Volume II of The 1957-1958 School Year
By Lewis D. Harrison ('63)
Crane Hill, AL - April 2001
Lewis D. Harrison ('63)
It took some time to learn how to be a cadet. They had to teach the new cadets how to march, stay in step, turn the right way, and so on. Then there were the lessons on cleaning the barracks, polishing brass without getting it all over the belt, spit shining shoes so you could see your face in them, making a bed where someone could bounce a quarter on it, and then there were always the halls and latrine. The school was on a shoestring (not enough cadets) so we raked leaves and did some of the safer grounds maintenance.
About three months into the year most of us got this military thing down and came off of the demerit list and the work details. There were a few that never seemed to get it, but someone needed to be on the work details. Anyway, at this time we went back to having more time about thinking about being young boys who were making a lot of changes in our lives and curious about everything. I would compare us to a heard of raccoons. If you did not want us in it, it had better be locked, bared, and nailed shut.
The school had older cadets that lived and worked there year round. They liked to tell stories about the "haints" in the school buildings and unnatural people that just lived across the dirt road behind Tallapoosa Hall. You can read of some of these stories on the alumni site. The things that go bump, the rope in the clock tower, the Ward Mansion, and many more. In the seventh grade, some of those stories were very real to us.
Near the end of the year we had settled some of the stories. I spent the night in the Ward Mansion to prove there was no one roaming the halls. Now if you liked bats and pigeons, you were in luck. The Ward attic had what seemed to be a 1000 + bats and because there were no windows, every night 50 or 60 pigeons would fly in to roost, but they were never bothered by any hauntings.
As for the rope in the clock tower in Tallapoosa Hall, there was a door at the top of the stairs. It had a Yale lock, but with a pocketknife you could trick it open. There was a rope in the clock tower, but I never knew anyone to spend the night in Tallapoosa Hall much less the clock tower. As far as that goes there were only one or two cadets who would go in there after taps and turn that mischievous latrine light off on the second floor. I think the latrine light was scarier than the rope. That light did come on all by itself, even after you took a witness with you when you turned it off.
Well as you can see, one by one the cadets proved or disproved some of the stories, but there was one place that you did not seem to get to. Earlier in volume one of this story you may remember I spoke of a locked door near the Post Office in Tallapoosa Hall. That door lead to what we were told was a chemistry lab. No one was allowed to pass through that door unless you were Staff or a student taking a biology, chemistry or physical science class. I left that first year without settling the mysteries of the basement in Tallapoosa Hall.
When I returned to LWMA for my second year, there were two curiosities that were unsettled, T-Bone and the chemistry lab. Well right off I will tell you that I never got up the courage to speak or befriended T-Bone. But, now we come to the chemistry lab. The older cadets told us of all kinds of animals in jars in a cabinet along the inner wall. They told of things that would try to get out of the jars and run across the floor. They cut animals open and stuck pins in them after putting them into a jar that would kill them. All of this was too good to have to wait to your junior and senior year to see and the only person with a key was a redheaded teacher named Wesley P. Smith. He was the gatekeeper and never left the lab without locking the door. He never left a window ajar, believe me I know.
About one third of the way into the school year, two cadets who shall remain anonymous and I walked back to campus from church one Sunday. At that time we marched as a unit to the three churches downtown, but we all walked back on our own. Curiosity had overcome us. After we ate lunch and when everything got quite that Sunday afternoon, we set out down the back road for Tallapoosa Hall. There was a set of rear doors, but they always stayed locked. However, I had discovered a small steel door. This was an old coal chute. It did not have a lock on it and was just right for three curious eight graders. One at a time we made our way through the chute and then through another hole in the foundation and there it was, a small wooden crawlspace door that opened into the lab. We were there and as far as I know, we were the first and maybe the last eight graders to make it into that lab. We had won. We looked through all of the cabinets and drawers. They were right. There were dead animals in bottles of formaldehyde. There were tubes, beakers, and all kinds of neat stuff to hold them. There were Bunsen burners, scales, and just tons of things that we had never ever seen. What a find, we became lost in just looking around. It was like walking on the moon and then all of a sudden there was a click of a lock at the top of the stair well.
Have you ever seen rats leaving a burning ship? I have never been so scared in my life. All three of us went through the crawlspace door, but instead of turning left towards the hole in the foundation, we turned to the right. We were trapped like rats and Capt. Smith knew it. (In our first yearbook in 1960 he was president, but just a Major.) He just stood by that small door and said, "Okay, boys, come on out." I will never forget those words. We were three had lads and there was nothing we could do about it. I swear my whole life flashed before my eyes. I knew that calling my parents was nothing. I was going to have to leave LWMA. There is nothing I could think of that would have been worse.
Out of the door we came and up the steps to the office. Wesley spent a long time with each one of us and explained the seriousness of what we had done. I had to dial my parents phone number for him, I knew in my heart that I was out of there. There was no way that he would allow us to stay. We had really messed up, but that is not the way it turned out. It seems that we had to apologize for braking into the lab and we spent the rest of the year on work details, but we were not expelled. I have never been so glad to go on work detail in my life. I would have done anything.
Wesley P. Smith is the one man in my life I think of as doing more for me than anyone that touched or influenced me as an adolescent. I owe most of how I turned out to his firm, but fair hand. I am sure that you know that this is not the only time he had to give me a little guidance. It is my opinion that his leadership has made LWMA what it is today and every cadet owes him a great debt of gratitude. He is one of the true heroes in my life.
Wesley P. Smith - 1963
Tallapoosa Hall - 2000
Lewis Harrison, Class of 63
*I know this may be wrong, but I will never tell the names of the other two cadets. I respect their right of privacy.
Go back to Volume I of the 1957-58 story called "My First Look at LWMA" if you missed it.
Chester P. Quinn '62
Photo taken July 1988 by Brian Brunner '64
Chester P. Quinn '62
Photo taken July 1988 by Brian Brunner '64
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