Mr. Beatty Stories
Although he’s gone the stories linger on
For those of us of a certain age, no one had more of an impact on our lives than our beloved principal, Harley C. Beatty. From about 1935 when he became principal, to his retirement in 1969, and until his death in 1975, he was
Cliffside’s tower of integrity, one of the fairest, most decent men we knew. Although he had a great sense of humor, if you didn’t behave, watch out! He was a big imposing man, with a huge head, a redhead’s complexion and a temper to match. When he was put upon or angered, his face would turn beet red and he would favor you with a steely gaze, at which time you’d better remove yourself to some safer clime, or you’d wish you had.
Phillip White, the current principal at Cliffside School, has saved many things from the old days, including Mr. Beatty’s famous Leather Strap. If, for some alleged misdemeanor, you were called to his office, Mr. Beatty, without interrupting his smoldering contact with your lying eyes, would reach in his drawer and remove The Strap, and lay it without ceremony on the desktop. It would have the predicted, immediate effect: You would confess — to anything! And furthermore, you would never do it again. Ever. Rarely did he have to use the belt for anything other than a prop. Phillip says students of years past still ask about that strap, and swear it was 10-feet long, although, in reality, it’s only the size of a normal man’s belt.
Here are a few stories about that great man.
Carolyn Watkins Newton
Class of ’49
I have a number of memories of Mills Drug Store, for I worked there after school and on Saturdays after my dad died. (When we closed at 9:00 and finished “cleaning up” I would run as fast as I could to try to reach my house up across from Charlie Haynes’ before the street lights went off).
I also worked for Mr. Beatty in the Principal’s office during my study hall time in order for us to get “free lunches” in the school cafeteria. Well, I always worked on impressing Mr. Beatty so when he walked into the drug store one Saturday morning, I rushed over to wait on him. When I asked if I could help him, he turned blood red and said that he was waiting for Dr. Mills. Well, Dr. Mills was busy filling prescriptions so I waited a few minutes and approached him again. He said he would just wait a while. About the third or fourth time I asked if I could help him he handed me a list written by his wife and immediately I noticed that one of the items on the list was a box of Kotex. I figured that this was what he had been hesitant about…..and so as not to embarrass him, I wrapped the Kotex, individually in brown paper and then placed it in the bag. Good girl!
When I handed him the package and he paid, I handed him the slip of paper back and said, “Everything is here but one item. You see, you will have to go around to the Home Store to get the jelly your wife wanted. We don’t sell jelly here.” Well, Mr. Beatty lunged through the swinging gate that led to the pharmacy and in a minute or two I heard him and Dr. Mills laughing at the top of their lungs. Suddenly, Mrs. Mills appeared by my side and said she would like to speak to me in private. There, in one of the storage closets, she very carefully explained that KY Jelly is not something you eat….but it is a lubricant. Okay….big deal! If I had known it was a lubricant, I would have probably sent him over to the garage!
Glenn “RGee” Watkins
Class of ’39
My teacher, Jonas Waters, once posed this problem on the blackboard. Now I can’t draw one here but I ask that you draw a rectangle: 11 inches by 13 inches. How many square inches does it contain? 143, right? Yes.
Now draw a line diagonally from one corner to the opposite corner. Cut along this line to make two triangles from the paper. Then slide one of the triangles against the other until you form a square. Measure it. It will be exactly 12 inches by 12 inches. That is 144 square inches. Plus you will have a small triangle protruding from two corners to add to the 144 inches for a total of 145 square inches. Where did those extra 2 square inches come from?
This led to extended discussions in class and later, after school hours, Jonas Waters and Mr. Beatty spent some time amusing themselves in Beatty’s office as they proceeded to confuse this brash young boy who tried to argue with them. The actually cut [triangles] from brown wrapping paper and demonstrated this. I could not believe what I was seeing! I’m sure they were laughing up their sleeves all the while.
Of course later I learned the fallacy and discovered it was an old, old trick. Try it if you never have. I’ve often been asked how I developed an interest in puzzles and I suspect it all sprang from this encounter.
Alfred Reno Bailey
Class of ’53
Once during my high school years Cole Brothers’ Circus, one of the few remaining tent circuses, came to Shelby. The times they were achanging — Ringling Bros. would soon make its last appearance under the big top. Somehow I felt an era was passing. I had never been to a circus, and felt I better not miss seeing this one.
I approached Mr. Beatty, who happened to be in the hall just outside his office, and said “Sir, I’m going to be absent from school on Thursday, and I wonder if I could get your permission in advance.” His sunny demeanor darkened a shade or two. Displaying just a tinge of irritation, he asked the reason for my pending absence, no doubt expecting some lame excuse, such as my second cousin having his tonsils out, and needing me at his bedside. “Well, Mr. Beatty,” I said, “In all my life I’ve never been to a circus, and perhaps the last one ever to appear in this area is in Shelby this week. If I fail to attend,” I continued, “I will have missed taking note of the end of a grand tradition in American entertainment, the fading away of an important icon of our great nation’s innocent years.” Or words to that effect. I further explained that the experience would be far more valuable and profound than anything I would learn in school. Was I full of BS, or what?
Being fully familiar with my sorry record, he knew that was certainly true; I wasn’t apt to learn much wherever I was: in the halls of Harvard or just moseying along the river bank like Huck Finn — which I sometimes did on days when I was just “too tired” to go to school. He looked heavenward— for guidance, no doubt — and worked his lips and jaw muscles around, deliberating, you see. After a long moment, the slightest grin began to take shape on his large face. He said, “You know, you are probably right. Go, and have a good time. And tell me all about it when you get back.”
I had a marvelous, unforgettable time. I went alone, driving our family’s little ’50 Plymouth. The enormous brown tents — one for the circus itself and separate ones for the menagerie and sideshows — were erected on the Cleveland County fairgrounds. It was like walking on sawdust into the 1920s. As I remember, the ringmaster had no modern loudspeaker system, relying instead on his leather lungs to be heard, like ringmasters were meant to do. Clyde Beatty (no relation), a famous animal trainer of earlier days, put his big, mangy cats through their paces. Another prominent attraction was Monte Montana, a rope-twirling, trick-riding cowboy, who, because he once had appeared in a handful of low-budget westerns, was billed as a “movie star.” He was, of course, riding his famous horse Whatsitsname. The band, clad in their old-timey uniforms, was tremendous, playing all the old traditional circus favorites, including the best of the best, “March of the Gladiators.” And there were gaily painted circus wagons containing all the bored, sad-looking creatures you would expect, including a yawning old lion with, at most, three teeth; a bearded lady; a wild man from — ready for this? — Borneo!; and a geek who, they claimed, would, during moments of extreme frenzy, bite the heads off a variety of animals and fowls. They had it all.
In my opinion, it was well worth missing a day of school; if I had gone to classes that day, I doubt that 50 years later I would be writing about what I did in study hall.
I don’t remember that I ever filled you in on the circus visit, Mr. Beatty, so here you are. If you’re up there reading this, thanks for that remarkable day, and a whole lot more.