You’ve heard me talk about Mr. Gunn and our school’s rich history a lot. Diligent teachers and students have found some wonderful stories and surprises in our archives. One of our students’ favorite stories is the fact that Mr. Gunn would declare a spontaneous holiday when the weather was beautiful in the fall. He would lead the whole school on a walk in the woods and identify flowers and trees as they walked along.
Mrs. Krimsky, our school archivist, has found a 19th century student letter which tells a tale perfectly describing Mr. Gunn’s reaction to the doldrums of winter. Remember, in those days, there was no central heating or electricity and so everyone had to huddle together around the fireplaces and go to bed early. Nerves got frayed toward the end of the bad weather. Apparently Mr. Gunn recognized the problem and would, with a twinkle in his eye, close a school meeting (The Gunnery was one of the first boarding schools to have student government) and point to the flag pole. There would be flying the Scottish clan Gunn flag. That meant that the next day, classes were canceled and the students were free to hunt, to trap, to play “foxes and hounds,” to play shinny or polo (two early forms of hockey), to sled, or to let their indoor or outdoor imaginations go wild—within the bounds of school rules, of course.
Mr. Gunn also knew that this time of year was the birthday of many of the early, great Presidents of the United States, including, most notably, our town’s namesake, George Washington, whose birthday was February 22nd. To honor President Washington and our town, Mr. Gunn named these spontaneous, mid-winter days off “A Washington Day.”
I thought Mr. Gunn was on to something, both in the idea of a spontaneous day off and in his method of letting the school know, and revived this tradition in February of 2013. Our students now know to keep their eyes on the flag pole in the Quad as Spring break approaches. If they wake up to see a second flag below the American one, it is an indication that I’ve decided that we will not have classes the next day.