Out Of The Mouths Of Grads

I had mentioned some time ago that I collect year books, and, well, the fact still stands.  To prove my point – a few days ago I picked up (for a rather sharp $25) a fine example of pre-collegiate optimism, photographed, bound and bound for glory.

They called this book The Shawnee, out of Shawano High School in Wisconsin.  A small school, apparently – only the graduating students had individual portraits…sophs and freshers were photographed en masse, standing in rows:  marceled, bobbed, slicked and squinting in the sun that has renewed itself thousands of times since.

The decoration was a flight of art deco airplanes, dirigibles, and some flying machines that haven't even been invented yet.  Aviation, described as 'a youth among the age-old sciences' was chosen as its theme, for it symbolized adventure, invention and progress:  proper aspirations for any graduating class.

One photo was something of a curiosity:  Norma Emma Kroenke, wearing glasses with octogonal shaped lenses that attacked the nose right at its upper bridge.  Her nose is small and flat, her eyes gray, possibly blue.  She wears a double-looped necklace – the type I now see in vintage stores and flea markets everywhere.  Someone could be wearing them now.  Printed beneath her picture are the words 'In Memoriam'.  She lived from 1915 – 1931.  Sixteen years old.  What on earth happened to her?

My particular copy was owned by Dorothy Berkhahn (the editor misspelled her name – a tiny handwritten 'h' corrected what must have been an exasperating error).  She signed her name on the inner cover:  widely and flamboyantly.  This book is 76 years old.  It is possible that Dorothy is still with us, her flamboyance intact…one can only hope!

Now, this book is riddled with autographs.  In fact, it's so heavy with comments, that for a brief shaking-my-head-at-my-own-foolishness moment, I was actually jealous of her obvious popularity.  I still have my own highschool yearbooks.  And let me say that the pages are quite unpolluted with the hand-written word.

Dorothy had rich, dazzling auburn hair – the kind that glints in the sun, with color that is suffused with living light.  She was called 'Dot', 'Red', 'Clara Bow', 'Darling'.  There were sly references to Mr. Patia, organizer of The Girls' Athletic Association, even one from himself:  'Oh, how you hate to run – don't you?  Practice up this summer and show me that you can, next Fall.' 

She turned heads, certainly.  John Kaphingst asked, 'May I see more of you, please?', the emotional Wally Karsted wrote, 'I will always remember you even after I am way in South Dakota.  You are mine.'  Olen Anderson beseeches her, 'Please do go easy on the boys next year.  Study hard and you probably will graduate.  Lots of luck with the opposite sex.'

But, as I read on, I noticed that many more autographs contained the ominous phrases, 'I don't know you very well', 'I wish I knew you better', 'I did not know you very long' and 'Didn't get to know you very well', and possibly the most damaging of all:  'Dear Dorothy, why don't you use your personality' – harsh words, 'Red' Krueger!

I wonder if these comments turned her pride and fame to ashes.  Was she still proud of these compact compositions – now smeared and faded – crowding the margins of her book?

Who knows how she felt.

But when this was written…

'Dearest Dorothy –

Whatever else you haven't got you have a wealth of golden hair haven't you.  I don't know you very well but I hope you have personality to match the charming beauty.  You really need both.

Your Well-Wisher
Dorothy Merrium'

…I can imagine pretty clearly her reaction.

She crossed it out.

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11 responses to “Out Of The Mouths Of Grads

  1. Oh Aubrey, you reminded me of a treasure I found in my mom's drawer – a tiny autograph book from her early days of traning as a bank officer (somewhere in the late 70s to pre-1983.) I LOVED reading those messages, especially those written by the men – subtly flirty! Hehe.
    I think I'll write a post about it.

  2. Awesome find. I hope mine will carry on. 1965 gets farther and farther away. lol

  3. This is wonderful, Aubrey. How clearly these treasures evoke eras gone by but also remind us that some things really do change very little. Perhaps she found happiness… Perhaps not.

  4. What a great thing to collect. I look at them now and then, but they are usually not a price I can pay. I collect old cookbooks, particularly ones put out by food or appliance companies. Maybe sometime I'll share something from my mom's 1953 Nor'Easter from Northeast High School in Kansas City. I bet Dorothy was one of those progressive women who went around wearing banners and sturdy shoes, and thought men were weak and unintelligent.

  5. WOW. First, the cover is killer. You do have to wonder. Were the other girls merely jealous? Or did she forsake personality for popularity? You have to wonder why all these people were signing her yearbook that didn't know her very well? Seems like maybe she WAS all show. How many people she could get to sign, the large flowery signature of her own, the correction of her own name, getting the autographs of all the boys that admired her from afar? Study hard next year and maybe you'll graduate…that's telling too, huh?
    Interesting. veddy interesting. As Jaypo said, things really don't change all that much in human nature, do they?

  6. Simply fabulous, Aubrey! 🙂 What a fun thing to collect and to have found one so full of voices from 1931. The stories you could invent from those comments.
    She does look like Clara Bow. Ooooh, I would bet that the bitter Dorothy W. (at the end) was the voice of rivalry, who shared the name Dorothy with the shining red haired It Girl, "Dot" and probably felt a sting of comparison. Can you imagine over hearing in the hallway "No! He's not asking THAT Dorothy to the dance, the other one… the pretty red headed Dorothy… you know, Dot."
    I like Dot and I think that she had plenty of personality. Some of them were shallow and didn't see past her good looks to see it. ::::smile:::

  7. Suga': Yes; you must immortalize it. So many things – like wars, like high school – should never be forgotten.
    SMisery: People will look at my jr. high and high school books and will frankly be stunned.
    JP: That all depends on how level that head was, under all that red-gold hair.
    emily: In ten years she'd have just turned into her late '20's and a war will soon be on. She will be a nurse (as most of the boys in the book will be soldiers) to do her bit, yes, but also to meet cute officers.
    Ms. Pants: Yes, the cover and inside illustrations are choice. I think the # of autographs were important with her, which is why she apparently asked so many comparative strangers to sign. I couldn't find 'Dorothy M.' in the book – it would have been interesting to see if she were pretty or plain.
    MarsV: That reminds me of grammar school! A popular, petite girl had a variation of my name; I was tall and clumsy and yet always thought people were talking to me when in reality they were gathering around her.

  8. Ouch! That had to sting, but what a swell remark: "You really need both."

  9. This is far too delicious – exceptional blogging! Well done. I have to say… I do know a girl or two I went to school with who would have been deserving of "Why don't you use your personality?" but (I'm ashamed to admit) it would have been closely followed by "Oh. Um. Never mind."

  10. Oh! Joy! I am looking at my Mom's 1936 yearbook right now- aren't they amazing? Different world, but oh so much the same!!!That is a neat thing to cellect. I threw mine out in a snit , sometime in the mid '80s- ! Now I wish I had it….

  11. Fascinating. What a treasure. Several years ago, the roof leaked at my parents' house, and damaged a huge lot of photographs. I caught my mom in mid toss and salvaged many of them, but was too late to retrieve the old annuals she had already thrown away. I couldn't believe she could do that. "But why would anyone want those old things?". Uh, I would. Of course I would want them.

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