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Mount Orégano
Sue Burke
Adolescents confront history 
5th-Nov-2014 12:42 pm
My junior high school had a scandalous “secret” that older students would melodramatically point out to incoming seventh-graders. The hallway floors in one of the buildings was edged with decorative glazed tiles in bright colors. On the first floor near the office, amid tiles depicting geometric shapes, anchors, lions, birds, shields, and other motifs, there was a swastika!

Oh, no! Why?

The answer involved a history lesson. The swastika symbol was old, older than Nazis and World War II. Nazis didn’t invent it, they only used it. Our building was older than the Nazis, so when it was built, the ancient symbol had seemed innocent, just like the lions and anchors.

We learned a lot in those buildings. In my case, classes included Spanish, algebra, geometry, civics, literature, art, home economics, and gym. But in the hallways, thanks to that scandalous tile, we also learned a lesson about the world, an idea some adults still don’t quite get. Things change over time, and the past holds surprises.

We also wondered why we were attending such old, decrepit buildings. This wasn’t just us kids whining, since teachers and parents had the same question. At some point – I can’t find out exactly when – the buildings were torn down and replaced by a new middle school elsewhere in the city.

My old junior high school was so unloved that I cannot find a single photo of the buildings on the Internet. All I could find were tiles in the Men’s Gymnasium, built in 1917, at Indiana University. They seem to have come from the same manufacturer as the ones at my junior high school.

The tiled floor at my school with the swastika has disappeared. It became history, a memory with a lesson.

And the world keeps changing.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website, http://www.sue.burke.name
5th-Nov-2014 11:53 am (UTC)
The 45th Infantry division in Oklahoma used to have that same insignia on their patch, a 'tribute' to all the Native American tribes in Oklahoma. They switched to the Thunderbird in 1941....for obvious reasons...
5th-Nov-2014 03:56 pm (UTC)
The houses on my street are all pre-1925. There's a two-story house -- probably about 1915 -- with 3 (I think) very large swastikas inset into the decorative plaster of the front. They've long since been covered up with innocuous-looking panels. I wonder if a future owner will ever uncover them in a restoration and suppose it was a secret nazi lair.
5th-Nov-2014 06:31 pm (UTC)
Would that add or detract from the real estate value?
25th-Feb-2016 04:17 am (UTC) - tile
the tile at the junior high were made at a tile shop in south Milwaukee on 9th ave. later the building was used to make a proto-type airplane
25th-Feb-2016 08:16 pm (UTC) - Re: tile
Thanks for the information, both about the tiles and about the airplane.
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