Yes, there was a Delaney. The obituary carrying the headline "Creator of Classroom Aid," published in The New York Times on June 8, 1969, reveals that Edward C. Delaney, Harvard '07, who died at 84, had been a history teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School. (DeWitt Clinton still uses Delaney cards, formally known as "Visual Seating Plans.") At just 89 words, the article does not address when and why he invented the cards. But one can guess why: Efficiency.
For authentic New Yorkers, the phrase "Delaney card" elicits the same shiver of nostalgia as egg creams and ring-a-levio. Since at least the 1940's, Delaney cards have been a secret password, a madeleine of memory uniting students across generations and demographics, whether they grew up on Fifth Avenue or Flatbush Avenue, attended Truman or Stuyvesant. In the fad-prone world of education, not even the great educational philosopher John Dewey has had so unchallenged a run.
Delaney cards are the subject of a Staten Island trivia quiz that has been lurking on the Web since 1997. The question was, ''What are Delaney cards?'' After answering, a Staten Island man who attended New Dorp High School in the 1950's, recalls how students waited for teachers to pass out too many Delaney cards, and then filled in false names. ''Who's Clark Kent?'' he remembers a teacher asking, reading off a Delaney card. ''He's Superman!'' the class shrieked.