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Moon through the Night
Memoirs of the Decoration Committee Chairman

Written March 14, 2010

 

Each spring, my thoughts travel back to my days as a student at Richwood High School, where the Junior Class always threw a big party for the Senior Class on the second weekend in May.

It was called the Junior-Senior Banquet at first, then the Junior-Senior Prom.  We generally referred to it simply as The Junior-Senior.

I was a junior in 1964.  There were about 85 in our class, and class president Ed Olson wanted everybody to participate in the project.  He began assigning our duties a month before the event.  At 10:15 Friday morning, April 10, according to the records I kept in a yellow notebook, Ed informed me he planned to appoint me as chairman of the Decoration Committee.

“I suggested that there should be about 10 other committee members,” I wrote.  “He at one time had considered using 20, in order to get everyone on a committee, but I felt that many might be hard to organize.”  Ed drew up a list of 10 and gave it to me after the next period, at 11:00.  In alphabetical order:

Roxye Carter
Mary Beth Cobb
Pat Hoffman
Eileen Jividen
Ron Lane
Denny Roberts
Gene Somerlot
Dianne Steele
Tom Thomas
Sheila Ward

However, we eventually ended up with at least 15 members, because one of our subcommittees also included:

Bonnie Bell
Kelly Drake
Jane Guy
Bill Maugans
Barbara Stockwell

Because there were “still some things to be decided by other committees over the weekend,” our first meeting would not be held until Monday.

At 3:30 on April 13, we duly gathered after school in Room 3 with Ed and our faculty advisor, Mrs. Mary Cahill.  Our assigned areas to decorate would be the gym, the front entrance hall, the food room, and maybe the game room.

Ward was appointed to head the Special Effects Subcommittee, which would include Hoffman, Jividen, Somerlot, Steele, and myself.

Carter would chair the Art Subcommittee.  She suggested two days later that Drake serve as her co-chairman.  Other members included Bell, Cobb, Guy, Lane, Maugans, Roberts, and Stockwell.

We made two specific assignments.  Somerlot was put in charge of ordering crepe paper after we'd calculated our requirements.  (Crepe paper comes in folded sheets 20 by 90 inches or in streamers two inches wide.  I made no notation of cost at the time, but even in 2010, just $3 will buy a 500-foot roll.)  And Hoffman was appointed “to check what flowers grow in the South that could be used in decorations.” 

Why?  The Prom was going to have a romantic Southern theme, probably “Under the Magnolias,” according to Pat Ransome from the Theme Committee.  She proposed a general plan for the gym decorations.  We had no objections.

According to this plan, the Art Subcommittee would create a scene on the stage on the east side of the gym.  There would be a backdrop of an antebellum Southern mansion, probably in Georgia.  It wouldn’t merely be a flat picture; 3-D pillars would be set out from the backdrop, supporting a portico roof.  The inspiration presumably was Tara, in scenes like this one from the movie Gone with the Wind.

The other subcommittee, Special Effects, would be responsible for the rest of the gym.  The band would set up in the northeast corner, under the old scoreboard.  On the opposite end of the stage, in the southeast corner, we would add some scenery:  an old slave shack (nowadays we'd avoid reminders of slavery) and a full moon.  The remaining area would be decorated with artificial magnolia trees (“as many as possible”), wrought-iron benches, flowers, and the like.  Outside the gym, there might be a fountain or a waterfall, perhaps in the upper front hall.

We were told that the activities at the high school were scheduled to begin at 8:00 PM on Friday, May 8, with a half-hour program at 8:30.  From 9:00 to 12:00 there would be games and a movie and the formal dance, with a few card tables and chairs around the edge of the gym floor.  At midnight we’d eat, and the gym floor will be filled with the rest of the tables.  Then from 1:00 until breakfast, there’d be games and a second showing of the movie. 

The next morning, after first period, I learned that the theme might be “Mississippi Moon” or “Gone with the Wind.”  As I recall, all of us juniors studied American history with Mrs. Cahill.  In those history classes she was taking a vote to determine which theme the juniors wanted.  So far, the results were “indecisive.”

After school we returned to Room 3 to hold our second meeting.  We decided to make more room on the gym floor by moving both the band and the moon up onto the stage, where the mansion would retreat to the back wall, possibly painted on the existing scenery flats.  Carpets of artificial grass would be draped over the front of the stage down to the gym floor, forming a grassy bank.  All this was assigned to the Art Subcommittee.

A 2010 visualization of the concept

The Special Effects Subcommittee made detailed plans for the hallways.  Our Senior Class guests, as they walked from the front entrance to the hall that led to the gym floor, would have to descend a few steps.  We planned to magically transform these steps by building a ramp over them, disguised as a rustic footbridge.  Then crepe paper would transform the walls.  The numbers apparently refer to colors in the catalog:  “Streamers in two shades of green (18, 20) from bottom edge of bridge to top of wall.  Block off lower level of main entrance with crepe-paper curtain, brown and tan (32, 04).  Vines up step railing.  Another curtain blocking off east façade between steps and trophy case, except for an archway.”

No decorating would be required for either the game room or the food room.  But up on the second-floor hall, we’d place a wishing well.  “Crepe-paper backdrop behind wishing well, brown and green (32, 20); theme in sparkled letters on it.”

In the gym, even more crepe paper would be run from west to east to form our “night sky.”  This would visually reduce the height of the basketball court's 3800-square-foot ceiling.  Over the photo below, showing the north wall of the gym during an intramural basketball game, I've drawn the northernmost of these streamers in blue.

We installed four 80-foot-long support wires lengthwise about 13 feet above the floor, as specified at our next committee meeting on April 20.  Starting near the new scoreboard, one wire ran from the middle of the sill of the northwest window (on the left in the photo), over the camera that took the photo, to the corresponding windowsill on the south wall where it was attached.  The next two wires connected the upper corners of the north basketball backboard (shown above) to the upper corners of the south backboard.  The final wire connected the northeast windowsill to the southeast windowsill.  Using multiple ladders, we laid blue streamers across these wires.  From the final wire, we considered continuing the streamers down at an angle until they met the floor at the baseboard, but not in front of the stage.

On the occasion of the 50th reunion of the Class of 1965, Criss Somerlot recalled, "My favorite HS memory is decorating for prom.  Why?  I don't know.  But it was fun."

One problem with transforming our gym into a garden was that at each end there loomed that stark white 21-square-foot wooden slab:  the backboard.  Unlike more modern glass backboards that can be retracted up to the ceiling, ours were permanently affixed to steel trusses bolted to the walls.  We could cut down the nets.  We could temporarily resurface the boards with a layer of blue crepe paper.  But that would merely turn them into blue backboards, their support trusses and orange rims still clearly visible.

Could I somehow disguise such an eyesore and turn it into a romantic place to sit, like this arbor?

I envisioned something like this drawing, which I produced in 2010 based on my original sketches.

On Wednesday morning, April 15, 1964, during second-period study hall, I put this idea on paper.  “Vertical crepe-paper streamers on east and west sides of supports.  Horizontal streamers on underside of supports, to form a low ceiling.  Beam clamped to backboard as shown to form third edge of triangular prism (with top and bottom edges of board).  Solid crepe paper over two sides of prism toward gym, folded back to cover triangular ends of prism also.  To prevent sagging of paper, might need wires along dotted lines in fig. 3.  Probably all done in same medium blue (26) as sky of gym.  Flat surfaces could be decorated.  Wrought-iron bench under canopy.”

The key to my plan was the “beam,” here colored red in my perspective sketch.

A six-foot 2x4 rests atop the front edge of the rim.  At each end, a shorter 2x4 connects to a flat piece of plywood, which in turn is fastened to the face of the backboard — with clamps, not nails, so as not to damage the backboard.  Wires from the backboard corners run through screw eyes at the ends of the beam to complete the framework, ready for its paper skin.

Later I would ask the boys in shop class to build a pair of these beams.  I gave them drawings (a plan and an elevation with dimensions), but they found those hard to comprehend.  It was not until I gave them a perspective view, a 3-D isometric projection, that they understood the shape.

The balloting in the history classes was completed by April 16.  “Mississippi Moon” would be our theme.

My backboard plan was accepted at the April 20 meeting of the committee, but we abandoned two other construction projects:  the columned portico in front of the mansion and the footbridge in the lower hall.  Instead, we’d decorate the lower hall’s ceiling in pink (09) and the walls in blush pink (08).

On the stage, we decided to paint the background directly on the scenery flats, including a large golden-white moon that would be spotlighted so that it actually glowed.  Drake would arrange for that.  However, rather than trying to draw the mansion ourselves, we decided to buy a commercially-printed house, eight feet high and 16 feet wide, along with a four-foot-high “stone wall” behind it.  Somerlot ordered the house and wall, along with our crepe paper and a supply of artificial vines.

The next morning, Mrs. Cahill announced a revised schedule.  The doors would open at 7:00, and the on-stage business would begin at 7:30.

According to the program that was eventually printed, Terry Rockhold was the master of ceremonies.  Rick Ridge gave the invocation.  Ed Olson presented the junior welcome on behalf of the “southern slaves,” and Dick Gill gave the senior response on behalf of the “plantation masters.”  Sherry Keigley sang “Summertime,” I played a southern medley on the piano, and Pat Ransome sang “Ol’ Man River.”  For comedy, the seniors presented their class history and their last will and testament, while the juniors prophesized what lay ahead for them.  Superintendent Richard Fetter closed the ceremonies on behalf of the “Simon Legrees” (the faculty and administration).

At 8:00 in the study hall, a smorgasbord was planned (most folks nowadays would call it a buffet).  The game room would open at the same hour.   This was later changed to a dinner at 8:15 with the game room not opening until 10:00.

The formal dance, with music by Larry LaGrange, was still scheduled for 9:00 to midnight.  The smorgasbord would remain open until the food was gone.  Then “finger food” would be available from 12:30 AM until breakfast at 4:30.

Other activities included a crowning and a hootenanny and a sock hop.  To translate:

crowning at midnight — the naming of a Prom Queen (and maybe a Prom King; I don’t remember)

hootenanny at 1:00 — a sing-along concert of folk music

sock hop at 2:30 — an informal dance to rock ’n’ roll music

On Thursday morning, April 23, I made a note that the grass mats for the stage were 27 miles away in Kenton, Ohio.  Barbara Bugg agreed to pick them up by 3:30 on the afternoon of the Prom and return them by 9:00 the next morning.

It occurred to me that with our elaborately detailed stage set, we were putting a lot of effort into creating a pretty picture on one side of the gym.  Meanwhile, the rest of the building would be only thinly disguised with an insubstantial veneer of widely-spaced streamers.

At this point, I must have switched my memo-writing to another notebook which has not yet been rediscovered.  I do recall that a few days before the Prom, I was working from a “to-do” list that filled a page with at least 30 tasks.


Personally, I’m neither a party person nor a night-owl, neither a dancer nor a game player.  I began to feel melancholy when I imagined the end result of all our planning.  I would be staying awake all night alongside my celebrating classmates as the hours crept by, hours of darkness illuminated by our faux Mississippi moon.

I thought of inscribing a thoughtful poem on a plaque on the wall under the crepe arbor.  Perhaps it could be the old Welsh song “Ar Hyd Y Nos,” which includes these lines:

While the moon her watch is keeping
     All through the night,
While the weary world is sleeping
     All through the night,
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and vale in slumber steeping,
I my loving vigil keeping
     All through the night.

However, that didn’t quite fit.  Few of us would be so bored as to sit around merely waiting for the night to be over.

Therefore, I wrote a song of my own.  I scribbled down the first four notes and the final four notes of a melody, and I actually finished the words.  I don’t think this poem ever became part of the Prom decorations in 1964, but here it is.

           The night is young.
The dew is on the lawn and trees;
     And, rising o’er the gray stone wall
Behind the old plantation house
     Where tonight is held a garden ball,
          There shines a moon.

          The night is young.
Who are these happy people here?
     They laugh, they smile, their voices ring.
But life is brief.  A few years hence
     Who’ll care that they no longer sing
          Nor see the moon?

Yet sing, young men and ladies gay,
     And laugh, and smile, and dance!
Your life is young!  Live while you may!
     Enjoy life’s fresh romance!

          When night has gone
And all the wearied dancers left —
     Their happy memories in their hearts —
Still, over others, young like them,
     In other places, other parts,
          Will shine the moon.


After the big event had ended, I took a deep breath.  I recorded my feelings in the yellow notebook.

I wonder what sort of person I am.  With all the fun and entertainment of the Prom — the ten hours of enforced high spirits — the only time I felt at rest with myself was the one moment that morning when, having shut down the gym and turned off some of the lights, I walked alone out the front door of the schoolhouse.  The party was over.  Most of those who had been there had just driven off in their cars.  Streamers of pink crepe paper were blowing across the deserted lawn of the school.  The grey tints of dawn were just beginning to lighten the sky, although the street lights were still burning.  And, as the morning wind howled and rustled in the trees, I looked up at the trees, and I was at peace with the world.

I would recapitulate this paragraph a year later, at the conclusion of this essay about my impressions as a senior at the Prom.

 

TBT

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