Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
First class, first-class school
In the winter of 1938, Clayton Martin Jr. left his East Ross Street home, crossed rail freight tracks that have since been removed and walked into his homeroom in the Northeast Wing of the new McCaskey High School.
"You wouldn't be able to do that today,'' Martin says, his eyes twinkling. "Security wouldn't allow it.''
Alumni who attend McCaskey's 75th anniversary open house on Wednesday will all enter the school the same way.
They will walk through the main doors of the imposing art deco-style building, cross the lobby's terrazzo floors and spread out from there.
Martin, one of 274 seniors who entered McCaskey for the first time on Feb. 7, 1938, will be proud to be among next week's visitors.
The 92-year-old retired mail carrier and county tax collector has remained loyal to his school and his class.
It was a special class -- the first to graduate from McCaskey High School, even though they only spent 3 1/2 months in the place.
"The new school was quite a change from what we had before,'' says Martin, who now lives in East Hempfield Township and serves as class treasurer.
"The physical plant was greatly improved,'' he says, "and the fact that we were reunited with our female classmates was a plus.''
Before 1938, boys and girls in Lancaster city attended school together through ninth grade. Then they split. Boys went to Boys High (now Fulton Elementary School) and girls went to Stevens Girls High (now Stevens School Apartments).
When McCaskey opened that February, boys and girls were delighted to get back together in a school with a pool and what Martin says was known at the time as "the largest stage west of Rockefeller Center.''
They also enjoyed playing fields adjacent to the school for the first time. There was no space for athletic fields at Boys High, so the football team played at Maple Grove.
Martin has walked inside McCaskey only a few times since 1938, but he has attended every reunion of his class. In recent years, as members dwindled in number, Martin's class has held combined reunions with the class that graduated in mid-1938, before McCaskey opened.
Whether the classes of 1938 will hold a 75th-year reunion remains an open question, Martin says. That depends on the level of interest, which Martin and other class members are gauging.
"I'm more interested in the people than the building,'' observes Martin. "We had pretty solid citizens in our class. Most of them went to the service. We lost two killed in the war.''
And a number of class members became celebrities, including the movie director Franklin Schaffner, the athlete "Barney'' Ewell and the writer Richard Gehman.
Martin has become a "caretaker'' for some remaining class members. He completes tax returns for a few. He drives some to reunions and will take three to the high school open house next week.
"Some ladies back in our day never learned to drive,'' he explains.
Guided tours will be provided for all alumni. Call 291-6211, ext. 30619, by Tuesday for details and reservations.
Other events are planned, including a Wednesday evening presentation about John Piersol McCaskey, the school's namesake, by Dolores Parsil, a retired McCaskey teacher.
Parsil is at work on a biography of McCaskey, who served as longtime principal of the school and mayor of the city.
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