Friday, November 20, 2015

Jack Snow's Secret High School Crush

Jack Snow's Senior Photo (1925).
Some of you know that Eric Shanower and I are quite interested in genealogical research as well as being Baum and Oz fans. I've recently been merging these two passions and using various genealogical tools to explore the lives of various Oz creators. A few weeks ago I randomly did a search for Jack Snow and quickly found his Piqua High School year book. I assumed I'd probably find a photo or two, but I was surprised by how much more was revealed about Show's teenage years and what Snow might have been like as a person.

Jack Snow (1907-1956) was, of course, the author of The Magical Mimics in Oz, The Shaggy Man of Oz, Who's Who in Oz, and Dark Music, a collection of horror/fantasy. He was also gay in an era when it was much less easy than it is today.

The title of this blog is at best speculation. I have no idea if Snow had a crush on the other boy we'll be getting to know. But when researching lost gay lives, one often has to read between the lines, and it's hard not to view events through the lens of one's own experience.

Snow entered Piqua High as a Freshman in the Fall of 1921. In the '22 Yearbook, Snow wrote of his Freshman experience:
When we Freshman enter high school there are many things we have to find out before we can consider ourselves full fledged high school students.

In the first place we expect to find nothing but A's on our report cards, and we find instead C's and D's.

We expect to have no difficulty in finding the value of X in Algebraic equations, but before we are Sophomores discover that there is nothing more elusive.

Science is always puzzling to the poor Freshman. made especially so by cruel looking apparatus arranged in the long dark cases of the science room.
And Latin! When a Freshman takes Latin, if he is to judge by the experiences of the wise Sophomores, he will accept it as an established fact that he is doomed to failure the first year.

English sounds familiar, but the first year students find the unexpected here, too, as well as in the Commercial subjects.
Now read this second bit written by Snow's fellow Freshman classmate, Maurice Peffer:
When the Class of '25 first entered P. H. S. in September, the faculty in all probability, were steeled to encounter a heard of numbskulls. However, they were not long in altering their opinion of us. . . .

If you don't believe this, just ask any one of them, and what they say will make you green with envy. They confidently expect each one of us to have his name engraved at the head of the Hall of Fame.

We don't wish to boast, but their confidence is not misplaced, for, to use a slang expression, "We're there with the goods." To some who may be dubious, we can only say, "Wait and see," and if the Class of '25 does not equal or excel any other class that has entered old P. H. S. in the past, or that expects to enter in the future, the fault cannot be laid at our door, nor can the faculty be blamed.
While Snow and Peffer seem to have had somewhat different ways of looking at the world, they both did well in school and both made the Honor Society. In the Honor Society photo below you can see Maurice Peffer, standing tall in the center of the back row. Jack Snow is in the photo, too, a foot shorter than Peffer (they are standing on the same slush-covered step), Snow's face partially obscured by the girl in front of him.

Piqua High School 1925 "Honor Society" Jack Snow in back. Click to enlarge

I had never realized how small Snow was. I checked his later Army enlistment records and found Snow was only 5' - 1" tall. No wonder short and insecure little Snow came to look up to Peffer, both literally and figuratively.

"Morrie" Peffer's Senior photo and achievements. Click to enlarge

You can see Peffer was the perfect boy to idolize: tall, confident, his father the President of the Piqua National Bank. "Morrie" himself was editor of the school paper, in the Chorus, Glee Club, Tennis Manager, Debating Club, Dramatic Club, French Club, Radio Club, Class President, and . . . Head Cheer Leader!

Jack Snow's Senior photo in 1925 Piqua High yearbook. Click to enlarge

I have no idea when Snow came out as gay to himself. He was fairly open about it in the 1950s in New York (at least to some of his fellow employees at NBC). But it must have been difficult being a nerdy, bookish, insecure, (and very short!) little gay kid growing up in Piqua, Ohio, in the 1920s. Was Snow aware of his feelings? Did he have a secret crush on Morrie Peffer? On other boys?

1925 Track Team at Piqua High School.

There is a drawing in the 1925 Piquonian yearbook that was undoubtedly drawn by either Peffer or Snow, and possibly both, showing "Snow's Snappy Speedster, Special Split-Six." Note that it has a "Body by Peffer."

Below is the full page about the imaginary car from the yearbook. I hope that it was a fun collaboration of the two boys.

I don't know which boy drew the Snappy Speedster, but we can get some idea of how Snow felt about Peffer in his Class Prophecy, below, published in the Piquonian yearbook.

This "Class Prophecy" is one of the earliest surviving text pieces we have by Jack Snow. It is a four page "prophecy" outlining where the Class of '25 will be in twenty years. It is fun and easy reading and presented complete at the bottom of this blog post. Go ahead and read it all! It's funny, laced with irony and a little sarcasm. But here's his section on Peffer. It is twenty years in the future and Snow has just entered classmate Catherine Coleman's beautiful theatre:
I sighed and thought of other and happier days and walked slowly down the aisle seeking a vacant seat. Presently I found an alluring chair and seated myself next to a tall handsome man about whom I found myself wondering almost as soon as I saw him. Then after thinking for a few minutes I knew that he was no other than Maurice Peffer, the distinguished United States Senator who only a few months before had been influential in securing the passage of a bill forbidding all women under seventy-five years of age to bob their hair.

Maurice greeted me quite heartily and agreed to tell me something of my old classmates.
It sounds like Snow and Peffer were indeed friends, and I for one am glad Snow found his handsome friend to sit near in his "prophecy of the future."

Unfortunately Snow's prophecy was wrong and Peffer suffered a tragic end.

PIQUA DAILY CALL, February 14, 1931.

Maurice Peffer was engaged to be married on Valentine's Day 1931. At 11:30 PM on February 13, Morrie Peffer was killed when an Interurban freight train slammed into a car he was riding in. His two companions, Frat mates from Miami University (one of whom was to be his Best Man), were not seriously injured. Peffer died on the way to the hospital, only a few hours before his planned wedding; he was only twenty-three. Here's the full account:

PIQUA DAILY CALL, February 14, 1931. Click to enlarge

Peffer was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Piqua, Ohio, where Snow himself was buried in 1956 at age forty-nine. Alas, Snow's family buried him in an unmarked grave. Click here to read more.

This has not been a very cheerful blog, but I feel I have gotten to know Jack Snow a little better. Perhaps in some alternate universe Snow's Class Prophecy came true? And perhaps, in a land behind the moon, beyond the rain, Jack Snow once got to go joy-riding with Morrie Peffer in that snappy Speedster, happily cruising down the Yellow Brick Road.

Below you can read Jack Snow's entire "Class Prophecy" from his 1925 Piquonian Yearbook. Click on the individual pages to read this very early work by the future Royal Historian of Oz.

1 comment:

AMWise said...

Thanks for this post, David. Jack Snow has always been something of a cypher to me and your research (and speculation) makes him a little bit less mysterious.