I’ve been inspired by the latest triad of Sherlock Holmes programs on PBS–I find myself trying to analyze my fellow Metra passengers on my morning commute, and even myself (picks cuticles; either bored or nervous, not sure which…).  Last weekend, my family met up for an “attic cleanup” day at my aunt’s house.  I love attics, especially ones that I get to explore.  I excitedly donned a head lamp for the weekend’s activities.

This wasn’t pulled out of the attic, but it has been fun to try to solve this little (very little) mystery:
Here’s a photo of my grandma Ruth Golland’s sister, Mildred M. Koehler.  Mildred died on September 2, 1926 of causes unknown to me.  I could request a death certificate through the state of Illinois, but I haven’t gone that far yet.  I found a copy of the “Saint Benedict Messenger” from 1926, which was likely saved because Mildred’s death was noted on the back page (see upper right of the image below), and apparently she was nine when she died, making her birth year 1916 or 1917.I promised a very tiny mystery, so here it is:  This box with embroidered pillow contained a handwritten sympathy note from a “Sister Seraphica” about Mildred’s death.  Though the note was found in the box with the pillow, does it mean the pillow was made by the Sister as a sympathy gift?

Sister Seraphica’s letter

Heart box and pillow

Heart box lid

Based on the “evidence” pictured above, I don’t think that the embroidered pillow was made by the Sister; it was likely made by Mildred herself.  Here are some observations:

  • The letter has two horizontal creases, which would be expected if it was mailed in an envelope.  After it was folded in this manner, it was folded in half so it would fit into the heart-shaped box, but this is not a hard crease, which means it was probably folded later and put into the box.
  • The letter is dated 9/2/1926, the day of Mildred’s death according to the Illinois death index online.  Apparently, Sister Seraphica was in touch with the family in Chicago, where Mildred died, rather soon after her death if she was able to write a letter the same day.  Unless she was sewing the pillow in advance, it would have been a rather slap-dash effort on her part to sew it the day of Mildred’s death.
  • The letter doesn’t mention anything about the pillow.  If I send someone a gift and letter, I usually reference the gift in my writing.
  • If it isn’t obvious from the photo, the pillow is definitely crudely fashioned.  The sewing is uneven, the seams are unfinished, and the material looks like it came from scraps of whatever was available.  Though it is possible that Sister Seraphica had no clue about the use of needle and thread, I would venture to guess that she was a better seamstress than the creator of the pillow.  If the Sister was writing to a nephew, she must have been at least in her 30s, which would mean she grew up at a time when most girls were taught to sew.
  • The pillow fits very nicely into the box–so nicely, that I would guess that the box base was used as a pattern.
  • Hmm…a heart-shaped box, probably a candy box, used as a pattern for a crudely-made pillow…sounds like a kids craft project to me.  I plan plenty of them at work, so I think I have some expertise in this department.

My hypothesis?  The pillow was made by Mildred, perhaps at a time when she was bedridden, or at least sick at home, and after her death, her parents saved her handiwork and the related letter as a remembrance of their daughter.

Ah, that was fun.  Would Sherlock be proud?

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