By: Joan Costabell Austin
Class of 1957
A note on sources…
I was well trained in footnoting by Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Howell and also do not wish to suffer the fate of Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin. However, I do not want to bore you all with extensive attributions so I’ll keep it simple. A wonderful soft cover book called A History of Greenville/Edgemont, edited by Barbara Buff, was published in the 1970s. It was very helpful to me. Material taken from this book is cited with a simple page number in parenthesis. The current Superintendent of Schools, Nancy L. Taddiken, very kindly provided me with School District data on enrollment and building additions. Such material is noted with SD, for School District, also in parenthesis. I spoke with Eunice Riblinger, who was at Edgemont from 1956 until 1990 and with Superintendent Nancy Taddiken who has been there since 1981 and they filled me on Edgemont after we left. The rest is from my own memory of local and world events. My long term memory is still pretty good, although not infallible. My major memory problem these days is remembering where I put my glasses.
It would be tempting to assume, in some child-like way, that Edgemont existed solely for us; that it came into being when we arrived in the fall of 1944 and entered the twilight zone when we left in 1957. Of course, such is not the case, so let’s admit that the story did not begin with us and did not end with us and, indeed, will continue long after we have gone to that last great homeroom in the sky. It might also be comforting to think that Edgemont was a sort of Brigadoon that existed independently of and unaffected by the outside world. Again, that would be an illusion. The history of our school is inextricably linked to our community and to the larger world.
It is the goal of this brief, and highly personal, history to link the past (both recent and more remote) to the present and to see our Edgemont history in the larger local and national context. My hope is that my memories will encourage you to remember your own Edgemont history.
There was an Edgemont before We Came
Of course, the earliest inhabitants of Edgemont were Indians. (I’m too old to be politically correct and say “Native Americans”.) In the 17th century, our area was part of the huge block of land owned by a Dutch family, the Philipses. It was inhabited by tenant farmers and indeed the region was primarily agricultural until the early part of the 20th century. Prior to the 19th century, education was, “informal and erratic”. (19) This is quite understandable. Greenville was an area of small, isolated farms and the region was terribly disrupted during the Revolutionary War. Bands of Tories and Patriots, some of whom on both sides might better be described as hooligans, roamed around killing, stealing and destroying property. The Philipses were Loyalists and lost their holdings after the Revolution. Much of the land was then assigned to the tenants who had been farming it. The Town of Greenburgh was established by the State in 1788. (26) The Greenville Church was built in 1842; they used the word “Greenville” to distinguish themselves from a Greenburgh Reformed Church in Elmsford. (38) The term Edgemont did not come into use until the 1890s; it was used to describe a new development “just west of the Scarsdale station.” (77) So, we lived in the unincorporated area (known as Greenville) of the Town of Greenburgh, attended the Edgemont Schools and our mailing address was Scarsdale. No wonder we were confused!
The first two public schools in the region appeared in the first quarter of the 19th century, neither in the current Edgemont School District nor in Greenville. By 1800, there was a one room schoolhouse on what is now Central Avenue, near the service entrance to the Scarsdale Golf Club. (34) It is shown on maps as late as 1857. Another school was built on Ridge Road in Hartsdale circa 1828. (35) Children from Greenville may well have attended these schools.
The completion of the Harlem Division line of the New York Central Railroad in 1846 brought Greenville into a new era. Population increased and with it, came a demand for more schooling. I think we can legitimately trace the origins of the Edgemont schools to a meeting held in December, 1858 at which time the Greenville Rural School District No. 10 was organized. (43) A one-room school was built on Fort Hill Road, south of Ardsley Road, and was used until 1884. (43) Still another one-room school was built two years later, on the west side of Fort Hill Road a little south of Longview Drive. (I think it must have been close to the Walsh and Mumper homes.) It remained in use until 1898. (43) It was a “one-room clapboard house with heat supplied by a pot-bellied stove” and two outhouses out back. It included grades one through eight and the average number of students was 25. (55) This was our school system as the United States plunged into the Civil War. My earliest memories are of another great war, and I wonder what impact this earlier conflict had on the students. Did they talk about the division of their country? Did they worry about absent fathers and brothers?
Despite the financial panic of 1893, building increased, population grew, and by 1898 the School Board determined that a new school was needed. They bought land on Central Avenue for $800 and built a two-room school building for $4,848.24. (59) Ten years later, a second floor accommodating two more classes was added. There were three teachers and a principal-teacher. (Lavatories were still out back.) This school also went through eighth grade and, for the first time, formal arrangements were made to send students to White Plains for high school if they wished to continue their education. We know exactly where this building was because when its life as a school was over, it became the nucleus of the Greenville Fire Department building, which still exists. This building served the District again quite recently during a time of crisis. Keep reading!
With the end of the First World War, population increased and automobiles became more popular. The Central Avenue School was no longer large enough, nor, due to automobile traffic, was it a particularly safe place for a school. The School Board bought land from the Seely family and in 1922 the Edgemont School, now the Seely Place School, opened. It had eight rooms and about sixty students. (83) The gym, library, shop, “home ec” room, kindergarten, auditorium and second floor were later additions, all completed by 1931. The school ran through ninth grade. This is the building which we remember as youngsters. In 1929 school enrollment was 246, plus 32 high school students who attended high schools outside the District. (83) The question of building a high school was discussed, but not resolved, as was the possibility of merger with either Scarsdale or Hartsdale.
The Great Depression of the 1930s had an impact on Edgemont School. Services such as a hot lunch program and health services were added to meet student needs, teachers’ salaries were reduced, and class size rose. The school was regarded, not always favorably, as “progressive” during this period. I remember whiffs of this discussion when I was a young child. The main objection from my parents was that I didn’t learn to write properly! We were taught to print. I believe the theory was that at some point we would learn to connect the letters but most of us never did. However, the School Principal, William D. Moyle, assured parents in 1940 that, there was not “the slightest suggestion of abandoning high achievement or lessening school discipline.” (85) Mr. Moyle, who figured in my nightmares for many years, was the chief administrator at Edgemont from 1937 – 1966 and he never struck me as a softie on discipline! It wasn’t until much later that I realized that he was a kind man and a fine educator.
1939 – A Good Year?
I wonder how our parents viewed the world on New Year’ Eve of 1938.
The world situation was unsettled. Hitler was in control in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain, Chamberlain in Great Britain. Japan was controlled by militarists and had invaded China. At home, FDR was midway through his second term (no one had ever served more than two terms) and the country was pulling out of the depression. The U.S. population, according to the 1940 census was 132,202,624. The World’s Fair was running in New York City.
Greenville had a population of about 3,500 (84) and was now largely a commuter community. The Edgemont School enrollment was 457 and went from Kindergarten through ninth grade. There were still significant areas of undeveloped land and a couple of gentleman’s farms. You could buy eggs from J.D. Silverman, his chauffeur delivered them. If you didn’t know Mr. Silverman, the Piekarskis had a chicken farm off Healy Avenue. The commercial area consisted of a small block of stores on Central Avenue, just to the north of Mt. Joy Avenue, built by Max Held. This was the original site of Doc’s-Clarke’s Drug Store. There was no traffic light at the corner of Mt. Joy and Central Avenue. My parents moved to Argyle Road in 1936 and they described Greenville as a very quiet place! Mom always referred to the Costabells as “the depression aristocracy.” They bought a house which had been foreclosed by the bank for $6,000.
But, all this might have seemed a bit remote to our parents because by New Year’s Eve 1938, many were either planning a baby or were already expecting. By the next New Year’s Eve, we were in the picture and war had broken out in Europe. By the time we were two, our own country was at war as well.
Pre-school – What’s that?
I think that for most of us — the pre-Baby Boomers — the years between birth and Kindergarten were rather quiet and unstructured. Most of the moms were home and didn’t get out a great deal because gas was rationed. There were nursery schools. I went to one in the basement of the Greenville Church (just north of where Fort Hill Road crosses Central Avenue) run by Mrs. Schumann and later to “Stranny’s. Stranny- Mrs. Stranathan-had a Nursery School in the basement of the Fort Hill Apartments. (I recently learned that she was McKinley Kantor’s sister.) (99). I remember that Linda Van Winkle, Sonny Rosenburgh, and I used to take a public bus which ran through Longview to get to Stranny’s. Can you imagine today’s parents allowing this? Once the war ended, the bus disappeared. But these nursery schools were half day and quite low key. We played, painted, learned to tie our shoes, and learned to work and play with others; it wasn’t the intensive school readiness program we inflict on children today. Forgive the editorial comment. There was a half-day summer camp at the school which ran for about six weeks in the summer.
But, much of the time we were home, even after we started school. I played with Wrennie Harquail and Mikie Wolfe and the Spades, the Powells and the Schneiders (Ann and Peter, not Wendy). Sometimes Carol and Diana Walsh would come down to join in. We played board games, hide and seek, hop scotch, jacks etc. We read. My parents cleared our side lot and we had every sport from baseball to boxing there. We even had roller skating in the garage. We dammed up Troublesome Brook to make a (very small) swimming hole. We caught snakes and turtles and spent warm summer evenings catching fireflies. “Play date” was not a term we knew. We walked or rode our bikes everywhere. I imagine my experiences were rather typical.
But outside this little world, there was a war on and this was in the background of many of my earliest memories. I remember rationing with coupons for gas, food, and clothing. Mom and Dad listened to the news every morning on a large “cathedral” radio in the kitchen. We collected newspapers and tin cans. We hated Germans and Japs. There was a “Victory Garden” in a vacant lot on Argyle, and blackouts were an exciting nighttime distraction. There was a watch tower on Clayton Road, I think where the Schneiders’ house was later built, designed to spot enemy aircraft. I went with my mother to pay condolence calls on families who had lost a son. I knew I had to be very quiet and good. On D-Day (June 6, 1944) Mom took me to a special service at the Greenville Church.
During those years, the School District was still grappling with its lack of a high school. Scarsdale wasn’t interested in merging, so a 10th grade class was added at Edgemont in 1941 and a two-year renewable agreement was made with Scarsdale allowing all Edgemont students, except those wanting a vocational course, to attend the final two years of high school in Scarsdale. (85) Total Edgemont enrollment in 1941-42 was 606. (SD) The huge population bulge which started in 1946 (and hit the schools five years later) would eventually put an end to this arrangement with Scarsdale.
WE arrive at Edgemont!
September, 1944. The world is still at war but we are going to kindergarten. The kindergarten room was large and sunny and it had a slide! We all remember Miss Hayes. She taught us many things, including how to be a snowflake and how to take off a sweater without turning it inside out. One day in May, she had us sit quietly so we could hear the sirens and bells ring to celebrate the end of the war in Europe. How old was Miss Hayes do you suppose? At the time, I would have said she was about a hundred, but she was undoubtedly much younger than we are today.
Elementary School drifted by. We learned to read and do take aways. Our homeroom teachers were all women – I can still remember many of the names: Miss Darlington, Mrs. Terwilliger, Miss Hager, Miss Sternal, Mrs. Grainger, Mrs. Gormley, Mrs. Leonard, Miss Wright, Miss Landis, Mrs. Fogg. We all had gym with Mr. Mac or Miss Noone and Miss Mason ruled the library. Of course, Mr. Dunsmore taught us music and his wife was our favorite substitute. She could usually be persuaded to tell us the story of Epaminondas. (She would be fired if she told that story today!) Of course, sometimes we got Mrs. King as a sub and that wasn’t any fun at all. Elementary school continued through Grade Six – no departmentalization. At this time, Christmas was celebrated in the schools. We had carol singing before school (in the center hall, around the tree) and the Christmas Pageant was widely anticipated. “The snow lay on the ground, the stars shone bright…” Edgemont never had snow days but on a really bad day the girls could wear ski pants to school; that was a big treat. The major athletic focus was the competition between the Reds and the Blues, on Father’s Day and Field Day. We had a long lunch period because we went home for lunch and, at least in my case, walked each way. On the way home from school in the afternoon, you could stop at Doc’s for a coke and Goody was always ready for a chat. Officer Freddy Stillman made sure that we crossed Central Avenue safely.
I think life outside school remained somewhat austere by today’s standards. Most families had one car, and television was not universal. We had Scouts. My Mom and Mrs. Harquail had one Brownie troop and Mrs. Marshall and Mrs. Dunkle had another. Later the two Mrs. Johnson’s (Debbie’s Mom and Sue’s Mom) took over as Girl Scout leaders. Many of us took music lessons at Hoff-Bartheson then on Old Army road or from Mrs. Stillinger, Buzz’s mom. I remember Miss Bartheson had a bone crusher handshake. An English woman, Miss Marsh gave modern dance lessons to some of the girls at the Greenville Church. Miss Marsh’s dances were somewhat free form and featured lots of flowing silk scarves. She probably modeled herself on Isadora Duncan. The more serious dancers went on to Steffi Nossen. Because life was so simple, local events seemed terribly important and exciting. I never missed the Memorial Day Parade, fireworks at Scarsdale Nigh School on July 4th, the Ice Carnival, a Fort Hill Players production, the Couples’ Club show, or camping at Rock Hill. Birthday parties involved pin-the-tail-on-the donkey and ice cream and cake and were held at home. Do you remember walking to the Saturday matinee at the Scarsdale Plaza? For 25 cents you got a feature, the newsreel, a serial, cartoons, and sometimes a live vaudeville act, perhaps a magician or a trick dog or two. Sports were simply and unstructured. On Saturday you could go over to school and hoped to get in a game of baseball or kickball. No AYSO soccer or Little League. At some point most of us went to boy-girl dancing school, either at the Greenville Church Parish Hall or at Miss Covington’s. Our only local celebrity was Walter Winchell, the columnist, who had an estate on Fort Hill Road. He wasn’t around much but occasionally his wife would invite up to swim.
Throughout elementary school, the Cold War was in full swing and it did intrude on our consciousness I think. We talked about the Iron Curtain in Europe and the “fall” of China. Local Republicans-who were a distinct majority then-, were shocked when Truman defeated Dewey in 1948. The Korean War started in the summer of 1950. Our parents worried about polio, particularly in the summer. One of our classmates, Tracy Heany died of polio. My mother wept for joy when she heard about Dr. Salk’s vaccine.
Now the baby boom and the increase in building of the late ’40s and ’50s started to have a major impact on the schools. By 1949, the school enrollment (K-10) was 660 (86) and the school was overcrowded. I recall that a bond issue to add on to the Edgemont School was defeated at some point. One must have passed later because the Greenville School was opened in the 1950-1951 school year as a primary school (K-3). (86) The original building had eight rooms. (SD) Prior to its use as a school, the site on Glendale Road was a favorite place for picnics and kite flying. It was a large open meadow dotted with huge rocks, which I think were glacial erratics.
The old issue of a high school was still unresolved and rapidly becoming a crisis. Scarsdale, which had its own population boom, refused to extend our contract beyond 1954. Bronxville and White Plains offered to take our 11th and 12th graders as tuition students while we sorted things out, and a vote was held to determine which system would be chosen. It was hard fought and had ethnic undertones which I didn’t figure out until much later. Bronxville “won” and the classes of 1955 and 1956 went there. The District purchased 41 acres of land in 1950 and was given 30 adjoining acres by Rufus Brent as a possible site for a high school. (86) One last effort at consolidation with Hartsdale failed (despite being recommended by our School Board) in April, 1953 (83) and on December 7, 1953, the residents (by a ten to one margin) passed a bond issue to build a Junior-Senior High School. (87) There was going to be an Edgemont High School, and we were going to be the first graduating class! However, we were in eighth grade when the referendum passed and had two more years at the old site.
It seemed to me that grades seven through ten were all of a piece. I don’t recall any particular emphasis on ninth grade as being the start of high school. We moved upstairs in fifth grade and were departmentalized (with major subjects and minor subjects) and stayed for lunch in seventh. Changing classes and being at the other end of that long hall seemed very grown up. The cafeteria had tables with attached, swiveling seats and was also used for study hall, another new phenomenon for us. Some people were “Self Reliants” and could hang out by the auditorium instead of going to study hall. We had a whole new cast of teachers–Mr. Prentiss, Mr. Stonsifer, Mr. Undercoffler, Miss Brown, Miss Tomb, Mrs. DeMarinis, Doc Traver, Miss Luce (later Mrs. Labar), Mrs. Coffey, Mr. Deane, Mrs. Nordberg. We started foreign language, Latin then French. We had sex education from our math and science teacher, Mr. Undercoffler. (Most of us probably needed it!) There were the infamous chemistry experiments (explosions) in Doc’s lab and glorious Shakespeare readings by Miss Tomb. Miss Luce (later Mrs. LaBar) terrified us with almost daily “pop quizzes”. Her efforts made some of us good test takers and left others math phobic for life. Miss Luce’s marriage and subsequent pregnancies interested me for more than math ever did! Mr. Engel taught Outdoor Education. Report cards had unforgiving letters on them. There were real exams like the state administered Regents. (At least you could wear shorts to school during exam week.) The school struggled to provide interscholastic sports. The boys played JV and freshman teams. The sports program for girls was pathetic. There were “play days” with other schools, not real competition. We had no uniforms, just pinies, worn over those dreadful gym suits. Our class had a good girls basketball team – the Starstreamers- which played in the Scarsdale Rec League. Mr. Deane was our coach in tenth grade. Wally Goldfrank recalls coaching our team in eighth grade. School elections were a big deal – posters, parades in the hall, and a candidate’s forum. This was very exciting stuff. It was almost as good as watching the World Series on the television set in the auditorium during lunch. Actually, for Dodger fans like me, this was often somewhat painful.
As we grew older, life outside school became more complex. By the end of elementary school the girls began to look at the boys and at some point the boys concluded that girls did not have cooties and began to return the interest. Various couples formed and (re-formed) regularly. I won’t embarrass anyone by giving examples. We now went to the movies on Friday night and sometimes one might come with the girls and then sit with one of the boys. We had Teenarena Saturday nights. I think you had to be in 9th grade to actually go inside at night. Judy Marshall remembers that many a mother came to peer in the windows to see if her daughter was slow dancing with Bill Roberts, the newly arrived and very popular black transfer student from Yonkers. During the day we all could go. We had school dances, again in the gym. The girls had slumber parties and there began to be girl-boy parties as well. Our version of troublemaking was rather innocent. Sue Van Horn reminded me of a Halloween prank in which a number of the girls held an imaginary rope across Ardsley Road and had traffic pretty well tied up until the Police came. Those who didn’t run away got a stern lecture expressing shock that Edgemont girls would do such a terrible thing! We started becoming interested in popular music. At first we listened to the singers, such as Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Julius La Rosa, Patti Page, Teresa Brewer etc. Do you remember a TV Show called Your Hit Parade? Snooky Lanson, Dorothy Collins, Russell Arms and Giselle McKenzie. Later a DJ called Moondog became popular and Rock and Roll took over. “Rock Around the Clock” and “Earth Angel” were the first such songs I remember. As I remember, Elvis was associated with being “hoody” or “rocky” and wearing a “DA.”, but then some of our classmates were beginning to pick up on the image too. Harry Belafonte introduced us to Calypso.
The 1952 Presidential election (Eisenhower vs. Stevenson) was a big event. The Eisenhower motorcade came right up Central Avenue and we all went down to watch and scream “I like Ike”, because of course, in very Republican Westchester, most everyone did. My family listened to Nixon’s “Checkers” speech on the radio. (We didn’t yet own a television.) That same year Eleanor Roosevelt spoke about the United Nations at an assembly in the Seely Place School auditorium. The Scarsdale School system had a nasty “red scare” but thankfully we were spared this. The Cold War droned on. We now had air raid drills during which we dove under out desks to seek protection from nuclear weapons. Some things don’t change, now the schools have to worry about evacuation in case of a radioactivity release from Indian Point. The Korean War finally ended and Jill Libman’s brother came home. For some reason, I have a clear recollection of Irene von Estorf telling me (in gym class) that the King of England (the father of Elizabeth II) had died. That was exactly fifty years ago as I write, (February 6, 2002) why do I remember it so vividly?
While we were enduring adolescent angst, the School Board was finally planning for the opening of a new high school. Contracts were put to bid, and awarded, and construction began. We were included in some aspects. We voted that our teams would be the Panthers and that name still holds today. (Good thing we didn’t pick Indians!) There was a ground breaking which we attended. On July 1, 1955 (87) Edgemont officially became a K-12 district although it didn’t actually have any twelfth graders. We had a dedication at which the U.S. Commissioner of Education, Samuel Brownell spoke. I suspect his sister; a local resident named Mrs. Randall arranged this.
The New High School
Edgemont was a very odd arrangement for us when you come to think about it. We had kindergarten through tenth grade in one building until the “new” high school opened in the fall of 1955. Because the class of 1956 did not spend its senior year at Edgemont, but continued at Brownville, we were “seniors” in tenth grade, eleventh grade, and twelfth grade. A fair number of our classmates (mostly the boys) left for private school due to this odd configuration and it made for a bleak social life for the girls. Some of the guys from Scarsdale High School, including the one I later married, stepped in to fill the gap. This strange situation did provide a unique leadership opportunity for those who remained, especially the girls. It’s no wonder that 100% of the class went on to higher education. The community was counting on us and with the help and support of a remarkable teaching group we to rose to the challenge and put the new Edgemont High School on the map.
Edgemont High School opened its doors in September, 1955 many of us went to a different school for the first time. Most of us still walked. The new campus had six buildings containing twenty four classrooms. (87) It was not entirely finished. The grounds were a sea of mud (or dust, depending on the season) and classrooms lacked some amenities. I remember being in class when two workmen marched in carrying a huge chalkboard and said, “Hey lady, where does this go?” There were no mirrors in the girl’s lavatories, a terrible deprivation for us. We had to get used to grabbing our coats and racing down the breezeways to get from one class to another. The gym seemed huge. But, confusing as it was, we were the leaders and we had to set the tone, as the new principal, Dr. Heugh constantly reminded us. Ah, the burden of it all.
A whole group of teachers came and it seemed to me, both at the time and years later that they were some of the finest educators I have ever met. Mr. Howell, Mr. Shapiro (Audie), Mr. Pallrand, Mrs. Newman, Miss Serposs (later Mrs. Shamamian), Mr. Trovato, Mr. Hobbs (Kenny from Kennybunk). Miss Piazza taught typing, the only practical thing I ever learned in school. For the first time we had to think seriously about life after Edgemont and we had Mr. Wilbur and Miss Riblinger to guide us on SATs and college considerations. The Student government fought to get vending machines in the cafeteria and a smoking area. I don’t think we ever got the smoking area but that didn’t stop many of us from pretending we enjoyed inhaling. Unfortunately, eventually we really did enjoy it. Sports programs improved, although girls’ sports remained pretty haphazard despite Miss Noone’s efforts to make us all 10-for-10 foul shooters in basketball. We did have excellent cheerleaders.
By now most of us were driving, although we generally did not have our own cars. Remember the Pipeline? Cars did open up the world a bit. We could go to the movies in White Plains and eat pizza at La Manda’s, which is still in existence. We began to experiment with alcohol but I don’t remember any drug use. People dated, went steady, broke up and so on. (Marcy and Bob were the only high school couple that endured.) We had a number of big open-house parties. There were dances at school and at the Scarsdale Golf Club. The Jewish kids were not invited to the Golf Club. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism was a persistent and troubling aspect of local life. Our class participated in some rather good pranks. John Gould and Fred Sheets put out Ink Stops, a parody of our school newspaper, Ink Spots. Someone moved all the patio furniture onto the top of the breezeway with flags from Sunningdale Gold Club in place of umbrellas. Later John and Fred camped out there one night. Dr. Heugh was livid. Liz Miller “helped” the librarian, Mrs. Tozier, in a unique manner. (After her “help” all the plants in the library died suddenly.) We had fun running Otto Schwink for School President our senior year. “Don’t be a fink, vote for Schwink!” And there was the disastrous Senior Ditch Day at Bear Mountain, opposed by the administration form the get-go but taken anyway with the result that a number of us spent the last month of senior year in after-school detention. Many of the pranks originated in Mr. Howell’s aptly named fourth year social studies class, Problems of American Democracy.
Nowadays many people tend to describe the fifties as a period wrapped in a warm cocoon of Eisenhower age security. I don’t remember it that way. Brown v. the Board of Education opened a new era in race relations. The Supreme Court decision led to demands for equality from African Americans and forced many of us to examine our own prejudices. In the fall of 1956, there was a Presidential election, the Suez Crisis, and the Hungarian Uprising. We collected clothes for the Hungarian refugees at Ft. Dix. We were aware of something happening in a place called Vietnam after the French left in 1954.
Our senior year was memorable. We struggled to get our college applications in and then waited for the results. Protocol was for your mother to bring the envelope (fat or thin) to the office so you could open it. Then you raced back to class to share the news. We had a senior play, Lost Horizon. I was in it despite being a terrible actress. Dee Walsh and Wendy Schneider, the student directors urged me to try out because they said I was good at memorizing and had a loud voice! It went well, although someone, I think Bob Ehrlich, almost said, “wee bitching hour” instead of “bewitching hour” at one point. For the first time Respectus looked like a real yearbook with a hard cover! As graduation approached, we all began to realize that our time at Edgemont really was going to end. Many of had been in school together for thirteen years and had known one another for even longer than that. Our class drew closer together and our social gatherings were larger and sometimes became quite sentimental.
Graduation was wonderful. It was a beautiful evening and the whole community turned out to see the first graduating class of the “new high school”. Dr. Anderson, Carol’s father and the Dean of Columbia Teachers’ College, spoke using bells from his collection to emphasize his points. We sang the benediction (The lord bless thee and keep thee…) and my Mom told me that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house or in the parking lot as it were. There was a reception in the gym and then we went home to change for the prom which was in the cafeteria. Lester Lanin played and distributed the much prized hats. There were at least two “after” parties and then we went out to Jones Beach. We finished the day at Bratters’. Unbelievably, Edgemont was over for us and we were moving on.
We separated with many promises to keep in touch, and we did see each other on an off while we were in college but gradually our circle of Edgemont friends narrowed to a few. My parents, who remained in Edgemont until they both died in the mid-seventies, would run into other parents from our class and pass along news to me, but once they were gone I really didn’t hear very much. I imagine this pattern is fairly typical.
There was an Edgemont after We Left…
As the vacant land in Edgemont filled up and the baby boomers continued to be born, enrollment rose. Total District enrollment was 1073 (SD) when we graduated. It rose to 1514 (SD) in 1964-65 and to 1604 in 1979-80. (SD) I don’t have data from 1964-65 through 1979-80 so I don’t know if this was the peak. In any case, enrollment rose and the existing school facilities were expanded. Space was added to Seely Place in 1961, and to the Greenville School and the High School in 1962. (SD) In the late seventies and throughout the eighties, school enrollments dropped throughout Westchester and much of the nation. School districts discovered that declining enrollment brings its own set of problems. Popular young teachers had to be excessed which was bad for teacher morale and unpopular with the community. As schools got smaller, per pupil cost went up, and that was unpopular with taxpayer groups. Edgemont budgets were voted down twice in the early nineties. Edgemont enrollment bottomed out at 1333 in 1989-90 (SD) and then began to creep up throughout the nineties. (SD) The current enrollment is 1730 and the District projects an enrollment of 1776 in 2008-09. (SD) Once again, Edgemont is building. A $15,002,500 bond issue was passed on April 4, 2000 which will renovate old space and add new space at all three sites. (SD) State approvals take forever but construction is now underway. It doesn’t look the way it did when we left!
Enrollment and facilities tell only part of the story. The transition from the fifties to the sixties and seventies was turbulent in our country and of course Edgemont reflected this. Miss Riblinger recalls issues about hair and clothes but said that eventually rules were relaxed (girls couldn’t even wear slacks when we were there) without too much angst. Similarly, there was interest and concern about civil rights and Vietnam but no disruption of school. Few former Edgemont students actually served in Vietnam. Miss Riblinger’s memories of November 22, 1963 and the death of President Kennedy are vivid. The school became eerily quiet and many of the students went home early. She heard the news from Mr. Wilbur.
In the mid-seventies, a large number of Japanese students came to Edgemont and at one point constituted about 30% of the enrollment. This presented both problems and opportunities as the District worked to educate children from a different culture who often spoke little English. The school also had to deal with the stress this situation placed on Japanese families, particularly the mothers. Significant time and money was put into staff development. In the long run, the Japanese students acclimated well and their work ethic was a positive influence on the others. Miss Riblinger was invited to an “Edgemont” wedding in Japan in 1998 and some seventy former Edgemont students were there. (Edgemont’s current Superintendent, Nancy Taddiken, told me that Miss Riblinger was a wonderful advocate for the Japanese youngsters.) As the Japanese economy ran into trouble, many of the companies brought their people home. Later a fair number of Indian students came to the area and the community remains far more diverse than it was in our time. (The microcosm reflects the macrocosm!) Today, at the Edgemont graduation, flags indicating the birthplace of the graduates are flown. Between thirty-eight and forty-two flags are normally displayed!
Edgemont made national headlines with an e-mail bomb scare hoax last year. Dr. Taddiken said it was a very scary morning. They didn’t open school at all: everyone, even custodians, reported to the firehouse where plans to manage the crisis were developed. (They were aware that the school had been in this building at one time.) Fortunately, the student who received the hoax had “saved” it and authorities were able to trace it quickly. The incident did emphasize the fact that technology is a mixed blessing. The internet made information available which enabled the perpetrator of the hoax to make it seem that he had inside information about the school.
September 11, 2001 was a nightmare for Edgemont as it was for the nation. Many parents and families of staff members worked in the World Trade Center and nearby areas. School was open and most of the children stayed. Some parents dropped by to give their kids a hug. Counselors and psychologists were available. The phones worked all day as news about specific people dribbled in. The District used the phone chains to ensure that someone was at home before the children were dismissed. Two Edgemont parents were killed and another was severely burned. The District is still providing follow-up support to help students and staff deal with 9/11. New York State had mandated extensive emergency planning in the wake of Columbine but September 11 made planning for major disasters a more urgent priority. Dr. Taddiken stated that they are working hard to find a balance between appropriate caution and paralyzing fear. Aren’t we all?
I asked Dr. Taddiken to share her feelings about Edgemont and her response was most interesting. She had worked in several Westchester districts before coming to Edgemont and has found Edgemont to be unique. She said there is a very strong sense that the school is part of the community and, in fact, is the focal point of the community. She attributed this to several factors. It is a small district and people come there for the schools. As she put it, you don’t move to Edgemont because you want to be near Central Avenue! There isn’t really a “downtown” so the schools become the center of interest and activity. Dr. Taddiken also believes that Edgemont has an unusual tolerance for diversity both of background and of opinion. (I’m not sure this was the case in our time.) She has found the school community to be like a family and commented with some emotion about the tremendous support she received when she lost both her parents within three months. Dr. Taddiken has been Superintendent for twelve years, which is a very long run for Westchester, and said she would not want to work anywhere else. This is nice to hear, isn’t it?
Edgemont has flourished. The District has a fine reputation in academics. Test scores are high, and the kids continue to get into good colleges. Edgemont does accept tuition students and available space is snapped up. Westchester Spotlight recently ranked Edgemont as the top high school in Westchester. (The Scarsdale folks had to be scraped off the ceiling!) Our athletic program (under the direction of a slightly younger alumnus, Jim San Marco) is outstanding. Our football team has won the state championship for the last three years. This is a far cry from the 50-0 loss the 1956 Panthers suffered at the hands of Bronxville at our first home football game. Clearly, we can be proud to say, “I was in the first graduating class of Edgemont High School”!
But what about us?
I suspect that our lives, which had much in common for thirteen years, diverged sharply after we left high school. The fifties ended while we were in college and for many of us, the sixties was a crucial decade – the era in which we really left home, got jobs, married, bought houses, and had children. These important events took place, in many cases, far from our childhood homes and without the knowledge of our Edgemont friends. The world went nuts with drugs, an unpopular war, both peaceful and violent demonstrations, and assassinations. But this was also the era in which significant gains were made in civil rights. Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique was the opening salvo in a struggle for increased opportunities for women. Our generation was caught right on the cusp of this but certainly many of us benefited from changing attitudes in this area. The seventies weren’t tranquil either. The Vietnam War finally ended. Then there was the Nixon resignation and the energy crisis. This decade also brought important changes in the area of rights for those with disabilities. The eighties brought the Reagan era, the end of the cold war, the beginning of the revolution in information technology which has led to the global economy. The United States saw an increase in ethnic diversity similar to that which occurred in the early part of the twentieth century. The class of 1957 had a great reunion in June of 1982 where almost every classmate returned to celebrate our Edgemont roots. The nineties brought still another war, and the antics of Bill Clinton. The nations experienced unprecedented economic expansion and a troubling materialistic emphasis, all of which came to a crashing end on September 11, 2001. The word “terrorism” became a reality for us. The post 9/11 world has seen an increase in patriotism and some readjustment of values which could have a major impact on the future. Our lives played out against this background. Success, failure, marriage, divorce, illness, and the death of those we love, including most of our parents; I’m sure we’ve seen it all by now.
So, we assemble again. We, who knew each other as preschoolers, children, and teenagers, meet again in the seventh decade of our lives. “In my beginning is my end”. (T.S. Eliot) What does the future hold for us and for our world? Who knows? Certainly these are frightening times for Americans. Sitting at my computer, (May 26, 2002), I can hear airplanes circling to the South, patrolling New York City. However, people our age have known fearful times in the past. We understand that maintaining a free society has never been easy. But, what’s ahead for us? Again, we can’t know. I tend to be an optimist and think that our future holds grandchildren, more time to do what we want, increasing age but reasonably good heath, friendship, love, sunshine and happiness. As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us every one!” (Charles Dickens).