A school district that traces its origins to February 1657 is sure to have a history that is fascinating and that’s certainly the case with Huntington UFSD. Much of that history is cataloged and displayed in the School Heritage Museum, but artifacts continue to surface in the unlikeliest of places.
During the recent winter vacation, a large silver serving/punch bowl was found buried under several feet of items in an obscure second floor hallway closet at the rear of the high school.
The current iteration of Huntington High School opened in late November 1958. A two-story addition was erected at the rear of the building in 1966. The closet where the serving bowl was found is located in that 1966 wing of the building.
The newly discovered bowl is inscribed as follows: “Presented to Robert L. Simpson High School by Class of 1955.” The bowl was compleely hidden from view and severely tarnished. In fact, it was nearly black and took quite a bit of effort to clean and polish it.
The bowl is stamped with the initials of the EG Webster & Son silversmith company, which was founded in Brooklyn in the 19th century, but later moved its manufacturing operations to Meriden, Connecticut. It was eventually acquired by International Silver Company, which operated it as a subsidiary. International Silver’s company name is also stamped on the bottom of the bowl. It’s a heavy object.
Upon the retirement of Huntington High School Principal Robert L. Simpson in June 1950, the Huntington Board of Education voted unanimously to rename the high school in his honor. It stayed that way until the building closed upon the opening of a new high school building located on Oakwood and McKay Roads on what was once the H. Bellas Hess estate.
So let’s do some detective work. When was the silver punch bowl presented to school officials and just who were those school officials? Who did the presenting? How did the bowl end up hidden in an unused closet?
Well, there is little doubt the bowl was presented at the 94th annual commencement on Tuesday, June 28, 1955 at 8:15 p.m. at Heckscher Park. The event, held “under fair skies,” according to The Long Islander newspaper, featured 213 graduates, who “set the Suffolk record for scholarships.”
Candidates for graduation wore white and blue robes. The teenagers sat in chairs placed on the grass field, which was surrounded by low bleachers that were filled with parents, family members and faculty. A stage was erected on the field and served as a dais for school officials and the top seniors.
Seniors marched from the high school building, across Main Street and down to the field and their seats. As they did so, Huntington music teacher Rufus E. Kern conducted the high school band in the playing of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance No. 1.
Rev. Albert E. Greanoff gave the invocation. Principal Robert A. Cushman presented class members with academic prizes (awards) before Superintendent Carl V. Warren announced the names of the Class of 1955 members who had qualified for a diploma. Board of Education President Richard C. McCormack presented each class member with a diploma.
Valedictorian James Provenzano gave an address titled, “Be The Best of Whatever You Are.” Salutatorian and editor of the school newspaper, Stephen Samuels’ speech was titled, “Atoms Will Be For Peace.” Third ranked senior Elizabeth Keen also spoke, giving an address titled, “Individuality Affirmed.” Ms. Keen also served on the executive board of the GO.
There is no mention of the presentation of a class gift in the June 30, 1955 edition of The Long Islander newspaper, which featured a front page story on the commencement. The graduation program distributed on June 28, 1955 also doesn’t list a gift presentation. Subsequent issues of The Long Islander include nary a word about the punch bowl being gifted to the high school.
So what happened? If tradition holds in this case, the bowl was, indeed, presented at the commencement. Any presentation would have undoubtedly included Ms. Keen, as one of the top students and a GO executive board member. The presentation would have been made to Mr. Cushman, the school principal. It probably would have occurred before or after the presentation of academic prizes, as the awards were then called.
A second possibility is the bowl was presented at the 1955 prom, but this would have been highly unusual.
When Robert L. Simpson High School closed in late November 1958, the entire student body and faculty paraded through town to the new high school building. Simpson then underwent three years of renovations and reopened in 1961 as Robert L. Simpson Junior High School. It served through June 1976 when it was closed and eventually sold to the Town of Huntington for use as Town Hall.
Let’s get back to the punch bowl. It is probable that the punch bowl remained at Simpson during the three year renovation and while the building was utilized as a junior high school. It was then most likely placed into storage until retired Huntington UFSD principal Jack Abrams founded the School Heritage Museum in 1986. Many artifacts made their way to Woodhull School, where the museum was originally located. No one knows if the punch bowl was among those artifacts.
At some point, the 1955 bowl made its way to Huntington High School and the obscure second floor closet, where it was buried beneath 100 year old framed photos among other artifacts. And there it stayed, possibly for decades, tarnishing year after year until it was discovered last month and polished. District officials are planning to put the bowl on display.
If any members of the Class of 1955 are still residing in the community and have a memory of the class gift, they can send a message to Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky at firstname.lastname@example.org and help the district fill in the historical blanks.