Norwalk High School Commencement, 1907

On Friday, June 14, 1907, one-hundred and ten years ago today, the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 walked across the stage at the Gilmer Theater to receive their diplomas.

What did those young people experience that memorable evening? Well the Norwalk Daily Reflector and the Evening Herald reported extensively in their issues the next day, giving us a blow-by-blow description of the pomp and ceremony.

How did they look that night — these young people about to “join those who are fighting life’s battles,” as the Daily Reflector put it. How were they dressed? We don’t need to imagine. We have a photo taken that very evening at the Gilger. [1] Aren’t they are good looking crew?

 

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Front Row: Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff. Second Row: Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Harriott Wickham, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt. Third Row: Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French. Fourth Row: Homer Beattie, Florence Bascom, Alice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Cleo Collins.

 

The audience arrived at the Gilger to find the auditorium decorated with the school colors of black and gold and Stewart’s Orchestra playing “Slavery Days.” The Norwalk High School Classes of 1904 and 1906 occupied boxes decorated with their class colors. After all had settled into their seats, the curtain rose to reveal the Class of 1907, dressed as captured in the photo above, the women holding a single stemmed American rose. Above them hung a banner in black and gold, with the class slogan “Immer Siegend,” (always victorious). Accompanied by the orchestra, the class sang the chorus of the hymn, “A Dream of Paradise.”

Father in heaven above,
Glorious and mighty;
Send forth Thy Light of Love,
O King most mighty!
Father, Glorious and mighty;
Send forth Thy Light of Love.
Thy Light of Love. [2]

To great applause, the curtain lowered, and when it again raised, the class were seated in wicker chairs set in a semi-circle on the stage. With them were School Superintendent A. D. Beechy, the school faculty, and members of the board of education.

This graduation ceremony was not like what we experience today. There was no Valedictorian and Salutatorian, nor did a respected member of the community address the graduates. Instead, this ceremony focused on the graduates, with orations and essays by speakers selected for academic excellence, interspersed by musical performances by others in the class. [3]

Who were the speakers, and why were they chosen? The newspapers are handy references for this as well. Eight young men and women were honored in four categories: Arthur Young and Irene Bragdon for best grades in regular school work. Inez Adams and Alice McCammon for best grades in literary work; Sheldon Laning and Nina Humiston were chosen by the class; and Homer Beattie and Carrie Spurrier were chosen by the faculty. [4]

What did they talk about, these speakers? The subjects may surprise you. We’ll see what they said, and who they were, in subsequent posts, beginning with Mr. Young and Miss Bragdon.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The commencement photo is from the papers of Harriott Wickham, my grandmother,

Gertrude Ryerson 1

who kindly wrote the names on the back. As I reported in my post, Mystery Girl, missing from this photo is Gertrude Ryerson. Newspaper accounts tell us that twenty-six graduates were at the ceremony, so I do not know why she is not in the commencement photo. It is a mystery. I clipped this image of her from a photo of the Senior / Junior study hall that I also found in my grandmother’s papers.

[2] “A Dream of Paradise,” by Claude Littleton, 1900. Full text of the lyrics and an audio file of the tune are at Hymnary. org.

[3] Lengthy descriptions of the ceremony and fulsome praise for the graduates are in “School Life is Ended,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 15, 1907, page 1-2, column 6, and “Get Their Diplomas,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, pages 1,4.

[4] “Forty Seventh Annual,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 13, 1907, page 1, column 3.“Get Their Diplomas,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, pages 1 and 4.

 

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Class Day 1907 – Bachelor Hall

In my last post, Class Day 1907 – A Witty Speech by a Future U.S. Senator, we saw that Wednesday, June 5, 1907 was Class Day for the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. The evening began with a farewell speech to the Class of 1908 by future U.S. Senator, Stephen M. Young, Jr. [1] Following that “witty, well-worded, and well-delivered” address, the Class of 1907 presented Bachelor Hall, a comedy in three acts. [2] According to newspaper accounts of the evening, the performance was well received by a large audience, [3] An even larger crowd attended a repeat performance the following night, June 6. [4]

 

Bachelor Hall

Bachelor Hall is a parlor-play, designed to be performed by amateurs. Written and published by Rachel Baker Gale and her father George Melville Baker in 1898, it was performed frequently by schools and in homes over the next decade.

Reviews in both the Norwalk Daily Reflector and the Norwalk Evening Herald gushed their praise. To do otherwise, of course, would have invited the wrath of angry parents, but from the accounts, it seems the class did put on a solid performance. Both newspapers, in addition to praise, diligently recorded the names of the cast members and descriptions of the parts they played. So, here, in one of the longest posts I have ever published, is the cast of the Norwalk High School’s performance of Bachelor Hall over a century ago.

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The romantic leads in this farce were Robert Venus, as Ensign Jack Meredith, acting under sealed orders, and Florence Bascom, as Betty Vance, the ward of the Honorable Geoffrey Myrtleton, “congressman from the Ninth District,” and played by Arthur Young.

 

The Norwalk Evening Herald reviewer of the play was generous in his praise of the leads. “For legitimate work the honors belong to Robert Venus and Florence Bascom,” he wrote. “The naturalness with which they played the sentimental scenes could not have been improved on.” His assessment of Arthur Young’s performance as the Honorable Geoffrey Myrtleton was favorable, also, although he was bold enough to criticize the young man’s choice of costume as not being appropriate for a congressman. Everyone’s a critic, it seems.

Harry Holiday and Stephen Young, Jr. played Silas Jervis and Elisha Bassett, Deacons who are Congressman Myrtleton’s constituents from Rambleton.

 

The plot of Bachelor Hall, such as it is, involves the presentation in the home of Congressman Myrtleton of The Fatal Shot, a play written by amateur actor Vera Lee, played by Fred French. In addition to Mr. Lee, the cast of The Fatal Shot include Lotta Sand, leading soubrette of The Fatal Shot, played by Ruby Hoyt, and an amateur actress named Polly Reynolds, played by Sara Joslin (Sarah Barnett). Irene Eline played Mrs. Van Styne, who has dramatic aspirations and Nina Humiston is Claire, Mrs. Van Styne’s daughter, who does not.

 

Clockwise from top left: Fred French, Ruby Hoyt, Sarah Barnett (Sara Joslin), Irene Eline, and Nina Humiston.

In what would be awkward to modern sensibilities, Sheldon Laning played Jasper, an African-American butler at “Bachelor Hall”and Edna West his wife and fellow servant. Both, I assume, performed in black-face.

Rounding out the cast were O’Rourke, a policeman, played by Eugene Bloxham, and Pinkerton Case, an amateur detective, played by Homer Beattie.

 

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What is the plot of this comedy? I’ve tried to read the script, but did not get very far. Here’s what the Norwalk Daily Reflector had to say about it:

Act I: An evening in the living room of Congressman Myrtleton at “Bachelor Hall,” in Washington D.C. Myrtleton has opened his home for the production of The Fatal Shot. The untimely arrival of his constituents, the Deacons, who are deeply set against theatricals, and the disappearance at the same time of one hundred thousand dollars in bonds entrusted to him by them, puts Myrtleton in a bad position.

Act II: Myrtleton seeks to keep from the deacons the fact that a theatrical performance is in progress, and his prevarications are amusing and cause many peculiar situations.

Act III: The following morning — The newspapers make a sensation of The Fatal Shot, thereby causing Congressman Myrtleton to lose a wager with Rear Admiral March that the affair would be kept from the papers. The mystery of the bonds is cleared up satisfactorily.

Not very illuminating, is it? What about the romance between Ensign Meredith and Betty Vance? And who is Admiral March? The author of this article was not a trained critic, apparently. However, seeing that most readers were probably at the performance, this synopsis was probably not necessary to begin with.

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After the final curtain, the Class of 1907 sang their class song, written by Harriott Wickham to the tune of “Down the Field.”

 

We are the seniors of Old Norwalk High

And out into the world we go,

Prepared to win or die;

Conquering now, and still to conquer then

When ‘neath the Black and Gold we march

On to the glorious end.

Our banner fair we bravely bear

All hail the Black and Gold.

The evening concluded with ice cream and cake served in the Philomathean Hall.

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That’s it for two evenings of entertainment over one-hundred years ago. Except for one thing: the Chorus Girls of Bachelor Hall. More about them in my next post.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The links for each cast member of Bachelor Hall lead to that person’s WeRelate person page.

[2] Bachelor Hall is a play published in  by . The script can be read online on Google Books. A warning: what was hilarious in 1907 may not appear as witty to modern readers.

[3] “Brilliant Success,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 6, 1907 – page 1, column 3, and “Bachelor Hall a Big Hit,” Norwalk Evening Herald, 6/6/1907, page 1, column 6.

[4] “Another Crowd Sees Bachelor Hall,” Norwalk Evening Herald, 6/7/1907, page 4, column 3.

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A Republican Banquet to Honor a Fallen President — Who Was Not Named Lincoln

banquet-headlineMonday morning, January 27, 1907, a technological drama unfolded in front of the New St. Charles Hotel in Norwalk, Ohio. The next evening, another drama, this time of a political nature, occurred in the lobby and corridors of that hotel, as the Republicans of the city gathered for a banquet in the honor of the late President William McKinley.

sheldon-laning

Stephen Laning

Toastmaster of the banquet was Jay Laning, father of

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Eugene Bloxham

Sheldon Laning, a member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. Stephen was also in attendance at the banquet, along with fellow classmate Eugene Bloxham. Although they were at least four years from being eligible to vote, these two young men already showed an interest in politics. The Norwalk Daily Reflector reported that young men made up “fully three-quarters of that gathering,” and editorialized that their attendance bode well for the future of the party.

jp-laningToastmaster Jay Laning was a long-time member of the Grand Old Party, and a leader of the community. The previous year he had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and in March, he would begin serving in the Sixtieth U.S. Congress, representing Ohio’s Fourteenth District. Jay Laning was born in New London, Ohio, and in 1882 moved to Norwalk, where he practiced law and established a successful publishing business. He served on the the city council from 1887 to 1889, and in the Ohio Senate, 1894 to 1898. In 1904 and 1908 he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention. Now he was a U.S. Congressman, and his star seemed on the rise, as alluded to in this poem of introduction.

jay-laning-poem

This poem may seem ridiculous to us today, but I think it gives us the image of a man driven by ambition. And what were those ambitions? Did he aspire to the highest office in the land? If he did, he did not achieve it: there never was a President Laning.

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Here is another curiosity from over a hundred years ago: the banquet of the menu.

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Quite a spread, don’t you think? I would have enjoyed it. At least there wasn’t any kale!

 

Sources:

“Greatest Banquet in Club’s History,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, January 30, 1907, page 1, column 1.

“Orators Tell Again of the Greatness of McKinley,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, January 30, 1907, page 1, column 5.

 

Norwalk High School Class of 1907 October Birthdays

During October of 1906 three members of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 celebrated their birthdays. On October 9, which fell on a Friday, Eugene Bloxham and Sheldon Laning turned seventeen, followed by Myrtle Woodruff, who had her fifteenth birthday on Thursday of the following week: October 18.

The families of two of these classmates all lived in the better part of Norwalk, and the other lived on a prosperous farm south of town, but only two were descended from the early pioneers of the Firelands. Stephen’s and Myrtle’s great-grandparents had settled in the area at the same time as Platt Benedict, founder of Norwalk–or before. But Eugene’s parents had not moved to the area until the 1880s.

In posts over the next two months, we’ll explore in detail the lives of these three young people and their families, along with their heritage. For now, here is a snapshot of who they were, where they came from, and what they were up to their senior year at Norwalk High School.

* * *

eugene-bloxhamEugene Bloxham lived at 256 East Main Street about a mile east of the high school, with his parents, Edwin and Lovinia, sisters Maria and Edna, and his Grandmother Seamans (on his mother’s side). His father owned a shoe store, Bloxham and Meyers, with a man named Aloysius Meyers. Eugene’s elder sister, Maria, age eighteen, was a clerk in her father’s store. His mother was a homemaker (as we say these days) and his younger sister Edna, twelve years old, was a student.

Although his parents were not wealthy or leaders in the community, they were not poor. This was not Edwin’s first marriage. His first wife had died soon after marrying him, apparently before they had children. Eugene’s grandparents had come to Norwalk around the time of the Civil War, so they were not among the early pioneers. From what I’ve been able to glean from the newspaper articles and my grandmother’s papers, Eugene was a popular student. He was a member of the basketball team (more about Norwalk High School basketball in later posts), and was involved in other school and civic activities.

* * *

sheldon-laningSheldon Laning lived at 120 East Main Street, only a few blocks from the high school and the center of downtown. His father, Jay Laning, was a leading member of the Norwalk community. In addition to his father, the Laning household included his mother Caroline, and elder sister Joanna, age 26 and younger sister Elizabeth, age 10. As in the Bloxham household, a grandmother also lived with the Laning family: Caroline’s mother Mary Sheldon, age 90. Like Eugene Bloxham, Sheldon was active in sports and many other activities at school. He also was a member of the Laning Glee Club, with his brother, John Laning, a cousin and two other men. The group performed at civic and political events.

Jay and Caroline had moved to Norwalk in 1882 from New London, where he had been a successful attorney in 1882. He established a printing company and was involved in many civic activities. The Laning family had been in America since 1698, but did not arrive in the Firelands until Stephen’s grandfather, John Laning moved to New London in 1843. However, his wife Caroline, whom John married in 1849, was the daughter of Gilbert Wood, one of the first pioneers of the Firelands.

* * *

myrtle-woodruffMyrtle Woodruff’s family did not live in Norwalk, but on a farm in Fairfield township, ten miles south of town. Although a streetcar line ran out to Fairfield Township from Norwalk, it is likely that Myrtle stayed in town during school weeks. I have no confirmation of this, however. I also do not know how many of her family were at home in 1906. According to the 1900 Census, in addition to Myrtle, her father Lewis and mother Addie, three of Myrtle’s brothers, a sister, and two female “boarders” lived on the farm. But by the 1910 Census, only Myrtle remained home with her parents. I do not know when Myrtle’s siblings left the farm. That is something we’ll explore in future posts. Myrtle must have been at the farm often during her school days. According to a Norwalk Reflector article, she was elected secretary of the  North Fairfield Congregational Society in April of 1907.

The Woodruff family were among the earliest pioneers to the  Firelands. Myrtle’s great, great grandfather, Chauncey Woodruff, settled in Huron County in 1815, two years before Platt Benedict founded Norwalk. He and his sons, grandsons, and great grandsons all had farmed the area down to Myrtle’s day.

* * *

That’s what I have so far. There were no birthdays for the Class of 1907 in November or December of 1906, so during the next two months, I’ll post more information about the Bloxham, Laning and Woodruff families. Stay tuned!

Sources: I gleaned most of this information from census, birth and death records, newspaper  articles and from The Firelands Pioneer, the journal of the Firelands Historical Society. For specific sources, click on the links for Eugene Bloxham, Sheldon Laning, and Myrtle Woodruff to visit their person pages on the WeRelate Wiki.

Norwalk, Ohio High School Class of 1907

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907: Front Row: Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff. Second Row: Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Harriott Wickham, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt. Third Row: Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French. Fourth Row: Homer Beattie, Florence Bascom, Alice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Cleo Collins.

How many times have you come across an old family photo, but have no idea of the identity of the people in it? Unfortunately, too often our ancestors neglected to scrawl identifying information on the backs of their photos. Fortunately for me, my grandmother Harriott Wickham (second row, third from left in the photo above) understood how important it is to record names of people in her photos for future generations. She not only preserved this photo of her graduating class, she also recorded her classmates’ names on an accompanying scrap of paper.

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Old Norwalk High School

The members of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 are no more. But in their day, at the beginning of their adult lives, they were full of enthusiasm and hope for the future. As I gazed at their faces, so serious, yet so full of life, I wondered who they were and how they lived their lives? I decided to find out.

Not only had my grandmother recorded the names of her classmates, she kept a diaries during those years that describe many of them and tell of her interactions with them. Unfortunately, the diary for her senior year is missing, but she did preserve one for May 1908 to May 1909. From it, and from information I gleaned from research, I began to form a picture of these young people and their families; of where they came from and how they spent their senior year–and the rest of their lives.

What did they do? In small town America of the early 20th Century, young people went to balls, hung out at the library, formed societies, performed in plays and concerts, and played basketball (both boys and girls). They had séances and house parties and spent their summers in cottages on Lake Erie, lazing away the days and dancing at “The Grove” at Ruggles Beach at night.

Who were they and their families? What stock did they come from and how did they spend their lives after graduation? Because I have their names, I’ve been able to answer some of those questions. One of the young men in the photo became a U.S. Senator, but the rest of the the class led ordinary lives: some did not do well, some of them had successful careers. But each one of them has a story I want to tell.

Using my grandma’s diaries and research on the internet, I’m continuing to flesh out the stories behind these faces. Over the next year, I’ll post what I’ve learned–and what I don’t know. I ask your help as I take this journey: to correct my mistakes, and to add your stories to the tale of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907.

 

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Who Are They?

The Norwalk High School Class of 1907 included my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham, and twenty-five other students. Who were these other pupils? Well, here is a class roster:

Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff, Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt, Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French, Florence Bascom, Homer Beattie, Slice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Harriott Wickham, and Cleo Collins.

Just names–for now. Over the next year, I will endeavor to breathe life into them: to discover what kind of people they were, who their families were, and what world they inhabited one-hundred and ten years ago.

I have a small treasure of photos to get me started. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Like this image from a long ago theater production of the Class of 1907, for instance.

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Who were these young people? What theater production were they in? I do not know the answers–yet. Let’s find out together.

 

 

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