On Aug. 28 1939, 75 years ago, just over 11,000 Berkeley children "returned to classrooms" in the public schools for the fall term. That was 323 more students than August 1938 enrollment.
"Berkeley High students found the old frame shop buildings, which had been in use for more than 20 years, deserted in favor of the new $250,000 shop unit with a 25 per cent increase in enrollment in industrial and vocational classes," the Berkeley Daily Gazette reported.
The new Whittier School building had also opened on Milvia Street. The school district also sent students from the old University Elementary School at Rose and Shattuck to Whittier.
Last week I reported that some Cal freshmen in the fall 1939 had refused to wear "dinks" the traditional freshman hat, and that sophomore males, who traditionally tormented new freshmen, were retaliating. The Aug. 29 Gazette reported that freshman leader Bob Douthitt of Berkeley had been caught by sophomores without a hat and was "required to sing and do a strip tease" on campus.
Other freshmen "offenses" were listed as "queening" ("talking to women on campus"), smoking without using a corncob pipe, and "occupying the sophomore lawn," a sloping panel of grass that still lies between California Hall and Doe Library.
"Offending freshmen were taken ... to the steps of Wheeler Hall where they were forced to sweep away collected debris with toothbrushes."
James W. Evans Jr., a 12-year-old Willard Junior High student, "was instantly killed (Aug. 29) when his bicycle was struck by a north-bound Southern Pacific interurban train at Channing Way and Shattuck Avenue." He had been headed home to Parker Street after swimming at the Downtown YMCA. "His bicycle was ground to bits beneath the heavy wheels," the Gazette reported.
Recent UC graduate Vance Gudmundson, 22, of 2311-A Fulton St., slashed his wrists Aug. 29 and was taken to Berkeley General Hospital in serious condition. The Gazette reported he had been scheduled that day to start teaching modern literature at University High School in Oakland and was "believed to have lost his nerve."
War continued to creep closer in Europe at the end of the month and the Aug. 30 Gazette was filled with ominous news. Poland was warning ships in the Baltic to take on a Polish pilot when approaching Danzig. "It is assumed the warning meant the Poles are planting mines to counteract possible action by Germany." There were pictures of English children boarding trains in London to "flee to the countryside." as well as "German families in Poland cross(ing) into East Prussia."
The government of France said that the latest German proposals regarding Poland were "absolutely unacceptable," and the French government moved to put railroads under military authority. And in Washington, D.C., "President Roosevelt today called upon statesmen everywhere to seek peaceful and constructive solution of international controversies and thus obviate the folly of war."
In local news, the Gazette reported on Mrs. Gilbert Gurney of Berkeley, who "left New York yesterday (Aug. 29) on the S.S. Mauretania in company with Miss Clara Katelsen of Hayward, who is also determined to make a European tour at this time, even if European capitals have to be bombed to settle continental differences."
Two years earlier, the paper said, Gurney had been thwarted from taking a planned trip to China and Japan when conflict broke out in China.
(Looking ahead in history, this would be the last peacetime voyage for years by the recently launched Mauretania. By March 1940, the ship had been requisitioned, sent to Australia, and was part of a convoy transporting troops to England. She would not return to commercial passenger service until 1947.)