Way Back When … 1962
Prom season has hit Fairfield County once again. As Fairfield Ludlowe High School readies itself for its senior prom this weekend, let’s take a look at one of the items in the Fairfield Museum’s Creating Community exhibition: the May 19, 1962 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The cover of that weekly publication featured the painting Prom Dates in Parking Lot by Ben Kimberly Prins, which depicts the 1961 junior prom at the building that is now Fairfield Ludlowe High School.
Roger Ludlowe High School was founded in 1923 in what is now Tomlinson Middle School, before relocating in 1963 to the structure pictured in Prins’ artwork. Prins took a few liberties, most notably placing the prom-goers of “antiquated Roger Ludlowe High School at the nearby, glitteringly modern Mill Plain Junior High” two years early. He even changed the middle school’s name to the high school’s in his illustration. In this way, the 1962 cover simultaneously offers a rare glimpse of the original building and a vision of what was to come. Couples park in front of wide glass doors, tall windows and a well-trimmed traffic circle. A piece of modern art sits above the name of the school, elegantly displayed in script against the textured stone wall. The ballroom where Prins’ students dance beneath streamers is today the school library.
As per tradition, the gentlemen attended the evening in white dinner jackets, while the ladies were escorted in a variety of colored dresses. Before prom even began in the gymnasium, students had dinner and another, shorter dance at a host club or hotel. Instead of a DJ, students experienced a live band playing contemporary hits. The night was replete with festivities. Yet, not every Roger Ludlowe dance was so elegant. Alumni fondly remember informal dances in the cafeteria, made possible as long as someone brought a record player.
After a decline in student enrollment in the mid-1980s, the Fairfield Board of Education decided to merge its two high schools into one. Roger Ludlowe High School closed in 1987, an event featured in The New York Times alongside its final junior prom. The school’s prom traditions have since gone the way of its Flying Tigers (whose football team went undefeated in 1961), but survive through newer incarnations. Today, an after-party at the Circle Diner is a favorite post-prom activity, marked by school-organized raffles and food on the house. In the vein of the cafeteria dance, one contender for this year’s Ludlowe senior prank was a “school dance during school.” Some of the details in Prins’ image survive as well. The same piece of modern art featured in his painting never left its place on the right wall, and it can be seen today, still just outside a glass doorway.
The Saturday Evening Post cover was published when Fairfield was beginning to emerge as a cultural epicenter and a favorite settling place of New York’s upper working class. For the students of 1961, it was an honor to have been depicted in this way and to represent their town. The cover is a document of the students’ personal culture, a record of the fun and friendships that they experienced together, and the sense of community that is still an important part of high school in Fairfield today. An original print is on permanent view in the Creating Community gallery, adjacent to a classic Flying Tiger varsity sweater.
To the Fairfield Ludlowe High School senior class, have fun and be safe at prom!
Today’s Way Back When column was written by Fairfield Ludlowe High School senior and Fairfield Museum intern Thomas Holtz.