The ghost of Leo Politi

Posted on | March 3, 2010 | 5 Comments

Click on the cover to be taken to a gallery of Leo Politi's publications.

STRANGER things have happened, but not on this website. The night after attending Leo Politi Elementary School to take part in the March 2, 2010 Read Across America Day, a story posted itself on Chance of Rain while I slept.

As a reporter and science writer, never mind editor of this website, I can only assure readers that an investigation is under way. I take mystery postings very, very seriously.

In the meantime, those interested in Read Across America Day and other country-wide school programs should contact the National Education Association. Or for information about Pen in the Classroom programs, click here.

The Ghost of Leo Politi

The day after the lady from the newspaper came, they all felt it. It was before the bell and the students in Mr. Hernandez’s fourth grade class at Leo Politi Elementary School were doing one of their favorite things: Talking. Then, as fast as sparrows stop chirping when a hawk passes, the room became silent.  Francky was the first to ask the group, “Do you feel it?”

Everyone nodded.

Then a voice from the empty chair next to Erik asked, “Feel what?”

“Eeek!” screamed Mr. Hernandez’s class, all at once and very loudly. “Eeeeeeeeek!”

A beat late, the voice from the empty chair next to Erik also called, “Eeeek,” but somewhat meekly, as if confused.

“Why are we yelling?” asked the voice.

“He likes you Erik,” the class yelled. “You talk to him!”

“I’m shy,” said Erik.

“You’re not shy,” said the voice. “You like to think before you speak. There’s a difference. Thinking is good.”

“Eeeek!” screamed everyone in the class except Erik. He was thinking.

“What’s your name?” Eric decided to ask. The lady from the Los Angeles Times spent most of the morning the other day talking about their names. Asking for a name seemed a decent opening gambit to strike up a chat with a ghost.

“I don’t know,” said the ghost.

“You don’t know!” cried the class. “We know our names and we can tell you where they came from!”

“I know,” said the ghost. “I was here when the lady from the paper came, but somehow my name didn’t get on the list. She didn’t call me.”

“Maybe she couldn’t see you,” said everyone in the class at once.

“That seems likely,” said the ghost, who then sighed a sad, windy, suitably otherworldly sigh.

“Would you know your name if you heard it?” asked Rene, whose name is shared with a famous French scientist and who has a good deductive mind himself.

“I think so,” said the ghost.

“OK,” said Rene. “I have an idea. Why don’t we figure out your name by process of elimination? We’ll tell you our names and if any sound familiar, it might be your name too. We’ll go alphabetically!”

“Is your name Alejandra?” asked Alejandra.

“Oh, my! You mean the great port of Egypt? The name of gods, emperors and queens? I wish it were,” said the ghost. “But no, that doesn’t sound familiar.”

“Alondra?” ventured Alondra.

“What a delightful name!” cried the ghost. “Queen of the songbirds. Alas, no. It is not my name.

“Andres?” asked Andres.

“Like Andrew?” asked the ghost, suddenly sounding excited, as if his mind was racing. “Like the Greek name Andreas, too?”

“That’s what the lady said,” said Andres. “I’d have to check it for myself.”

“Quite right,” said the ghost, adding, “I’d like to be called Andres. But I don’t think I am.”

“I’ve got it!” cried Christine. “You’re a girl! Your name is Christine, maybe?”

“Am I? Is it?” asked the ghost, sounding surprised and perhaps very slightly rattled.

“Well,” the ghost continued, “If I am a girl, then I could very possibly be named Christine. Or if I am a boy, then it might be Christian. You know what I love most about the name Christine?”

“What?” asked Christine.

“It’s got the prettiest ‘T’ in the English language,” said the ghost. “Prettier than Tea for Two, or even Terrific. Listen!” the ghost demanded. Then it very slowly sang her named. “ChissssssTeeeeeeeen!”

“What about the ‘T’ in Christopher?” two boys asked at once.

“Ah, how I wish my name were Christopher,” said the ghost. “Christopher Robin was one of my favorite little boys.”

Two boys in the class named Christopher nudged a bit closer to the ghost’s empty chair, where they thought they heard sobbing.

“You can borrow it, if you want,” they said. “We don’t mind.”

“You are both so kind I don’t know what to say. I would love to share your name. If I don’t find mine, may I take you up on that offer?”

“Does this mean you’re a boy?” asked the first Christopher.

“Maybe that’s why he likes Christine’s ‘T’ so much,” suggested the second Christopher.

“Then I guess you’re not called Delilah?” asked Delilah.

“Alas, no,” said the ghost. “I would have remembered that.”

“Not Elia, Elizabeth, Fatima, Frida, Jennifer, Jessica, Samantha, Silvia or Withney?” asked the remaining girls, one by one.

“No, not Elia, Elizabeth, Fatima, Frida, Jennifer, Jessica, Samantha, Silvia or Withney,” said the ghost. “I would have remembered each and every one of those names. They’re all personal favorites, so beautiful that I couldn’t possibly pick.”

“He’s definitely a boy ghost,” whispered Emanuel to Ivan.

“Not Emanuel, Ivan, Francky, Javier, Jean, Jessie, Maynor, Peter, Rene, Saul or William?” asked boy after boy.

“No, not Emanuel, Ivan, Francky, Javier, Jean, Jessie, Maynor, Peter, Rene, Saul or William,” said the ghost. “I would have remembered each and every one of those names, too. They’re all personal favorites, so handsome that I couldn’t possibly pick.”

“Maybe he’s not a boy,” said Rene. “Maybe he’s a teacher.”

“Do you know your initial?” asked Saul.

“Is it A? B? C? D? E? F? G? H? I? J? K? L?…” cried the class, shouting out each letter one by one in alphabetical order.

“L!” exclaimed the ghost. “I’m sure it’s L!”

“Lance!” “Larry!” “Loco!”

“I think it’s Leo,” said the ghost.

At this the commotion stopped. “Are you the ghost of Leo Politi?” asked Erik, who had been thinking some more.

“I don’t know,” said the ghost. “We’ll have to investigate that.”

“How do you do that?” demanded the class.

“We’ll have to go to the library. That’s the place to look for answers,” said the ghost. “Quick, back to your seats! Someone’s coming!”

At 8am exactly, Mr. Hernandez stepped into Room 41 of Leo Politi Elementary School, where he teaches 28 children.

“Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning!” cried 29 voices.


5 Responses to “The ghost of Leo Politi”

  1. Melina Watts
    March 9th, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

    Dear Emily,

    I LOVE Leo Politi. My mother was a school teacher and had two books signed by him for me when I was a tiny child and I grew up with them – one on a dragon parade in China Town, the other an endearing romp through Olvera Street. He used to do these elaborate watercolor/pen signings where each letter of the recpient’s name was fancifullly emblazoned with plants, animals and whatnot in pretty colors. Such charm. Some day, I hope to do book signings that make the book-owner feel that cherished, though I do not have Mr. Politi’s beautiful and skilled artistry at my command.

    Thank you for keeping his spirit alive!

  2. Leigh Adams
    March 16th, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

    This is utterly lovely in every sense. I share the children’s delight in hearing and celebrating each of their names and I cherish the joy this “occurrence” must have brought to them. Leo Politi was a special man and this is a special story.

  3. kevin orellana
    December 1st, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

    this was my favorite school i miss it so much im a sophmore in high school and i remember back in the days when i was in the 3rd grade in ms.ricos class we learned and had fun at the same time i love this school my name is kevin and i gradueated leo politi in class of 2005 🙂

  4. kevin orellana
    December 1st, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

    to melina since your mom was a teacher what was her name i might know her? 😀

  5. Melina Watts
    September 23rd, 2019 @ 1:42 pm

    Hello Kevin Orellana,

    Just now seeing your query, all these years after your ask, the internet is a strange and sometimes wonderful beast.

    My mother was June Marie Devore Watts. She taught a number of elementary school grades over many years,under the name Mrs. Zeller, as that was the last name of her first husband, and then, in my childhood, under the name Mrs. Watts, only in that era, primarily as a subsitute teacher. She passed away in 2010. It is very sweet of you to ask. Be well.
    Melina Watts

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