Rediscovered Stories: Searching for the Calendar Girl

by Karen Veazey

When Roger Camp submitted his Calendar Girl photo we were all smitten by the untold story inside the image. Roger took the photo in an abandoned farmhouse he stopped by off a rural highway in New Sharon, Iowa. He found the torn and dusty image on the floor with a lovely shaft of light coming through a hole in the roof, highlighting the paper’s tears and curls, the model’s nautical scarf. That shadowed face caught my eye, with the line of darkest shading bisecting her cheek, grazing her lip and her eye in the same perfect angle of her chin. Those eyes! No matter how much I explored the rest of the photo looking for clues about where this image came from, I kept—almost uncomfortably—having to return to her eyes.

As Roger had no idea where the page came from, we (the editors) decided to do a little digging to at least pinpoint an era and see if this was a recognizable woman. As a researcher at heart, I gladly jumped in.

First, I wondered if it was a calendar at all because of the apparent thickness of the paper and the absence of a hole in the top to hang it. The hanging device attached—the black bar across the top of the image, which would have bound the pages and secured a string to be hung on a nail—dated this picture to the mid-twentieth century, the same era represented by the girl’s hair and attire. But the condition of the paper led me to believe it was decades newer, perhaps a recreation used as vintage decoration; it felt hard to believe something could last that long, exposed to the elements, without more severe damage or fading.

I tried to research when calendars switched to spiral binding and punched holes but couldn’t (quickly) find much on the historical record of calendar printing. I cropped the girls face and did several reverse image searches, hoping the girl was a famous actress or model whose image could be cross-referenced. Because the fine print on all image search sites says that any image uploaded will be stored, I protected Roger’s copyright to the overall photo by only selecting a small portion of her face, enough that the search engine would recognize it but without uploading the photographer’s original work.

When no results were returned, I enlarged the high-resolution photo and looked for anything I was missing, and there…in the top left corner of the calendar page is some easy-to-miss print. Holding a mirror to my computer screen I made out the words “Beman’s Gar… Oskalooosa Phone.” A quick map search told me that Oskaloosa is 12 miles from New Sharon, and another quick Google search brought up references to Beman’s Garage in the Oskaloosa newspaper in the 1920s.

I then tried to narrow down the font by decade, as it looked like something created later than the 1920s, perhaps from the more Art Deco 1940s. But I am not a font expert and there are too many styles available now that are recent creations meant to exemplify old print.

So in the end, we know that this girl was not a celebrity and was featured on a calendar distributed by a local, Midwestern garage sometime in the post-WWII era. Perhaps a local girl? Someone who won a contest? The girlfriend of the owner? Or did they have their own stock-photography calendars to choose from at the time, similar to the mass-produced promotional items used by so many companies today? In that case, she could be any girl, from anywhere, but one who is unwilling to curl up and fade out. She stubbornly gazes out still from the shadows of time.