Futures Past | Newberry

Futures Past

“Dale Bumstead, great powder magnate, captured and held for ransom by the Germans. Shall we pay the $2,000,000 ransom?”

“Don’t ask silly questions.”

It’s the kind of joke where you sort of had to be there. Dale Bumstead, who was around 18 at this point, was in charge of buying the advertising that appears at the back of the book. He had to be ridiculed in some way or another, because this was the Senior Class prophecy, and the author had to get in a slam or salute to everybody in the class, AND stay within page limitations. Yearbooks of the time used a lot more space on prose in those days—pages and pages would be given over to jokes, short stories, and articles having little or nothing to do with the school and its inhabitants—but there were limits.

“The following red Cross nurses have been recommended for the cross of exceptional bravery.”

“Good,” said the general. “Give ‘em each the double cross.”

The problem is that one wants foonotes, maybe double footnotes. Reading this, you’d like to know who these kids were at the time, and how they were connected, but you’d also like to know what really became of them. And you might want a few just to explain the setting. There’s a war going on (there was one going on when the book was published) and the author of the article is at headquarters, reading the news as it clicks through the radio connection. What can’t be covered by that method is done by having an old classmate drop by and chat, and then go out into the world to find other old classmates in their new identities.

One started an anti-prohibition party (Prohibition would take effect in just two years), while another started a new religious sect called Jazzism (the exact meaning of the word “jazz” at this time in America has been the stuff of dissertations.) Some have become rich and famous, some have been killed in duels for the love of another classmate, and the last two mentioned are now chicken farmers. Some of it was probably raucously funny at the time, but the punchline of some of these jokes have become, um, elusive.


Actually, this little book has been the stuff of dissertations, too, and there is one book just about the high school years of the man who wrote the Class Prophecy. I learn from this little yearbook that, besides writing this five page collection of humor, he was captain of the water basketball team. I blame my teachers for never telling me that about him.

The truth is that books from an estate have turned up one of those books I have been looking for someone to donate, knowing no one ever would. I saw it in the box about a month ago, but I have been ignoring it, since it looks so ordinary. Nothing on the cover hints “Oh, and by the way, no one prophesied that one day the kid who wrote the Class Prophecy would one day be handed the Nobel Prize for Literature.”

This is the 1917 Senior Tabula of Oak Park and River Forest Township High School. The OPRFTHS, as I don’t suppose it has ever called itself, was the training ground and alma mater of young Ernest Hemingway, whose sister was on the yearbook staff (and herself wrote an article on life in China for the Senior Tabula.) This is the Ernest Hemingway who has not yet gone to France to drive an ambulance and hang out with his pals in Paris. This is long years before “The Old Man and the Sea”.

This was the era of “we were compelled to walk past the place where Hale Printup saved his city by firing hot air at the Zeppelins. We removed our hats as we passed the spot, as all of us recalled vividly the tragic scene of Printup’s fiery end when his jaws united from the friction.”

As I say, you had to be there.

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