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!

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At the turn of the century, the Hesper Club was flourishing in New York City. This establishment was frequented by shady characters and known for its illegal gambling.

The Hesper Gang
The Hesper Gang

This fantastic photograph appeared in a 1919 edition of the New York Sun. There are so many great things about it, but let’s just begin with “Eat-’em-up” Jack McManus (upper left). Anybody with a nickname like that is okay in my book. Plus, old “Eat-’em-up” Jack earned a second, approving mention in the article when he is described as a brave man “willing to stand toe to toe and fight with anybody”. The article randomly calls out the fact “Eat-’em-up” Jack has never ”lived on the earnings of women”, i.e., he wasn’t a pimp. It’s funny that the Sun thought it necessary to clear this up for their readers… but I guess when you have a dapper fella with a moustache like that, it doesn’t hurt to clarify.

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