Horace Mann Elementary
Kansas City, MO

Across the street are two small houses with boards over their doors–the windows are all broken out, and inside are suggestions that the shacks are inhabited, but the neighbors don’t seem to mind.

Somewhere between the bricks and boards is a road with three unusually nice cars for this side of town parked on the curb, and a small group of equally unusual visitors—judging from their pale faces—all smirked from tinted car windows, as if savoring something. Car doors open, windows open, and seven pairs of shoes hit a concrete floor, mostly obscured under cracked tiles and ripped book covers. Chalkboards still spell yesterday’s lessons from when the dusty air was breathable; only heavy with the weight of children’s voices and dreams. Back when the books were on the shelves, the lawn was mowed, and stern, slightly overweight teachers, were bent over, waddling after fleeing students down long hallways.

Cats in a row fish forever.

"Any luck today?" followed by, "No, you?"
“Any luck today?” followed by, “No, you?”

Down the hallway, where nobody can see, a window holds more spider webs than the rest of the building combined; the insects turning a dual-pane into a high-rise in the lovely absence of brooms, of hands, of people. A wooden toy airplane, grounded on the floor of the auditorium, wings clipped by the absence of joy and attention that it once received–perhaps it’s been fought over by two best friends arguing, “My plane, no mine.”

Aaron’s bike is close by; you can ride it, if you like.

Although the floors are pretty warped, I can't imagine one could do many tricks off of them.
Although the floors are pretty warped, I can’t imagine one could do many tricks off of them.

When the last ones left, they took their savior and left the pianos on the stage… seats empty, at least for now, but the number plates are thoroughly fastened… just in case. Remind someone, somewhere to fix the stage lights: they don’t turn on. Just as a breeze lifted the curtain across the plastered skeleton of a crumbling wall, everyone shuddered, as if we heard the melody of time.

Behind a tall window, boards cast the outline of a man–the man behind the curtain.

The man behind the curtain watches, but doesn't say anything. Probably the smartest one in the room.
The man behind the curtain watches, but doesn’t say anything. Probably the smartest one in the room.

In rooms where the imparters of knowledge droned to dreary daydreamers, TV sets conveniently lay overturned, so as to be enjoyed from any angle… maybe the ones in the jars watch… maybe that’s how they got there. Cluttered desks pretend there’s business to be done, but the ‘Outgoing’ hasn’t seen attention and the ‘Incoming’ is just dust and bits of paint. Someone mentions the books on a shelf, and we make guesses when they were last stacked; how do you move out, forever? Well-used banisters, terrific for sliding, lead down, down to where sins were added, subtracted, divided for the sum total of eternal life–at least, that was the plan.

As so many backs turned on the bricks and bars, so did ours. And I wish them well…

Imagine the voice of an entitled White suburban mother. She's now talking about oral hygiene in the "urban" (Black) schools.
Imagine the voice of an entitled White suburban mother. She’s now talking about oral hygiene in the “urban” (Black) schools.

Ground broke in 1909, and by January 1911 there were students in the seats.

The twelve-room schoolhouse taught elementary-level students through 1920, when the building started accepting kindergarten students. By 1939, public education system trends urged larger, more urban schools for younger children, so another, newer and larger school took over the responsibility for the school’s student population and the building was granted to an arm of a higher education institution that had no building of its own and instead operated out of a few local schools.

Hard to find your seat when it doesn't know its own name.
Hard to find your seat when it doesn’t know its own name.

Residential remodeling took place, encroaching into the old gymnasium where a balcony used to be, and because of a fire that destroyed a local high school in which college classes were held at night. Classes were transferred into the Horace Mann Elementary building and the term continued in the former elementary school.

Books in nooks and not getting a look... about the crook with hooks that cooks.
Books in nooks and not getting a look… about the crook with hooks that cooks.

Late in 1939, with 149 enrolled, an addition was built to help accommodate the college student at the unlikely Horace Elementary: a role that became all the more important after World War II when our veterans returned and went back to school to “retool for civilian life” back home.

In 1968, a community college absorbed Horace Elementary but left the buildings disused in 1979, until the early 1980s when the buildings and property were bought by a nonprofit to be turned into a Christian school, who operated there through 1991, if the chalkboards are to be believed.

The building was demolished in 2014.

References »

  • David, M. (2008, September 23). Two factions wage a pricey war for control of the horace mann building. Kansas City News, Retrieved from http://www.pitch.com/2008-09-25/news/condemned-mann/
  • The History of our public schools wyandotte county, kansas. (2009, June 18). Retrieved from http://www.kckps. org/disthistory/closedbuildings/horacemann.htm