Leslie Casbon, Valparaiso High School Class of 1914

Getting distracted by “bright shiny objects” or BSOs is generally considered a bad habit in genealogy research. Such distractions can interrupt an organized plan of research, wasting valuable time and resulting in a disorganized mess of unrelated facts. While I generally agree with this view, I think a case can be made that pursuing BSOs can occasionally lead to serendipitous (there’s that word again!) discoveries and open up new lines of inquiry.

At least that’s my justification for today’s post. While looking through my archives for an unrelated item, I came upon my paternal grandfather’s high school yearbook, the Valparaiso (Indiana) High School Annual of 1914, the year he graduated.

Grandpa’s yearbook (Click on image to enlarge)

Browsing through his yearbook gave me a glimpse of life in Valparaiso at the time and a few tantalizing hints into my grandfather’s life as he was emerging into adulthood.

I haven’t really written about my grandfather or his generation, so I’ll briefly put him into context. Leslie Christy Casbon was born December 24, 1894 in Porter County, Indiana.[1] He was the eldest son of Lawrence (1865–1950) and Kate (Marquardt, 1868–1959) Casbon. Lawrence was the eldest son of Sylvester V (1837–1927) and Mary Adaline (Aylesworth, 1842–1868) Casbon; and Sylvester was the eldest son of Thomas (1803–1888) and Emma (Scruby, 1811–1870) Casbon, who emigrated from England first to Ohio in 1846, and then to Indiana in the 1860s. Thus, Leslie was in the fourth generation of Casbons living in Indiana.

Here is his class photograph and entry in the 1914 yearbook.[2]

(Click on image to enlarge)

Of the 30 graduating seniors, his written entry was among the shortest (the shortest was for a girl: “She had her troubles but she kept them to herself and was a ray of sunshine to all”). From this description I’m led to believe that he wasn’t the most outgoing member of the class, but neither was he considered an outsider, and he seems to have been appreciated by his classmates.

The yearbook has a section called “Class Will,” in which members of the class make humorous bequests to underclassman. Here is the section containing Grandpa Les’

I had to puzzle out what this meant. I finally figured out that he’s saying he is able to walk down the stairs without engaging in conversation with Gail, and he’s bequeathing that ability to Howard. Does this mean that everyone else does talk to Gail Fehrman? Or is he making a jab at Howard, who perhaps can’t resist talking to Gail? I couldn’t find out anything more about Gail other than she had notable dimples. Howard seems to have been a class cutup. At any rate, it reinforces my thought that young Les took pride in his self-control.

The only other mention of Les in the yearbook is in a section titled “Calendar,” in which daily events throughout the school year are described.[4]

Overall, Grandpa Les comes across as good-natured and generous, at least with his father’s horses and maybe a wagon too. It seems like there was a good sense of camaraderie among his classmates – a good thing with only 30 students in the class.

Unlike modern school yearbooks, this one seems to have been produced solely by the graduating class, with only a few contributions from underclassmen. The lower classes each have a page or two and a group photo, but class members are not listed by name. Many of the graduating seniors wrote sections of the yearbook. Les’ contribution was a description of the Manual Training Department. His concluding paragraph reads:

The Manual Training Department is a very important part of a school and should be installed in all high schools, for it not only affords a change in work during the day for the regular day pupil, but it gives him a training with tools. Since most men work with some kind of tools, it is a great advantage for a pupil to get his training while young.

The high school he attended was built in about 1904, so it was still a fairly new structure when Les attended.[5]

Postcards showing the Valparaiso High School (also known as Central School) in 1913; the building was located at 305 Franklin Street; this building burned down in 1938, but a new school was built, on the same foundation (as seen on Google Street View™), and now houses the Central Elementary
School;[6] I like the street car going down Franklin Street. (Click on images to enlarge)
As I was leafing through the yearbook I had another surprise. From out of the pages slipped a program for the commencement ceremony, held on May 19, 1914, in the Opera House.

Cover and insert for 1914 Valparaiso High School commencement ceremony; author’s collection (Click on image to enlarge)

From this program, we learn that students could be enrolled in either a “Latin” or a “Scientific” course of study. Grandpa Les was enrolled in the latter. Although not described in detail in the yearbook, the Latin course, as the name implies, included in-depth study of the Latin language, grammar and literature throughout all four years of high school. The Scientific Course included a variety of science topics and allowed for Agriculture to be substituted for these classes in the second term of each year. The description also includes this interesting statement:

The boys in the scientific course are no longer compelled to take Manual Training and the girls are not compelled to take Domestic Art or Domestic Science, but any student, even in the Latin course, wishing to take this work may do so.… The girls are interested in Manual Training and the boys as well as the girls are learning how to cook.”[7]

What progressive thinking for the times!

As I mentioned, there were 30 students in the graduating class. The yearbook also listed 46 “ex-members of the class of 1914.” Compulsory education was only required up to age fourteen in Indiana at that time.[8] My grandfather was among the roughly 40 percent of his original classmates who completed their high school education.

It’s pretty impressive to me that he (and his two younger brothers, by the way) completed high school. He might have been the first Casbon to do so. The family was living on their farm in Morgan Township, about four miles from the school by road. How did he get there every day? How did he manage schoolwork in addition to the farm chores? I imagine most of his classmates were “city kids” who didn’t need to travel as far and could participate in extracurricular activities more easily.

For those interested, a nearly complete set of the Valparaiso High School yearbooks (known as The Valenian since 1917) from 1904–2012 has been digitized and is available for viewing on the Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/valparaisohighschoolyearbooks&tab=collection.

[1] Indiana, delayed birth certificate no. 113-94-504260 (1954), Leslie Christy Casbon; Indiana State Board of Health, Division of Vital Records, Indianapolis.
[2] Valparaiso (Indiana) High School, Class of 1914, Annual (Privately printed, 1914), unnumbered p. 11 (beginning with title page).
[3] Valparaiso High School, Class of 1914, Annual, unnumbered p. 34.
[4] Valparaiso High School, Class of 1914, Annual, unnumbered p. 58.
[5] Steven Shook, “Historical Images of Porter County: High School Building Valparaiso, Indiana,” Porter County, Indiana (http://www.inportercounty.org/PhotoPages/Valparaiso/Schools/Valparaiso-Schools003.html : accessed 23 January 2018).
[6] Shook, “Historical Images of Porter County: High School Building Valparaiso, Indiana.”
[7] Valparaiso High School, Class of 1914, Annual, unnumbered p. 19.
[8] Frank A Horner, compiler, The Revised Statutes of the State of Indiana: Embracing All General Laws in Force October 1, 1901, with Digested Notes of Judicial Decisions Construing Or Illustrating Their Provisions, Vol. 1 (Rochester, N.Y.: The Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Company, 1901), chapter 52, “Education,” section 4541a; online image, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=aUkwAQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false : accessed 23 January 2018).

4 thoughts on “Leslie Casbon, Valparaiso High School Class of 1914”

  1. I enjoyed this post immensely! The voices of the students in the yearbook seemed to just bring the town to life. (And I concur with your first paragraph 100%.)

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