The majority of my daily activities include verifying “facts” or stories. People send me pictures or stories and want to know, “Is this real?” In my fact checking, I usually turn up more information that had either been forgotten or was never known. Recently, I was asked to proof a caption for an image. The picture was of a school teacher posing with her students outside of a building. The caption read, “The students of Mrs. Stark posed outside Naper Academy in this undated portrait taken by local photographer Christian Kendig”
I began my verification process by physically looking at the original picture. The picture is on a standard cabinet card 6.5’ x 4.25’ made by one of Naperville’s most prolific photographers Christian Kendig. Cabinet cards were at their peak or popularity in the 1880s. In the 1880s, the building in the background was no longer called the Academy. The Academy was built in 1851 and purchased by the school district in 1860. Thereafter the school was known as the Naperville Graded School and later still, Naper School.
I also noted that in the 1880s female teachers were generally not married, so I knew “Mrs.” Stark most likely was incorrect. I found a note on the back of the image, “Naper Academy Mrs. Stark 2nd row 6th from left.” Counting from the top or from the bottom row, I discovered a boy at the top and a young girl at the bottom – but not the teacher. Maybe the teacher was the well-known and loved, Irene “Starkie” Stark? Irene never married and would be a “miss” not a “Mrs.” Additionally she was born in 1901 and could not have been pictured in the 1880s cabinet card.
Now what to do???
Enter Hannah Ditzler Alspaugh
It was then my supposition that the young girl in the 2nd row from the bottom and 6th from the left was the future “Mrs. Stark.” Looking in to the Stark Family Files I discovered 7 potential Stark boys and their wives. I used the maiden names of four identified girls to consult Hannah Ditzler Alspaugh’s school scrapbooks which outline the history of the Naper Academy – later Naper School from 1850 – 1913. Within each book is a listing of principals, teachers, and students. Knowing that the cabinet card was from the 1880s led me to search the 1880s lists for the names of the future Stark brides among the student listings. I would also note the names of the instructors in the 1880s. On page 137, I found a listing of the students in Miss Carrie Dahlem’s class, Fall Term 1885. Linnie Wagner is one of the students who later married Eli Stark, also a famous Naperville photographer.
I compared the image of the teacher in the group photo with an identified image we have in our collection of Miss Dahlem. They are the same! But, this story is a tragic one.
Hannah writes, “March 3, 1891 The scholars of the 5th Room went home this morning, so I guess Miss Dahlem is sick. In the afternoon I called at Dahlem’s, and found Carrie sick in bed. She said she wished I would take her room.”
A March 6 newspaper clipping pasted into the scrapbooks reads, “Miss Carrie Dahlem . . . owing to poor health, was compelled to give up teaching this week. Her constitution, by over taxation of work in the schoolroom, in addition to other causes have heavily worn upon her of late and the doctor says she must take the lay-off in justice to herself.”
On April 13 Hannah wrote, “The lady teachers sent flowers to Miss Dahlem.” And on April 23, “My scholars got a lovely basket of fruit for Miss Dahlem, their former teacher, and asked me to take it to her. She wept for she appreciated the gift so much.”
On Saturday, June 13 Hannah wrote, “Early this morning the bell tolled 35 strokes, and we knew it was for the death of Carrie Dahlem. Now a faithful teacher is gone.”
Obituaries in both English and German were attached to the pages. Hannah carefully recorded what the teachers and pupils did following the death of Miss Dahlem. This description includes ordering flowers, making memorial ribbons for the pupils and teachers to wear, as well as the purchase of black and white fabric to drape the desk and doorways of Miss Dahlem’s former classroom.
On Monday, June 15 the students were, “quiet and thoughtful and each one had something good to tell about Miss Dahlem. . . at 10:30AM the whole school went to the Dahlem home and passed through the house to view the remains. The funeral proper was in the afternoon in Grace Church . . . with our scholars we marched to the [Naperville] cemetery, and everyone carried flowers, which were deposited on the casket in the grave. Her birthday was on February 27 and that was the last day she was in the schoolroom.” Carrie was just 35 years old.
To all our teachers past and present, we thank you for your dedication, creativity and service to our community.