Century-old scrapbook opens teen's eye to history
October 05, 2013 10:59 AM

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Fifteen-year-old Graham Gale has spent hours trying to solve the mystery of Mary Kyle, who was born 134 years ago.

What she found earned her a new respect for local history and a top grade at Palmer High School for her International Baccalaureate community service project.

She also has concluded that her generation is losing out on the opportunity to leave behind tangible mementos of their lives: “Things that a Facebook timeline can’t show,” she said.

Mary Kyle, a Colorado Springs resident, was Gale’s age when she began keeping a scrapbook in 1894 and finished it in 1913.

The book was found stuffed in a secret compartment behind a fireplace in the house where the girl had lived on Wood Avenue. It was given to the Pioneers Museum collection of valuable artifacts in 1998.

Graham, who was searching for a class project last spring, thought she might answer phones for her service project at Radio Colorado College. But Craig Richardson, a producer for KRCC’s “The Big Something,” suggested something more ambitious and steered her to Matt Mayberry, the museum’s director, who is a friend of her parents, Kimberley Sherwood and Chuck Gale. He suggested she take a look at the scrapbook. Museum staff often help students with history projects.

“I thought it would be a photo book like we have today,” Gale said.

But when she sat down in the museum’s research room with the old yellowed scrapbook on a stand in front of her, she was stunned. It was nearly a foot high, and was crammed with the clues of a young girl’s life decidedly different from her own.

Graham recently revisited the book, carefully donning white gloves to keep fingerprint oils from deteriorating the pages.

The girl it belonged to captivates Graham even though her project has been completed.

She found that the book continues to reveal new clues about a teenager who lived more than a century ago.

“I didn’t see this flower she kept,” Graham said, peeking into an envelope filled with crumbling greenery.

One of her first and biggest challenges for the project, she said, was reading the old-fashioned handwriting that accompanied the mementos. “Her handwriting was impossible,” she said. It didn’t help that schools rarely teach cursive, and students usually see information only in type. But now she is more adept at reading the dainty curlicues of yesteryear.

She believes that Kyle must have been fairly wealthy. There were pages of ship manifests and itineraries from an extended three-month grand tour through Europe.

She was a bit mystified by the scores of little white cards pasted on the pages. She found out they are calling cards, notes left at the girl’s home inviting her to teas, luncheons and sometimes, merely saying that someone had stopped by to see her.

She pointed to one. “Mrs. William Jewell was asking her to tea at 5 o’clock on April 17.”

“That tells me there weren’t any phones then,” she said.

There were colorful mementos including valentines; birthday cards; an invitation to a bridge game with a tiny scoring pencil attached; a tiny Japanese-style fan; a dried carnation boutonniere; a telegram from her brother announcing the birth of a daughter; menus, including one from New Year’s supper in 1913 at the Antlers Hotel, where lobster and Camembert cheese was served.

“She was very popular,” Graham said. “There’s even a note that says, ‘Will you marry me?’” She found out later that Kyle apparently never married.

She also found several items indicating that Kyle probably attended St. Ignatius College in Chicago.

Graham was especially taken by a small sketch of Kyle done on a scrap of paper. Her hair was rolled stylishly on top of her head. “I think she must have had cool clothes,” she said, pointing to a poem that said: “There was a young lady named Kyle, who always followed the style, when she came home from Paris, people all gasped to see, this stylish young lady named Kyle.”

Graham also decided that Kyle loved music, having kept dozens of programs from the Colorado Springs Musical Club.

One of the most astonishing finds, Graham said, was learning that Kyle lived on Wood Avenue, only a couple of blocks from her own Old North End house.

“How weird is that,” she said.

Graham assembled what she learned about Kyle into a PowerPoint presentation for her class, and also a video in collaboration with Radio Colorado College. Looking at the book a week later at the museum, she said wistfully, “I’d like to know more.”

Mayberry, the museum director, pulled from the stacks a city directory. Graham found that Kyle had lived with her sister Katherine Hunt and husband Alfred H. Hunt, a bank executive, at the Wood Avenue address.

Mayberry showed Graham how to search for Kyle’s obituary, which she found in an old Gazette newspaper. “Oh, wow,” said Graham. “I thought she was older when she made the scrapbook, but she was my age.”

Kyle was born in 1879 and died at a hospital in Amsterdam, N.Y., at age 84.

This information just fueled more questions, Graham said.

“I would love to find her diary if she wrote one,” Graham said.

Graham said she has learned a lot of history looking at the scrapbook. “It’s way different than just scrolling Facebook. It’s really better to have a scrapbook that you can put your hands on.”

After the project, Graham decided to start her historical record. She has created a Keepsake Box out of an old hiking boot box. So far, it contains some shoes she painted and wore almost every day her freshman year at Palmer High School. It also includes some cards, ticket stubs and a program from “Alice in Wonderland” in which she saw her cousin perform in Los Angeles.

“I’ve learned that preserving history is very important and you have to make sure to share it.”

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