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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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Bird in a Gilded Cage

By Stuart Brown

The Magpie, January 1938, v. 22, n. 1., p. 76.

I flashed my newly acquired elevator pass on "Looie" and nonchalantly remarked, "Pretty smooth machine, this elevator, isn't it?"

"Well, compared with the old days it is. I remember the old one down at 59th Street. It wasn't all closed in like this one. It was a sort of cage-grill work... silver bars, you know. And when the darn thing didn't break down, you could see it rise and fall slowly in the open shaft."

"Sounds interesting, Looie; go on." I had a free period and I was willing to spend it talking to Looie, whose wit and stories are one of Clinton's traditions.

"There was the time," he went on, "when we used the elevator to take supplies up to the restaurant. (Downtown, the restaurant was on the top floor.) The result was that I had very little time to transport the teachers. Therefore, they resorted to many devices to lure me through the shaft. Sometimes they held long-distance conversations with me. Mr. Wright, of the English department, used to try to entice me up to the third floor by throwing pennies down the shaft into the elevator. 'Doe' Guernsey used to bellow threats, that I come up for him—or else! Once he became so absorbed in calling me that he twisted the iron bars on the grilling of the door, and it took me two days to straighten them out." I joined him in his hearty laughter. "The boiler room, in those days, was the men's smoking room. It was in the cellar, connected to the upper floors only by the elevator, and every time the bell rang to change periods, the men would call up to me for quick service; invariably the elevator broke down just at that time. Whenever that happened many pet names were bestowed on me, but I don't think you'd care to print them; in fact, I don't think you ought to."

Then he went on to tell me about the class of blind and crippled students Clinton used to have, and how kind boys were in guiding them about, and how they were his most regular elevator customers.

"Say," he continued, "did you know that Mr. Boylan has a brother who taught in this school? Yes, sir! His name is Arthur Boylan, a fine, talented fellow, who acted in some of the best shows on Broadway. Later on, he became an English teacher in Clinton; today he is principal of George Washington High School.

"Well, one afternoon I was in the General Office when he came in to look over his mail. He was astonished to find a package there for him, and even more astonished when he discovered that the contents was a chicken. He must have thought that I had had something to do with the episode, for he threw it at me with surprisingly good aim. At least, it surprised me. I picked the thing up and took it home. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Boylan if he would do it again, but he said, 'No! The price of chicken today is forty cents a pound'."

Just at this time the bell to change periods rang; I faced Looie,

"Do you think you could get me to third floor on time for my class, or will this thing go hay-wire?"

And Looie sang forth, loud and clear, "Them days is gone forever."

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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