Inspired by Valentine’s Day, I want to share an item that I first saw in the archives years ago while researching an exhibit on children. When I opened a folder in the Schenck Family Papers (MS-284), I discovered a pink baby book filled in by Elizabeth Schenck, a new mother in 1921, so obviously in love with her baby son, Joseph Graham Crane Schenck, Jr., nicknamed “Sonny”. Ninety-five years later, this pink book exudes a mother’s adoration, with tracings of his newborn hand and foot, and descriptions of his first party, first outing, first clothes, first photograph. It not only tugs at the heart strings, but it documents this little one’s early childhood, and provides a glimpse into this Dayton family’s home life in the 1920s.
“He laughed out loud before he was three months old. Sonny is a great smiler—always wakens with a smile anytime—day or night.”
When turning the pages of the book, one can’t help wonder what became of that smiling child. The answers can be found in the same box of the Schenck Family Papers. In it are Sonny’s degrees from Steele High School and Colgate University, newsclippings, and V-mail he wrote as a newly enlisted man and as a POW in Germany during World War II. Preserved are messages from the War Department to the Schenck family informing them of their son’s disappearance, his captivity, and joyously, his release in April, 1945.
Elizabeth Schenck probably had no idea that someday, the pink baby book in which she recorded the first years of Sonny’s life, would inspire an archivist to write a blog post about him in 2016. But then, love reaches across time.