Monday, December 5, 2011

What the Linton Hall Military School brochure said ... and what it was really like

I've recently come across a brochure for Linton Hall Military School from 1949 (yup ... 62 years ago!) -- quite a rare find.

The brochure doesn't actually have a date, but it was in use in 1949 and could have been produced as early as 1947, since it includes a picture of the "new" Linton Hall school building which, according to the information I have, was completed in 1947.

You'll notice that the original building is quite smaller than the one most of us remember.
It has only one floor, plus basement. This floor is where the offices, infirmary, visitor's lounge and cafeteria were located during the 1960s. When the building was originally constructed, this floor was used as a dormitory, and the building was called "Ireton Hall" in the brochure (I'm guessing it may have been named after Bishop Ireton.) The second and third floor (the eight dorms during the 1960s) had not been added yet, and neither had the classroom wing nor the gym.

But this post isn't really about pictures. It's about what the brochure said about Linton Hall, compared to what it was like when I was there.

I have to emphasize that the brochure is from the late 1940s, and I attended during the late 1960s, approximately twenty years later. Just as the building had undergone major change, the school might have done so as well. The principal, Commandant, and most of the nuns were different people, and it's entirely possible that the school went from being a "Little Heaven" in the 1940s to a "Little Hell" in the 1960s.

The quotes are from the brochure distributed in 1949 by Linton Hall. School brochures are intended to showcase the positive aspects, and this brochure is no exception. But the school described in the 1940s and the one I attended in the 1960s were so different that it is hard to fathom this was the same school. I just hope that today's Linton Hall School is a far better place for children than it was while I was there.

I will be quoting from the brochure distributed in 1949 by Linton Hall. School brochures are intended to show case the positive aspects, and this brochure is no exception. But the school described in the 1940s and the one I attended in the 1960s were so different that it is hard to fathom this was the same school. I just hope that today's Linton Hall School is a far better place for children than it was while I was there.

"Linton Hall Military School
For boys - Ages, 6-16" (page 5)

I think that the age range was slightly narrower during the 1960s, more like 7 to 15, but I strongly believe that a military school is a totally unsuitable environment for younger children. How can you expect a 6-year old who can hardly tie his shoelaces to be in a military school?

"Religious Training - Every spiritual advantage is afforded to build
up in the cadet a strong, manly Christian character. " (page 9)

I have no idea what a "manly" Christian character is, but "manliness" seems a strange quality to expect from a six year old, or even an older boy. Why not let boys be boys and have a childhood?

"A boy is more than just a boy; he is an individual. ... [I]t is by a
thorough understanding of these qualities that his teachers are best to help
him." (page 10)

Although I agree wholeheartedly with this quote, I saw little if no recognition of anyone's individuality, or any interest or effort made to understand our qualities as individuals. Not that it was really feasible, anyway, with one prefect in charge of a dorm of fifty boys, or a playground of two hundred. I cited this quote in a recent blog post titled "You'll never believe who said this ..." and I still find it hard to believe the source.

"We consider it an achievement of great merit that we have been able for
a number of years to give evry boy at Linton Hall the advantage of an individual
measurement of his general powers, and from time to time and from stage to stage can carefully check his development, toward a forceful and well-rounded
personality." (page 10)

Excuse me while I laugh, cry, or vomit -- or do all three, uncontrollably. At the Linton Hall I knew, it was my impression that individuality and a forceful personality were undesirable traits to be snuffed out at all costs.

"Obedience to rules may be compelled by force, but character is developed
only by the growth within the boy himself of a desire to do right."
(page 10)

This, too, is a principle I wholeheartedly agree with. But what I see is a valid criticism of the Linton Hall Military School I experienced, and definitely not a description of the Linton Hall that I attended.

Wait ... there's more:

"If the boy is held down too strictly a wrong reaction may occur when the
restraint is removed. It is the aim of the school to create an atmosphere of
freedom of action within reasonable limits and to develop among the student body
the idea that they could do thus and so if they wished, but should prefer
otherwise. If the cadet does right because he wants to rather than because he is
compelled there will be no harmful reaction. The main purpose of the ideal
school is to inculcate this conception of right action among the pupils." (page

Am I dreaming? I must be. This is what it says on page 11:

"The school has no rigid rules." (page 11)

Linton Hall Military School during the 1960s had rigid rules for everything, from where your bed was placed (not so much as half an inch away from the line of the tiles on the floor) to how you folded your underwear (folded into a square, using two perpendicular folds) to how you went to the bathroom (wearing your bathrobe backwards when doing a number 2 on the toilet, with your hands outside your robe, so as to avoid any fleeting contact of your hand with your penis.)

But wait, what happens if someone breaks the rules, even by accident?

"Mildness and firmness characterize the endeavors of the sisters in
habits ... which are essential to the development of a manly Christian
character." (page 11)

The various physical punishments we received were anything but mild. The other blogger has written an extensive post listing all the ways we were punished. I should add that it didn't seem to make much difference whether you broke the rules purposely, by accident, were merely accused of breaking the rules, or the rules were broken by some unknown person. In the latter case, everyone in the classroom, dorm, or school was punished when the one culprit couldn't be found.

And there's that phrase "manly Christian character" again.

"Students are expected ... to observe habitual politeness toward each
other." (page 11)

"Expected"? Well, maybe, but officers who treated younger cadets like dirt, who used abusive language other than the standard four-letter words ('mess,' 'messpot' (which are words for 'toilet') 'stupid,' 'dumb,' etc. were all acceptable words when used by an officer towards younger children) were tolerated, as was the 'suffer' sign, so ubiquitous that there was even a hand gesture for it.

"An elastic step and manly bearing, prompt obedience to orders, attention
to details, and physical improvements are some of the many advantages of
military training." (page 11)

Here we go again with little boys who outght to be home watching cartoons being expected to have a "manly bearing." The attention to details was something Iwould classify as obsessive-compulsive. (I am not a psychologist, but anyone who is could have a field day with the last quote.) Physical improvements? My body benefited more from free play than standing at attention and marching.

"If, however they [refers to the purported advantages of military
training cited in the previous quote] are secured at the expense of the cadet's
individuality, the price paid is too great." (page 11)

Truer words were never spoken. I just need to keep checking to make sure that these words actually came from a Linton Hall Military School brochure.

Here's more:

"During the drill [the boy] merges his individuality for the welfare of
the whole but when military discipline is relaxed, he is urged again to assert
this same individuality, for it is characteristic of the school that each
student is treated as an individual." (pages 11-12)

Enough. I can't stand it anymore! On to lighter topics:

"A rifle club... is equipped with a new rifle range and new .22 caliber
rifles." (page 16)

We still had the rifle club during the sixties.

"The table is generously supplied with a variety of wholesome food ...
The extensive farm supplies a plentiful amount of vegetables in season, a
well-kept herd of cattle insures an abundance of milk at all meals, and a large
modern poultry farm provides fresh eggs at all times." (pages 17-18)

I've heard from an alumnus who attended during the 1940s that this was the case. By the 1960s, our food was standard school cafeteria fare, most if not all of it from cans, milk came in cartons, and it was definitely neither plentiful nor abundant. I gained a total of five pounds over the years I was there, and I wouldn't be surprised if all of the weight gain had occurred during the intervening school vacations and weekends home.

"Special attention is paid to the manners of the cadets in the dining room."
(page 18)

We ate out of metal trays, and many kids sloppily wolfed down their food after chewing it with their mouth open. Table manners were definitely worse than what I had observed at the schools I had previously attended. As long as you weren't breaking rules, no one gave a hoot about table manners.

A constant effort is made to instruct the cadets in regard to the usages
of polite society." (page 18)

The highly regimented environment, in which obedience was obtained through intimidation, did not prepare me to fit into polite society. I recall little politeness, just deference caused by fear.

"It is intended that the school life shall be home life, that each cadet
shall feel free to do whatever he would be allowed to do in a well-regulated
home, subject only to such restrictions as are imperative on account of the
large number present." (page 18)

I understand that some restrictions would be needed "on account of the large number present." These would include going to bed at the same time, having meals at the same time, sending one third of the dorm at a time to use the bathroom. But "free to do whatever he would be allowed to do in a well-regulated home"? No, not at all. Little freedom to decide what to do and when to do it for hobbies, reading, games, sports, etc.

"Cadets are forbidden to keep money on their persons or in their
quarters." (page 19)

That's how it was for us, too. Part of it was to prevent theft, I'm sure, but I also would assume that it was a way to eliminate a resource which would have been handy when running away.

"Student Organizations: Sodality of Our Lady, The Berchmans Sanctuary
Society, The Choral Society, The Athletic Association, The Patriotic and
Dramatic Club, The Rifle Club" (page 22)

We had the rifle club, too. Don't know about the others.

"Our entire plant has a hospitable atmosphere within and without, and
suggests no "institution" but a home -- that is what it is." (page 23)

When the brochure was written, the dorms were on the first floor, the building's only floor (besides the basement.) I don't know how the dorms were laid out then. But during the late sixties, the dorms had three rows of beds, about 50 beds total in one big dorm -- as institutional as you can get. The walls were painted a greenish/bluish shade of off-white, there were no curtains on the windows, just shades that rolled up and down, the beds were metal, the wall decoration consisted of one crucifix on the wall, (I remember there was one poster in one of the dorms, no doubt something a nun had put up) and any personalization of our own bed, locker, etc. was strictly forbidden. Can't get more institutional than that.

"Each boy is required to write a letter home weekly" (page 23)

... but if we wrote anything too negative (even if true) about the school, the letter didn't get mailed.

"[T]elephone calls should be made between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m." (p. 23)

Wow! They actually got to use the phone. We were only allowed calls in case of emergency. Cadets from Mexico or far away states, who did not get to go home on weekends, were allowed to make and receive calls. I believe they got a weekly call, but I'm not sure.

"Many social activities enliven the school life of the cadets" (page 23)

If we had any, they were rare, unless you include hanging out on the playground or having others gloat when you're punished as "social activities."

"Each month the boys may spend a designated weekend at home provided
their scholastic standing and conduct warrant it." (page 23)

We usually got to go home every other weekend, although at the beginning of the school year we had to wait three weeks before going home. We, too, could lose our weekends as punishment.

Finally, here's a list of required clothing and toiletries from 1949:
Linton Hall

During the late 1960s we also had khaki uniforms, not listed above. The blue sweater was sold by Linton Hall, and buttoned in front. We didn't wear a "mackinaw" (wool coat, usually plaid) but a pea coat, navy blue with gold colored buttons, with the letters L and H, was sold as part of the uniform. Sweat shirts with the school's logo were sold by the school, as was the winter cap, which for us was a knit wool cap. Rubbers? I'll refrain from making a joke. No, we weren't asked to bring rubber boots. We had to bring a pair of black dress shoes and one pair of tennis shoes instead of the shoes listed. Two dozen handkerchiefs? Don't think we had to bring that many. Blankets had to be military olive green, and the duffle bag was sold by the school.

Linton Hall alumni from the 1950s, 1940s, or earlier: I would be delighted to hear from you to find out whether this brochure accurately describes your experience at Linton Hall, particularly regarding rules and discipline.


Linton Hall Military School brochure, published sometime between 1947-1949.

Copyright 2011 by "Linton Hall Cadet."
Please respect copyright by linking to this post instead of copying and pasting.

This blog is not affiliated with Linton Hall Military School and all opinions are those of the author. Comments are always welcome; please do not use your name or names of others.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"A boy is more than just a boy; he is an individual"

You'll never believe who said this! (Hint, it wasn't me, although it is a statement I believe wholeheartedly.)

The problem is, individuality wasn't exactly valued at Linton Hall Military School. I would go as far as saying that individuality was something to be suppressed.

We were forced to dress alike, have identical haircuts, march in the same way and to the same count to and from the classrooms, the cafeteria, the shower room.

Our beds were made in the identical way, with the same color blankets, the top blanket the same distance from the top of the bed so that when looking at a row of beds they all lined up, and next to our beds we had to have our slippers and toilet kit placed a certain way. I wonder how we even recognized which was our bed, in a dorm with three rows of approximately 16 beds each. During the day, we could recognize our bathrobe over the chair, since bathrobes did not have to have a uniform color or pattern. (I am surprised that they did not make us buy the identical color and pattern of bathrobe and pajamas. Maybe it's because they didn't manufacture them in camouflage patterns or with prints of hand grenades and rocket launchers.) But I am still not sure how we recognized our own beds in the evening, when our uniforms werehung on the chair -- all uniforms hung the same way, of course.

In our lockers everyone had to store the same pieces of clothing on the same shelves as everyone else, the towels and washcloths folded a certain way, even our underwear had to be folded a certain way, with two folds into the approximation of a square, as close to a square as a pair of white cotton briefs can be.

How about personalizing the inside of your locker, like kids do with their school lockers everywhere else? Not at Linton Hall! Shortly after I arrived at Linton Hall, I put a sticker on the inside of my locker, a small sticker about 3x3 inches at most, just an animal sticker, nothing controversial or offensive, and an officer made me remove it. Another kid had a miniature poster, small enough to stick on the inside of the door of his locker, and had to remove it as well. The poster bore the words "The Leaning Tower of Pizza" and had a drawing of a stack of pizzas that looked like the Tower of Pisa.

We were almost always called only by our last names. When I look through my old yearbooks I am surprised to see the first names of alumni whose last names I remember; for most of them, their first name seems to be an obscure piece of information.

I have to admit that when I was an officer I had trouble remembering everyone's name; part of it may be that I'm not that good with names, part of it may be that they pretty much all looked alike, but the worst part is, I didn't really care to get to know them as individuals. The boys in my grade, yes, but the boys under my command, I'm ashamed to admit this, were just a crowd to be controlled, much like a cowboy herds cattle, I suppose.

The priest didn't even bother learning our names. He just called everyone "Charley." Some saw it as a funny quirk, or the opportunity to enjoy seeing a kid who had been called "Charley" the first time, argue that his name wasn't Charley, but something else. To me, it felt humiliating, as offensive as an African American would have felt at being called "Boy." Of course, he was one of the adults, and I couldn't say anything.

This smothering of individuality goes beyond the annoying. Child psychologists (notably Erik Erikson) have recognized the need to develop a sense of self and identity, distinct from others. This is something very primal, that manifests itself in how kids choose to dress, wear their hair, and decorate their school locker and home bedroom. This is something we were strongly denied.

I will reveal the source of the quote which is the title of this post, in a future post. You will not believe who said it!

Copyright 2011 by "Linton Hall Cadet."
Please respect copyright by linking to this post instead of copying and pasting.
This blog is not affiliated with Linton Hall Military School and all opinions are those of the author. Comments are always welcome; please do not use your name or names of others.

What I learned about sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll at Linton Hall

Not much!

But the place for learning about these things was at the picnic table next to the canteen. It was a wooden table, with two attached benches, and within reach of an electrical outlet on the outer wall of the canteen, where a kid (I don't remember his name) would plug in his portable record player and play 45 r.p.m. records.

(For younger readers, a 45 r.p.m. was a vinyl record, a bit larger than a CD, with one song on each side. For even younger readers, a CD is a hopelessly old-fashioned music storage disk which was in use before I-Pods.)

Near the picnic table were some cedar trees, I don't recall whether they were close enough to shade the picnic table, but I remember smelling the aromatic red wood of those trees, which is used to line cedar closets.

We heard very little of the outside world at Linton Hall Military School. I don't recall ever reading a newspaper or a news magazine while I was there, and it was only in the late sixties that we finally got to watch television -- "educational" TV was installed in the classrooms, and we occasionally got to watch the evening news, anchored by Walter Cronkite. Very few kids had radios, and we were only allowed to listen to them on rare occasions, such as during evening "rest" -- so hearing contemporary music was a rare treat for us.

When I hear certain songs I recall the first time I heard that particular song, where I was and what I was doing. Songs that I heard at Linton Hall for the very first time include 'Wichita Lineman,' 'Hush,' 'Harper Valley PTA,' 'A Boy Named Sue,' 'Little Green Apples,' and 'Aquarius."

While listening to these songs we would share sexual misinformation -- the clueless misinforming the clueless -- and trade a few dirty jokes. I still remember a couple of those, probably because I heard them over and over again. It wasn't the type of subject matter that the nuns would have wanted us talking about, and I remember one time when one of the kids told another one to be careful, that there was an officer in the group. I was the officer, and just said something like "What? I wasn't paying attention."

We also learned some bizarre conspiracy-type rumors. One cadet claimed that President Kennedy was still alive, and provided a blurry mimeographed (or photocopied) page as "proof." That was how urban legends spread before the Internet.

How do drugs fit in with rock and roll? A nun explained this to us once in the classroom. The Soviet Union, she explained, wanted to corrupt the minds of American youth. And the way they were going about it, she continued, was by giving large cash payoffs to musicians, so they would play what she called "dope music" -- songs with a repetitive beat which would brainwash young people into taking drugs.

Granted, this was the sixties, and there were songs about drugs; but it's exactly for that reason that I seriously doubt that musicians really needed any cash incentives to sing about drugs. Besides, many of the songs about drugs were anti-drug (the Rolling Stones' 'Sister Morphine' and 'Mother's Little Helper' are two examples that come to mind,) and several prominent musicians died during the sixties as a result of drug overdoses.

As much as she had the best intentions in cautioning us about the perils of listening to "dope music" her theories were a little flakey.

Even flakier was what the same nun taught us about sex. She explained that women derive absolutely no pleasure from sexual intercourse, and do it only to please men.

I later learned otherwise, but at the time I took her word for it, since the only sexual experience I had had at the time was holding hands with a girl once in kindergarten.

I shouldn't have expected a nun to be an expert on these things anyway.

That's it. You didn't expect a post titled "Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll at Linton Hall" to be long, did you?

Copyright 2011 by "Linton Hall Cadet."
Please respect copyright by linking to this post instead of copying and pasting.
This blog is not affiliated with Linton Hall Military School and all opinions are those of the author. Comments are always welcome; please do not use your name or names of others.