Quick action by principal saves lives from fire

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correspondent

Fire! This announcement possibly in the middle of the night, would frighten the most courageous. It is a cry that alerts the neighborhood even today, and all the differences that occur among people are cast aside. We come together as best we can to fight the dread enemy and come to the aid of our neighbors.

When this dread enemy appeared in the night in 1923, it was a call that touched many. The fire was at the school, and the means of fighting it were primitive and ineffective. We imagine the bucket brigades from local water wells and a sense of general panic when the crown realized the flames from the first building to catch fire were spreading across to the second building.

There was little sleep in the small village of Castor that night, and soon the crowd realized there was nothing left to do but stand and watch. It was too big a fire to fight. Both schools, high school and elementary would go.

"The original school buildings were a great loss to the community," said Rupert Sledge, a former resident of the town. "We had lively school plays in that school building and I was one of the star performers in one of them. I was six years old and acted in the role of Tom Thumb."

"The stage and auditorium were located on the second floor of the high school building. It was situated approximately eighty feet south of the elementary building. The two buildings comprised the complete structure of Castor High School. The windows of the second floor were eighteen feet from the ground."

"Approximately 150 parents and friends climbed the stairs and crowded into the seats arranged before the stage. The lighting for the play was primitive, since there were no electric lights at that time. A single lantern fueled with kerosene hung closely from the pine ceiling of the room. Parents waited with anticipation and watched as the curtain opened and the play began."

"All attention was focused on the child 'stars' and fire threatened the large crowd that assembled on the second floor of that building. The lantern was too close to that pine ceiling, and soon a circle of red and black embers appeared."

Rupert Sledge gave W.M.Caskey, principal at the time, hero status for his quick and effective action. "Caskey reached up with his bare hand and reamed out the burning circle in the ceiling. He damaged his fingers for life," Sledge said. "Lives were saved by his action that night. Then three years later I watched both buildings burn to the ground."

"The fire began in the elementary building, then the flames, fanned by the wind, burned the high school building too. Rumor has it that the fire started from cigarettes of some careless people meeting after hours to engage in gambling activity. There was blame fixing the next day among those talking among the ashes of the once-proud buildings. The fixing of fault resulted in nothing more than talk."

"Soon, the community went to work finding places for the students who had attended the first Castor Schools, and classes were established in churches, and the Woodmen of the World building until a new school could be built."