Mendel Letter 70 –Straubenmuller Textile High School, Class of January 1939
March 26, 2022
After Straubenmuller Textile High School closed in 1954, its building on West 18th Street in Chelsea became home to Charles Evans Hughes High School. I taught at Hughes from 1978 until it started being phased out after the 1980–1981 school year. One day, while exploring in the sub-basement I found a copy of your high school yearbook, Loom. There was no picture of you; Mandel Singer was listed as camera shy. There was no recognition in the yearbook of the school’s program for the visually handicapped either. It was as if the program didn’t exist. Even though you left a light footprint at Straubenmuller, you didn’t appear in any of the club photographs, I thought it would be fun to take you down “memory lane.”
You graduated from high school in January 1939 at the tail end of the Great Depression. In his message to the graduates, Principal William H. Dooley advised that “Character and personality are the foundation stones of success and you must, therefore, continue to practice the excellent rules and principles your teachers have given you.” He acknowledged “At the present time, during this great depression, there I much unemployment which means that there are more people seeking positions than there are positions to be filled.” He recommended that you not be “too ambitious” and “take what is offered.”
While the principal’s message had an air of warning and impending disappointment, the graduating class had been living through the depression since elementary school. The stories written by students on the yearbook staff were very light, about going out for ice cream and a summer in the country.
The top songs for your generation were “My Own,” There I am, Doing It,” and “So Help Me.”
People were dancing to “Swing.” The class joke was about baseball. “The pitcher threw a W.P.A. curve, — it didn’t work.” The best teachers at Straubenmuller were Mr. Efron, Mr. Coughlin, Miss Sheedy, Miss Bowen, Mr. Klinger, Music Maestro, and Miss Meister.
The class poet, Margot Grote wrote: “As Textile swings her portals wide, To leave the World spread at our feet; We feel in justice to her Halls, That we must never know ‘defeat’.”
Little did the graduating class of January 1939 suspect that in three years they and the country would be at war.
Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.
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