FROM THOSE WHO REMEMBER

The Hollow Walls of NU High

By Joel Shepherd on March 02, 2014
Class of 1987
In the fall of 1985, in an otherwise empty hallway outside the library, two junior high girls had a conversation something like this:
“I’m telling you I saw a guy peek his head out from one of these lockers”

“The only one that’s unlocked is this one and its empty. You probably just saw someone looking around the corner from the language arts hallway.”

“I know what I saw”

I heard this conversation from inside the wall – behind the “empty” locker that they had opened. I had removed the screws securing the back of my locker from all but one side – effectively creating a door on the *back* of my locker. Beginning in the fall of my junior year I pretty much had access to anywhere in the school by crawling through the walls.

I’d love to take credit for this idea, but it had a long history before me (and I suspect a legacy after my time at NU). I heard about crawling around in the walls from my older brother. As a prank, one of my brother’s friends climbed inside the wall of the French room by moving a built-in filing cabinet. He then hid in the wall and took – and turned in – a French test on a day that his teacher marked him as absent from class. While demonstrating the prank, one of my brother’s friends found the name of *his* older brother (graduated in the ‘70’s) written inside the walls of the French room. When they had the chance to question him, they found out that he had gotten into the walls by taking the back off his locker. Once I’d heard that story, it was only a matter of me having too much free time before I did the same.

Those of us who cherish our memories of NU know that free time is scarce. Football, track, drama, choir, band, speech, madrigal dinner, Industrial Arts club, and probably others that escape me at the moment, kept me too busy to get into trouble – until the fall of my junior year.

Like a less-diverse, quarter-scale model of Jonathan Martin, I couldn’t go to my football coach to report bullying, so my junior year I convinced my doctor to write a note to prevent me from playing. While significantly reducing instances of getting cleated in the groin, it did leave me with more free time than could be filled by semi-stalking Maura Curtis* (not her real name).

Wait, what was I talking about? I got distracted there for a second. Crawling around the walls, right…

So, with too much time on my hands, I remembered my brother’s stories and set about taking the back off my locker without anyone noticing. This was surprisingly easy. Even though I have no acting ability – just ask Tristin Teig* or Hannabeth Gish* (also not their real names) – everyone seemed to buy my explanation for what I was doing hanging out by my locker after school. After surreptitiously opening the back of my locker and determining that I could, in fact, fit behind it. I took a deep breath, looked around for anyone who might see me, crawled inside and pulled the locker door shut behind me. Followed quickly by freaking out, fumbling to get the locker door back open, and stepping back into the relative safety of the hallway. In my defense, I’m neither comfortable in small spaces nor brave.

Fortunately, subsequent attempts were more successful. There was just enough room behind the lockers to squeeze into. From there you could push the back of the locker closed (in case anyone opened the front of the unlocked locker) and climb up on top of the lockers inside the wall. There was a surprising amount of space in the area above the lockers and extending into the space in the ceiling above the hallway. Me and some friends (who shall remain unnamed due to a lack of clarity on the statue of limitations) eventually brought carpet, pillows and, if memory serves, some Christmas lights in order to form a pretty nice little secret hangout. From this area above the lockers you could travel the halls in the ceiling. Access to the janitor’s room between the bathrooms was easy because it had a ladder to the roof that went through the space above the ceiling. We also had access to the auditorium since you could crawl into the ceiling above the seats where the lights were hung. Access to offices and classrooms was more difficult but possible – mostly by pushing out the filing cabinets that were built into many walls and also, if I remember correctly, removing various access panels.

So what did we do with this unfettered access? Absolutely nothing. Oh, we made the occasional spooky noises to try to freak people out. And we did let the occasional junior high school kids see us go into the locker to make them question their sanity. But basically nothing.
Vandalism? Nothing, other than writing our names in the wall.
Spying? Too pervy – even for teenage boys.
Epic pranks? Eh, too much work.

After setting up our secret hangout in the walls, I was cast as Jonathan Brewster in "Arsenic and Old Lace" (a role, it should be noted, which was written for Boris Karloff and therefore requires no acting beyond a scary face) and soon I was once again too busy for ne’er-do-well-dom. (I’m so totally writing a sequel to "Knights of Badassdom" called "Wizards of Ne’er-do-well-dom")

Anyway... We had always planned to use our wall access for one final prank: sealing a library display case, creating a very nice under-water theme, filling the display with water, and adding a live goldfish. This plan fell through amid concerns for the subsequent health of said goldfish and the possibility of significant water damage (and resulting punishment if we were discovered). Mostly the plan fell apart because of the amount of time and effort required from those of us already suffering from senioritis. It was severe senioritis that prevented us from cleaning up any of our stuff inside the wall – instead leaving it for future students to find. While I occasionally regret not performing that final prank, I like to think that the workmen tearing down the school were puzzled to find our carpeted hangout inside the hollow walls of NU High.

3 Comments

  1. 3 Dave Hanawalt 07 Sep

    This tale of getting behind the lockers is quite original. I remember back in the 1950's when MPLS was being built, there were two inseparable friends who explored the depths of the building.  They crawled around tunnels and such and discovered many strange sites.  I doubt that they knew this was quite dangerous and probably against the law.  What was that to small boys age somewhere between 8 and 10 years old.  In their minds, they were doing nothing that Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn wouldn't have done! 

  2. 2 Joan Duea. 20 Jul
    Joel --- I always knew you were creative but I had no idea there was another world behind the lockers.  Love your story & wish my husband was still alive to read this!!  
  3. 1 Natalie Krohn-Suden 26 May
    Ok, that is hilarious!  I had no idea!

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