Old School

A photograph of a photograph of the Manhattan High School class of 1933. The school recently posted footage of the high school filmed in the 1930s.

Times were different. There was a pool under the school gymnasium. There was a shooting range at the school. The football team easily routed rivals like the Belgrade Panthers. The high school was a regal brick structure with white columns adorning a formal entrance. At the peak of the town’s growth, there were six gas stations.

Those were the 1930s in Manhattan. Those days are recounted firsthand by only the oldest living Manhattan residents. Thanks to a recently uncovered video, folks in Manhattan can now share those memories.       

On the Manhattan schools website, there are two YouTube clips that were converted from the old VHS tapes. The grainy black and white clips depict students in retro-style swimsuits jumping into a pool.

Another clip shows the 1936 Manhattan football team beating Belgrade by a 39-0 margin. The two shorts are part of an hour and a half film that the district’s current maintenance director Travis Oyler uncovered a few years ago.

Oyler was going through a pile of items former superintendent Jerry Pease was planning to discard when he retired. Oyler found the film and thought it was worth keeping. He was showing it off one day in the Manhattan District Offices to current Superintendent Jim Notaro.

Enter Dan Heisler. Heisler is responsible for the school’s website. He saw the old-time movie Oyler was showing and said someone should convert it from VHS to DVD. Notaro took the VHS to Costco and had a DVD made. Heisler then made the DVD into shorter clips to put on the website.

Just who captured the memories on film in the 30s is uncertain.

Phil Olson, a volunteer and board member at the Manhattan Area Historical Society and Museum, said Oliver Campbell may be the man who shot the film. The film, however, doesn’t have any sort of credit reel announcing the director.  

Campbell served as a teacher and superintendent for the Manhattan School District for a handful of years in the 30s. In 1933, the senior class dedicated its yearbook to Campbell.

Olson said he also knows that Campbell was an avid photographer. Olson couldn’t be sure that Campbell was 1936 filmmaker, but he was the only person who came to mind.

Dave Hebner, the head of the museum board, said Campbell is responsible for many of the photos from that time. Some of Campbell’s photographs are displayed in the museum.

Ray Harrison Jr. served as the school’s maintenance director for more than three decades before Oyler. Harrison said he doesn’t know who made the film, but he recognizes some faces on it.   

Harrison’s mother, Wilma, is on the film. She is dressed smartly in a jacket, vest, button-up shirt and black hat. Wilma’s clip is one of a few minutes of footage that is captured in color.

Wilma is one of 11 children raised in Manhattan. She still lives in her stone house behind the Oasis bar and restaurant. Wilma and one sister are the only remaining siblings of the 11. Harrison said when Wilma first watched the film, she remembered many of the grainy faces, a few she still sees on Sunday in the church pews.

“She was surprised there was anything out there like that,” Harrison said. “When mom first saw it, she watched it with two or three of her sisters. They would say ‘That’s so and so.’ They had a few arguments about who was who.”

Harrison can also point out his grandfather’s car dealership, Herndon Sales Agency Dodge Plymouth. The dealership once occupied the now vacant lot beside the Broken Arrow bar.

In one shot, high school boys in small shorts and jerseys toss a basketball around the schoolyard. Harrison picks out two players as his uncles.  

Other color clips show high school students dressed in goofy costumes with painted faces. There are women and men in colorful Cha Cha dance costumes. The movie makes no mention of why the students are decked in the odd regalia.

The film also shows the houses of prominent families of the time. Names like Scollard, Stoudt and Sinton flash across the screen in slanted handwriting before a house and family crop up in the frame.

A different segment of the film is devoted to businesses that existed in Manhattan in the 30s. A gas station-turned-liquor store stood where the fire department is now. There was a J.C. Penney department store, a butcher, baker and likely, a candlestick maker.  

Hebner said the video is a good way to connect new community members to Manhattan’s history. For Harrison, the film is a way to remember his childhood and identify his family roots.

To view the YouTube clips, visit Manhattanschoolwires.com. The full DVD is available to check out at the Manhattan Public Library.