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 Volume V Issue II Fall - 2002 
1923 High School Picture Returns "Home"
By Greg Davie

How many of you have had the opportunity to show off your hometown to a total stranger? I have! It's one thing to drive around Sidney with relatives, college friends, in-laws or whoever. But to give a tour of the place where you've grown up (and in my case, settled into adult life) to a pair of previously unknown visitors? It's kinda fun!

To those who have not heard the story, let me bring you up to speed. A writer for the New. York Observer named Joe Hagen came across a panoramic picture of a group of. students in front of the Pleasant Street School, with the simple label "Sidney, N.Y. 1923".He bought it at a rummage/craft sale, I believe he said in Peekskill.

Hanging on his apartment wall for some time, the picture took on a renaissance of sorts. Joe told me, during our ice-breaking lunch at Nancy's Place, people visiting him seemed to be, drawn to this photo with an antique charm.

Mild curiosity eventually gave way to historical hunger, as Joe proceeded to dig a little deeper for any information on these faces staring back at him. Who were these people standing in front of this anonymous school in an unknown place so long ago?

`Doing the internet search proved successful (Is this too easy or what?) as Joe found the Alumni website almost'. instantly. Contact was made with Alumni President Terry Dermody and a visit to Sidney was set up for.a warm yet comfortable` Sunday after-noon in August.

I was actually the fourth or fifth choice from the Alumni totem pole to give this tour, but hey, I had a half a tank of gas and a couple of hours free so...

Before the tour even started, fate was on our side. Joe and his fiancee at the time; now they're married!) Samantha had been in Saratoga the day, before for the famous Travers Stakes race. Embarking on their smooth ride down 1-88, Joe called to say he'd meet me at McDonald's - we had provided him with directions there. On my way, I first stopped at WCDO radio station on Main Street to get a reciprocal gift, a Ward Herman print from my office. I came downstairs, locked the door and noticed a couple standing by their car that had Vermont license plates.

I thought, "No, that's Vermont. Joe and Samantha lived downstate." Well, upon crossing. Main St. I looked back and saw them holding this long, rectangular picture. Yep, you guessed it, it was them. We made almost instant recognition toward each other: "Joe?" "Greg?" "Wow!"

That was just the start of our magical time together. Okay, so Samantha hadn't gotten her driver's license changed from Vermont to New York yet (in case were curious). As I said before, they had lunch at Nancy's Place while I sipped on iced tea and got their story - typical journalist stuff we both had in common. Then it was immediately off to Pleasant Street so we could attack the major mystery first.

We took a slow walk around the building and, despite its overgrown weeds and lack of the old luster, Pleasant Street's architecture was what Joe and Samantha marveled at most of all. We remarked about the turrets; the handiwork of the masons who had scaled the top floors to create intricate designs and even the old ceiling tiles from the rooms we could see from our vantage points. Surely an "asbestos nightmare".

In many areas, we simply guessed what things may have looked like in the school's heyday. Together we gathered many hints of past glory for Sidney's most beloved educational facility, as ventured our best guess as from what angle the picture was actually taken. Joe and Samantha. had studied that picture in such detail that they noticed certain characteristics of the kids who posed on that day in 1923. I would rather they tell you what they observed, however, I'm guessing our buddy Fred Videtto (Class of 1928) could tell you many of the people by name - including where he is in that picture, too!

Well, we each took some pictures of ourselves in front of the main doors at Pleasant Street, then it was off for the tour. I guess most of my tour rallied around the "Scintilla" theme. It came up everywhere from the old houses in the "Brooklyn" section - no longer a usable phrase to the names of some streets. Like everyone else, Joe and Samantha were amused by the actual name of our hospital (The Hospital .... Sidney). They also were taken by the other historical names of streets such as Hatfield. Ave (the old automobile plant) and Campmeeting Street (for the Methodist. camp meetings held there).

We toured the new high school athletic fields, discussed the innovative plan of the Sidney Elementary School (Howard Dunbaes vision of the open classroom setting) and of course the 1929-59 High School / 1960-79 Junior High School / current Civic Center - all the same building on Liberty Street. One regret was the removal of the "Boys" and "Girls" separate entrances in the back (remember those?) ...I thought they had still been there. I believe I answered all of their questions --most of the time, Samantha was filming with their new camera -- except one. Who was Thomas Z. Fagan?

The airport is now named for this man and even I did not know this fact. Now I do! - I emailed Joe to 'tell him that. Mr. Fagan was the "magneto guy" who was responsible for its U.S patent. Since our government would only grant them to American citizens, the men who formed Scintilla all came from Sweden because of that regulation.

Fagan also personally installed the ` magneto on Charles Lindbergh's plane, the "Spirit of St. Louis" prior to his take off from Mitchell Field (on Long Island) to Paris. See, even I learned something.

So finally, it was time to part company, but not without one small reminder of Sidney, New York: their road map. The same map they had been look-ing-at when I first saw them was still on the side-walk next to their car two hours later. Apparently they had left it there when putting the Ward Hermann print away. No one had touched it.

A fitting end to a wonderful day.