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My Reconstructed Life: To Be Young And Rich In Bedford, 1908

The view through Mary Lemon's eyes is a privileged perspective of Bedford in its heyday, a time when it was known as the Limestone Capital of the World.

  • The front page of Mary Lemon

    Image 1 of 5

    Photo: courtesy, Lawrence County Museum

    The front page of Mary Lemon's journal.

  • Ford, Edison

    Image 2 of 5

    Photo: courtesy Allyson Darroch (Mary Lemon

    A photo from the July 29, 1929 edition of the Indianapolis Star pictures Henry Ford and Thomas A. Edison holding Mary Lemon's third child (Charles M Darrow), niece, and nephew, along with Arthur E. Bester (left), president of the Chautauqua institution, and Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of the New York Times, at Chautauqua, New York.

  • 1910 Banner

    Image 3 of 5

    Photo: courtesy Lawrence County Museum

    The 1910 Bedford High School class banner is described at length in Mary Lemon's diary.

  • Lemon House

    Image 4 of 5

    Photo: courtesy Lawrence County Museum

    Mary Lemon's turreted childhood home was located at the southeast corner of 15th and M Streets house at 1226 15th St. in Bedford. This photo was taken in 1914, in celebration of Bedford's first motorized fire truck.

  • Monon Dept

    Image 5 of 5

    Photo: courtesy Lawrence County Museum

    The Monon Railway Depot in Bedford.

Event Information

Through the Eyes of a Teenager: 1908

An exhibition based on the 1908 diary of a 14-year-old Bedford girl named Mary Lemon.

Lawrence County Museum, 929 15th Street, Bedford, IN 47421

Tuesday-Friday, 9 am-4 pm; Saturday, 9 am-3 pm, through September 27, 2011

The Lawrence County Museum has found a way to make the objects in its collection come to life.

No, there’s no poltergeist afoot, and this isn’t a Halloween story. But the discovery of a hundred-year-old document in a place far from Bedford, Indiana has brought vintage photographs and faded artifacts out of the museum’s vaults and into an arrangement that reanimates the year 1908 for 21st century visitors.

A Serendipitous Start

The exhibition Through the Eyes of a Teenager: 1908 germinated from a phone call. Rowena Cross-Najafi, president of the Lawrence County Historical and Genealogical Society, was contacted by Jan Davis, a realtor in California.

“She said that she had found this diary in the garage of a house foreclosed on in San Diego,” explains Cross-Najafi. “The resident of the house had already moved on, and this stuff was still in the garage. Unlike a lot of people, who would have thrown it out on the curb, she looked through it and found out what it was.”

On the diary’s front page, the California realtor had found the name Mary Lemon beside an address on 15th Street in Bedford.Immediately after the call, we were out looking for the house,” Cross-Najafi recalls.

That the historian was this excited about a house mentioned in a diary she’d never laid eyes on should indicate just how significant a historical document she thought the diary might be.  A few days later, it arrived in the mail. “We stood around it and just gaped,” Cross-Najafi remembers. “First of all, the girl had beautiful handwriting.  And there were so many names named.”

These Are The Good Old Days

The daughter of an affluent mill-owner, Mary Lemon was fourteen when she began writing in the diary she received for Christmas in 1907.  A positive, outgoing teenager, Mary chose to chronicle activities with friends and current events over looking inward.

“Because she was so much a product of her time,” Cross-Najafi reflects, “so involved in it and so observant of it, that enabled us to experience that time through her eyes.”

The view through Mary’s eyes is a privileged perspective of Bedford in its heyday, a time when it was known primarily as the limestone capital of the world. To reconstruct that epoch, gallery coordinator Becky Buher picked out names, addresses, pastimes, and artifacts from the diary that could be represented by photographs and objects in the museum’s collection.

Miller’s Confectionery, the Monon Railway Depot, and two silent movie theaters, the Crystal and the Majestic, all crop up in Mary’s pages. All are represented here in maps and photographs.

The curators were elated to find an artifact Mary describes at length in the journal: Bedford High School’s 1910 class banner, flown from the flagpole by a group of juniors in contempt of school leadership, resulting in suspensions along with a great deal of teenage drama. The fact that the black and gold Art-Nouveau-style banner turned up in the collection of the Lawrence County Museum. It makes Mary’s world all the more real.

“This is the thing that she wrote about,” Cross-Najafi exclaims. “The exact thing!”

Bedford And Beyond

High school wasn’t all tomfoolery for Mary. The show also includes copies of The Comet, a monthly publication she helmed. After graduating, Mary went on to Denison College, and eventually to Vassar, where she took her bachelor’s degree in Medieval French.  Mary’s Vassar yearbook is also on view. It turned up, along with the diary, in that San Diego garage.

With the help of two of Mary’s granddaughters, who were living on the West Coast, Becky was able to piece together Mary’s life between Vassar and California.  After college, Mary married John Norman Darrow and the couple moved to New York City, where Darrow worked as a stockbroker. Ultimately, the Depression took its toll on the family’s fortunes. Darrow’s name turns up among the charter members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Just three months before the Great Crash, however, a photograph from the Indianapolis Star preserved the image of the good life Mary and her family had theretofore enjoyed. Lent to the exhibition by Mary’s granddaughter, the photo takes us back to a sunny afternoon in July 1929, in the summer resort of Chautauqua, New York. Mary’s son, nieces and nephews are nestled amongst captains of industry and technology: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Adolf Ochs, founder of the New York Times.

Through the Eyes of a Teenager: 1908 is the culmination of a series of remarkable feats: the discovery and rescue of an abandoned diary, its repatriation to conscientious stewards, and the reconstruction of a life interwoven with history—not only Bedford’s, but the nation’s as well.

Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

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  • priscilla marza

    I am mary’s grandaughter, priscilla. I wish to correct the name of the child in Heny Fords lap. It is my father, Charles M Darrow, Mary’s third child. I have an original photo as well as the original newspaper article which ran in the new york evening post 8/3/1929, “titled an interesting group at the chautauqua celebration”.

  • Veronika

    Apologies if this is duplicated…

    Hello Cousin Priscilla!! ~warm smile~

    Well…distant cousin. My genealogy software tells me you and I are 6th cousins (via the Darrows)
    Could you PLEASE contact me via heaters_siren at yahoo dot com

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