December 4, 1963: Ceiling of Central High Cafeteria Collapses 

On this day in Duluth in 1963, the ceiling of Central High School’s cafeteria collapsed at about 2:20 in the afternoon, 90 minutes after students completed lunch. No one was injured by the falling plaster and acoustic tiles, which ripped a drinking fountain from the pillar it was mounted to and crushed several chairs. But the incident caused much grief for Mrs. Tyler Knapp, president of Central’s PTA, who was inundated by phone calls from concerned parents who thought it best to keep their children at home, safe from collapsing ceilings. (Interestingly, the school’s principal and the school board reported receiving very few such calls.) Knapp used the incident to raise another issue: Duluth needed a new Central High School. “There have been other things happen at Central in the past which haven’t necessarily gotten into print. This is just one more thing we are concerned about.” L. V. Rassmussen, superintendent of schools, ordered all ceilings inspected and repaired. He said that it wasn’t the first time a chunk of plaster fell from a ceiling in the school—the auditorium had experienced several such incidents, and it was used all day every day as a study hall, placing students in danger. Those students who did show up for class the next day—armed with bag lunches—dined in classrooms and hallways.

A lithographic postcard of Duluth’s Central high School made between 1900 and 1914. (Image: Zenith City Press)