May 6-23, 1919

May 6

Edgar would have been 21 today. Went to school and uptown. Awful lonesome and cried myself to sleep.

May 15

My birthday but not very happy. Ruth gave me a box of candy, went to play practice and sat in the old chair where Edgar made his first date with me, and cried.

May 18

Went to church and S.S. helped get dinner. slept. got ready for church. Our Baccalaureate sermon was preached tonight. I wore my pink georgette crepe dress. There was no one to come after me so I had to walk to church. Harriet was late and we walked about half an hour for her. She and Carma both wore rose colored dresses. we also wore red and white carnations. The church was packed. Mr. Plate played and Mr. Kaun, Mr. Currier, Mrs Plate and Catherine sang and also Mrs. Clifford and Sheldon. Azel and Fudora came up after church. went to bed early and thot of what would be if Edgar was here. 

May 19

Practiced play all day. Azel had to take Wilbur’s part because his Uncle died.

May 20

Practiced the play and had a picture taken of the past. The play went off dandy and Azel didn’t have to be prompted even if he hadn’t had much time to study.

May 22

Had Mrs. Sheldon help me with my poem. Graduation night and I wore my white charmeuse dress. The stage was decorated awfully nice with our colors. While Miss Murray played we marched in. Harriet first then myself and last but not least Carma. The hall was packed. I wasn’t scared and not very nervous. I spoke “Heaven is not Reached in a Single Bound”. Carma gave the welcome address and Harriet after it was all over and everybody came to congratulate us. We all went over to Potters and opened our presents. We all got just swell presents and so many too. Willis and Harriet took me home. I went to bed and cried until 2 o’clock. Edgar always said how proud he would be of me when I graduated. I was not as happy as most girls are when they graduate. I felt just as if nobody cared how I looked or was proud of me.

May 23

Woke up feeling bad of course after such a night I spent. Got ready and went to Harriet’s shower. Wore my pink dress. Harriet certainly is happy and she got beautiful presents. The “four girls” served.

A couple of months have passed since the last journal entry. I am not sure if Clara didn’t keep a journal during those months or if those pages have been lost. But we start up again with Edgar’s 21st birthday. My son’s 21st birthday is in a couple of months, so that really brought home to me just how young Edgar was when he died. 

Ruth Stoddard

The next week is Clara’s 19th birthday, and Ruth gives her a box of candy – and we know how much Clara likes her candy. In past installments, I guessed that Ruth was Ruth Stoddard, but she seemed a bit old to be Clara’s friend. I have found another Ruth who is closer to Clara’s age, but there are some inconsistencies in the records I have found that make me unsure. I’ll continue researching her. Clara also spends the evening continuing to grieve Edgar. It appears that nearly everything reminds her of him. At play practice, she sits in the chair where he asked her on their first date.

Ruth Hammon

Then we learn that that graduation season is upon us. At church Sunday, is the Baccalaureate sermon, presumably given by Rev. Sheldon. We got used to hearing about Edgar and Gerald coming to call on Clara and her friends, but Clara certainly feels Edgar’s absence during this important time in her life. 

It is a day of new dresses. Back in February, Clara’s mom travelled out of town, I am not sure where, and sent Clara two dresses that she found for graduation. The georgette crepe dress was one of them. Harriet Potter and Carma Younkin were also graduating, wearing rose-colored dresses to the packed church.

What I’ve read about the early years of Cresbard High School is that each class had its own “colors,” so I would guess the colors of the class of 1919 were red and white, as shown by the red and white carnations they wore.

At the service, Mr. Herman Plate played the music. The Plate family has been mentioned earlier as Clara has gone there for choir practice. 

There is no indication whether Mr. Plate was playing a piano or an organ, but most churches by 1919, even in rural areas, had an organ. In fact, one of the contributions of the Ladies Aid organizations was to raise money for organ funds. In fact, in nearby DeVoe, the women of the Methodist church

had shrewd business sense [as] evidenced in their purchase of an organ. They compared prices and bought from an agent who allowed $15.00 for the old organ, paid the freight on the new one and threw in an organ stool besides.

At this time, organs were built for homes, churches, and theaters.

Between 1911 and 1943, the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company built more than 2,000 theater organs, most of them about the size of the Ayars, for smaller, neighborhood theaters. The first silent films had been accompanied by a pit orchestra or, for the more frugally minded impresario, a lone piano. When the theater organ came along, with its ability to imitate an orchestra and create special sound effects, every movie house owner had to have one.

Theaters and larger churches usually installed pipe organs. Smaller churches might buy a chapel organ while those at home would purchase a parlor organ. Parlor organs “were operated via pimping of large foot pedals which would force air across a bank of reeds.” … “Organs built in the last quarter of the 19thcentury were some of the most elaborate and lavish instruments money could buy. The organs built during this era often had very high backs with carved panels, shelves, mirrors, etc.”  However, it didn’t take long for the piano to replace the organ in most homes.

Chapel organ

Singers for the service included Mr. Kaun, forty-four-year-old Oscar Hugo Kaun, an unmarried salesman who had come to town to sell automobiles and boarding with a retired couple. Mr. Currier could be referring to a few different men. The Currier family lived in Faulk County. The patriarch was 64 years old at this time. But he had two sons, one a 36-year-old bachelor named Clarence and the other 29-year-old Charles, who was married but didn’t have any children yet. I suppose the singer could have been any of them.

Parlor organ

Mrs. Plate would be Herman Plate’s wife. The family moved to South Dakota in 1918, and had four children, ranging in age at this time from two to ten years old.

Mr. and Mrs. Plate on their wedding day, 1909

Edgar’s sister, Catherine, also sang and was also graduating with Clara. Mrs. Inez Clifford would be the music teacher mentioned earlier, Crazy Shaw, as Clarence and Emily’s oldest son George Keith called her in family papers. Mrs. Sheldon would be the wife of Reverend L. J. Sheldon.

Azel and Fudora came over after church. Azel is Clara Mae’s older brother, two years older and earlier had been away at college. I don’t know who Fudora was. But the group was practicing for a play, and at the last minute, Azel had to take over Wilbur Devine’s role, for his uncle had died. 

Practiced play all day. Azel had to take Wilbur’s part because his uncle died, and apparently he did a great job. The only possible uncle I could find is Charles Devine, but I can’t find the year he died. However, his other uncles died decades after this.

The next day is graduation, and Clara wears the white charmeuse dress, which was the other dress that her mother sent to her back in February. 

Mrs. Lillian Sheldon helps Clara with the poem she will be reading at the graduation ceremony that night, leaving her feeling prepared and not nervous, which is always good. She “spoke” (does that mean it was memorized?) “Heaven is not reached in a Single Bound.” 

Josiah Gilbert Holland

This poem, titled Gradatim, was written by Josiah Gilbert Holland in 1872. 


Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
      But we build the ladder by which we rise
      From the lowly earth, to the vaulted skies,
And we mount to its summit round by round.

I count this thing to be grandly true:
      That a noble deed is a step toward God,
      Lifting the soul from the common clod
To a purer air and a broader view.

We rise by the things that are under feet;
      By what we have mastered of good and gain;
      By the pride deposed and the passion slain,
And the vanquished ills that we hourly meet.

We hope, we aspire, we resolve, we trust,
      When the morning calls us to life and light,
      But our hearts grow weary, and, ere the night,
Our lives are trailing the sordid dust.

We hope, we resolve, we aspire, we pray,
      And we think that we mount the air on wings
      Beyond the recall of sensual things,
While our feet still cling to the heavy clay.

Wings for the angels, but feet for men!
      We may borrow the wings to find the way —
      We may hope, and resolve, and aspire, and pray;
But our feet must rise, or we fall again.

Only in dreams is a ladder thrown
      From the weary earth to the sapphire walls;
      But the dreams depart, and the vision falls,
And the sleeper wakes on his pillow of stone.

Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
      But we build the ladder by which we rise
      From the lowly earth, to the vaulted skies,
And we mount to its summit, round by round.

But before she recited the poem, Miss Murray played while the graduates marched in to a packed hall, the stage decorated in their colors (maybe red and white?). From the way Clara describes marching in, I wonder if the three young ladies are the only ones graduating that day. She writes, “Harriet first then myself and last but not least Carma.” It’s possible. Cresbard has a population of around 350 at this time. So is it reasonable to think that there are only three high school seniors in 1919? Maybe. Plus, Clara only mentions the three of them as participants. Carma Younkin gives the welcome address, Clara recites an inspirational poem, and Harriet Potter closes the ceremony out.

Afterwards, they head to the Potter’s home to open presents before Willis Stone and Harriet Potter take Clara home. You may remember that these two got engaged at Christmas. 

And finally, my heart breaks once again for Clara. She ends this installment having difficulty celebrating this milestone: “I went to bed and cried until 2 o’clock. Edgar always said how proud he would be of me when I graduated. I was not as happy as most girls are when they graduate. I felt just as if nobody cared how I looked or was proud of me.”

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