MOUNT VERNON -- Faithful readers of this column know that I like to go hunting in vintage postcards for potential story leads. Some cards lead to rich stories, others leave unanswered mysteries. This card preserves a glimpse of one of life's little dramas, but leaves us in the dark about whom it happened to.
The front of the card is a popular postcard of the downtown viaduct in Mount Vernon, but the sender has drawn an arrow to a specific spot on the bridge and penned the comment, “Where I lost my hat.” In 1918, hats were popular with both sexes, so the comment doesn't help identify our sender.
The sender of the card had some sort of connection with Mount Vernon, because he or she arrived in town on Nov. 8, 1918, at 12:45 pm, apparently from Cleveland. The sender notes that they've arrived okay and will return Saturday at 9:30 pm. No comments are made about the world-shaping news about to break in three days: the end of the Great War (which we now call World War One).
The visitor is in town for a serious occasion, but doesn't strike a somber tone at all when they evaluate the place: “Fair town for a funeral.”
At the bottom of this brief message, there are scribbled initials. Good luck trying to decipher them.
The card is sent to a Miss Anna Arns, care of the North Electric Company, St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland. Sending the card to a place of work instead of a residence suggests that Anna Arns was a co-worker to our mysterious sender.
Digging a little into the history of the North Electric Company, I found that it was a prominent company that manufactured telephones and telephone switchboards in the early 1900s.
But around this time, the company was going to be sold to the Telephone Improvement Company, a New York corporation. A report in the trade publication Industry Week proclaims that the incoming corporation says that they do not plan any major changes for the North Electric Company.
Those of us who have tangled with corporate America know that when they say “we're not going to change anything,” you're doomed, because it actually means they are going to change everything. A similar scenario has a lot to do with why I'm writing about history today instead of being a purchasing manager for a packaging company counting the days until retirement. Speaking of that, this column enters its third year with this installment.
But I digress.
The North Electric Company was shut down and the factory was relocated to Galion, in Crawford County. It remained in operation there until the 1970s. Did Anna Arns or her mysterious co-worker move with the factory? It seems unlikely. The most probable match to Anna is a woman born in Michigan in 1890 as Antoinette Arens. She spent many years in Cleveland rendering her name as Anna Arns, and retired to Michigan in the 1970s.
This still tells us nothing about our mysterious postcard writer. My guess would be that it was a young woman, about the same age as Anna, who very possibly was born in or near Mount Vernon, then headed to the big city in young adulthood, leaving relatives behind that she would visit.
After getting off the train at the depot a little afternoon on that day in 1918, she crossed the viaduct, where a stiff breeze blew off her hat and most likely deposited it in the Kokosing River. Since a funeral is a formal occasion, one wonders what she did for headgear at the actual event.
So, that's all we have to go on for this one. Anyone know of an ancestor or relative who went off to work at a telephone factory in Cleveland just over a hundred years ago? That might be the only way we'll ever identify the postcard writer.
And has anyone seen that hat?