Sister Donates Rare Attic Find to College to Celebrate Brother's Birthday
Ernestine Schram stands next to the front page of the 1865 front page of the New York Herald she discovered in the attic of her brother's Missouri home.
—Photo by Sherry Heflin
SHREVEPORT, La.—Imagine cleaning out an attic in a home that is almost 225 years old. Among the old boxes, spider webs and years worth of dust, you stumble across a tattered and yellowing newspaper. Upon closer inspection, you notice this isn't any newspaper, but one with historical significance. The date is April 15, 1865, and the headline that jumps off the page of the New York Herald is, "Important: Assassination of President Lincoln."
"I was goggle-eyed when I first looked at it," said Ernestine Schram of Shreveport. "I found it just stacked between some books and knew I had to do something with it."
So Ernestine did what any other loving sister would do...she donated the front-page article to Centenary College to mark the occasion of her older brother's 90th birthday.
Her brother, Bernard Schram, graduated from Centenary in 1939 with an English degree, and according to Ernestine, used his Centenary degree to launch a writing career that included stints with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, teaching and eventually, the creation of a public relations company.
"Bernard had polio since he was 10-months old but it didn't slow him down one bit," said Ernestine. "When the war started (World War II) he got a job with the USO, then the American Red Cross. He wasn't able to serve with his peers during the war, but he did become the Program Director for the USO and then had a great career with the Red Cross. So the disease really didn't slow him down."
After living in different parts of the world with his wife, Vion Papin, including Spain, Greece and Mexico, they returned to Ste. Genevieve, Mo., to his wife's family home and began the process of restoring the house.
The house, said Ernestine, had been in the family for more than 160 years. And it wasn't just any house. It was the home of Jean Baptiste Vallé, the last Spanish Commandant and American Governor of the Territory in Missouri. The home was built in 1785 and was owned by the Vallé family for more than 70 years, and had only been occupied by two other families since it was built. Vion Papin Schram's great-grandfather, Leon Papin, purchased the home in the mid 1860's which had remained in the family since that time. Bernard and his wife Vion had lived in the home for 36 years until 2002 when the house was put on the market.
Bernard is now is now residing in an assisted living home and the daunting task of going through and cleaning up the home fell to his sister, Ernestine. "Imagine the task of going through all the items stored in that house," she said. "But I found a lot of really interesting things, including old photographs of Vion's relatives posing with Chief Sitting Bull!"
It took several months to go through the house, said Ernestine. In a room called the "Coffin Room," because of its resemblance to a coffin for a very large man, she said, Ernestine found the article. "I took it to a local framer and had all the precautions done to it and knew that I had to donate it."
So why donate to the College? According to Ernestine, it was an easy decision. "My brother and his wife didn't have any children; I didn't have any; and neither did my sister," she said. "Bernard adored Centenary, and I thought it would be wonderful for a lot of people to be able to see this. Hopefully it will be meaningful for the students at Centenary to see this."
Bernard Schram, '39, will turn 90 on August 16.