Nothing New Under the Sun

Great fire of 1908

Scene of the Devastation of the Michigan Fire of 1908 [1]

This year, it seems that the entire western U.S. is in flames. Although in Colorado, where I live, we have mostly been spared the fires, we have suffered through weeks of heavy smoke from conflagrations in Canada, Oregon and Montana that obscure the sky, burn our eyes, and weigh heavily on our spirits.

I hiked in the hills near my home south of Denver this morning. Normally, Pikes Peak, fifty miles to the south, stands out boldly against a blue sky. But this morning, I could barely make out the foothills of the Front Range, a little over ten miles to the west.

Fires like these are not new, however. One-hundred nine years ago, my grandmother, Harriott Wickham, wrote in her diary about smoke from faraway fires that blanketed Norwalk, Ohio. Here’s what she had to say:

 

Saturday, Sept 11, – The air is so full of smoke from the Canadian & Michigan forest fires that it is like a thick fog. The air is close & muggy, and the sun doesn’t even cast a shadow. It is only about four o’clock now, but you can scarcely see the sun although there is not a cloud in the sky, at least as far as I can see, which isn’t far, for I can hardly see across the valley. My, I’m glad we don’t have forests around here. It’s bad enough clear across the Lake. [2]

There is nothing new under the sun, according to the prophet. [3] And sometimes, there is no sun.

Something is different today, however – coverage of these events. These days, national and local news sources extensively cover wild fires, and cautions us of the health risks. But on September 11, 1908, the dense smoke Harriott Wickham described in her diary merited not even a mention from the Norwalk Daily Reflector or the Evening Herald. An article in the latter paper did report about a forest fire in Minnesota, but only because it threatened a town. [4] Property loss was news. The environment was not.

Footnotes:

[1] From “MAJOR POST-LOGGING FIRES IN MICHIGAN: the 1900’s.”

[2] From the unpublished diary of Harriott Wickham, Norwalk High School Class of 1907 covering May 1908 to May 1909 in the possession of the author of this blog. As it is today, there were no real forests around Norwalk in 1908. Pioneers like Harriett Wickham’s ancestors had cut them down over the previous century.

[3] Ecclesiastes, 1:9.

[4] “Forest Fires Do Great Damage,” Norwalk Evening Herald, page 3, column 5.

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Norwalk High School 1907 Commencement – Out into the World

norwalk-high-school-commencement-1907

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. [1]

After an evening of orations, essays, and music, the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 settled down for remarks by Superintendent A. D. Beechy. who gave “sound and wholesome advice concerning the members future.” I am sure the class took his words to heart.

arthur-young-commencement-photo-1907

Arthur Young

At the conclusion of his remarks, before introducing school board President J. R. McKnight, Superintendent Beechy called Arthur Young to the stage, and announced that as the most accomplished member of the class academically, Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware and Buchtel College in Akron, were offering him free scholarships to their schools. If he did not accept either of them, they would be awarded to the class member with the next highest record of academic achievement, and so on down the list.

irene-bragdon-commencement-photo-1907

Irene Bragdon

Did Arthur Young accept one of these scholarships? Apparently not. He attended Western Reserve University – in 1909, he was awarded the First Sophomore Oratorical Prize at that institution. [2] So who did get these scholarships? As we saw in a previous post, Irene Bragdon was second in grades. [3] But after graduation, she went straight into teaching at a district school, and spent her entire life as an educator in Norwalk, never attending college. [4]

Someone must have taken those scholarships. I just don’t know who – yet.

After announcing the scholarships, Superintendent Beechy introduced President McKnight, who read a brief address, and presented diplomas to the graduates, sending them out to “join those who are fighting life’s battles,” as The Norwalk Evening Herald phrased it. [5]

How did the Class of 1907 fare in life’s battles? From my research, I’d say pretty well. Most had successful careers. Many married well. Relatively few stayed in Norwalk.

That’s it for the last year of schooling for the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. It was a busy June. I’ll take a short break, and next month continue with a series of biographies describing the lives of these graduates, beginning with the class president, Arthur Young.

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] As I explained in my June 3, 2017 post Mystery Girl, missing from this photo is Gertrude Ryerson.

[2] Western Reserve University 1911 Yearbook, page 126, 1911.

[3] Firelands History Website post, Commencement Speakers – Best Grades in Regular Work, June 17, 1917.

[4] According to the Norwalk, Ohio City Directory (page 12; Publisher: The Williams Directory Company, 1900-10), in 1909, Irene E Bragdon was a teacher living at 23 Park with her mother, Sarah A Bragdon, a widow of Francis A Bragdon. Subsequent census records show the same up through 1930. I have not found any record of her death.

[5] Descriptions of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 commencement program are from “Forty Seventh Annual,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 13, 1907, page 1, column 3; “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.

 

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Commencement 1907 – Musical Interludes

Eight graduates of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 spoke at the Commencement Ceremony on June 14, 1907 — two each chosen in four categories: for best grades for regular work, and best grades for literary work, and those chosen by their fellow students and by the faculty.

Those were not the only graduate contributions to the program, however. Musical performances also shone. As The Norwalk Evening Herald reported, “All the speeches were fine, and the choruses and other musical numbers correspondingly good.”

After Homer Beattie’s oration, “The Call of the Wild,” Florence Bascom and Lillian Smith sang a ballad, “Oh, That We Two Were Maying,” with the young ladies’ voices “blending well, making the number most pleasing.”

Oh! that we two were Maying,
Down the stream of the soft spring breeze;
Like children with violets playing
In the shade of the whisp’ring trees.

Oh! that we two sat dreaming
On the sward of the sheep-trimm’d down,
Watching the white mist streaming
O’er river, and mead, and town.

Oh! that we two lay sleeping,
In our nest in the churchyard sod,
With our limbs at rest on the quiet earth’s breast,
And our souls at home with God. [1]

 

Nina Humiston’s recitation of the poem, “Bud’s Fairy Tale” was followed by “Come Where the Lillies Bloom,” sung by Ruby Hoyt, Lillian Smith, class president Arthur Young and Sheldon Laning.

Come where the lilies.
The sweet fragrant lilies;
Oh, come where the lilies bloom so fair;
Down in the meadows,
The green verdant meadows,
Oh, come where sweet fragrance tills the air. [2]

 

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Between Alice McCammon’s essay, “Fashion Rules the World,” and Carrie Spurrier’s “Vennering,” the Girl’s Glee Club sang two ballads, “Carmena Waltz,” and “There Little Girl Don’t Cry.”

Miss Spurrier was followed by “The Jolly Blacksmith’s Lay,” [3] sung by the high school quartet: Robert Venus, Sheldon Laning, Arthur Young, and underclassman, Carlton McCague.

 

 

Just before Superintendent Beechy’s final remarks and presentation of diplomas, a Mrs. O. M. Harter sang “Slumber Song,” written by Minnie Cleghorn, who had contributed so much to the education of the Class of 1907, especially the young women of the class.

 

Footnotes

[1] Lyrics are from The LiederNet Archive. Check out this YouTube video for a performance by “Belle and two Beaux” as part of their Victorian evening. Janet Shell, mezzo-soprano. Mark Oldfield, baritone. John Flinders, piano.

[2] Lyrics are from American Old Time Song Lyrics.

[3] Find the lyrics to “The Jolly Blacksmith’s Lay” in the 1910 edition of a trade journal The Master Printer, page 687 on Google Books.

 

Other Sources

Descriptions of musical performances during the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 commencement program are from “Forty Seventh Annual,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 13, 1907, page 1, column 3; “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.

The links for the performers of musical numbers during commencement are to their person pages on the WeRelate wiki.

 

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Commencement Speakers – Chosen by Faculty

In my last post, we saw that Nina Humiston and Sheldon Laning were popular with their fellow students in the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. The last two of the eight speakers at Commencement on June 14, 1907, Homer Beattie and Carrie Spurrier, were probably popular with their classmates as well, but what got them speakers slots was the esteem of the faculty. So, were they were the teachers’ pets of the class?

homer-beattie-commencement-photo

Homer Beattie

Homer Beattie’s oration was about the “Call of the Wild,” by which he meant the pioneer spirit that had led to the rapid settlement of the country. “With the coming of the springtime,” he proclaimed, “also comes the wild, restless longing to leave civilization behind and to plunge into the woods or to fish or hunt.” But, he continued, this draw to wide open places led to “war upon the wilderness.” I must say, his views do not sound like those of an environmentalist to me. They seem to be of those who love the outdoors, but also want to exploit it.

carrie-spurrier-commencement-1907

Carrie Spurrier

“Veneering” was the subject of Carrie Spurrier’s essay, which according to the newspapers’ reports, she read in a fine manner. “The object of veneering,” she said, “is to make things seem better than it seems.” Like other speakers before her, she blamed the pursuit of wealth as the problem. People who spend their lives accumulating wealth seek to “buy their way into society.” That, she stated firmly, is not a good thing. [1]

So how did these two young people’s lives turn out? Homer Beattie went on to college, then answered the “Call of the Wild,” by becoming a forester for Huron County. He never married, and lived and died in his family home in Norwalk. [2] After graduating, Carrie Spurrier went to work in her father’s crockery and home furnishing store on Main Street. But she did not remain independent, like Irene Bragdon, who had a career as a stenographer. She followed Nina Humiston’s path. In 1915, she married a banker, and lived a comfortable, may we say wealthy, life in Lakewood as the wife of a successful man. [3]

Next up: Musical Interludes.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Descriptions of Homer and Carrie’s presentations are from “Forty Seventh Annual,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 13, 1907, page 1, column 3; “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.

[2] From the Carrie Spurrier person page on the WeRelate Wiki.

[3] From the Homer Beattie person page on the WeRelate Wiki.

 

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Commencement Speakers – Chosen by the Class

Unlike the speakers described in my previous two posts, who were chosen for best grades in regular work and best grades in literary work, the other four speakers at Norwalk High School’s Class of 1907 Commencement were not selected for academic performance. Today, we look at Sheldon Laning and Nina Humiston, who were chosen by the class – a popularity contest, it seems.

sheldon-laning

Sheldon Laning

As the son of a U.S. Congressman, Sheldon Laning would be expected to talk about politics, and he did not disappoint. His oration was titled “Our National Peril and How to Avoid It.” The national peril, in his view, was the system of political bosses, who selected candidates for office in “smoke-filled rooms.” His solution to this problem, was to adopt primaries, and allow voters to decide who would represent their parties in general elections. These days, of course, primaries are used by parties to select candidates in most states, so Mr. Laning was prescient in that regard. That his father was selected in by the party is ironic.

Nina Humiston Commencement Photo 1907

Nina Humiston

Like Irene Bragdon, Nina Humiston broke the norm for female students, although, unlike Irene, she did not risk tackling an oration. She instead opted for a recitation of the poem Bud’s Fairy Tale. According to newspaper accounts, “Miss Humiston’s imitation of a small child telling a highly imaginary stories was almost perfect, and was greeted by the audience with laughter and applause.” [1] Although she did not sing at the commencement ceremony, Nina was quite the musical performer as well. Like Ora Tuttle, subject of the Serendipity post on this site, Nina was active in the Methodist Church and performed at services and at church and social events. [2]

So how did these two young people fare in life? Sheldon Laning did not venture into politics, like his father. He did follow in his dad’s footsteps when it came to  business, though. After obtaining a law degree, he moved to Chicago where he worked in the automotive industry. In 1915, he married fellow Norwalk High School graduate Mildred Monnett (Class of 1908), then returned to Norwalk and took over the family publishing business, where he spent the remainder of his working life. [3]

Like many of the other young women in her class, Nina Humiston married soon after graduation. In 1908, she wed Henry Ronk, a fellow Norwalk graduate who had also been active in the Methodist Church. Henry was seven years her senior and had already graduated from college. They set up house in Shaker Heights where Henry established a successful accounting practice. [4]

That’s it for the two speakers who were selected for this honor by their classmates. Next up: the two speakers chosen by the faculty.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Descriptions of Sheldon and Nina’s presentations are from “Forty Seventh Annual,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 13, 1907, page 1, column 3; “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.

[2] “Good Meeting,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, March 30, 1903, page 4, column 4.

[3] From the Stephen Laning person page in the WeRelate Wiki.

[4] From the Nina Humiston person page in the WeRelate Wiki.

 

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Commencement Speakers – Best Grades in Literary Work

Two women in the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 , Inez Adams and Alice McCammon, were selected for best grades in literary work. Unlike Irene Bragdon, who was honored in the best grades for regular work category, they did not venture into the male domain of oratory, but read essays, apparently the preferred feminine mode of expression.

Inez Adams Commencement Photo 1907

Inez Adams

Inez Adams was one of the older members of the Class of 1907: nineteen at graduation. She came from a working class background; her father Martin was a foreman in a printing plant. So it was fitting, perhaps, that the cautionary title of her essay was “The Tendency of Luxury.”

“Wealth and its co-worker, luxury,” she proclaimed, “have made states, countries, and nations yield to them since the dawn of history.” She went on to condemn those who pursued riches, as an aristocracy contributing to downfall of America. Coming at the end of the “Gilded Age” this sentiment is understandable. She concluded forcefully with this warning, “if we cannot destroy the luxury that is ruining us, America will soon become like Rome was before her downfall.”

alice-mccammon-commencement-photo-1907

Alice McCammon

Alice McCammon was even older than Inez — she graduated at the age of twenty — and lived on a farm in Greenfield Township, where she had been born. Her essay was “Fashion vrs. Reason,” and like Miss Bragdon’s warnings about the dangers of pursuing wealth and luxury, hers was a cautionary tale about becoming a slave to fashion. She warned about following the crowd, and concluded by declaring that “one thing is always in fashion, good health.”

So what happened to these two young women? Inez Adams, like Irene Bragdon, never married. Soon after graduation, her family moved to Minnesota, where she began a life-long career as a stenographer with an insurance company. In her essay, she disparaged the pursuit of wealth, in her life, she followed her own advice. [3]

Alice McCammon also appears to have followed her own advice. She continued to live in Greenfield Township after graduation, becoming a teacher in a local school. In 1915 married a local farmer, and spent the rest of her life as a farmer’s wife. [4]

 

Footnotes:

[1] “Forty Seventh Annual,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 13, 1907, page 1, column 3; “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.

[3] From the Inez Adams person page on the WeRelate Wiki.

[4] From the Alice McCammon person page on the WeRelate Wiki.

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Class Dance

June 19 fell on a Wednesday in 1907. That evening, the recent graduates of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 hosted a dance at Link Hall, which they had decorated with a Native American theme, with skins on the walls and wigwams set up in the corners of the banquet room.

1907 Dancing

A formal dance – June 1, 1907 [1]

In the reception line greeting the crowd of a hundred and fifty graduates and guests were the class officers: President Arthur Young, Vice President Harriot Wickham, Secretary Carrie Spurrier, and Treasurer Robert Venus.

 

Officers of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 [2]

Dancing began around 8:30 p.m., with Arthur Young and out of town guest Harriet Nufer leading the Grand March. The festivities continued until midnight, but no worries – the class did not need to rise early for school the next morning.

The dance concluded a month of ceremony and festival that marked the Class of 1907’s transition from school to adult life. And what would that life hold for these graduates?

It would be a different life – to be sure. The world they had grown up in was about to be upended by war. The peaceful small town America that had been their life was about to be shattered. A few of these graduates would stay in Norwalk, but most of them would not. They would move to larger cities, Cleveland and Detroit mainly. The men would go into careers in business. Most of the women would marry men who did the same, although a few would pursue careers in nursing or teaching and never marry, or would wed late in life. In subsequent posts, we’ll see how they all fared.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Photo of Lawn Tennis Club ball at Charters Towers, 1907 Elegantly gowned women and formally dressed gentlemen are crowded on the dance floor of the hall. From Wikipedia Commons.

[2] Individual photos clipped from Class of 1907 Commencement Photo.

[3] Descriptions of the class dance are from accounts in “Seniors Have a Gay Time,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, June 20, 1907, page 4, column 3, and “Senior Class Dance,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 20, 1907, page 1, column 7

 

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