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William R. Holmes, member of the Menomonie High School class of 1905, depicted as a professional magician. WHI Image ID 54765
William R. Holmes as a professional magician, 1905. WHI 54765

Prophetic Pictures from Menomonie, Wisconsin

The Visual Materials Archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society holds a most unusual photograph album that takes one back to the future — an imaginary future, that is. The album comprises 32 photographs taken in 1905 of graduates of Menomonie High School in Dunn County. It doesn't describe the students' extracurricular activities nor does it reveal their hopes, dreams and aspirations upon leaving high school. Instead, photographer Albert Hansen and "prophet" Sarah Ana Heller, both 1905 class members themselves, portrayed imaginary futures for their classmates in words and pictures.

Photos Part of a Much Larger Collection

The album is the most curious item in a huge collection of photographs that Menomonie-born Albert Hansen (1886-1979) took throughout his life. That collection includes images of Hansen's family and friends and of Menomonie, as well as pictures taken on vacations and travels. Hansen, despite his obvious talents, was not a professional photographer but rather worked from 1924 to 1959 at the Haloid Company, which later became the Xerox Corporation.

Hansen was already a skilled photographer when he graduated from high school and composed this album. As a teenager he liked to play with the medium and its illusionist possibilities. We know less about his partner, Sarah Ana Heller, but the prophecies she foresaw suggest that she must have had a vivid imagination and a great sense of humor.

The pair imagined and photographed their friends in almost every career that turn-of-the-century America offered. Some classmates turn into heroes of the American West (George E. Thompson as cowboy) while others became East Coast snobs (Alice Tilleson as a New York socialite). Hobos and paupers share the pages with the Russian ambassador's wife, an actress, a prima donna and a world-famous violinist.

Hansen's pictures depict some bizarre scenes along with others that don't seem at all far fetched today — heads detached from bodies during brain surgery, magicians duplicating themselves and a woman winning an international prize for the best book on mathematics. Other photographs prophesy his classmates in more common professions, such as cook, dentist, nurse or fisherman. Notably, no classmates were destined to become lumbermen or farmers, two of the most common occupations in Menomonie at the time.

Scenes Shot Throughout Menomonie

Hansen and Heller set the stage for their dramatis personae at different locations in and around their hometown. Lambert Clark, who is pictured as a famous violinist, performs on stage at the Mabel Tainter Theater. The Stout Manual Training School served as a background for some of the photographs. Others were taken at local stores, in classrooms at Menomonie High School and in a photo studio.

Wonder what became of the class of 1905? We have been able to discover what actually happened to several of the students. Only one of them fulfilled his prophecy (Fred Quilling really became a pharmacist), but many others led interesting lives. Some remained in the Midwest while others moved to California and even Alaska. Our gallery provides not only the text of each 1905 prophecy, but also all the information we could unearth about the Menomonie students.

Albert Hansen returned to Menomonie in 1955 for his 50th class reunion, bringing along several sets of the class prophecy pictures. They caught the attention of a reporter for the Minneapolis Star, which reprinted a few of them in its June 8, 1955, issue.

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