Friday, December 16, 2011

Understanding Christmas

Breaking away from my schools-related posts, I thought I'd touch on the whole issue of Christmas seeing that the day is now less than two weeks away.  Every year we inevitably have the politically correct crowd that "doesn't want to offend" by saying "Merry Christmas" and the equally boisterous crowd that insists on saying "Merry Christmas" and is offended when someone says "Happy Holidays".  The other day I noticed some posts regarding the term "Xmas" (or "X-mas") and even a letter to the editor in the local paper.  It definitely got me thinking about the nature of the Christmas holiday itself and how so many people seem to be in the dark about the origins of the Christmas holiday in terms of why we celebrate it this time of year and all of the symbols and traditions that have come to be associated with it.  While I certainly won't be going into all the all the many symbols and traditions that we use in the various Christmas celebrations in the US and around the world, I will try to touch on some of the basics.

The first is the term "Xmas", which is often spelled with a hyphen "X-mas".  Every year without fail I see Facebook posts or other public comments that bemoan this term as "crossing out Christ's name".  While I prefer not to use "Xmas", it has nothing to do with "crossing Christ's name out", and as I've been able to read a little more about the term itself, I've learned a lot about the early Christian church.  Of course the word "Christmas" itself comes from "Christ's Mass".  Using "X", though, as a symbol for Christ is at least 1,000 years old. It has nothing to do with "crossing his name out", but is rather more of an abbreviation of the Greek word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, which translates to Christ.  The "Chi-Rho" (Greek letters X and P) is a symbol that draws on the first two letters of that word and is commonly used to symbolize Christ himself.  I have seen it frequently used in Protestant churches.  Basically, what we call "X" is the Greek letter "Chi" and is pronounced "Eks te" rather than how we say "eks" (so Xmas was pronounced "eks te mas" not "eks mas").  Using "X" is actually a long-established symbol for Christ and to me is similar to the Jewish practice of using "Adonai" (translates to "Lord") in the scriptures rather than use the name of God.  It's not a matter of "crossing out" God's name, but rather a matter of high reverence and respect for His name.  That's how I see "X".  It wasn't created for convenience, but rather as a sign of respect for the title (and yes "Christ" is a title, not his actual name).  While using "X" for Christ is at least 1,000 years old, using "Xmas" is hundreds of years old itself; it's not a modern invention of people trying to remove Christ's name or make it more "politically correct".  It's simply an alternate and long-established way to write "Christ". 

The next one that I've found a lot of people don't realize is why Christmas is celebrated in December.  Was Jesus really born in December?  Most likely not.  Latter-day Saint tradition generally views April 6 as the day, though the church does almost nothing to formally observe or even acknowledge it and celebrates Christmas in December just like most other Christian denominations.  There is also no formal church declaration of that as doctrine; it's generally interpreted from a verse in the Doctrine & Covenants and some later writings by church leaders, which explains why there is very little observance of the actual day as the birth of Christ.  Instead, many very important milestones in the church's development occurred on April 6, such as the organization of the church (April 6, 1830) and the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple (April 6, 1893).  The Annual General Conference is always held the first weekend of April (the October conference is called "Semiannual").  Other possibilities for the birth of Christ include the spring and October.

In looking at what's been written about Christmas and when Christ was actually born, there is still much debate and is likely one of those things that will never be settled.  The first recorded instance of celebrating Christmas in December is in the 4th century AD.  From what I've been finding, early Christian leaders were opposed to celebrating birthdays since birthdays were associated with Pagan rulers and observances (this is why Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate holidays and birthdays since the only Biblical mention of birthdays is for Herod and Pharaoh).  Also, early Christmas celebrations seemed to not exclusively celebrate Christ's birth, but focused on his life as well as other Christian martyrs.  Of course the term "Christmas" didn't originate until the Middle Ages since it's an English term and comes from Old English (which didn't exist in the 3rd century). The oldest mention of the Old English Crīstesmæsse dates to the year 1038.  The arguments for the various dates of Christ birth are based on a variety of ideas and extrapolations.  The prevailing idea is that Christmas was set in December to displace the Pagan holiday of the winter solstice.  While many of the traditions and symbolism associated with Christmas today are definitely from Pagan traditions, there is no direct evidence that early Christian leaders promoted the idea of Christmas in December as a way to eradicate Pagan celebrations.  My understanding from some of the writers I have read is that early Christian leaders instead interpreted many of the cosmic events during the year (solstices, equinoxes) as having religious significance.  So in a way, they were similar to the Pagan ideas that the changes in the season were significant, but instead of them being something to celebrate as part of worshiping the Earth, they were related to divine worship.  My personal view is that the two aren't really related.  There are many ways to interpret the changing of the seasons and this is just one.  One interesting note I saw about the date of Christmas was that Pope Benedict XIV (he was Pope in the 1700s) argued that the early church leaders would've known the date of Christ's birth because of the Roman census records.  Sounds plausible until you think about logistics.  Seeing that what became Christmas doesn't show up for a few centuries later is one problem, on top of the whole idea of Roman census records.  I have never seen Roman census records to know how detailed they were, but it would seem to me that a baby born in a manger likely didn't make it onto the rolls of the ancient Roman Empire's records if they kept track of that at all.  And why would the early church leaders have access to the Roman census records anyway?

I tend to proscribe to the birth in the spring (before researching this I would've said April 6th, but now I think that date has come from tradition more than an actual pronouncement of may very well be "the date" but so far there is no direct statement) given the mention of shepherds in the fields watching their flocks by night.  Contrary to popular belief, it does actually get cold in the wintertime in the areas around Jerusalem (OK, maybe not like here in Northeast Ohio, but still!) and shepherds would not be out at night during that time of year.  The whole connection with the solstice seems like an interesting thought, but more trying to create a connection and symbolism that really isn't there; more as a later way to explain what at that point could no longer be explained.  In Wikipedia we would call that "synthesis" which is basically where an editor takes two or more reliable sources and comes up with a conclusion that is not directly stated in any of the sources (If A is true and B is true then C must be true).  In the end, though, does it really matter?  Not really.  From a religious standpoint the purpose of Christmas is the most important aspect, not the complete historical accuracy.  From a purely historical standpoint, it matters, but like I said, it's one of those things that's unlikely to be truly settled without a time machine or talking to the Virgin Mary herself.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say neither of those are going to be available anytime soon, so we'll always have "camps" as to when Jesus was actually born.  As a historian, though, it's still interesting to examine all the possibilities!

I could go on all day about Christmas itself and all the symbolism and historical accuracy.  I see people get all upset about "Xmas" or too much commercialism, or Santa Claus, and I wonder how much they really know about where everything came from and why we celebrate it.  It's important to analyze and examine our traditions to find out why we do them and how they developed.  In doing so we have a better understanding and appreciation for them, but also we can evaluate whether or not they are worthwhile to continue keeping or if they are simply fun and enjoyable aspects of our culture.

Here's a great read that goes into more details: Dating Christmas by Andrew McGowan

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Evolution of Roosevelt High School

Cover of the 1959 Roosevelt dedication program showing the original school with the "future" auditorium in dotted lines.  The rooms on the left with the vertical windows are the choir and band rooms.  
Continuing with my Kent Schools-related posts, I figured I'd post about the "evolution" of the building that houses Theodore Roosevelt High School on North Mantua Street in Kent, a building I have spent an incalculable amount of time in as a student, community member, and employee.  Most locals know that the building has had several additions, but I have found most don't realize just how many it's had in its history.  As I've been going through old yearbooks and dedication programs, I've been able to mostly piece together how it all came together.

The building first opened in September 1959.  It replaced the previous home of Roosevelt, which became Davey Junior High School.  The new school was built with growth in mind as it was built on a concrete slab (no excavation required) and had walls that were designed to be removed easily for additions.  It was also built on a 31-acre piece of land, three times the size of the previous high school campus.  Despite the extra room, football wouldn't be played at the "new" campus for 11 more years.  The new building also lacked an auditorium as the budget wouldn't allow for one at the time.  Plans were in the works for an auditorium at the time the school opened, but there wouldn't be an auditorium until 1972.  What I found interesting about the original building is that it was divided into sections.  Music was almost a completely separate building, vocational was on its own end, and the remainder of the school was another end.  This was done so that things like band  and wood shop wouldn't disturb other classes.  What's ironic about that is the fact that less than 10 years later, the first addition to the building added a new library that bordered the band room on two sides. Even today, though, the sound is kept out of the library pretty well!
Original front entrance of Roosevelt High School as seen in the 1959 dedication program.  The room on the left is the band room and the doors in the center are now the entrance to the library from the cafeteria. 

Roosevelt High School in 1959
When Roosevelt opened in 1959, Kent was in the midst of its greatest period of population growth in its history.  From 1950-1970, Kent grew from about 11,000 to over 28,000.  Because of this, Roosevelt was in what must've seemed like a perpetual state of construction.  As I mentioned, the first addition was made in 1965-66.  It involved adding what is now known as the "history hallway" (or wing), doubling the size of the cafeteria and central lobby (a room often incorrectly referred to as the "atrium"), and expanding the locker rooms.  Some of the rooms in the original building were altered to fit where the new hallway had to be.  It looks as if one classroom was lost from that.  The current library was also part of that addition.  Prior to that time, the doors to what is now the library that open to the cafeteria were the main entrance to the school and were simply a "glass hallway" of sorts that connected the music wing to the rest of the school.  The old library was converted into what are now the Principal's office and the guidance offices.

The next major addition was the largest.  It was actually 2 parts, but it effectively doubled the size of the school.  On one side was the end of the building known as the "vocational wing" or now as the "Career Ed Wing" and sometimes as the "500s wing" (since all the rooms there are numbered beginning at 500).  The other side was the auditorium and scene shop addition, which included a lobby (also incorrectly referred to as an "atrium").  The auditorium lobby provided a new front entrance facing North Mantua Street and created a courtyard, connecting the music wing with the history hallway.  This addition was started in 1971 and opened in the fall of 1972.

Today this is the main entrance to the library.  On the right
is the hallway to the band and choir rooms and the
auditorium. Originally, it was the main entrance
to the school!
The pool addition followed in 1975, opening in 1976, and included three classrooms, storage areas, and locker rooms.  It also resulted in the modification of the original art room as part of the room had to be used for the hallway that connected the pool wing with the rest of the school.  Just one year later, construction started on the last major addition to the building, a second floor addition above the history wing.  This addition is now referred to as the "foreign language hallway" (since all of the foreign language rooms are there) and included the construction of an elevator and two staircases.  Completion of the addition allowed the district to move 9th graders back to Roosevelt beginning in the fall of 1978.  Prior to that, 9th graders had been housed at Davey Junior High School since 1959.  The 1978 addition also included a slight extension of the library into the courtyard and an expansion of the industrial technology room (added the extra classroom and back lab area) and creation of the photography room.

Band room as it originally appeared in 1959
The last addition happened while I was a student at Roosevelt in the late 1990s.  This addition in 1997 involved expanding the cafeteria, creating the curved glass wall that is there now, building a new teacher's lounge, and opening the cafeteria to the lobby.  Previously, the cafeteria and gym lobby were separate rooms.  A new music storage room was added and the entrance was redone.  An expansion of the second art room was also part of the project, which also funded renovations in other parts of the building.  In particular, every room was wired for high-speed Internet, additional electrical outlets were added, and a school phone system was installed. The band room was totally renovated during this time, adding a second entrance from the hall, removing the tiers in the floor, and improving the lighting.  The choir room also had a new floor put in, new lighting, and new risers, plus a permanent office was built in place of the old cubicle that had previously served as the vocal music office. 

Diagram of the current layout of Roosevelt High School with each section colored by when it was added.  The second floor is on the right (shaped like a "T")
The only changes since the 1997 additions and renovations have been remodelings.  The library was remodeled around 2003 with new lighting, carpet, and some wall changes which included a computer area and a larger computer lab that can be a separate room if needed.  The room that was previously the audio/visual storage area (and had the main copy machine) was turned into a second computer lab, now known as "Computer Lab II" (it is also room 108).  Old room 109 was divided into three parts and the front part is the copy room while the middle and back parts are storage areas for things like the TVs and VCRs.

What's next for the school?  That remains to be seen.  About 2 years ago the district did a survey of parents to gauge what appeared to be the possibility of a levy or bond issue.  Among the questions asked were two about Roosevelt: one regarding the addition of a second gym and the other about addressing the nightmare that is parking.  I've long wanted to see Roosevelt get the existing gym expanded or replaced and/or a field house building similar to what the new Ravenna High School has, which includes an area that can be divided into 2 basketball courts, but also has an elevated track and a separate physical education room for other classes.  I saw a larger version of this under construction at Avon Lake High School in 2001 that I really liked.  Seeing it at Ravenna has me liking it even more!  Roosevelt really needs some additional space for physical education.  I've subbed several times for PE and one of the classes we have is dance class.  More often than not it's held in the auditorium lobby, which is absolutely freezing this time of year.  If not there, it's held in the "wrestling room", which is the old weight room in the back of the boys locker room.  The gym itself is the same size as it was when the school opened in 1959; when the school had 550 students.  Same size gym now for about 1,400 students and a larger community.  For the sake of tradition, I'd love to see the gym expanded instead of replaced, but money will determine that!  The whole layout of the parking area is an entirely different topic!  What a mess!
Original campus map in 1959 with "future" plans for athletic fields.  Below is the campus in 2006.  Stanton Middle School is on the far left.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Building and School Histories

Roosevelt High School (now Davey Elementary School) in 1928
Lately I've been doing sporadic research on the history of the Kent City Schools, the Davey building in particular.  I've also done quite a bit of research on Roosevelt High School as well (which was housed in the Davey building for 37 years), touching on the elementary buildings along the way.  I've found that there are many people interested in what I'm finding out about the history of our school buildings, but I've also found it's somewhat difficult to explain the histories, especially some of the older schools.  That's because there are two histories: the history of the school building and the history of the school organization.  The Davey building is a prime example of this.  The building history goes from 1921 (when construction started) to now.  During the 89 years since it opened in 1922, it has housed three different schools: Theodore Roosevelt High School, Davey Junior High School (later called Davey Middle School), and Davey Elementary School.  Each school organization, however, has its own history independent of the building itself.  For instance, Roosevelt High School dates back to 1868, Davey Junior High is now Stanton Middle School, and Davey Elementary is the continuation of Central Elementary School.  It's really confusing when you have a mixture of schools that have moved and kept their name (like Roosevelt) and schools that have moved but changed names (Davey Middle School to Stanton Middle School).  

The Union School, later known as "old" Central
Another building that has a somewhat complicated history is the old Union School, which was Kent's first consolidated school.  It opened in 1869 and was a K-12 school.  By the 1880s it was known as Central School because of the opening of South School in 1880 and DePeyster School in 1888.  A "union school" was a generic name given to any school that was a consolidation of local schoolhouses and was part of a national movement in school consolidation.  Ravenna also had its own "Union School", which opened 10 years before Kent's.  The building itself existed from 1867 (construction started) until it was torn down in 1953.  The majority of its existence it was known as "Central", but the school that replaced it was also named "Central", so it's often referred to as "Old Central".  I tend to refer to it by its original name of "Union School" to avoid ambiguity with the current Central building.  Because the building housed Kent High School, it was often referred to as such even though KHS only occupied a portion of the building.  Even better is that many contemporary sources from the early 20th century refer to Kent High School as "Kent Central High School" or even "Central High" even though officially, the school was never anything but "Kent High School" until it was renamed for Theodore Roosevelt in 1922. 

Most buildings in the district have only had one tenant, so it's somewhat easier.  But even then, we have successions of buildings that sometimes are very clear and sometimes aren't.  Holden Elementary, for instance, is a continuation of the old South School, which was located across the street from where Holden is now.  I haven't really dived into the history of Holden, but my guess is that it was likely originally planned to be the new South School and during construction or just before it opened the board decided to name it for Belle Holden, a former teacher and principal at South School.  Roosevelt High School was named after the building (now Davey Elementary) was finished.  All the construction information simply refers to it as the "new" Kent High School.  The decision to name it after Theodore Roosevelt didn't come until just a month or so before the building was dedicated.  Stanton Middle School was named in the early stages of construction.  At the time I was hoping they would carry the Davey name to the new building, but the Board opted to keep the Davey name at the current building because of that building and property's historical ties to the Davey family (John Davey, founder of Davey Tree, owned part of the land it was built on and the old Davey estate is adjacent to the school).

DePeyster School, now home of the administrative offices for the district
DePeyster School is one I would really like to get a lot more information about.  It's history is very random and unclear at this point.  Even though Walls School covers basically the same area DePeyster covered, I don't consider Walls a continuation of DePeyster because it wasn't a case of Walls opening (1966) and replacing DePeyster (like the students and staff were all moved to Walls from DePeyster) like Holden replaced South or Stanton replaced Davey.  Walls took in all of DePeyster's old territory, but also included a large chunk of Franklin Elementary's territory.  It was not only a new school building but also a new school organization.  DePeyster had ceased being used as an elementary school years before Walls opened and was instead being used for overflow from a variety of schools.  I know my aunt went to kindergarten at DePeyster even as my dad and uncle went to their elementary grades at Franklin in the years right before Walls opened.  Soon after Walls opened, DePeyster was used as the "Davey Extension" and housed several classes from Davey Junior High School until a new addition to Davey opened in 1967.  I'm not exactly when DePeyster stopped being used as its own elementary school and instead used for extra space for other schools.  I know the gym was added in the early 1950s (1953?), so it would make sense that the building be used a few years after that, at least to the early 1960s, even though the middle portion of the building dates to 1888 and the front was added around 1920.  Why it was used for extra space is not clear either, especially with Kent growing throughout the 50s and 60s.  In any case, by the late 60s and early 70s it's vacant until the Board renovates it in 1977 and it becomes what it's used for today: the district offices.

To help make sense of the two histories, I created two graphics to illustrate them.  One is a history of each school organization and the other is a history of each school building.  They are both works in progress as I find more information about each building through my research.  Each picture contains basic information about the years a particular building was known by a certain name and when any additions or major renovations happened.
School organization history
School building history

Monday, December 5, 2011

So it begins!

I've been toying with the idea of adding a history-only blog to my regular blog and my private blog.  Lately I've really gotten more into history, especially Kent history, so I've been directing people to my blog.  But my blog isn't just about history.  Instead, it's a random collection of whatever I feel like posting about at a specific time, so it has history, opinion, happenings, etc.  One of the great things about having a traffic feed on my blog is that I can see where people are coming from and often why.  Knowing that and after writing my most recent post on my main blog, I figured, why not now?  So, here it is: Happenin' History, which I plan on focusing mostly on Kent history, but that will hardly be exclusive.  The history of my fair hometown of Kent, Ohio is a huge interest and hobby of mine, but I also enjoy many other general aspects of history like LDS (Mormon) history, US history, Ancient history (ancient Greece and Rome in particular), and many other eras.  I also enjoy sports history and architectural history too.  I suppose I will be reorganizing my main blog too and creating more of a central website for the "" address, but first things first!  More to come!