A Surprise Discovery Marks 1st Anniversary of ‘Mystery Dancer’

Ursula and her parents on San Leandro Bay (San Francisco)

Ursula and her parents on San Leandro Bay (San Francisco)

Guess what? MysteryDancer.net just marked its first anniversary. When I started this blog, I had no idea what, if anything, I would find out about Ursula and her family. It turns out quite a lot, and there is more to come!

I also had no idea I would enjoy this project so much. I love researching Ursula’s life and times, and sharing her story and photos with you, my readers. Thank you for coming along for the ride.

Two-year-old Ursula and mother Clara

Two-year-old Ursula and mother Clara

Now I have a tale of synchronicity and surprise for you. You may recall that I started this blog and my “search” for Ursula after buying an antique photo album at last year’s Leiper’s Fork yard sale from Yeoman’s in the Fork, a rare book and document gallery that had participated in the community event.

Just this past weekend, my husband, Michael, and I were visiting Leiper’s Fork again, after having gone to a nearby vintage and antique “pop-up” event. It was a brief stop to re-fuel ourselves and check out a gallery or two. We were pooped, so didn’t stay long before heading for home. As we pulled out of our parking spot, it crossed my mind to stop by Yoeman’s in the Fork just for fun, but I quickly dismissed the thought because we were tired and the store was in the opposite direction of home, a 45-minute drive.

Apparently, I was even too tired to check e-mail on my iPhone. If I had, we would have zipped over to the bookstore in a heartbeat. For when I got home and opened my e-mail on the computer, there was a message from Mike Cotter, Yeoman’s in the Fork’s director of operations.

“Ursula…” read the subject line. After a brief moment of curiosity (“Hmm,” I thought, “Is he writing to me about a recent Mystery Dancer post?”), I opened the e-mail. There, to my shock and amazement, were the words:

“Elizabeth,
I just turned up an entirely new photograph album that belonged to Ursula!”

At Yeoman's in the Fork: Mike Cotter and me holding the newly discovered album and loose photos

At Yeoman’s in the Fork: Mike Cotter and me holding the newly discovered album and loose photos

Wow! I couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t wait to see it. The very next day, Michael and I headed once again for Leiper’s Fork, this time expressly to stop at the bookstore.

When we got there, Mike Cotter retrieved the album from the back and set it gingerly on the countertop. About 10 inches wide by 6 ½ inches tall, it is bound by string in what looks like a homemade, soft leather cover with flowers, leaves and the word “Photos” outlined in pen. Inside are dozens of variously-shaped photos glued onto pages of black construction paper. They are images of Ursula and her family engaged in many different outdoor activities, as well as scenic shots taken around Grass Valley, California, where Ursula’s mother grew up, and San Francisco.

Needless to say, I bought the photo album, which, along with the first album, as I learned from Mike, was part of a 2-semi-trucks-worth collection of books and documents that Yoeman’s bought five years ago from an estate in Virginia. What a wonderful, and serendipitous, anniversary “gift” to celebrate the birth of Mystery Dancer!

I will share many of the photos with you in future blog posts, but for now, this post includes just a few of the highlights from the newly purchased album. And who knows? Yoeman’s is still processing the collection, so it’s possible yet another Ursula album will turn up!

Ursula and her dollies outside the Cheshires' Los Angeles home

Ursula and her dollies outside the Cheshires’ Los Angeles home

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Senior Week “Extravaganza” Features Ursula in Original Farce

On February 13, 1923, the Oakland Tribune announced that 200 members of UC Berkeley’s 1923 graduating class were named to committees preparing for “Senior Week” festivities, to be held in May. The article not only mentioned Ursula as one of 12 “co-eds” assisting with the plans, but it also featured a prominent portrait of her in the dramatic headdress she wore for her “Nero” costume the previous year.

A large photo of Ursula accompanied an article on Senior Week in the "Oakland Tribune," February 13, 1923.

A large photo of Ursula accompanied an article on Senior Week in the “Oakland Tribune,” February 13, 1923.

During Senior Week, a tradition begun in 1874, the graduating class held a series of farewell activities, including an event called the “Extravaganza.” This was an original farce written and performed by members of the senior class. According to the UC Berkeley website, certain Senior Week functions are still observed and others, like the Extravaganza are not.

In the 1923 Extravaganza, entitled “But it Wasn’t,” Ursula played “Ellen,” one of the play’s main characters. According to the Blue and Gold yearbook, the plot centered on the question, “Does a man win a girl through strength, poetry, or by being a practical business man?” The answer was given in three stages. As the Oakland Tribune reported on May 7 that year:

“Business men, poets, and athletes from the stone age, the age of romance and the present-day strive for the hand of the same fair maiden, Mary.”

Ursula played “Ellen,” one of three fair co-eds in “But it Wasn’t,” the 1923 senior Extravaganza. I’m sure that Ursula, as one of the principal characters, is pictured in front as part of the three couples. It’s difficult to tell if she is the first or second woman from the left (definitely not the third.) What do you think? (Click on photo to see enlarged image.)

Ursula played “Ellen,” one of three fair co-eds in “But it Wasn’t,” the 1923 senior Extravaganza. I’m sure that Ursula, as one of the principal characters, is pictured in front as part of the three couples. It’s difficult to tell if she is the first or second woman from the left (definitely not the third.) What do you think? (Click on photo to see enlarged image.)

You can read more about the plot by clicking on the the newspaper and yearbook images posted below. I love this: the name of one of the characters from the stone age, Mary’s father, was J. Stonehatchet von Clubem.

Ursula plays "Ellen" in the UC Berkeley Senior Extravaganza (from the "Oakland Tribune," May 7, 1923).

Ursula plays “Ellen” in the UC Berkeley Senior Extravaganza (from the “Oakland Tribune,” May 7, 1923).

The farce was held in the Greek Theater and featured “novel costuming,” which Ursula also helped with. The author of the yearbook article offered this appraisal of the show:

“Seeing the Senior Extravaganza “But it Wasn’t” is a fine way to conclude my record for the Year’s dramatics. I rather expected much amusement and I must say my expectations were more than fulfilled…The whole performance seemed to depend upon co-operation and unity for even the leading parts were many and equally important.”

"Blue and Gold" yearbook write-up of the 1923 Senior Extravaganza

“Blue and Gold” yearbook write-up of the 1923 Senior Extravaganza

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