STORIES are the harp strings of history, transforming the past into melody and rhythm. The best stories live forever in the human mind. The demand for a good story is as wide, as unsatisfied, as human longing, and the search for a new one as difficult and elusive as the discovery of a new element in nature. (Histories and Stories of Nebraska by Addison Ervin Sheldon, 1920)
An Autograph book is a book for collecting the autographs of others. Traditionally they were exchanged among friends, colleagues, and classmates to fill with poems, drawings, personal messages, small pieces of verse, and other mementos. Their modern derivations include yearbooks, friendship books, and guest books. They were popular among university students from the 15th century until the mid-19th century, after which their popularity began to wane as they were gradually replaced by yearbooks.
The first true autograph books appeared in German and Dutch linguistic regions (possibly originating in Wittenberg) by the mid-16th century. Known as an album amicorum (book of friends) or stammbuch friendship book), the oldest on record is that of Claude de Senarclens, an associate of John Calvin, and dates back to 1545.
German immigrants transported the tradition to American culture in the late 18th century, where their popularity peaked around the time of the Civil Car. Autograph books in their classic form eventually disappeared from the landscape of American culture, but their usage endures among German schoolgirls, who know them as poesiealben. Until the 18th century, German autograph albums generally consisted of loose sheets of paper or sometimes vellum bound in an elongated octavo format; later they became available in the horizontal format. The binding material varied dramatically from cardboard to gold-tooled leather.
Excerpts from my husband’s maternal grandmother’s 1915-1916 autograph book follow. Marie, a lonely 15-year old southeast Nebraska farm girl, returned to her family only months after walking through the doors of the Sterling, Nebraska Martin Luther Academy, less than 20 miles from home. The autograph book surely a remembrance of those months at the Academy. (Marie Lenners seated on left)
Marie began her young life briefly attending the Martin Luther Academy located in the small rural community of Sterling, Nebraska. When this rural Lutheran-based school closed, it became the center point for the Martin Luther Home. On October 20, 1925 in the library of the then vacant Martin Luther Academy, the Martin Luther Home was founded as a school for children with developmental and physical disabilities. In Marie’s latter years, she volunteered weekly as a “Grandparent” at the Martin Luther Home. Her involvement with the various facets of the institution felt thoughout her 89 years.
Now feel the rhythm and melody of Marie’s story through her classmates writings. Heartwarming, inspirational, and some downright funny.