Over the past few years I have been a volunteer book sorter for the Friends of the Cedar Rapids Public Library annual used book sale.
In come boxes and boxes of books. Some look like they’ve hardly been touched, but others appear to have been well-loved, their pages turned many times. In our workroom at the Cherry Building, I and my fellow volunteers go through them all, one at a time, filing them under fiction, food, philosophy and other categories in preparation for the sale.
It has been a very satisfying way to spend my time because I do love books and enjoy looking at them, but also because of their contents. By that I do not necessarily mean just their texts, but all the interesting things tucked between their pages.
Many of our donations come from people who are weeding the family collection, perhaps emptying a basement or an attic. It seem likely in many cases that no one has looked at these books in years, let alone checked to see what might be hidden among the pages.
Naturally, I see a lot of bookmarks, but that is only the beginning.
There are airline tickets, old photos, a telegram, postcards, movie tickets, shopping lists, greeting cards, a ticket to see Duke Ellington at Hancher Auditorium, and most fascinating of all, pages of Addie C.’s homework found in a 19th century text book.
A telegram was dated June 24, 1952, and sent to a Miss E.K. in Cedar Rapids from Chicago, signed “LOVE HELEN MARK TIM.” It’s the classic Western Union format, the message in purple ink on paper tape pasted onto a preprinted form with a block rubber-stamped in a bottom corner indicating time received, delivered, by whom, and so forth.
“Just as well you did not come your grandmother is going to live and the baseball game was called off account of rain.”
A very cryptic message it was, and my bet is that the communication was about something other than grandma or the old ballgame.
Speaking of travel, I have come across a folder listing the 1951-52 trans-Atlantic sailing schedules for the French Line. Closer to home was a 1961 Cedar Rapids City Line bus timetable.
For those needing political guidance, there is the North Dakota “Republican Guide Card” to the 1972 elections. Voters were exhorted to support Richard Nixon, Arne Dahl and Brynhild Haugen, among others.
The photos often go back many years.
I have seen color prints from the 1970s with those typical Kodachrome fading colors and occasionally something from World War II.
Sometimes there’s a name, a date or other annotation on the back, and we volunteers uniformly worry that someone has lost a precious family keepsake, since there is no practical way to return such items.
The most intriguing thus far was a black and white print with “Jan 3rd 1915” written on the picture in white ink. It shows a pair of dapper couples sitting on the rim of a Santa Fe gondola car. They are not wearing winter coats, so it must be in California, Arizona or someplace where it’s not so cold at that time of year. The ladies’ hats, one a great wide-brimmed affair, and the other, an elaborate cloche with a very long feather, are truly of another era. I can only surmise from their expressions that these were folks who wanted to make an impression, and with me at least, they have royally succeeded.
And then there is dear Addie C. and her homework.
From her math book, dated 1881, came the following items on scraps of paper beginning to crumble with age:
And lastly, a little exercise of her own not at all unknown in many eras.
There, in her most stylish penmanship is the name “Miss Livermore” copied a number of times. Then, but only once, appears the name “Earl Platner,” and at last, boldly, “Cedar Rapids.”
We can only guess what’s up.
Perhaps Miss Livermore was the teacher, Addie lived in Cedar Rapids and as for Earl? One suspects he was a person of interest in Addie’s life. We’ll hope that he was kind and attentive.