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St. Petersburg High works to preserve years of Green Devil school memorabilia

ST. PETERSBURG

On the second floor of St. Petersburg High School, students in skinny jeans and eyeliner and hoodies sail past the locked doors, past the dark space, past a subtle sign marked archive room. ¶ What's inside goes largely unnoticed. The 1937 mud-speckled football jersey. The mascot's tuxedo with green lapels, glasses tucked in the pocket. The 1943 school spirit cross-stitch and the 1974 letter sweater. The dented green megaphone that belonged to someone named Becky. ¶ They are the things that transform a school from somewhere you have to go, into somewhere you want to be. ¶ But the framed drawing of the Green Devil is shattered. The foam hand lost its fingertip. The diplomas crumble to the touch. ¶ History is breaking down.

St. Petersburg High has more heritage than many schools. It opened in 1898, and the first students graduated in 1901. In 1926, it moved into a towering new three-story specimen of Mediterranean architecture on Fifth Avenue N.

Thousands of students circulated through the school, donning green and white at games; forming fraternities, clubs and rituals; fostering school spirit. With tradition comes memorabilia.

In 1904, the boys baseball team had striped sweaters. In 1910, the girls basketball team had green bows and team pennants. In 1914, young women began presenting each other with flower baskets. In 1966, majorettes wore white skirts. In 1977, moms clipped articles about the homecoming victory against Northeast High.

The alumni band together into tight groups that have grand reunions, even 60 years after graduation. They still come to football games, and they view their time at St. Petersburg High like some people view their time at college.

They save their mementos forever. And when they die, families find green and white things in the attic. Guess where they go?

"We get stuff all the time," said principal Al Bennett.

Bennett graduated from the school in 1980 and was assistant principal for years before taking over the top post. When he goes upstairs to the archive room, he is drawn to the glass case with the mascot suit, a shrine to Bob Pfeiffer.

"His old outfit," he said. "That's where I always go in there."

Pfeiffer, a gregarious paper boy turned mail carrier, graduated from St. Petersburg High in 1933. In a way, he never left.

He played the school's mascot, Mr. Green Devil, for decades. He dyed his pointed beard green and donned the green tuxedo, dancing to fight song St. Pete Will Shine and bouncing a cardboard pitchfork to keep time. He had a personal collection of 63 class rings and five pins. When the collection was stolen, he started over, building it from scratch.

The treasures needed a proper home, he thought. In the 1990s, Pfeiffer established the archive room in the school's old library, about the size of three classrooms. He devoted countless hours and dollars to maintain, preserve and organize the archives.

"This is my hobby. This is my thing," Pfeiffer told a reporter in 1998. "I don't play golf. I don't own a yacht."

But when he died in 2000, the archives lost their keeper.

• • •

Amid the cheerleader dolls and the portraits of principals and the athletic hall of fame honors, a bronze military plaque sat alone on the floor.

1917-1918. In memoriam to the boys of this school who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War. Clyde Crenshaw Caswell, Edward Theodore Hall, James Abel Johnson … "To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die."

Stephanie Everhart was shaken when she saw it.

"Those were boys that went to this school, and it's sitting on the floor in a corner with dust on it," Everhart said. "That's when it really hit home for me. This is history. It's not just St. Pete history. It's Americana."

This year, Bennett and International Baccalaureate director Susan Farias asked Everhart whether she could help them organize the room. She owns an interior design business, and her daughter Alexandra is a sophomore at the school. Most in her family are Green Devils.

Everhart took one look at the room and knew: It wasn't about decoration. It was about preservation.

"It was such a shame to me, because it was like I was walking around and watching history disintegrate," she said. "Really. Little by little, you see all the papers that are yellowing and fading. I felt like it's 100 years of history up there, and we need help."

They have more memorabilia than they can handle, some of it stowed away in closets. Now they need money to pay for proper preservation and display. They need builders to help make cases. The school's service clubs are involved, but they need volunteers to organize and clean the room regularly the way Pfeiffer did.

"We were talking about doing period tables. One big table that would be through the '20s, one for the '40s, the '60s, the '80s," Bennett said. "We're going to get it together."

With the new push, some students have gotten curious about the room. Like Alexandra Everhart. When her mom took on the project, the 15-year-old cheerleader went straight to a stack of yearbooks and started flipping through one marked 1953.

Her grandfather's.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Fast facts

How to help

If you'd like to volunteer time, talent or money to the school's preservation project, call St. Petersburg High at (727) 893-1842. Make checks out to the school with "archive room" written in the designation area.

More online

See more St. Petersburg High School memorabilia in the archive room at links.tampabay.com.

St. Petersburg High works to preserve years of Green Devil school memorabilia 12/01/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 4:41pm]
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