New York Times - January 9, 2000

The View From Scarsdale
Breaching a Time Warp With an Online Look at the Class of '69

New York TimesNew York TimesOn the Web site of the Scarsdale High School class of '69, each person's 1969 picture and a current picture are displayed side by side. Scarsdale high schoolers who are in the virtual yearbook or the ibook, as it is called, and who check its pages regularly for postings and updates, say they feel that they have breached a time warp of sorts, re-awakening teenage memories while forging new or renewed adult connections.

"You have a history with these people and an obligation to nurture and keep it a living part of your life," said Marlo Lewis, a staff director of the House Government Sub-Committee on Regulatory Affairs in Washington.

Carol Harper, founder and owner of a Boston-based media strategy company, added: "There's something about a shared past; we all know exactly where we're coming from. Even if you weren't at all friendly with a particular person -- well, for example, I was part of a serious, sort of hippie fringe crowd in high school and Steve was the kind of guy who knew everyone and had lots of friends; we barely spoke in high school, but now, through the ibook, we're very, very friendly and I've even hired him to do some work for my company."

The Steve she is referring to is Steven Shmerler, a Web site developer whose Los Angeles-based company, SASnet, has built sites for entertainment, health care and business professionals. Mr. Shmerler is the originator of the Scarsdale High School class of '69 virtual yearbook. He began the project shortly after receiving an invitation to the 30th class reunion, which was held in September.

After dragging out his 30-year-old, maroon and white Bandersnatch -- the yearbook name was taken from the poem "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll -- he decided to put together the Web site, Bandersnatch ibook 99, as a volunteer effort despite the many hours he knew it would take to compile. He got in touch with Louise Weiss and Robert Posey, two of the reunion's organizers who still live in Westchester, and, through a combination of e-mail and plain old-fashioned phone calls, got enough photographs and mini-bios to start an online yearbook.

So far 33 out of a class of more than 300 are entered in the book, but more are e-mailing their material and still others just browse the site, Mr. Shmerler said. It includes a home page featuring a photograph of a maroon Scarsdale football jacket with a white number 69 on it, pictures of the 1969 yearbook and photographs of the school and its students then and now, including informal groupings from the recent reunion. There is a page labeled "In Memoriam" to commemorate those who have died.

The home page features a quote from Jimi Hendrix: "Now if six turned out to be nine, I don't mind, I don't mind. If all the hippies cut off all their hair, I don't care, I don't care." On the introduction page, Mr. Shmerler refers to this lyric, writing, "So here we are -- 30 years later. It's the turn of the century, 6 has become 9 and not only did we cut off our hair, some of us have lost it. Argh! But has it really been such a long, strange trip? For a generation nursed on 'change' we shouldn't be surprised. It's like a river. All is the same, yet all is very different."

He also muses: "Was it the music, social change, the bomb, the assassinations, civil rights, cultural revolution, political turmoil, the war, free love, economic shifts, drugs, TV sitcoms, personal experimentation, spiritualization, questioning of authority, globalization, Woodstock, the mass media, fate, existential entropy? Or, was it that little drop of Retzin in the toothpaste? Whatever it was, something galvanized during those very intense years."

The consciously hip tone -- knowing, intellectual, slightly self-mocking -- reflects some of the mood of Scarsdale High School in 1969. The years that the class of '69 attended the school -- fall of 1965 through spring of 1969 -- were rife with change. The freshman and sophomore years were, for the most part, still pretty tame, socially dominated by football players and cheerleaders who, when not in uniform, wore matching A-line skirts and sweater sets. Then at the beginning of the junior year everything was suddenly different. Students grew their hair, wore fringe jackets and big denim bell bottoms and sneaked outside for a puff of marijuana, not just a surreptitious Marlboro as they had in the past. Most high schools around the country had yet to experience this shift, but Scarsdale was (and still is) the sort of sophisticated, fast-track environment that encouraged not only excellence in education but also bred a highly charged, "we've got it first" atmosphere.

"Our class was on the cusp between straight and nonstraight," said Patsy Kimble Brunner, who lives in Missoula, Mont., and runs a company that makes water-repellant salve for leather saddles and footwear. She herself "never even had a drink until college," but there were those whose involvement with drugs, Vietnam War protests and rock music predated that of high school students elsewhere in the country.

Mrs. Brunner and others also reflected on the changes that seemed to occur naturally with time. Teenagers, she said, "do a lot of mask building -- we were all hiding." Getting back in touch with classmates by way of the Web site has revealed a "leveling out of the playing field," with certain once tight-knit cliques dissipated and unexpected combinations as new friendships form.

Ms. Harper, for example, has not only begun a new friendship with Mr. Shmerler but also recently got together with another person she barely conversed with in high school, Dr. Andrea Schaffner. Dr. Schaffner is now a specialist in geriatrics; Ms. Harper's 87-year-old mother lives in Connecticut; recently, Ms. Harper took her to Dr. Schaffer's practice in the town of Essex and decided to retain her as her mother's doctor. "I'm so impressed with Andrea," she said. "She's very committed and serious about what she does and very compassionate. A few days ago, I drove down from Boston and took my mother to her office and met her 20-year-old daughter. We all stood in front of the computer and started maneuvering on the Scarsdale High School class of '69 site. Here we were, three generations -- Andrea and me, my 87-year-old mother, Andrea's 20-year-old daughter -- all looking at this Web site together."

Of course, some relationships remain intact. Mr. Shmerler and his group of close friends got together for a mini-reunion in Breckenridge, Colo., in 1997, which they called "the far-out festival." Online, one can see pictures of this gang of eight and learn that Mr. Shmerler is still called Shmerls and others still go by nicknames like Felix and Nanna. But even among those who have kept in close touch, the Internet -- specifically the virtual yearbook -- has had its own kind of impact.

John Tarnoff, a former film producer who lives in Los Angeles, said he has "found my second wind in the new media-interactive-Internet" field.

"The net is about community building," he said. "It enables you to check in with people without having to interact on the telephone. "It's awesome to look at the Scarsdale High postings," he said. "We've had 30 years' diverse experience, and yet we've all had one shared experience -- that of Scarsdale High School."