I took a ‘roots’ trip through my old neighborhood a while back. I paused in front of the A.L. Holmes grade school. It wasn’t new when my mother went there 100 years ago. And it was older yet when I went there 75 years ago and played football on the front lawn and baseball in back. And then I wondered, ‘Who in the hell was A.L. Holmes? And why did they name my school after him?’
Washington or Jefferson I could understand. But a quick search on Wikipedia showed a Sherlock Holmes and an Oliver Wendell but no A.L. So why choose him? Was he a local pol? A school board member? Who knows? Who cares? The name for us held commodity status like Scotch Tape or Kleenex for tape or tissue. Ask an old Detroit Eastsider and he could pinpoint the place…‘Sure, A.L. Holmes on Georgia and Rohns.’ But who was the guy and why did they use his moniker? Could just as easily be I.P. Daily Elementary, for all the surname means.
So, what’s in a name? Historical significance helps: Kennedy Airport, Eisenhower freeway. Maybe the New York education department lacks a little in imagination but there’s nothing wrong with naming public schools, PS 37 and PS 62. Or how about something neutral like Pine or Oak? Or better yet why not follow the lead of major sponsors for sports stadiums and call a school Smucker’s High or STP Middle School. Local education departments could probably count on some supplementary income from their corporate namesakes.
I’ve come to learn that fame is fickle and history can easily be revisited, reviewed and revised. Recently, the marble bust of a famous Supreme Court justice was removed from the judge’s robing room. The Christopher Columbus statue in Chicago was whisked away one night. Confederate Civil War generals’ sculptures are being sequestered into museums.
I ask myself, what I would feel if they named a high-rise hotel after me…NOVARA TOWER. For one thing my four brothers would give me grief. Each would think it was named after him and either claim the fame or duck the notoriety as the flow of public opinion dictated.
Or maybe it doesn’t matter at all, like the names of military bases…oops they are being historically reconsidered as well.
“So, what can we conclude, Holmes?”
“Why, that’s elementary my dear Watson.”