, why?”

Well, for more than 65 years, Coney Island and its Sunlite Pool had been a riverside playground for most of the people of Cincinnati; it boasted cleanliness, thrilling rides, a place to swim and dance, a whisper of bygone days.  But it was closed to blacks. The pool, even longer.  That a place of public accommodation would remain a pocket of segregation as long as it did — especially in a Northern, industrial city — surprises many, astounds others.  After all, the Supreme Court had ordered schools desegregated in 1954.  The park finally opened its gates to blacks in 1955, and by the time the pool was integrated — May 29, 1961 — the civil-rights struggle was well under way, punctuated by sit-ins and demonstrations around the country.

I was a Baby Boomer enjoying my childhood midway through Act I (1943-1964) of Neil Howe’s 4th Turning a four-generation live action, socio-political-psycho-economic histo-drama, I call, “Apocalypse Soon, Armageddon Later.” Starring fellow Boomers; George ‘W’ 1946, Hillary 1947, Bill Clinton 1946, Trump 1946, Xi Jinping 1953 and Putin 1952.

On my street, Mooney Avenue, we had 70 kids in an approximate 60-40 split between Protestants and Catholics. As children of a fervent Christian Scientist mother, my sister and I tried to hide under the Protestant umbrella. The Catholic kids went to Saint Mary’s and the rest of us attended Hyde Park elementary. So, in my 1955 life experience, no black kids here, no black kids there and no black kids anywhere except for that kid on the ‘Dogems.’

Marion always bought ugly used cars like this ’53 Nash Ambassador – ‘Greg’ as Esther called him, drove us to Sunday school at the 1st Church of Christ Scientist Norwood then came back an hour later to pick us up. Norwood was a future Trump country neighborhood where everybody was white and wore blue collars to work at the GM Fischer Body plant.

Two Sundays a month, after Marion got paid, we went to Frisch’s Big Boy on Duck Creek and ate in the car. Whether it was a payday Sunday or a fried chicken at home Sunday, I’d come back with a headache from my hour-long lesson in Mind Over Matter and the evils of materia-medica. My physical remedy for this meta-physical problem, was holding a cold wash cloth to my left temporal.

Headaches: Invalidating the self. Self-criticism. Fear.

   “I love and approve of myself. I see myself and what I do with eyes of love. I am safe.”

My second wife gifted me with Louise Hay’s book Heal Your Body A-Z to teach me what I failed to learn in Sunday School.

RELIGION was my number one childhood complaint – “can’t we all just be normal kids like everybody else on the block” – number two was Marion shaming us with the only non-GM or Ford vehicle in Hyde Park, and used at that.

RACE RELIGION POLITICS SEX & MONEY

However, after Labor Day 1955, Marion drove me half way across town – to the east/west dividing line – to my first day at Walnut Hills High School. The school was smack dab in the middle of EVANSTON and from outward appearances an all-black community. I read recently that Cincinnati was the 8th most segregated city in the USA. Just looking out the window I couldn’t tell if they were Protestant or Catholic but they were the same color as that kid I bumped into at Coney Island.

But, oh Lordy, Lordy the halls of the 2,000+ 7-12th grade students at Walnut Hills High School were populated with black kids and white kids, but half of the white kids were Jews. Marion had warned me that, “if I didn’t learn anything from the Jews, I would never learn anything.” The first thing I noticed was that all the Jewish girls had breasts.

Secondly, while the Coney Island pool wouldn’t be integrated until the year I graduated, at WHHS all the boys swam naked. In my swim class everyone had more pubic hair, than I had hair on my head. Walnut Hills was an academic melting pot, my class of 305, had kids from every neighborhood in the city – places I had never heard of, let alone visited. What WHHS didn’t have was greasers or hoods.Well, we did have Marty until he dropped out in the tenth grade. Marty wore ducktails and tried to act tough-cool but the only status symbol at WHHS was your grade point average.

My favorite WHHS grad was Miller Huggins, Class of 1897 pictured with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Miller’s father was a Methodist and prohibited his son from playing semi-pro ball on Sundays. Huggins graduated from law school and his professor, none other than William Howard Taft advised him that he’d make more money playing baseball.

Huggins set an MLB record on June 1, 1910 with six plate appearances but no at bats, with four walks and two sacrifice flies. Huggins, was short but WHHS smart and managed the Yankees from 1921-29. The Yankees swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1927 World Series. This team became known as Murderers’ Row, and is considered the one of the greatest teams in baseball history.

My favorite famous WHHS grad was Jerry Rubin who went off to Berkley to found the ‘Yippies’ and protest the Vietnam War.

I passed the reading/math test to gain admittance to WHHS but Latin, Trig, Physics and Chemistry left me intellectually challenged in a very competitive environment. That, plus suffering from a severe case of homework avoidance syndrome, left me at the back of the pack on graduation day in 1961.

Of the 305 graduates, the top 100 went off to Harvard, Princeton, Yale and beyond. The middle third headed for Prairie League universities especially the hometown favorite the University of Cincinnati. My application to UC’s school of Architecture was rejected because I had not graduated in the top 10% of my high school class.

Tom Thacker along with Tony Yates were our most famous classmates in the ’61-’62 year.

I was happy to just be a poly-sci guy at Miami or Antioch but Marion, the hard knocks engineer, wasn’t about to pay for any of that monkey business. So, Howard, Eddie and I entered UC’s Ding-Dong, two-year, associate’s degree program. I did so well relearning 7th grade Algebra, English and History that I was granted admission to the 1962 class of Architecture.

Cincinnati was 85% German Catholic, home to Hebrew Union College and Rabbi Silver founder of Reformed Judaism. Thus, Cincinnati was blessed with a pragmatic German education culture. This meant that even though I missed out on Harvard I was going to be a University of Cincinnati Co-Op student and go to work for a living from my Freshman year on.

The University of Cincinnati was the first university in the world to offer cooperative education. A bust of UC co-op founder Herman Schneider stands outside Baldwin Hall.

Herman Schneider (1872–1939), engineer, architect, and educator, concluded that the traditional learning space or classroom was insufficient for technical students. Schneider observed that several of the more successful Lehigh graduates had worked to earn money before graduation. Gathering data through interviews of employers and graduates, he devised the framework for cooperative education (1901). However, in 1903 the University of Cincinnati appointed Schneider to their faculty. In 1905 the UC Board of Trustees allowed Schneider to “try this cooperative idea of education for one year only, for the failure of which they would not be held responsible.” The cooperative education program was launched in 1906, and became an immediate success.

RACE RELIGION POLITICS MONEY & SEX

My Coop Job ’61 to ’67 was as an architectural “Apprentice” above the Colony theater on Shaker Square

I spent Spring and Fall quarters 1961-1967 working as an architectural co-op student in the offices of Outcalt, Guenther, Rode, Toguchi and Bonebrake, the biggest architectural firm in Cleveland. Thanks to Marion’s big sister, who got me the job after high school and Herman Schneider, I was able to pay my way through seven years of university and learn firsthand that architects don’t make any money.

Walnut Hills, the Harvard of Cincinnati’s Public Education System

Withrow High School named Ohio’s most beautiful by Architectural Digest. Designed along with Walnut Hills High School by the grandfather of one of my alphabetically speaking best friends, Sted Garber.

Marion, was hell bent on sending me to the best high school in Cincinnati, but he wanted me to make the decision. My options were Withrow, three blocks away, Indian Hills or Country Day, private schools in an aristoi neighborhood a few miles further east. The fourth consideration was Walnut Hills, where I had received an invitation because I had passed the entrance test. At Hyde Park elementary I sat behind Steve Hussey and in front of Bob Yeager, my future classmates. I didn’t copy Hussey’s answers and I’m sure Yeager, our de facto class leader, would never look my way.

What to do? When Esther asked me, now that I was twelve, did I want to join the church? I gave a near instant response, NO, I want to be a Presbyterian! But, three doors down Bob Shirley, older brother of Kathy Shirley, my Drexall drug store cherry coke first date, gave me his Walnut Hills sales pitch.

Tom, the homework’s not that bad. It’s easy to get there, you catch the 69 Madisonville at the end of the street, transfer at Peebles Corner to the 31 Vine Woodburn, walk 3 blocks in the rain, sleet or snow and you’re there.

Jimmy Fallon jokes about how 17 students from the same high school got perfect ACT scores. Our class of ’61 had 31 SAT scholarship recipients.

In 1935 the Board of Education confirmed the status of the school as “an institution specialized for college preparation.” Again in 1972, the Board of Education reaffirmed the position of Walnut Hills High School as a six-year, college preparatory school. As early as 1926 a systematic method of pupil selection was adopted. Today all students enter the school after passing a special college preparatory examination.

The Recipe for Saving Public Education

Municipal (free) Six Year (get ’em when they’re young) College Preparatory High School (everybody’s going to college) open to all (swim with every fish in the sea) qualified elementary students city wide.