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Family Mystery: The Book in the Basement

I was fifteen years old in 1980 when my paternal grandfather died.  My family went up to Salem, MA, to stay with my grandmother a few days and take care of the proper arrangements.

While the grown-ups did their stuff, we kids liked to hang out in the basement.  We’d bang away on my grandfather’s piano or maybe look at some of my grandparents’ old books.  One day I was really bored and I perused each book one by one.  My grandmother’s old copy of “Little Women”, my aunt’s Annie Oakley books, and a slim dark blue volume without a title.  I pulled it out.  It was an old blue notebook with gold lettering on the front:  “Compositions.”

Compostions

I opened it up and found old newspaper clippings carefully pasted on each page.  And what were the clippings?  Every chapter of “All Quiet on the Western Front.”  Although I was never crazy about the story, the fact that someone in my family put this together intrigued me.  I supposed it must have been my grandfather’s, so I decided to keep it.

front page

Like so many other family mysteries, I never asked questions about it.  My grandmother lived with us for years, and I never asked her whose it was, or how it came to be.  (And she would know; she had related extensive genealogical to me that I later discovered was all true.)  I never asked my dad about it; who knows?  It could have been his.  I never asked my aunt, who was such a bookworm and likely would have read it.  And now they’re all gone.

So now I’m left with the book.  Some of the center pages of the notebook were carefully cut out, but pages were not removed from the story; it must have been done before the story was pasted in.  Whoever cut out the story cut out whatever newspaper it came from and whatever date it was printed.  There is no writing anywhere in the notebook.

Yet I still want to know:  who did it belong to?  Is there any way I can figure that out?  A couple of ideas popped into my head:

  • when was that style of composition notebook made?
  • what newspaper might have published the story and when?  I could do search on the phrase before the one instance of “(continued…” that I found.

If I get the answers to these questions, I can narrow down whose notebook it was.  If it was Baltimore, Maryland, then my imaginary story of my great-grandfather George Pleau sitting down with my grandfather would be true.  If it was the Lynn/Boston, Massachusetts area, it’s a whole other story.  Maybe my great-grandfather Thomas F. Atwell, who fought in World War I (albeit in the Navy) put it together.  Maybe the story was published much later and it was my dad who assembled it.   We’ll see what the story will end up being.

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