With great gratitude to the late Mary Rackliff Etter and her family, who entrusted her historical collection to the MVHS, I am pleased to share a humble little autograph book i found buried away, moldy and falling apart, in the depths of some heavy and confused box full of all manner of paperwork.
As i perused this tiny volume, one of the questions persistent in my mind was how it could be that in one and a quarter centuries, childhood friendships could go from being remembered like this… to the kinds of rhymes and raps you might see in a youngster’s autographed yearbook nowadays.
I am just grateful to be able to feel the warmth of those people (often lifelong friends, if not family, of Allie’s) all these years later; and i hope some of that feeling is transmitted to you when you see and read these pages.
The book was from Mary Clark Rackliff to her daughter, Alice (Allie) Rackliff, who grew up to marry Mr. Kistner and move to Ferndale. Allie, who was Mary Rackliff Etter’s aunt, was born in 1880.
Opening page: “Miss Allie Rackliff, A Christmas present from Mamma. Petrolia. Humboldt Co. California. Dec. 25, 1888.”
“To Allie. May he who clothes the lilies And marks the sparrow’s fall, Protect and save you, Allie, And guide you safe through all. Your Sister, Jennie M. Rackliff. Petrolia, Jan. 23, 1889.” Jennie was Allie’s elder sister, ten years old when she wrote this.
“To Allie. May Future, with her kindest smile, Wreathe laurels for thy brow; May loving angels guard and keep thee Ever pure as though art now. Sincerely, Emma Giacomini. Petrolia, June 20th, 1890.”
“Dear Allie: Perhaps at some time we must part, and oh! ’tis with an earnest heart That I ask thee, while in glee Or in sorrow, to ‘Remember me.’ From your cousin, Addie Johnston. March 30th, 1889.” Addie was the daughter of Sarah Clark, sister of Mary Clark Rackliff and wife of Charles A. Johnston. Sarah died young, and Addie and brother William were adopted by their aunt Cavy Johnston Miner.
“To Allie– May your life be blest; With the joys thou lovest best; Is the wish of your teacher; G.A. Cummings. Petrolia, May 26, 1889.” George was Miss Katie Cummings’ father and was one of two teachers at the Petrolia School, located on the spot where the Yellow Rose sits today.
Here’s another angle: a picture of Allie’s schoolmates, with her sitting right near the middle, to our left of the one girl wearing white in the middle of the photograph. With her hair pulled back, she looks a bit like a little boy. Her sister and several others who sign her book are also in this picture, which many of you have seen in the Petrolia Pioneer Cemetery Guide.
1890 student body with teacher George Swain, Petrolia (Mattole Union) School.
Front row, l-r (9 boys): Tommy McDonough, Alvin Johnston, Ben Walch, Jesse King, Charlie Boots, Jim Hunter, Fred Crippen, Frank Wright, Malcolm Cady.
2nd row (10 girls & 2 boys): Alta Dudley, Sarah Johnston, Nora Mackey, Mertie Cady, Della Walch, Allie Rackliff, Lena O’Leary, Daisy O’Leary, Jennie Rackliff, Addie Giacomini, Jim Newland, Arthur Lindley.
3rd row (6 girls & 3 boys): (starts with the girl with round white collar and distinct center hair part) Mary Burris, Nettie Boots, Carrie Giacomini, Joanna Walch, Addie Johnston, Louise Walch, Ellis Hunter, Morgan Wright, Gilbert Crippen.
Back row (after Mr. George Swain, 3 girls & 8 boys): Christa Dudley, Mary Smith, Grace O’Leary, Arthur O’Leary, Albert Boots, William Johnston, Smith Dudley, John O’Leary, John Giacomini, Tom Newland, Joe Mackey.
So, next up in the autograph book, we find teacher Mr. Swain.
” ‘He liveth long who liveth well: All else is life but flung away. He liveth longest who can tell Of true things truly done each day. Then fill each day with what will last; Buy up the moments as they go; The life above when this is past Is the ripe fruit of life below.’ You are now learning the lessons of school; the lessons of life may prove harder, but patience, courage, and perseverance will solve both. Your friend, Geo. R. Swain, Lake Village, N.H. Petrolia, Cal., Apr. 19, ’90.”
“May your joys be as deep as the ocean. And your sorrows as light as the foam. From your Brother, Clark Rackliff. Sep. 19 1892.” Charles Clark Rackliff, father of Mary Rackliff Etter, was born in 1882.
“Cousin Allie, May he, who clothes the lilies And marks the sparrow’s fall, Protect and save you, Allie, and guide you safe through all. Wm. Johnston. Petrolia, Cal., March, 19, 1890.” Yes, he wrote just what his cousin Jennie wrote to her sister!
“Dear Allie, When rocks and rills divide us, And me no more you see, Just take your pen and paper, and write a few lines to me. Your friend, Lou Meng. Ferndale, June 9th, 1891.” The words “truth,” “faith,” “Love,” and maybe “Pray” fill the four corners of the page.
“Dear Allie–Love for those who love you For those whose hearts are true For the Heaven that smiles above you. And the good that you may do. Your Friend, Emma Edmonston. Island, July 16, 89.” (Island meant that area southwest of Fernbridge that used to bounded by the Eel and the Salt River.)
“The virtues of modesty candor and truth In woman exceeds all the beauty of youth. Your friend Joseph Collins. July 29th, 1889” Mr. Collins was a bachelor, born in England, 47 years old at the time of this writing.
“Let not our friendship be like the rose to sever. But like the evergreen may it last forever. Your Loving Friend, Joanna E. Walch. July 21, 1889.”
“In the golden chain of friendship Regard me as a link. From a friend, Clara Miner. June 10th, 1891 Ferndale.”
“May you walk the path of duty, Whether strewn with thorns or flowers. Till you reach the land of beauty, Where there are no storms or showers. From your sincere friend, Grace O’Leary. Petrolia, Cal., April 9, 1890.”
“Dear Allie, May your cares all fly away, Like dew before the sun, And when you’ve nothing else to [do], Just think of me for fun. Your friend and Schoolmate Nettie Boots. Petrolia, April 21st 1890.” Nettie was the daughter of Flora Hadley and Martin Boots, and first cousin of Jim Boots. She grew up to marry Peter Hansen; their daughter was Hattie Hansen Titus, the lady who befriended the Coast Guardsmen in the 1940s.
“Dear Allie, May your path be strewn through life with roses. Your Sincere Friend, Stella Benjamin. Ferndale Cal. June 7th 1891.”
Although the public school was obviously not a Christian school per se, you can certainly see that the Rackliffs and their close friends and relatives were strongly influenced by the teachings of the Bible. But not all the entries are that way:
“Dear Allie, As sure as comes your wedding day, A broom to you I’ll send; In sunshine use the brushy part, In storms the other end. Your friend, Louise Walch. May 30, 1889.”
But let’s end this on a more sublime note. These lines were penned a hundred and twenty-four years ago:
“Dear Allie–When the name that I write here is dim on the page, And the leaves of your Album are yellow with age, Still think of me kindly, and do not forget, That where I am I remember you yet. Your friend Jennie Atkinson. June 10th 1891, Ferndale Cal.”