It’s easy to associate old photographs and letters with musty antique shops, but if you get past that, the person you discover is often young, interesting, or complex. Who are they? What became of them? Beyond a single artifact, little or nothing is known of them.
For instance, I have an autograph album that originated in the middle of the 19th century. The first “autograph” was made in the late 1850s, and the last is a sonnet that was copied in 1889. The album belonged to a girl named Hattie, and besides her friends’ autographs, she used the album as a scrapbook, where she pasted newspaper captions about her friends and acquaintances, including marriage notices, Civil War death notices, and a surprising number of accidental deaths by drowning.
The most interesting thing by far I’ve seen is a 1921 Virginia high school yearbook. It’s in excellent condition, and apart from a few friends who signed beside their pictures, it’s mostly untouched. What makes this particular yearbook so interesting is that it contains a real mystery!
The yearbook committee printed little summaries next to the seniors’ photographs. Like a modern yearbook, any clubs or activities the person was involved in are listed, but there’s also usually something personal, too. Some are unintentionally funny (“Good luck in life, Mildred! Anyone who can cook like you is bound to catch a nice fella to marry!”)
There is one student with a real mystery attached to her. The picture here shows Ms. Emily V. Bradshaw, and this is the entry beside her name:
“Strayed – from the vicinity of John Marshall, January 1921, our dear companion Emily. We strongly suspect a certain Richmond University student of knowing her whereabouts. Anyone receiving definite information please communicate with her large circle of friends. Athletic Association; Girls’ Literary Society”
You can read the entry many ways. The word “strayed” is an odd choice. It could be a tragedy or a romance.
Did Emily elope with a college boyfriend?
Was she abducted or the victim of a tragic accident?
Or maybe she just had poor navigational skills. I don’t know. I’ve never been able to find any more information about her.