High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

----- 360 Degrees in the Shady ----- The Grand Tour, Part 3

You unlock this door with the key of imagination.

Beyond it is another dimension:
a dimension of sound,
a dimension of sight,
a dimension of mind.

You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into...

As we prepare to enter the old Shady Dell barn, I want to again thank Toni Deroche and her family for making available these priceless updated images. Okay, turn on your flashlights and let's go inside.

Before seeing these pictures, I didn't know what to expect. I feared that the barn would be in ruins, knee-deep in filth. I was astounded to see the old dance hall looking almost as good as it did forty-plus years ago. That solid oak floor appears as ready as ever to accomodate the masses and get down to business. Remember the awesome line dance that the Shady Dell regulars performed out there on that floor: two up...two back...boss turn? I can't remember what they called that dance, but the formation, box pattern, and figures lead me to the conclusion that it was a regional or local variation of "The Madison," as illustrated in this clip from the original Hairspray movie:

Back there in the far right corner is the spot where my friend and I rolled around on the floor to get our new Baracutas coated with Dell dust. (If you're gonna play the role, you gotta look the part!). Over there on the left is where a guy popped me in the snoot just for looking at him the wrong way. (Why oh why didn't I follow that one simple rule: never look a bull Dell rat directly in the eye?).

Panning to the left, we come to the part of the barn where the fireplace is located. This area was separated from the dance floor by a wall. On winter nights, John always kept a roaring blaze going. Every half hour, he'd come through the door with his iron tongs wielding another giant log. When they weren't dancing, couples sometimes retreated to the privacy of this room, got comfy on the couch, and spent a little quality time discussing the latest nuclear proliferation treaty. The only available light came from the fire and a small b&w television. During the summer, of course, there was no fire, and that made the room even darker. Yet, not a single Dell rat uttered complaint about having to endure the hardship of poor visibility. What a stoic bunch we were...troupers one and all!

The Dell's diary is now open for your inspection, as we examine the remarkably well preserved graffiti on the interior walls of the barn. The multitude of names, slogans, declarations of love, and assorted artwork raises many questions. Who were all of these kids?

Where were they from? What schools did they represent? Where are they now?

Do they still remember? Do they still care?

If Joanie loved Chachi back in the day, so much so that she wrote it on the wall, is there "a chance in Dell" that those two are still together?

Imagine what it would be like to turn back the clock and watch layer upon layer of graffiti disappear from these walls, leaving only the earliest entries.

They probably date back to the dawn of the 60s when John first converted a portion of the barn into a dance hall in response to the growing numbers of young people that were coming to the Dell.

The questions remain. Who created these mini masterpieces? Did John Ettline commission a modern day Michelangelo to decorate his Sistine Chapel? Were all of the images the work of a single artist? A musical theme pervades the artwork, which includes, on the right side of the above frame, a depiction of a ballerina...

...and in this detail, a retro couple dancing.

It is an image that no true Dell rat will ever forget.

And while exuberant teens danced to jukebox rock 'n roll nearby, cherubs provided accompaniment on a variety of musical instruments. Why? Who? How? When? I suppose the answers are destined to remain part of the Shady Dell's unsolved history.

It was "so John & Helen" of the Ettlines to allow the graffiti to pile up on the walls year after year. Think of all the correct-minded adults that would have tried to wash it off or paint it over. John and Helen knew better. In their seemingly infinite wisdom, they let us create the Dell as we saw fit, as long as we were willing to accept responsibility and live with it. The message conveyed and the lesson learned was that the Dell is what you make of it; and the greater implication was that your life is what you make of it.

And the sign said,
"The words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls"
and whispered in the sounds of silence
at a utopian enclave
nestled in an uncharted region of the soul known as

Have a Shady day!

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