Thursday, February 7, 2013

Progressive Nostalgia and the Class Clowns

I like to look for old high school and college yearbooks at yard sales and estate sales.  Some of them are rather collectible, and there are lots of folks who didn't buy a yearbook when they were in school who are kicking themselves now and looking online for the book they didn't buy.

I found a stack of 'em at an estate sale this past weekend.  In addition to several yearbooks from a local high school dating back to the 1980s -- pictures of girls with big hair, guys on the basketball team wearing very short shorts -- I found a copy of the 1957 L'Acadien from Southwest Louisiana Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana.

The 1957 L'Acadien is a snapshot in time of the American South.  The student body was mostly white, but there were a number of African-American students, as well as some international students from Central and South America and Asia.  The school's website confirms my observations:

"In 1954, SLI became the first college in Louisiana to integrate its student body. The first African American students were admitted without incident, and today UL Lafayette has honored its first African American graduate, Christiana Smith, by naming an alumni chapter after her."

The students celebrated Sadie Hawkins Day; they joined sororities and fraternities, the Home Economics Club; they played basketball and football.   Entire pages were dedicated to debutantes, to showcase their "glamour" photos.  (This was the South, after all.)  Some of the student names are very "Southern" as well, and hearken back to this era past -- young ladies named Heartsease, Jose Ann, Inza Rae and Billy Ann; young men named Abelardo, Junice, Expadie, Ludrice, and Curvin.  A young woman named Reggie Lou Gates was in the ROTC.

But as I leafed through the pages of  the book, my nostalgic-progressive reverie was interrupted by the presence of the fruits and vegetables lurking among the photos of the underclassmen.

The pear's name is listed as Conspiance Poire.  A few pages later, Belle Pepper appears among the sophomores. 

An apple, a bunch of bananas, and a female student smoking a cigar labeled "Pogo Possum, Okafonokee, Georgia" also appear among the underclassmen.  Many of the sophomores and freshmen had their class pictures made wearing silly hats.

The yearbook staff had struck again.

The school is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and apparently L'Acadien is still being published.  I hope the current yearbook staff members have as much innocent fun, and put out as nice a publication, as their predecessors did.  

And if anyone is looking for inspiration and a reference source for a Gently Humorous Novel of the Mid-Century American South -- y'all need look no further.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Clipper Salesmen

I think I'll pass along these estate sale items to someone who might be able to appreciate them -- like this:
February 4, 2013

Company Historian
Wahl Electric Clipper Corporation
Sterling, IL

Dear Company Historian:

I am enclosing with this note, two items I found at a recent estate sale in my area.

At first, I had no idea what they were. 

When I unrolled them, I realized they are panoramic photographs from the 1930s.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that they are group shots of conventions of Wahl clipper salesmen from that era.  I believe they’re standing in front of your company’s old offices on Third Street.


The Library of Congress has more than 4,000 panoramic photographs in its collection, but apparently it doesn’t have these.  The LOC website explains the history of panoramic pictures and how they were made:

Your company website says the first patent for a vibrating “electromagnetic hair clipper” was granted to your company founder in 1921.  Ten years later, one of these photographs was made.  Is Mr. Wahl one of the people in the front row of this picture?


The photographs are not in the best of shape.  The woman who was holding the estate sale told me, “Take them, just take them – who’s going to want something like this?"  (She had no idea how they got to my part of the country, what their connection was with the estate sale, nor why someone hung onto the pictures for more than three-quarters of a century.)
I thought you might like to have them -- if for no other reason than to look at the faces of the people who worked for the company more than 80 years ago.  You can imagine the personalities of the salesmen if you study the pictures closely.


And you can admire how nicely they dressed: hats and spats and overcoats, the fashion of the day.


But I think the panoramic photographs are more than just a unique find at an estate sale.  During the Great Depression, it must have been important for businessmen, especially men looking for new jobs, to be well-groomed.  I’ve enjoyed looking at these pictures of the salesmen who, through their own work, gave local barbers across America the tools to help men feel confident about their appearance.  I hope you'll consider having the pictures conserved and framed, so other people can appreciate these little time capsules of American business history. 

Sincerely yours,
Editor, The Estate Sale Chronicles