Montello Library has vintage Valentine display


Come to the Montello Library during the month of February to view the Valentines of Riverside School exhibit. All the Valentines are a part of the collection of cards connected to the rural, one room Riverside School students and teachers in the Township of Buffalo. (Photo by Kathleen McGwin)


Come to the Montello Library during the month of February to view the Valentines of Riverside School exhibit. All the Valentines are a part of the collection of cards connected to the rural, one room Riverside School students and teachers in the Township of Buffalo. The collection was donated to the Marquette County Historical Society by Kathleen McGwin in memory of her aunt Bessie McGwin Eggleston who attended Riverside School and who taught there in 1937-1939. They were found in Bessie’s attic where she’d saved them since childhood.

The oldest Valentine in the group is from 1913 and was given to Bessie by her grandfather Frank Markofske when she was just a baby. She was born on January 6 of that year.

The other cards at the library which are only a small number of the dozens of cards in the collection, were given to Bessie when she was a child and also when she was a teacher at Riverside. There are also cards to her brothers Lyle, Hugh and Howard that she kept. Names on the cards include many families still living in Marquette County.

The history of Valentine’s Day is not clear, but we do know about the legends that have been passed down about its beginnings. At least three saints of the Catholic Church are named Valentine or Valentinus. One legend has it that Valentine was a priest in Rome in the third century. When the Emperor Claudius outlawed marriage for his soldiers, believing that they served better as single men, Valentine continued to perform marriages for the young couples. The priest was put to death for his actions.

Another legend identifies Valentine as having helped Christians escape Roman prisons. Still another legend, and the one most often associated with our present day holiday, is that Valentine was a prisoner who sent a letter signed, Your Valentine, to the woman he loved. In the Middle Ages, St. Valentine was one of the most popular saints.

Why we celebrate Valentine’s Day in February is also not clear. Some believe it is when Valentine died, but others believe that it was chosen by the Catholic Church to replace a pagan festival called Lupercalia. This festival was the traditional “spring cleaning day” of ancient Rome when houses were cleaned, sprinkled with salt and spelt (wheat) and then moved on to a fertility festival February 15, the following day. February 14 was also the date when people in England and France believed birds began spring mating. This reinforced the idea of Valentine’s Day taking place in the middle of February.

The oldest Valentine in existence is in the British Library in London. It was written in 1415 by Charles, the Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was in the Tower of London after being captured in a battle.

The popularity of Valentine’s Day grew in about the 17th Century and by the next century it was common to exchange tokens of affection on that day. Printed cards entered the Valentine’s Day celebration by the end of the 18th century. Americans were exchanging Valentine’s greetings in the early 1700s and it was Esther Howland who began selling the first mass produced Valentine’s in the 1840s.

Don’t miss seeing the Riverside School Valentines at the Montello Library through February and stay tuned for how you may have a chance to win an elephant in the month of March.


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