Sunday, November 12, 2017

Scraps of Paper Reveal the Life and Times of a Carrollton, Kentucky Schoolboy in the 1920s

In today's exploration of Sarah Eva Howe Salyers's scrapbooks, I came across one she labeled "David H. Salyers, Book 1." Its pages hold a treasure trove of pictures, clippings, cards, and papers that tell the childhood story of her youngest son. I'm sharing some of those items here because they paint a picture of childhood circa 1915-1930. This little boy, David Hillis Salyers II, spent his first 14 years or so in Carrollton, Kentucky, but I think his life was typical of the life boys lived in most American small towns.

The first pages start with David's birth and preschool years. with images and notes about various "firsts" and, as Sarah so often added, bits of poetry that she either quoted or composed.
David was born May 14, 1915. His mother reflected on his birth in poetic prose:
To David – from Mother
Fitting your birth in May's calm weather after the wild rush of March, the changeful April sweetness – "Pan," the "March Hare," and then the smiling union – of fairy gifts – of music, and of summer gaiety.

She included a picture of the house in which David was born.
Sarah identified the people in the photo from David's perspective: "Mother [Sarah] inside, Aunt Leonora [Sarah's sister], Grandma [Sarah's mother], Mary Alice & Jimmy [David's siblings]."  (See a picture of how the house looked when he visited there in 1958.)


Sarah filed many pages with newspaper clippings of "Uncle Wiggly" bedtime stories, which no doubt she read to him. Here's one example:
Like other little boys, David made friends in the neighborhood. Among the first was Noble (last name not given). I think "Davy" appears to be 5 or 6 years old in this photo, which would date it circa 1920.

When David started school, he made more friends. As we learn from this page from what may have been an autograph or "buddies book" popular in those days, some of his friends had interesting nicknames:

Like doting mothers everywhere, Sarah saved David's report cards. This one from first grade (1921-1922, Carrollton City Public School) shows that he got off to a good start. With Sarah as a mother, he probably was writing his ABCs and reading a bit before he started school. Note that he missed most days of school in November and January. I wish Sarah had told us why.

We know that three years later, in October 1925, the whole Salyers family was under quarantine because of measles. Here's a note he wrote to his friend "Chalk," complaining about the confinement and wishing he could go to school instead of having to "sit around all day doing nothing." He signed off saying "your friend in need." Poor David!

When he was 8 years old, David was taking piano lessons from his Aunt Leonora and was ready to play "Moon and Stars" in a recital.

Apparently, little David was prone to bringing home stray dogs. Why else would his mother have put in his scrapbook at least three items related to the topic -- a cartoon, a magazine illustration, and a picture of David himself holding a puppy.
David with a puppy (a stray?) circa 1925

Of course, every boy needed a bicycle. Here's David on a bike. I'm guessing the year at 1927.

Sarah's scrapbook for David also included memories of historic events. She devoted a page to a Cincinnati newspaper's coverage of Charles A. Lindbergh's return to the U.S. after his historic trans-Atlantic flight. The small clipping at the bottom notes a Carrollton connection:
 (I have no idea why she included on the scrapbook page an article about Ohio State University conferring posthumous degrees on three seniors who had died that year.)

The scrapbook offers glimpses of David's social life, too. This article from the Carrollton newspaper describes a party he hosted, with the help of his older sister, Mary Alice. The mention of a movie helps us date the clipping, because the silent film was produced in 1923.

Actor Jackie Coogan must have been a local favorite, because the scrapbooks have other clippings about his movies. Here is a piece about a film produced in 1926:

Like his mother, grandparents, great-grandparents, and all of his uncles, aunts, and cousins, David showed an interest in politics, starting in his grade-school years. In this note dated 1924, friend James Alexander encourages him to vote for Oscar, probably a candidate for a student leadership post at the Carrollton school.
Young David did some campaigning himself. This scrapbook page presented campaign materials he made for one of his mother's Howe cousins, John J. Howe. I'm unsure if the materials were related to a local election (John held several local offices over the years) or John's run for U.S. Senate in 1924.

Like many boys then and now, David joined the Boy Scouts of America. This colorful, 3-panel card shows he was registered for the 1932-1933 membership year. At that time he was 17 years old and a student at Henry Clay High School in Lexington. His parents had moved there a few years before that when David's older siblings enrolled in college at Eastern and the University of Kentucky.

It's amazing that a few photos and scraps of paper can tell us so much about someone we thought we knew. David's own son (my husband) learned a lot about his dad from this one scrapbook. We're even more eager now to see what the other books reveal about his Howe and Salyers ancestors.

You can read more about David in a post dated January 8, 2017.