KINGSTON TWP. — Nikki LaVenda has an idea what Valentine Day’s looked like more than 100 years ago.
She has the cards to prove it — along with some old Christmas cards and late 1800s dance invitations passed down to her from her grandmother’s sister.
LaVenda has a scrapbook full of the old cards, whose paper backings are brown and withering with age. The thin paper on some is beginning to crumble and the cards are delicate, so she has them in plastic sleeves to try to preserve what’s left of the intricate and lace-like designs. When she pulls one out, she handles it with care.
“Years ago when I first got them, they used to stand up,” said LaVenda.
LaVenda’s mother gave her the cards and invitations. One of the valentines is from 1903, according to a note from “Aunt Lena” on the paper backing, and the others seem at least as old.
“I was born in ‘38,” LaVenda said. “These are prior to ‘38.”
The Christmas dance invitations date back to 1894.
The valentines feature colorful drawings of cupids, angels and children or scenic outdoor scenes. A number of the girls depicted are wearing bonnets. In one, a girl wearing a large bonnet and dress and a boy dressed in a straw hat with ribbon, sailor suit with shorts, white socks and shoes, are holding addressed valentine envelopes behind them as they stare at a mailbox, possibly contemplating whether to send them.
On many of the cards, the lace-like designs include flaps that open, revealing a picture inside.
“I try not to open them,” LaVenda said, worried about them falling apart.
The 1894 dance invitations include a Christmas dance sponsored by The Merry Social Club held at the 9th Regiment National Guard Armory in Wilkes-Barre and one for the 4th Annual Ball of Entertainment at the Phil Sheridan Castle A.O.K. of M.C., also in Wilkes-Barre.
According to local historian and Times Leader columnist Tom Mooney, the Ninth Regiment Armory was a magnificent building on South Main Street, halfway down the west side of the block that now begins with Dollar General and runs down to Abe’s Hot Dogs.
“From its opening in 1886, the armory was a venue not just for military training but for big social events as well,” Mooney said. “When the 9th Infantry morphed into the 109th Field Artillery and built a new armory on the West Side, the old armory became a private enterprise that housed a skating rink as well as boxing and wrestling shows. It was torn down in the 1970s when that whole section of town was redeveloped.”
Mooney said he found an old reference to the Merry Social Club having been formed by “the young men of Georgetown” in 1891.
He said the A.O.K. M.C. is an acronym for a once-huge national club known as the Ancient Order of the Knights of the Mystic Chain.
“Chapters were known as ‘castles’ to keep up the mythology,” Mooney said. “The group was so popular in Wyoming Valley in the 1800s that there were four separate groups of ‘knights’ meeting around the Public Square area alone. Kingston had a couple more chapters. I suspect that the ‘castle’ would have been downtown.”
He noted it was common in the post-Civil War era to name chapters of clubs after U.S. Army generals, one of whom was Phil Sheridan.
LaVenda estimated she’s had the invitations and cards for about 50 years, after her mother gave them to her. They came from Wilhelmina Keller, who was known as “Minny,” sister of LaVenda’s grandmother Dominica Keller Oldziejewski.
“When my aunt died she had no children and my mother took them,” LaVenda said.
She said her own children are not interested in the cards, so she’d like to sell them, as well as exhibit them at the library or historical society.