Skip to content

High school's permanent marks and scars

Reynolds High School, N.C. Department of Archives and History

A story in the Winston-Salem Journal this morning refers to “historic” R.J. Reynolds High School and mentions that the school is 90 years old this year. Not many high schools make it to that age, at least as still-operating schools, or make it to the National Register of Historic Places. No doubt most of us remain haunted by high school, for better or for worse, but there’s something about Reynolds High School that gets — and stays — under your skin.

Even in this era, 46 years after I graduated, I find myself driving by the school when I’m in the area, to see if it has changed (not much) and if the cherry trees are still there. It always feels a little crazy to be so drawn to a place, given how miserable I was there. But anyone who went to Reynolds will understand. We were constantly reminded how privileged we were to go to Reynolds (even though it is a public high school) and the word “tradition” was heard almost daily. My readers in Britain, where schools are hundreds and hundreds of years old, will think this funny. But we Americans, of course, measure our history on a shorter scale.

In these parts, if you went to Reynolds High School, you leave it on your resume no matter your age or other achievements. One of North Carolina’s senators, Richard Burr, graduated from Reynolds in 1974, and this fact is mentioned on his Wikipedia page.

The school does have an interesting history. It was partly tobacco money that paid for the school and its rather grand auditorium. Katherine Smith Reynolds, widow of R.J. Reynolds, donated land for the auditorium in 1918. The school opened in 1923, the auditorium in 1924. One of the traditions of the school is that the ghost of Katherine Smith Reynolds still haunts the auditorium. And in fact it is the auditorium which haunts me to this day, more than the school. The auditorium seemed as grand to me then as Carnegie Hall does today, and it was similarly a temple of music. Winston-Salem, partly because of cultural advantages handed down by its Moravian settlers, and partly because of the patronage of old money (Hanes, Reynolds, and Gray), punched above its weight musically. I even had the stage to myself once in 1966, when I gave an organ performance during the annual Key Club Follies. The orchestral and choral music I heard in that auditorium were critical to my early music education. My high school music theory class sometimes met on the stage, when we needed access to the big Steinway.

But of all the music that haunts me from that era, it’s one thing in particular that stands out — the school hymn, “Her Portals Tall and Wide.” It was written in 1933 by a student whom the older teachers remembered, B.C. Dunford Jr. It was generally sung a capella in clear four-part harmony by the school chorus, with the chorus located in the upper balcony for the best acoustical effect, and always with the lights dimmed. Sometimes the members of the chorus held candles. It was more than a tradition; it was a sacred ritutal. This hymn is always mentioned in histories and reminiscences, but I am unable to find a single recording of it. I must put that to rights and record it at the organ. No doubt the current chorus teacher (I hope they still have chorus teachers) could provide me with the score.

P.S. to the current principal: The fourth floor was still used in the 1960s. I had Spanish classes up there.

Reynolds Auditorium, N.C. Department of Archives and History

That’s me in the center, a photo of the yearbook staff in the 1967 yearbook. Did I ever do anything other than publishing? I guess not…


  1. Uptown Jimmy wrote:

    You didn’t describe the scars. Do tell.

    It’s funny that we went to the same high school. Neither one of us belonged there, I guess.

    I don’t recall visiting the 4th floor. Nor did I ever enter “the tunnel”. My Junior Year chemistry classroom was an odd thing for a high school: tiered college-style pine rows stretching up to the ceiling in what must have been a two-story room, with a gigantic canvas roll-up/pull-down periodic table on the wall behind the teacher’s desk.

    You could feel the history in that building.

    Winston-Salem is an odd town. We are lucky to have been born there, I think. We inherited that Moravian pluck and intelligence and independence. There are many worse places to call home.

    Btw, you look so cute and earnest as a high school boy. And happy. Not tormented at all…

    Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Permalink
  2. Uptown Jimmy wrote:

    And who is the hottie standing next to you?

    Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 9:27 pm | Permalink
  3. admin wrote:

    That would be Susan Bodenheimer. Someone said in an email that she looks like a young Meryl Streep…

    Monday, January 21, 2013 at 9:45 pm | Permalink
  4. Uptown Jimmy wrote:

    More Virginia Madsen…

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink
  5. West Highlands Girl wrote:

    I had Spanish class on the 4th floor in the 80’s. I wonder why they’d close that down – good classroom space. My mother claims they used to haul blocks of ice up to melt and cool through the vents as a way to air condition the classrooms.

    Sunday, April 3, 2016 at 1:12 am | Permalink
  6. WS native wrote:

    Did you ever record Her Pirtals! I can’t find it either! We just celebrated our 40th reunion this weekend. Thanks for the post I stubbed upon.

    Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  7. WS native wrote:


    Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  8. Carolyn Smith Culler wrote:

    I sang in the chorus in the 1960’s and we produced an album under the direction of James Hall, the music teacher. If I/m not mistaken, Her Portals Tall and Wide was a part of that album. Don’t know if I still have mine, but bet there is one in the Media Center or in the Music Department.

    Monday, October 9, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  9. Katherine Cagle wrote:

    I was librarian at Reynolds from 1981-2009. We did have a record album of the alma mater but I’m not sure it still exists in the digital age. Reynolds still has terrific chorus and orchestra directors. It is now an arts magnet school so music, art, and drama are a big part of the school.

    Monday, October 9, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *