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.

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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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