Structural ghosts shed light on Akron’s past

by Karla Tipton

Disclaimer: The following is a work of realistic fiction for our special 2050 issue, published in June 2021. These stories are meant to spark imagination, not forecast the future of Akron. 

The school rises up in a shimmering display of light, yet it’s grounded in memories as solid as cornerstones.

The holographic installation of Goodyear Middle School was constructed by holo-artist Sami Stoneman. It’s located at the property where the Rubber Bowl sat until it was cleared in 2018. Stoneman’s creation is as solid as his name, though his work is made of light.

“When I went there, it was one of Akron’s last remaining schools built with an architectural design style that married practicality with beauty,” said Sami, who attended the school from 2007 until 2010. Sami’s class was the final middle school graduating class before it was temporarily used to house the elementary school students displaced when Seiberling Elementary closed.

Decommissioned in 2017, Goodyear Middle School was originally known as East High School and was built in 1918. 

Although the holographic installation is not located on its original site — which through the years has been the location of an auto mall, an office complex, and now a helio-rideshare lot from which people pool on aerial rides to travel to their jobs — former students describe the building made of light as uncanny in its penchant for calling forth memories of childhood.

“The classroom felt just as it had when I attended Mrs. Tuchman’s English class,” says Hayley Renner, 64, who was a student in the early ’00s. “Shivers went up my spine.”

The holo-construction, which earns a place in the Guinness Digital Guide as the largest hologram ever built, is augmented with classroom audio and visuals of students and teachers chatting before class, lecturing and then being dismissed by an old timey sounding bell.

Click here to read more content from our 2050 issue.

“I remember the sound of that bell like it was yesterday,” says Jeremy Wiseman, 72, who attended in the early 1990s. He has visited the installation twice for the hour-long tour around the perimeter and inside the holo-constructed classroom and cafeteria.

“It really brings it alive,” said Eillian Talib, 23. “Kids having to walk to school, or take a ground-bus. Then they had to spend the whole day there. It’s sort of wild to think about.” 

The contrast between now and then couldn’t be more stark. Ninety percent of classrooms in the mid-21st century are virtual. Teaching personas are generated by artificial technology based on composites of psyche-scans donated by distinguished educators from the past two decades. The idea of a flesh-and-blood teacher instructing at one location for many hours of the day now seems archaic and inefficient.

The concept of a virtual reality enclosure was first imagined by science fiction writers a hundred years ago, beginning with a short story by Ray Bradbury in 1950. The technology became a reality in 2030 with the first anime theme park, Wyden’s Forest in Tokyo, built entirely of laser-generated matter, beams and fields. 

What inspired Sami Stoneman to bring the school back from the dead? 

“Life changed for me while I went there,” he said. “My dad died my first year of middle school. I realized I didn’t identify with the gender that was forced on me. And an amazing teacher, Judith Griffiths, helped me learn to channel my pain through art. That’s when I was first drawn to the light.”

Sami is talking about holograms, of course, but there’s a little bit of heaven present in his work, as well. “I went from believing in nothing, to believing in the transcendence of art.”

After his middle school years, Sami’s mother remarried and the family relocated to Miami, Florida. In high school, he gravitated to both the sciences and the arts, and was top of his class in both. 

In his senior year, he scored an international scholarship to study physics and electrical engineering at the Berlin Institute of Technology (BIT), but was forced to work remotely for his final year of high school because of Covid-19 school closures. After earning his undergraduate degree, he was awarded a post-graduate fellowship at the BIT, where holography was originally developed.

Pandemic struck again in the second year of his graduate studies, and he had to return home after member EU countries closed borders when a deadly Covid-21 variant surfaced in Poland in 2022. Other countries followed suit, and a repeat of the 2020 pandemic was avoided, but left international students in the lurch. 

These interruptions in his education and the social distancing required would impact Stoneman’s work for the rest of his life.

“The whole pandemic experience made me rethink what I wanted to accomplish with my art. So much of what we all went through at that time was experienced alone. Whether it was music, video or doing a virtual tour of a museum, it was mostly devoid of the influence of our peers,” he said. “I wanted my work to be fully experienced on a very personal, very subjective level.”

Sami returned to the U.S. and earned advanced degrees in visual media and architectural design at the University of Florida.

He caught the imagination of Roy Bezos, CEO of Amazon-Disney, Inc., with his proposal for a holo-theme park in Orlando. The park merged cutting edge light tech with big concept storylines that were eventually spun off into billion-dollar movie franchises, “Moon Beserkers” and “Johnny, Seeds of Dark.”

But Sami wanted his creations to do more than entertain. 

“I became obsessed with the place where my life was changed, Goodyear Middle School. My life was in chaos and might have gone down a darker path if it wasn’t for the influence of my art teacher.”

The idea of recreating the place where his life changed forever wouldn’t let him go. At age 50, Sami used the considerable royalties he had made through his association with Amazon-Disney, and returned to his hometown in 2045 to begin work on the project.

“I wanted to show how a person’s life can change because of those small moments, when words imparted by a caring teacher can actually matter,” he said. “Knowledge used to be shared in brick-and-mortar institutions, before schools were replaced by online learning centers and alternative teaching pods.

“History teaches us to honor our roots,” he said. “I wanted Akron to remember its urban beginnings, when teachers were human, and not AI-bots, and when ideas were founded in truth rather than software.”

A native of Barberton, Karla Tipton earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Kent State University and spent 14 years as a staff reporter and editor at the Antelope Valley Press in California before returning home. She is the author of two time travel romantic fantasy novels. She keeps busy writing, working in the IT field, playing rock guitar, photographing urban settings and enjoying the local arts and music scene.

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