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Puff Puff Past: Niles East High School’s teenage smokers reunite online

Teens gathering across the street from Niles East High School

Teens from Niles East High School regularly gathered across the street from the school to smoke; now they gather on Facebook to shoot the breeze. | Facebook photo

It was a common feature for high schools of the era — a place nearby to go smoke stuff.

Few, however, have a Facebook page immortalizing the clouds of smoke and sense of cool that hovered above.

The “Mulford Street Smokers” hung out behind Niles East High School in Skokie in the 70s.

A picture of Cheech and Chong smoking a massive joint greets visitors to the Facebook page — which has 428 members.

“It’s where you went between classes for a smoke, or if you cut class and wanted to have some fun,” said Sam Nudelman, class of ’79 (the school closed the next year).

“We had something called an ‘open campus’ where you could leave school grounds during your free period, and looking back on it, it was a horrible idea, because it gave us way too much freedom,” said Nudelman, 57, who lives in Wheeling and works for a limousine company.

“Cigarette breaks were completely legit, as long as you were on the other side of the sidewalk and not on school property,” Nudelman said.

Weed smokers wandered a little further, to an alley or occasionally to an unlocked laundry room in the basement of an apartment building across the street.

“It was stupid, but it was sure fun,” Nudelman said. “It was mostly the ‘freaks’ or ‘burnouts’ who hung out there, but it was kind of a crossover, too — where the jocks came there to buy their weed from the freaks.”

Sam Nudelman outside Niles East High School

Sam Nudelman, Niles East High School Class of ’79, lights up on Mulford Street. | Facebook

Michael Linderman, 56, created the Facebook page nine years ago while laid up on his couch recovering from back surgery.

“I had a lot of good times there, met a lot of friends,” Linderman said. “I was kind of the king of Mulford.”

Members of the group share laughs over old photos, memories of what they smoked and drove, and where they are now.

“It’s a historic institution,” said Linderman, who owns a plumbing company and lives in northwest suburban McHenry.

He returned to Mulford after a high school reunion a few years ago with several classmates to snap a picture that he posted to the site.

One of Linderman’s clearest memories was smoking weed too close to school property and getting spotted by James Puff, the school’s security guard who was known for his enormous size and rumored speed.

“I ran for about a block and thought I was in the clear, and then I felt this giant hand on my shoulder. I couldn’t believe the ground he covered for such a large man,” he said with a laugh.

Michael Linder (left) and classmates

Michael Linderman, 56, (left) returned to Mulford Street after a high school reunion a few years ago with several classmate to snap a picture where they used to hang out and smoke during high school. | Facebook photo