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home : news : news Tuesday, May 24, 2016

2/5/2014 Email this articlePrint this article 
Historical society gets gift of vintage Valentines

By Kate Howes
Staff writer

Today's Valentine's Day cards can range from being heartfelt to humorous, and romantic to rather raunchy.

But nothing seems to compare to the sweet sentiments expressed in cards exchanged more than a century ago.

Bill Homrighausen, also known as "Mr. DeWitt," happened to come across an entire collection of old-fashioned Valentine's Day cards in his attic dating back as far as1902.

He decided what better way to preserve and share them than to donate them to the Central Community Historical Society in downtown DeWitt.

Historical society director Ann Soenksen says she couldn't agree more and is delighted to include the cards in the museum's ever-expanding Valentine's Day display.

"They're absolutely wonderful," Soenksen says.

Homrighausen, who has been living in his DeWitt home for about 30 years, says he wasn't even aware his mother, Mary Emily Duke Homrighausen, had saved the Valentine's Day cards, all of which had been given to her three sisters, Melinda, Ora and Lilly.

"They had never been disturbed for years and years," he says with a smile. "I happened to come across them and thought, 'I really hit the jackpot.'"

Homrighausen says given how old they are, he can't elaborate much on the cards; however, his mother was a sentimental soul who didn't simply toss things in the trash when they got old.

In fact, she had a tendency to hold onto anything that held any personal or emotional value - a family trait Homrighausen says he undoubtedly inherited.

A lot of the cards come with the original envelopes, all of which are in mint condition. Soenksen says that is amazing, considering how extremely delicate they are.

Each one is ornate, rich in color and beautifully detailed with hand-painted pictures and small pieces of red tissue paper pressed into flowers.

One of the Valentines reads:

"Pretty one!

I hope you know,

This is from

Your little beau."

According to an article published in the Sunday, Feb. 9, 1958, issue of the Democrat-Times, now known as the Quad-City Times, the very first paper Valentines appeared around 1400.

Sometimes the cards were dropped on young ladies' doorsteps by "bashful admirers who knocked and promptly skipped away."

In the 1600s, girls went to sleep on St. Valentine's Day with hard-boiled eggs under their pillows. The superstition was their "dream men" would appear that night and eventually become their husbands.

Valentines of the early 1900s were taken quite seriously. Bewildered males would spend days preparing ornamental cards with love birds, cut-out hearts and pressed flowers framed with lace.

Often times, the cards were considered a genuine proposal of marriage containing verses such as:

"This world would be dark without thee,

The days would be dreary and long,

For thou hast the charm about thee,

To give me sweet sunshine and song."

Soenksen says she always encourages people whose loved ones have died to sort carefully through their mementos before just throwing everything into the trash.

After all, much like Homrighausen, one never knows when he or she might come across an unexpected treasure that can give people a glimpse into the traditions and values of yesteryear.

"They're just beautiful," Soenksen says as she looks at the cards. "They really are. We're happy to have them."

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