Sunday, January 13, 2013

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop: Joe Louis, Shirley Temple, and Shorthand

I have been working on the transcript of my recently found Manchester Diary. While the second entry in my Kennebunkport Diary discussed the largest train crash in Maine, the January entries of this current diary include nothing so momentous. However, the diary of Eileen Langmayd, 1935-1939, discussed the every day activities of a depression era teen, providing a good scope of life at that time.

This is a generation that we are quickly losing and I'm sure that Miss Eileen's diary came to me for this reason. Born in the early 20s, now into their 80s, the American children of the depression held memories that can make us better understand this important time. I suspect that Eileen Langmayd's diary had been part of an estate sale that entered an antique shop quietly and sat unassumingly among the non-paper based antiques in the store. But while the objects are admired mostly for their form, it is the diary that reveals the thoughts and deeds of its owner. It is the diary we should value for preserving memories and it is the diary that should be highlighted for the intimate connection it offers us to those who came before us.

Eileen Langmayd spent her days going to school, working, practicing her transcription and shorthand (I assume she was on her way to becoming a secretary), eating popcorn and fudge as treats, sledding down hills, sewing, listening to the radio, shopping with her mom, and going to the theater. None of these activities may strike us as particularly unusual or maybe not even particularly interesting, but woven together the diary entries give us a remarkable sense of time. They tell us of life as a young woman in Manchester, NH in the 30s and tie Miss Eileen to larger communities and larger national scale events.

  • "January 12, 1935. Saturday. In A.M. helped mother. In P.M. went up to Irene’s for a few minutes. Later in afternoon Mama & I went to “Shirley Temple” in “Bright Eyes” at State Theatre with Jimmie Dunn."

It turns out that Manchester, NH had many theaters where the local population was entertained. To my knowledge, one remains - The Palace Theatre on Hanover Street, where an historic feel remains palpable even when one primarily just attends summer matinee plays for children in the 21st century.

  • "January 25, 1939. Wednesday. Got a letter from Joe. Went over to “Mil” G. Met a girl, Albertine Dunn. Very nice. Had cocoa and cake. Came home about ten. Listened to fight which lasted two min. Joe Louis won."

With a very quick search, I learned that it was on this date that Louis won the heavy weight title. While it seems to me that Miss Eileen would not be the kind of girl to today listen to a boxing match, in 1939 it was the thing to do. It was an important major radio event and among her short diary entries she recorded the experience.

My goal is to finish transcribing the 11 months of diary entries that cover 5 years in this girl's life. Each page has one date that includes 5 separate entries from the various years. When Eileen got the December 31st of one year, she would turn back to the beginning to record January 1st of the next year. For example:

  • January 16

1935. Wednesday. We rod home from school in Lizzie.[?]

1936. Thursday. In P.M. Wayne down. Took his picture. Hope this one comes out. In Eve. “Gwen” & I went over to church. Quite a few kids there playing piano. Warren took my scarf & put it up on T. pole.

1937. Saturday. Worked all day.

1938. Sunday. Had quite a cold so didn’t go to S.S. In P.M. Gwen & Hilda came down. We took Marion’s wedding gift, a picture, down to her. In Eve, pasted in scrapbooks.

1939. Monday. Received an air mail letter from Jo Jo today. Also received two records which Wilks sent me “[?] of an Engineer” and “I Wish I Had You.”

I am getting a sense of this 5 year span that includes schooling, boys, birthdays and more. It is actually a little funny and perhaps awkward to not transcribe one year straight through, but I wanted to keep the authenticity of the diary and decided to keep the transcript using the diary's current form. I find myself wondering where in the diary I'll learn things such as exactly who Wayne is (he shows up quite a bit.) I find myself growing closer to Eileen, wishing for her that Wayne is a steady-beau, that he's not heading off to war, that the depression doesn't affect her too much.

  • 1936. Friday. In A.M. Hilda and I went down to WPA Administration building. We got an application to fill out. Later we went to drugstore to get pictures. Wayne’s came out. Hilda down to study in P.M.

And life went on...and my life goes on with hers in it...I live her past in my present. 


  1. Melissa, you are an inspiration with this transcription process! I've been transcribing my own mother's journals and had had to set the project to the side; you remind me there is yet more for me to discover there. Further, you inspire me to search through antique shops here to find an orphan diary just waiting to be discovered!

    What a curious device the young lady included in her diary. Quite inventive, actually--giving a panoramic sweep over that stage in her life. Not a bad idea, in fact! Gives a more three-dimensional view to what otherwise seems like a rather flat, two-dimensional timeline of day-in, day-out repetition of activities.

    1. The diary was actually printed that way Jacqi, with one page for five years. I wonder how common that was!

      Please share some of the less personal parts of you mother's diary if you are open to that. I'd love to hear some! Anything that sheds light on national events?

    2. Melissa, after posting the comment above, I was called away from my temperate "sense of place" at home to attend to an aunt who was undergoing a health emergency. While sharing the same winter temps you were just bemoaning in your post today, by chance I stumbled upon a little volume at my aunt's house that made me think, again, of you.

      Evidently, as a girl of ten, my aunt had kept a diary of those same years that your Eileen's diary covers. When I had first read your post, where at the end you mention the curious design of the five-year diary, the detail had stuck in my mind.

      I was amazed to see this very design for the diary my aunt was keeping. It was printed that way, as you said about Eileen's diary. I guess this might have been a fairly common version--I can see the fun in being able to review one's life at a glance (well, at least one third of these girls' life span, once the diary was completed!).