Recently I helped a friend track down an article of vintage clothing he was looking for, I found it in a reproduction but it was perfect. In case you were curious it’s the Apollo sweater that Danny from the Shining wears. He said I was awesome, which I totally am. But I explained to him there are two things I’m really good at research and vintage clothing. This might be why I’m good at what I do. I don’t know when the research thing started. I’ve always been a huge mystery fan especially historical mysteries. When I was little I would write mysteries with a Cat as the detective. This is the story of one of my favorite and nerdiest research moments. Because it was all in my spare time and just for fun. It’s the story of Anna C. Spahn.
I grew up next to a cemetery. They have never wigged me out at all. I always kind of loved them. Not that I have ever been the creepy girl that hangs out in one, but I like the monuments. I wonder about the people buried in them. That’s how this research project came along. The above photo is a monument in the cemetery next to my house. Her name was Anna C. Spahn. Creepy name no?
As you can see this is an impressive monument. She was obviously a teenager when she passed away and her family clearly had money. The reason I started doing research on her was simply curiosity and time to kill.
It was my freshmen year at Columbia College. As a freshmen I didn’t yet grasp the “get your classes as close together as possible, so you don’t have to hang out downtown or travel downtown from the northside every day.” I learned that Sophomore year. I had about a two and a half hour break between classes on Monday and Wednesday. Some days I would wonder down to Marshall Field’s and look at clothing. That ended up being trouble for my bank account. So I started going to the Harold Washington Library. While there I would play with the Microfiche. I liked to look up the old newspapers about Al Capone and the Leopold and Loeb murder case/trial. Did I mention I’m slightly morbid at times too? Maybe it has to do with growing up next to a cemetery. I digress.
As you can see there is a death date on her monument. No birth date. This is what put me into curiosity mode. I wanted to know how old she was, I wanted to see if I could find out anything about her, and as I said I had time to kill. So to the Library I went. I started out by finding the newspapers from the week of her death. I thought there would be a death announcement, again the family had money so it was just logical. I did find a death announcement! But sigh the mystery continued on because there was still no birth date and no mention of how old she had been. The wake was public and held at Holy Name in Chicago.
The family bought a plot but she was the only one buried there. After the lack of information from the newspaper. I decided to go all out. I went up to the librarian and asked her how to read the 1920 census. She looked at me like I was a little nuts. She asked if it was for a project, I told her no just for fun. Again she looked a little perplexed. I was 19, probably didn’t look like your average research nerd, with my pink and purple hair, and sex pistols t-shirt. But I learned how to read the 1920 census. It’s on Microfiche if you ever want to go check it out but be warned its written in the really tiny cursive from the turn of the century that’s almost impossible to read. Luckily it is alphabetical and divided up so it’s only a few letters together at time. In other words you don’t have to spend six years going through everyone. So I sat and scrolled through not sure how many Spahns there would be. Eureka! Success! There was only one in the Chicago area. Better yet there was one with a daughter named Anna! I finally got the information I was after, it was thrilling, satisfying, and just fun.
So here it is Anna C. Spahn was 17 when she died. Cause of death still unknown. But she was the daughter of a second marriage. Her mother was 40 when she had her. Which for that time period was very odd. She had two half brothers. One who was a detective for the Chicago PD. Her father owned a furniture store at Diversey and Halstead. She was living a few blocks away off of Diversey. That’s what I found out. I found it pretty interesting. But I am a nerd. I ended up doing my production two film about her. I was pretty satisfied with the information I found out, of course I would love to know more especially about her half brother that was a detective. That will probably be the next research project.
Dealing in vintage clothing there are a lot of stories behind the clothes and I love hearing them. I also love discovering labels and doing the research on that. In other words if you every need help finding out something I’m your girl!
As always apologies for my bad grammar. It’s not my strong point. Check out the new items in the etsy shop!