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Looking Beyond the Photos in High School Yearbooks

Blog by Rod Spaw

“On January 27, the basketball girls won the first trophy which Unionville ever possessed. They accomplished this feat by defeating both the Gosport girls and the referees. …” Or so declared the Unionville High School yearbook of 1934.

As much a part of adolescence as roller rinks and puppy love, the high school yearbook is a snapshot of our younger selves at a moment of transition to adulthood. They preserve our memories in candid photographs of pep rallies and class picnics and elicit smiles as we read the snarky class prophecies, bequeaths to underclassmen or cringe-worthy jokes that we once thought were so terribly clever.

But who remembers the advertisements, the arm-twisting solicitation of good will from local businesses that paid for it all?  Probably not as many people as who know the difference between a Jordannus and a Llamarada. Yet, the advertisements also provide a snapshot of our forgotten once upon a time.

Where was the Roll-O-Rama? How about the Dutch Door restaurant, which claimed to have “the best hamburgers ever”? What sort of vehicles were sold at Noble King Motor Sales? Which Full-O-Pep store sold appliances and which Full-O-Pep store sold auto parts and accessories? What clothing store was on the opposite side of the courthouse square from Bloomington Paint and Wallpaper in 1950? Did Bloomington ever have a Frisch’s Big Boy? What was a Skibbo? The yearbooks know (see answers below).

The Monroe County History Center genealogy library has logged nearly 13,000 advertising entries from yearbooks of nine Monroe County high schools. Besides the three high schools of today (Bloomington High School North and South and Edgewood), the index of yearbook advertisements also captures commercial messages placed in yearbooks for the original Bloomington high school, as well as former high schools for Stinesville, Unionville, University, Ellettsville and Smithville. Also represented is one yearbook from the Bloomington Hospital Nursing School (1928).

It is an extensive database, but admittedly not a complete one. Not all years of all high school yearbooks are included, reflecting missing years in the history center’s collection. In addition, advertisements for businesses outside of Monroe County were not included. Gosport businesses did advertise in yearbooks for Ellettsville and Stinesville, as Morgan County and Brown County businesses did in Unionville’s annual. Even Stinesville could count on a few Bedford businesses to support their yearbook. While perhaps reflective of the geographic area of each school’s universe, only businesses with Monroe County addresses were entered into the database.

The advertisements reflect changes in local commerce over the decades. Feed stores, farm implement sales and other businesses catering to agriculture were commonly advertised at one time, especially in the yearbooks of rural high schools such as Stinesville and Smithville.

National chains largely were absent from the pages, although Penney’s department store in Bloomington regularly made an appearance. More often, restaurants and small businesses were known by their local owners’ names– Ella’s Ladies’ Shop; Sharpie’s Restaurant; Young’s Market; Jerry’s Leather Repair; Pete’s Marathon Service; Dave Church watchmaker, Some of the advertisements seem incongruous now, such as yearbook ads for the Monroe County Tobacco Co. or the many ads placed by funeral homes. One advertiser clearly was thinking ahead: Bloomcraft Press Inc. advertised in the 1957 Unionville yearbook as the place to get “your wedding announcements” at a time

Answers to questions in paragraphs 3 and 4 (in order):
1. Jordannus was the yearbook of University High School; Llamarada (“sudden blaze” or “flare-up” in Spanish) was the yearbook of Ellettsville High School.
2. Roll-O-Rama was on west Allen Street.
3. The Dutch Door restaurant was at 1401 N. College Ave.

4. Noble King Motor Sales sold Rambler, Nash and Hudson automobiles.5. Full-O-Pep at 222 W. Second St. sold appliances; Full-O-Pep at 424 S. College Ave. sold auto parts and accessories.
6. Longtime Bloomington clothing store Kahn’s was on the south side of the courthouse square in 1950, while Bloomington Paint and Hardware was on the north side.
7. Bloomington once had a Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant at 1800 N. College Ave.
8. A Skibbo was the mascot of Smithville High School. It was a penguin-like bird.