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By Terry Dean
Irving School Principal John Hodge and parent Lori McConnell marvel at some of the decades-old, historical items from their school encased in a glass display in the hallway near the front entrance.
One is a contraption from 1913. It's actually a Chautauqua Industrial Desk, used for art classes. It features several open slots on top that hold pencils, pens and erasers, and a scrolling mechanism that turns a sheet of thick paper imprinted with pictures, words and letters. An informational note accompanying the device says the "educational toy" dates back to the 1880s and was promoted as a fun way for kids to learn.
"This was a 1913 laptop," Hodge jokes.
Irving School, 1225 S. Cuyler, has had a busy week as it gears up for its official centennial celebration on Friday. The display items are on loan from the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest. The week included events, such as a photo presentation by the Historical Society on what Oak Park looked like 100 years ago. Friday's celebration will include the school's annual Taste of Irving and a showcase of students' artwork. The event concludes with a performance by the school's choral group.
McConnell has been volunteering since last fall on the centennial festivities, primarily working with the Historical Society and digging up facts on her own about Irving.
Irving is one of the oldest public school buildings in Oak Park. The original structure from 1911 no longer exists. A new building was constructed in 1918, with additions built in the '30s, '50s and '70s. A large building, part of the 1918 campus, included a main hall that has long been torn down.
The building was considered innovative for its time, with skylights and fireproofing construction materials used — a first for an Oak Park School. The building is named after author and historian Washington Irving, who penned, among other titles, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
McConnell said they've heard from alumni from as far back as the 1940s who plan to attend Friday's celebration — a Facebook page the school set up for the centennial has helped attract people, she said.
The school's current students are excited about the centennial, Hodge said. The display, which McConnell set up, has aroused their curiosity. Some items, like old school books, are from a century ago but not were used at Irving. One item was used at Oak Park's Longfellow School — a spinning blackboard globe that students could mark up. McConnell also found an Irving playbill from a school production from the 1920s.
"I see teachers coming by the display case and pointing things out," Hodge said. "They can't get over how different school is now compared to what it used to look like."