Our hearts were young and misused by Nazis - freetxp

Our hearts were young and misused by Nazis

Earlier this year, I caught myself doing the most Muncie thing possible, eating Pizza King and Googling Emily Kimbrough. It wasn’t planned, but there I was, inhaling a Royal Feast and exploring Kimbrough’s biography. There weren’t any giant Canada geese in the room, but I was wearing a Muncie DWNTWN hoodie. Like most dinners, the soundtrack was provided by Norfolk Southern.

Emily Kimbrough, as you might know, was a nationally well-known 20th century writer, world-traveler and journalist from Muncie. She only lived here about a decade, but remained connected to our community throughout her life.

Emily was born to Lottie and Hal Kimbrough on October 23, 1898. The Muncie Evening Press reported the next day that the Kimbroughs’ “pretty new home on East Washington street is graced by a bouncing young woman who made her advent last evening. Mother and babe are reported doing well.”

The Emily Kimbrough House, shown in a file photo from 2010.

The Kimbroughs’ home still stands pretty today at 715 E. Washington. Residents in East Central, a neighborhood known in Emily’s time as the East End, memorialized the author when they created the Emily Kimbrough Historic District in 1976.

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The extended Kimbrough family owned or managed several gas boom era businesses, including Kimbrough’s Hardware. Emily’s father Hal had electrified much of the city around 1900 as superintendent of Muncie Electric Light Company. Her grandfather Charles ran Indiana Bridge Co. for contracts.

The Kimbroughs: Unknown and Frank (back row, LR) and Charles, Margaret, James, Lottie, and Hal.

Emily’s immediate family moved to Chicago in 1910, though she often returned to Muncie for visits with her grandparents. Many years later in 1944, she wrote lovingly about this time in “How Dear to My Heart.” A New York Time’ reviewer found the book “full of that wide-eyed exuberance which, unhappily, most of us have put away.”

After graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1921, Kimbrough landed her first job in Chicago, writing for Marshall Field’s advertising department. She moved to New York City in 1926 where she edited and wrote for Ladies Home Journal. She married John Wrench in 1927 and had two daughters, Margaret and Alis.

Emily Kimbrough.

Kimbrough’s marriage didn’t last, but her passion for writing did. From the late 1920s through the early 1950s, she freelanced for several national publications including Reader’s Digest, The New Yorker, and Atlantic Monthly. At the onset of World War II, Kimbrough’s work was read across the United States.

She also wrote 17 books during her career, mostly travel memoirs and autobiographies like “How Dear to My Heart.” Her most famous work in this vein was “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay,” a book she co-authored with her good friend and former Bryn Mawr classmate, Cornelia Otis Skinner.

Emily Kimbrough and Cornelia Otis Skinner on their 1921 European adventure.

Written in 1942, the book chronicled Emily and Cornelia’s misadventures as they traveled through Europe in the summer after their 1921 graduation. The book was enormously popular, spending five weeks on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list in 1943. A year later, Paramount Pictures adapted it into a feature film of the same name.

I didn’t know much about “Our Hearts,” which is why I was googling ‘Emily Kimbrough’ and eating pizza a few months ago. During the search, I came across the Wikipedia entry for the book. It’s pretty straightforward, offering some well sourced tidbits about publication and subsequent adaptations.

The front cover of

But then I read something at the end of the article that caused me to drop my Pizza King: “During the Second World War, Hugh Trevor-Roper discovered that this book was used as a codebook by German intelligence.”

WHAT?!? Nazi spies used Emily Kimbrough’s famous book for espionage? I thought to myself, “Holy crap! This is the greatest local historical discovery since George Carter found natural gas a second time in 1886.”

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