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Shawn Vestal: Story of returned 1946 copy of ‘Gone With the Wind’ grows

The story of Rogers High School’s wandering copy of “Gone With the Wind” just keeps going – now with a possible exoneration of sorts.

A copy of Margaret Mitchell’s massive and popular melodrama was returned recently to Rogers, overdue by some 65 years and arriving from 3,000 miles away and with zero explanation for how it had made such a journey. A man in Carmel, Maine, discovered the book in his father’s New England cellar and sent it to Rogers – after first sending a letter checking to make sure it was the right book and begging for relief from the overdue fines. He had no idea how the book made its cross-country journey, but the last known person to check it out was Betty Mandershied, a student at Rogers in 1949. Mandershied later married Tony Stokes.

The thing is, while she was certainly the last person to check the book out, she was also probably the last person to turn it back in. The book came back with a stamped card in the pocket – a signal that it had been returned, according to her daughters and Rogers Principal Lori Wyborney. What happened between then and now, though, is as obscure as ever. Did someone walk off with it, accidentally or on purpose? And how did it make it to Carmel, Maine, which is just about as far away from Spokane as you can go without needing a boat?

“There are so many millions of things that could have happened with the book,” Wyborney said.

The story first appeared in the S-R on Tuesday, and since then it has bounced around the media world, including a mention on NPR. Two of Betty’s daughters – Sandy Martin and Patty Wiedmer – were surprised to find their mother’s name and yearbook photo on the front page.

“It was kind of crazy,” Wiedmer said. “It was like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s my mom.’ And then I saw the picture from the yearbook and said, ‘Yeah, that’s the picture I have on my mantel.’ ”

The notion that their mother might have not returned the book struck both Martin and Wiedmer as odd. Betty Stokes was a voracious, lifelong reader and user of the library system. She and her husband had six kids. Tony worked in the water department for the city of Spokane. Betty worked as a meat wrapper in local stores. She was also always busy around the house and made a lot of her kids’ clothes.

In the rush of so much work and family life, reading was a crucial respite.

“Her hands were never idle,” said Wiedmer. “She was always busy – except when she would lose herself in a book. The world would just stop around her.”

Among Wiedmer and Martin’s earliest memories is going to the Hillyard public library with their mother, and their mom coming home with armloads of books. She had a particular fondness for reading romances and mysteries; but Wiedmer remembers her mom making a particular point to encourage a sister to read “Gone With the Wind.”

The habit of reading was passed on to some of Stokes’ daughters. Wiedmer, for example, became a big fan of Stephen King – she collects hardback editions of his work. Betty died in 1988. Wiedmer and Martin both live in Spokane, and neither can imagine any way in which their mother’s connection to the book would have taken it across the country.

“It would be nice to find out how it got there,” Martin said. “I don’t know that we’ll ever know.”

Meanwhile, Rogers is putting the mildewed book in a glass case, with a note urging students to return their books. And Wyborney said the school is thinking about putting the story to some educational use as a prompt for a student writing exercise: “What do you think happened to this book over the last 65 years?”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.