Backwards Glance: A New Year’s “Check” For 365 Days Of Happiness

Photo courtesy Benicia Historical Museum

I found this image while surfing our online archives—it is the only item we have that references the New Year without also referring to Christmas. I love the concept of a “…Bank of Happy Success,” located in the “State of Good Fortune” wherein is heaped an enormous supply of happiness which can be distributed to whomever one wishes.  And how generous of William Bergstrom to issue to Aubrey Williams a full year’s supply, especially since the check number, (nineteen), would indicate that Mr. Bergstom had already issued a great many of these checks already!

Associated documentation provides little information about the person issuing the check or the recipient, but we have been able to connect some of the dots:  This item arrived as part of the Ruth Alexander estate; Ruth was Aubrey’s sister. Benician Aubrey (Richard Aubrey Williams, 1895 – 1926) was an electrician working for the US; John Bergstrom, the issuer of this check to Aubrey, was a Swedish immigrant who worked as a local blacksmith’s helper and railroad employee. I discovered that Aubrey was gassed during World War I, which certainly lends a certain poignancy to this check … we may hope that the addition of the horseshoe, four leaf clover, and mistletoe icons conveyed even greater magical potency, adding to the good wishes contained therein.

The Museum possesses several other Alexander estate associated items, including an autograph book lovingly inscribed by her brother, as well as a video interview with Ruth Alexander talking about the “old days.” I derive a great deal of satisfaction from researching the story behind the image as it allows me to become better acquainted with those who have lived and died here, the distinct personalities of these local figures coming to life through their precious photographs and possessions. Some Native American tribes believe that we never die as long as someone speaks our name. Bringing these people back to life so that we may better know them, even briefly, is an act of scholarship but also a kindness. Don’t we all want to be known and remembered by those who can cherish our memory?  We hope that you will also be issued a great number of happiness checks in the year 2016, and that the New Year brings you back to the Museum.

Categories: Arts + Culture, Business, Community, Exhibits, History, Miscellaneous, People + Places

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