It was June of 1924 and a young woman stood poised to step into her future. Nervously awaiting her name to be called, she fidgeted with her bobbed hair and smoothed her gown. When the moment arrived, she carefully walked across the stage of the Winona Opera House to receive her high school diploma. She was just beginning; life was just beginning. Everything was newly formed. Her name was Evelyn. Earlier that school year, she began a journal entitled, The Girl Graduate - Her Own Book, and into the little book she had pressed flowers and a fern leaf, mounted announcements for dances, and a valentine with a delicate cupid in flight, a bow and arrow in his soft hands, beseeching "Be Mine." Three Christmas cards with greetings of the season, one with a glowing fireplace from which hung woolen stockings, were placed artistically on a page. I imagine her going about her task tenderly. With the same care she affixed snapshots to the blue-gray pages using glued on corners - pictures of herself and several of her young friends dressed in "flapper" attire, posing and clowning for the camera. There was a snap of her shorthand/typing ("short and type") teacher standing rakishly on the front steps of the school in an overcoat and hat, peering out from his horn-rimmed glasses, a youthful smile on his handsome face.
So thoroughly did Evie pour herself into the little book, that I came to know her and like her. Across the pages, she and her friends danced and played and studied. Viola, and Lucile, Jimmy, Duffy, and Pearl...and many more. Evelyn was a wonderful historian, carefully clipping articles from the school paper about the basketball team's wins and losses, school play reviews, and Art Club bake sales. Included in the clippings was one from the town newspaper which noted that 27 students had managed to make the Honor Roll, a feat that required an average of 90 percent or above in scholastic ratings over a consecutive three year period. I smiled with satisfaction when I read, "Of the 27, five were boys." They were made of very sturdy stuff, these girls of 1924. The article published the photos of the two top students. I recognized Viola, the valedictorian, from Evelyn's snapshots - taken on a hike in the summer of 1923 with Evie and several other friends. The newspaper picture shows her looking rather pensive and shy. But Lucile, the salutatorian, casts a forthright and steady gaze straight into the lens of the camera, her self confidence almost spilling over.
But, I should really start my story from the beginning and tell you how I first met Evelyn. It was around 1995, and I had returned to Winona to attend a college reunion. The lovely, old college had closed, but the beautiful campus continued to be used for educational pursuits, and every year the new owners invited the alumnae association to hold its reunion on campus. I had not been back to Winona since the day I drove away following my own graduation. During a lull in events, a dear college chum and I went to an antique store in town just to rummage around, and I was inevitably drawn to the old books. I was about to leave empty-handed, when on the lowest shelf of the farthest rack I saw a square box with the words, "The Girl Graduate - Her Own Book." Inside the box was nestled a journal with the name "Evelyn" written in a beautiful script across the inside of the front cover.
In my hotel room that night, I turned the little book over in my hands, and carefully began to study each page. But always my thoughts flew to the same question. Who could possibly have parted with this diary and its precious cargo? Who was Evelyn and what happened to her? As time passed, and as I read and re-read the book, I grew equally curious about Viola and Lucile. Where was Duffy, the star athlete? And what of James, whose family owned one the town's department stores?
It began almost at once, my desire to find Evelyn, or her family, and return the diary. What started as a mystery, and developed into a hobby, eventually became a labor of love. And thus began a 12 year journey to find the answers. The story will take a little time, but I will tell you what I know.