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Category: History / Topics: Teaching

Blackboard History

reported by Stu Johnson

Posted: August 10, 2015

An Oklahoma school discovered a literal time capsule when a remodeling project uncovered slate blackboards with lessons from 1917…

A friend of mine passed on the following story about the amazing discovery of a set of blackboards untouched for nearly 100 years, preserving life and education as it was in 1917. My wife and I talked about how this could happen—was it a purposeful attempt to create a giant time capsule or a lazy janitor who didn't care to clean the old boards (or remove them) first? Knowing the tendency until recent years to give high regard to preserving history, I imagine it was the former, including the dated notation by the installer. My wife also reminded me that it was apparently common practice for workers to sign their names in the framing of Sears kit houses. Pride in preservation!

While the following material has been duplicated elsewhere, I tracked down what appears to be the original post to the blog of Cassandra Lewis and also found a number of other stories you may wish to explore. See the notes at the end for links (the original blog includes attribution for the photos).

When contractors began work on four classrooms of Emerson High School in Oklahoma, they knew their remodel would improve education — but they never expected it would impact local history.

Looking to upgrade the rooms with new whiteboards and smartboards, the workers had to first remove the outdated chalkboards. But when they began to pull away the old boards, they made a startling discovery.

Beneath the current boards rested another set of chalkboards — untouched for nearly 100 years. Protected and totally undisturbed, the century-old writings and drawings looked like they were made just yesterday. Here, a November calendar rolls into December. A turkey marks the celebration of Thanksgiving.

A multiplication table gives us a glimpse into the curriculum and methods taught in 1917, techniques perhaps lost in the passage of time. When regarding a wheel of multiplication, Principal Sherry Kishore told The Oklahoman, “I have never seen that technique in my life.”

But Oklahoma City school officials aren’t just shocked by what is written, but how it is written. Penmanship like this is clearly a lost art. This board reads, “I give my head, my heart, and my life to my God and One nation indivisible with justice for all.”

Within each of the four rooms, the subject matter and lessons mirrored one another — indicating, as an Oklahoma Public School Twitter caption reads, “aligned curriculum in 1917.”

And though the boards’ style and subject matter might be unfamiliar to younger folks, they certainly resonate with older generations. Principal Kishore told The Oklahoman what it was like to show her 85-year-old mother the boards: “She just stood there and cried. She said it was exactly like her classroom was when she was going to school.”

But these boards actually predate Principal Kishore’s mother by 13 years. Two dates were found on the boards: November 30, 1917, and December 4, 1917.

Some of the writings and drawings were done by students, while others were made by teachers — but it’s not always clear whose is whose.

Regardless, the work is a striking look into days long gone. While reading the boards — like this one listing “My Rules To Keep Clean” — the past comes alive in a very personal way.

English teacher Cinthea Comer told The Oklahoman, “It was so eerie because the colors were so vibrant it looked like it was drawn the same day. To know that it was drawn 100 years ago… it’s like you’re going into a looking glass into the past.”

Built in 1895, Emerson High School has seen many renovations and improvements throughout the years — but nothing like this has ever been discovered.

When removing old chalkboards in the past, contractors have only found broken pipes and wires, so this is a shocking surprise. Oklahoma City and the school district are now working to preserve these beautiful boards.

Hopefully, the spirit of these teachers and their students will be enjoyed for many years to come. Who knew that scribbles on a chalkboard could become such a precious piece of history.

The Slate story (see link below) also shows this note on a board attributing the "cover up" work in one room to janitor R J. Scott.


The original post by Cassandra Lewis can be found at her blog at

Among other stories on this subject, you may find these interesting:

Posted: August 10, 2015   Accessed 808 times

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