by John A Clark (Greenville HS, Class of 1966)
When I was in my hometown Greenville OH for the 50th reunion of the class of 1966, my sister Shari (Class of 1970) and I were taking a walk up and down Broadway. We decided to stop in at the Town Hall because I had an odd question about the building’s clock tower.
A gentleman came out, I introduced myself and prefaced my question thusly, “I lived here for 18 years and am in town for my 50th high school reunion. We used to have a high school ritual called flag rush, where the junior and senior classes competed to see who could hang a flag the highest, and one that stayed up the longest. You had to accomplish both to win.”
Then I asked him a Greenville urban (make that small town) legend question: “In the spring of 1965 my classmate, Jack Willey had somehow gained entry into this building after hours, climbed up into the cupola and hung a flag from the rim of the tower just under the clock face. Of that, I am sure. As the story goes, he supposedly carved his initials somewhere in that tower, right next to the initials of Lowell Thomas. Someone claimed that Jack had also fallen through the ceiling and crashed into the office below. Is there any way you could check the accuracy of the ‘initials’ part of the story for me?” Turns out the clock tower area was blocked off for remodeling but in about a month it would be accessible. He assured me that he would personally go up there, check it out and get back to me with the answer (he never did). The other flag rush incident I am about to relate is no legend. I was there assisting our clever classmate, Jack Willey.
On one particular Friday afternoon in late April, Jack had visited the Memorial Hall men’s bathroom and unlocked a small window which was big enough for two black-clad adolescents to squeeze through at about 8:30 pm. From there we found our way up a couple flights of stairs to another window near the top of the building and climbed out onto a wide ledge and then on to the roof. Willey had packed a couple of gym bags full of rope, a neatly spray-painted sheet with the words CLASS of 1966 and just the right tools. By now it was a little after nine. I’d say it took us about twenty to twenty-five minutes to drape and secure the giant 1966-emblazoned flag over the front of the building, three stories up.
Just as we were finishing the job, a car stopped (without actually parking) in front of the historic building. Several Class of ’65 class members started pointing at us, yelling and generally making a ruckus. Then suddenly, as we were starting to pack up our gear, they burned rubber and sped away, presumably driving the four blocks to the police station to report us. Some ten minutes later, as these two sneak thieves were stealthily making our way down to the lobby of The Hall, the cops had pulled up across the street and begun setting up a small searchlight and firing up the bullhorn. Neighbors and curious bystanders began to gather and buzz.
Crap and dang it (or words to that effect) I mused. This was it. We were dead meat. Baloney on a cold roll. My immediate future flashed before me. My family and relatives would be horrified at my arrest. My youth minister would be so, so disappointed in me. This little stunt was going on my permanent record, and I would never, ever be accepted at any self-respecting college.
By now the cops were shining that big light into the Memorial Hall lobby but Willey and I had moved to the shadows in the front middle of that lobby to escape its damning glare. Then an officer addressed us gruffly through the bullhorn. “Boys, come out here quietly with your hands up and you won’t be harmed.” The seniors who had ratted on us, no doubt were standing somewhere behind the cruiser, grinning idiotically in eager anticipation of the successful foiling of yet another Class of 1966 attempt to hoist a flag.
I’ll give you two minutes (that’s about how much time we had) to figure out how Jack Willey saved our butts. Well, in those days there was a pay phone in the Memorial Hall lobby, and we were crouching right under it. Willey stood up, jammed in a dime, made a phone call to the police department and fabricated some dire, life- threatening emergency out in the vicinity of the City Park. Just as three policemen were about to enter the Memorial Hall, guns and Mace still in their holsters, we heard a muffled police radio transmission through the thick glass doors. Just as quickly as they had deployed the men, set up their lights and prepared for the Siege of The Hall, the men in blue packed it all up and hauled ass out of there. Willey and I waited until the seniors left, and the crowd dissipated and walked out into the warm spring night. Through the front door. Scot free.
John is a guest columnist, and first cousin of mine. We grew up together in G-Ville, and we have a surfeit of misadventure stories to relay from a more innocent time. Living in Greenville in the 50s and 60s was like growing up in a Norman Rockwell painting.