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Thursday, November 2, 2023

The day we blew the school up


The old Moline High School, now an apartment building
The science classrooms and labs were on the top floor where I went to high school.  Some of the labs had sky lights in addition to the windows.  In chemistry lab on this particular day, we were generating oxygen through some chemical reaction.  We were instructed in setting up the glass ware over a bunsen burner, letting the chemicals work, and then lighting the gas that emanated from the  pipette to produce a clear blue flame.  There were nice blue flames aglow throughout the lab, and my lab partner Dan and I were carefully assembling our experiment, measuring the chemicals, getting them to cook for a time to produce the oxygen, held the match to it, and lucky for us, the explosion sent the entire experiment straight up into the sky light, and then rained down chemicals and glass into the laboratory sink.  In trying to determine what went wrong, Mr. Swanson said we probably had an obstruction in our pipette.  

Our obstructed pipette became a feature of the After Dinner Club-Maroon Fellowship annual review show which did a sketch of why the school held a fire drill if Newquist and Holland were ever seen in the chemistry lab together.  The sketch capitalized on the known fact that I smoked cigarettes and portrayed me as trying to light the oxygen gas experiment with a lit cigarette.

The chemistry lab was the source of many interruptions of the school day.  A favorite prank was to create a rotten egg smell that would pervade the building and cause an evacuation until it was cleared of the odor.  At a school board meeting a citizen asked why they bothered to clear the building;  why not let the nasty little asses sit there and breathe the foul air they had created?  The young speech teacher asked who would want to sit in a room and breathe air that smells like a particularly egregious fart.  The young speech teacher received a letter of reprimand from the school board for saying the word fart in public, suggesting it was permissible to fart in public, but never to use the word.  And where does that smart aleck get off using a word like egregious The school board passed a resolution that the chemicals used in creating that odor be kept under lock and key.  That was proven absurd as the odor became more frequent as its ingredients were smuggled in from the outside  and placed in the ventilator shafts. 

Times have changed.  My spouse works at the high school.  I have never heard her mention the school being emptied to clear it of a rotten egg smell.  Nor for any chemistry experiments that went awry.

However, schools are alert for possible shootings, and long for the day when rotten egg smells were the biggest threat.  


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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States