Surviving the Mold Attack

Julius A. von Brunk
6 min readSep 5, 2022

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In late summer 1995 as I was awaiting to begin my 5th grade in elementary school, my parents received a letter from the school district which informed us all of a significant change to our ‘95–’96 school year itinerary: the elementary school was temporarily shut down due to a severe mold infestation. We weren’t told the specifics of it, but the general story which was eventually gathered was that over the summer, the school’s antiquated ventilation systems malfunctioned which spread dangerous black mold throughout the building, damaging a lot of the items in the building such as books and computers.

According to later testimony from some of my teachers, they described the building as looking like the set of a horror movie, with large strands of fungus hanging from the ceilings and stuck to desks, books, and walls. This meant that that while the school was closed for the extensive cleaning effort, all students were temporarily shuttled to various schools in the region and taught at those other locations for the duration of the cleanup. This was achieved by a laborious process where the kids would wake up earlier than usual each day and then report to East Petersburg Elementary School’s grounds each morning to wait outside with other students organized by their respective grade, and then would get into school buses to be shuttled to various schools in our district. For example, grade 5 was shuttled to Centerville Middle School and temporarily taught inside these mobile auxiliary classroom trailers attached to the campus, whereas grade 6 was sent to Hempfield High School and actually roamed the halls alongside teenagers to have their classes inside spare rooms at the high school. Lower grades were merely sent to other elementary schools in the region.

After a few months of thorough cleaning and decontamination, the doors of East Petersburg Elementary School were finally re-opened for us to attend once again by the end of 1995. Things were a little shaky at first, and a lot of teachers lamented their personal belongings being destroyed during the cleanup, whether due to mold contamination or just human error. An example of the latter would be how my 5th grade teacher explained to us that the mold-cleaning people would carelessly empty out desk drawers from each teacher and then dump the contents onto a conveyor belt into a sterilization machine, with no regard for the value or vulnerability of the items. As a result, my 5th grade teacher told us that he permanently lost many of his educational instruments including a radiometer. I also personally remember visiting the school library and noticing that some of the books still had weird patches of mold on the front covers, which the librarian assured me were harmless but couldn’t be removed.

Within time we got settled back into our proper classrooms at last, and our faculty decided to raise additional money for charity to cover costs of some of the cleanup effort. To spearhead this operation, my 5th grade teacher Mr. Mateer created a T-shirt with a design of the school being attacked by a cartoonish green monster, along with the phrase “I SURVIVED THE MOLD ATTACK”; this was a simple design piece which used white and green on a black background, and presumably created in primitive graphic design tools. These shirts were then printed in a limited run for $10 a piece, and the students were heavily encouraged to each buy one to wear in solidarity.

Unfortunately when I broke the news of these cool new shirts to my mom and stepdad, they were kind of strict and and skeptical to the idea of me wasting money on one of those shirts, and didn’t like the idea of me partaking in things like school spirit and extracurricular activities. Basically, that tired trope of “If all of your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too!?” was a phrase they’d use when I begged them to get me a Mold Attack shirt. Then after the shirts sold out, I was one of the few kids in the entire school who didn’t have one, and I was excluded from the publicity photo in the newspaper of the students wearing their Mold Attack shirts in unity.

Years would go by, and eventually I grew up from a young boy to becoming a tall and handsome man with a successful career as an award-winning graphic designer. At some point whilst reminiscing about my youth and how I missed out on owning a one-of-a-kind shirt, I said to myself, “Hey, since I know how to use Adobe Illustrator pretty well, why don’t I ask my friends on Facebook if they still have their Mold Attack shirts, so I can trace it and make my own version!?”

And so, in circa 2019 or so I posted a Facebook update on my personal account and received a mix of replies such as former classmates claiming to still have theirs but sadly can’t locate them, or people telling me they’d send me a photo — but never actually doing it. Eventually one of my friends from 5th grade — a guy named Steve who was in my Boy Scout troop in 1995–1996 — sent me a private message to show me photos of his original Mold Attack T-shirt in great condition, placed down flat on a table:

Photos of an actual original Mold Attack shirt provided by my former classmate Steve.

I was able to use these photos as a base image, and thus after hours of tracing and identifying the exact fonts used in the original shirt design, I recreated an accurate vector design of the Mold Attack shirt! Due to the low quality of Steve’s cell phone images I wasn’t able to get some exact details, and also I didn’t know if the green color in the monster was true and proper, or if it was distorted due to improper lighting from his photos — which meant I just used a standard Kelly Green color in my version; I couldn’t remember if the actual shirts used a different shade of green like lime, emerald, or peridot.

Vector illustration made by me, based off Steve’s reference photos.

Upon completing the first draft of the Mold Attack shirt design, I submitted my artwork to the website CustomInk to get a prototype shirt printed on-demand. I was initially satisfied with the print quality, but then made some slight adjustments to my Adobe Illustrator file yet again and eventually got two more shirts printed. The images you see below are photos of me wearing my second edition of the shirts after my slight redesigns; basically, the second versions have some of the lines and colors fixed compared to my first draft:

Sitting pretty at Liberty Park in Lower Manhattan in 2022. If I look irritated it’s because of annoying tourists who kept getting in the way of my shots. Also because mosquitos.

Then eventually after being satisfied with the print quality from these on-demand shirt websites, I went and got a few copies of the shirt printed for some of my close friends and family who also attended East Petersburg Elementary in 1995–1996, so that they could flaunt their nostalgic resiliency.

–I Survived the Mold Attack

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Julius A. von Brunk
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The Amish Auteur™. God-tier LEGO master craftsman, published artist, graphic designer, animator, photographer, and metalhead!