A long-dormant Halloween tradition in Grandview Heights is rising from its crypt.
The Brotherhood of Rooks classes of 1966 and 1967 are working with Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School art teacher Chris Sauer to organize a window-painting activity Friday, Oct. 26.
The activity was a community tradition for decades before ending in the 1960s.
About 24 members of Edison's art club in grades 4-7 will paint Halloween scenes on the windows of six businesses on Grandview Avenue between First and Third avenues, Sauer said.
The decorations will stay in place through Halloween, he said.
The Brotherhood of Rooks was a high school fraternity formed in 1915.
It held meetings in a house it owned on Elmwood Avenue, which is still in use as a residence.
Alumni from 1966 and 1967 are the first new members added to the Rooks since the group was active at the high school.
"The group disbanded before our classes were able to join," said Mike Aleshire, a member of the class of 1967.
When new members were inducted into the fraternity, they were required to complete initiation tasks, such as washing dishes at the fraternity house, Aleshire said.
"As the newest members, we were looking for something we could do to mark our joining the group," he said. "We thought, what would be a better way than to try to re-establish an old community tradition?"
District administration and Sauer were enthusiastic about the idea, Aleshire said.
"It's really thanks to their support that we're able to get this started again," he said.
Can't stop the Rooks
The Grandview school board voted in 1958 to dissolve the Rooks after a state law was passed banning high school fraternities and sororities.
The fraternity was allowed to operate until 1961, when the students who were freshmen when the new law was passed graduated.
After that, the fraternity continued to meet unofficially at the Elmwood house, said Tom Smith, president of the GHHS Alumni Association and member of the class of 1963.
"We were kind of doing it underground and 'illegally,' " he said. "If you were a member of a sports team and were participating in the fraternity, you could get kicked off the team. It wasn't that we were doing it secretly. The principal and coaches just didn't drive down Elmwood."
The elder members of the fraternity later agreed the letter of the state law should be followed and the fraternity house was closed.
"They put yellow tape around it," Smith said.
The house was sold in 1963.
But members of the organization have continued to support the high school, including funding improvements to the media center in 2010 and the purchase of chairs and tables for the center in 2016.
The group also funds scholarships each year, Smith said.
"Our plan is to continue to add new members each year from other classes -- 1968, 1969 and so on," he said.
"When I told them about the project, the students were absolutely excited," Sauer said. "They were enthused as I was about trying to bring back this wonderful tradition.
"I love this idea of a painting project because it allows the students to get a real, authentic connection to their community," he said.
A gradual start
For the first year of the reboot, the windows project is being limited to six Grandview Avenue businesses, Aleshire said.
"We didn't want to be too ambitious the first time out," he said.
Students will paint windows at the Grandview Theater & Drafthouse, Myers Real Estate, Peabody Papers, Spencer Research, Stauf's Coffee Roasters and the Village Squire Barber Shop,
The plan is to expand the scope of the project next year to include businesses located "below the hill" on First Avenue, Aleshire said.
While completing their painting projects Oct. 26, the Edison/Larson students will be assisted by former students of Sauer's who now attend the high school, Sauer said.
The older students will help the younger students with the techniques needed to accomplish the ideas and designs they have come up with for the windows, he said.
"They've come up with some really great ideas," Sauer said.
He said he didn't want to give away what the paintings will be, "but they use many of the traditional Halloween icons like graveyards, jack-o-lanterns and witches."
The art-club students will paint their assigned windows after school Oct. 26, the time when the group holds its regular meetings, Sauer said.
Members of the Brotherhood of Rooks are almost as excited about the project as the students, Smith said.
"Many of our members remember when this was an annual project in Grandview," he said.
A member of the Grandview Heights High School class of 1963, Smith recalls participating in the activity when he was in fifth, sixth and seventh grade.
"My memories about it are all good ones. It was a lot of fun," Smith said. "I was always on a team with my best friend. We'd have a lot of fun coming up with a design, but it never worked out as well as we planned."
The different colors would run together "and we'd end up with a big brown smear on the window," he said, laughing. "But it was fun. I'm hoping today's kids will get as big of a kick out of it as we did. Hopefully the tradition will take hold again."
"I suspect that after this year, there'll be more students wanting to get involved," Aleshire said. "We have had some older high school alumni contact us and ask if they could be involved, but we want this to be something just for the current students."
It's been a while
It is unclear when the window-painting tradition petered out, but Aleshire said he believes it was in the early 1960s.
"I graduated in 1967, and my class was never involved in a window-painting project," he said.
While the historical society has materials that indicate Halloween activities taking place on Grandview Avenue as far back as 1925, when the window painting began is uncertain, said Tom DeMaria, an emeritus board member of the Grandview Heights/Marble Cliff Historical Society.
A Moment in Time feature from the historical society published in ThisWeek Grandview in October 2007 included a photo showing a Grandview student finishing his painting on a Grandview Avenue window in 1948 as bystanders look on.
"Stores on both sides of the Bank Block business section would display student artwork, decorate the sidewalks and allow the window painting to celebrate the fall holiday season," the caption read. "Students and residents would also participate in games and other activities on the block around Halloween."
Historical society board member Wayne Carlson provided remembrances two former Grandview students gave in interviews with the society.
Lou Friscoe remembered that a lottery would be held to determine the window each team of students would paint.
"They had judging and stuff like that and it was really an interesting thing to do," he said. "They don't do that anymore and it's a shame. It was kind of a fun, harmless thing to do and for Halloween."
In an interview with the historical society, Brian Kuyper reflected on the "great job" of painting the windows "the artistic members of our class" would accomplish.
Kuyper noted why he thought the tradition ended.
"It eventually got to the point where the cleanup didn't happen as well as the store owners liked and they discontinued the practice, but it was a lot of fun when it first happened," he said.