The year was 1902; the place Columbia, South Carolina. Annie Laurie was fed up with a pesky suitor named Charley Hall. She didn’t care if it was Christmas Eve. She told him she didn’t want to see him anymore.
Charley didn’t take it so well. He flew into a rage, storming, swearing, and threatening to kill Annie Laurie. And yet, even this display of affection failed to move her at all, and Hall was shown the door.
For many weeks afterward, Hall talked incessantly of his love for Annie Laurie. He shadowed her day and night and his friends said he threatened to murder any man he saw with her. In February, Hall heard Annie Laurie had been seen with a man named James Patterson. He was wild with jealousy, and told everyone he would kill Patterson if he saw them together.
Columbia
Main Street in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1903

It isn’t known if Patterson and Laurie were actually an item, but on the evening of February 27, they walked into town together on an errand. They thought nothing of the footsteps following them but as they neared the corner of Laurel Street, Annie glanced backward and saw Charley Hall, just a few paces behind them.

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The 1902 disappearance of Miss Louisa Nash is one of the strangest Missing Person cases on record. At the time of her disappearance, Miss Nash was 35 years old. She was a refined, well-educated woman, notable for her thick auburn hair. The reserved schoolteacher was unmarried, and preferred reading to parties. She and her mother lived in the family home in Virginia, and Louisa taught school for 15 years. The job wasn’t a financial necessity: the Nash family was wealthy, and Louisa and her mother had plenty to live on without her salary.

nash

Her life was commonplace with a single glaring exception: She often disappeared for days at a time without any explanation. Her strange journeys appeared to be unplanned. Miss Nash would simply leave town, frequently without luggage, and without saying goodbye to her mother or friends. A few days later, she reappeared unannounced, refusing to answer any questions about her whereabouts or activities.

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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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