1922 murals restored, returned to school

Saturday, May 17, 2014
Matthew Resnick/Tribune photos Fort Scott Middle School social studies teacher and activities director Tom Davis, and FSMS Media Specialist Staci Sinn, pose with plaster murals of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The murals were made by the FSJH ninth-grade class of 1922.

Tom Davis, Fort Scott Middle School social studies teacher and activities director, in 2013 recovered items of historical significance from the old Fort Scott Junior High building.

The items were plaster murals, one of George Washington and one of Abraham Lincoln. Davis believes the murals were either created or purchased by Fort Scott (Central) Junior High's ninth-grade class in 1922, and then presented to the school. Davis said he spent time last summer working in his garage to recondition the murals, which were originally made of burlap and plaster.

The old middle school, located at 412 S. National Ave., and built in 1918, has been vacant since 1999, when a new $8.1 million facility was built at 1105 E. 12th St. Students have since been attending classes at the new building, which was constructed as part of an $11 million bond issue approved by voters in 1996.

Of the two, Davis said he had more success restoring the Lincoln mural, as it was in far better shape than the Washington mural.

"I put them together with Shoe GOO (Adhesive)," Davis said. "I use Shoe GOO on almost everything as an adhesive. My claim to fame here at the middle school is that I glue kids shoes back together with Shoe GOO. I always keep a tube or two handy. Then I carefully sanded them down as much as I could to get a lot of the old pitting and stuff out of it. And then I used a deck finish to get a background on it, like the patina, the texture you see on them. I used the old deck coating and then I painted them and then highlighted them with a little bit of gold.

"On George Washington, there's three or four tubes of Shoe GOO. On Lincoln there's less, maybe half a tube," Davis said.

Davis, who has been an educator in various capacities for 44 years, attached a brass placard to each mural that reads, "Presented by the Class of 1922." Davis said he plans on donating the murals to the FSMS library to be displayed.

"I feel like it's junior high property, basically," Davis said. "And I want to kind of keep the history of the old junior high alive. And this was something that was in the old building that I just feel like it belongs in the junior high. And I salvaged it and wanted to donate it back to where it really belongs. School historical items should be kept in the school and are part of the history of Fort Scott."

Davis said they probably aren't valuable, but anyone who attended school in the old building would "quickly" recognize them.

"You just kind of hate to throw away something historical," he said.

Davis said it appears he isn't the first to try to keep the murals alive.

"Somebody had tried to re-do them at one time, and they had all kinds of stuff that I took off of it," he said. "I spent probably close to 30 hours redoing them. I paint houses in the summertime, but this is not my forte, re-doing murals."

Davis said he has spent time researching the FSJH class of 1922.

"Some of the names are very familiar with the Fort Scott area, even today," Davis said.

A few of those class members whose names may still be familiar are Kenneth Briggs, Kathryn Hughes, Watson Marble, Annie Marie Miller, Ethel Mills, Charles Sample, Mable Stufflebean and Ruth Weddle.