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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Joe Manning Tracks "Cold Cases"

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, October 23, 2006

Author Joe Manning stands near a portrait of himself painted by Viola Moriarity that is currently exhibited at brew-ha-ha in North Adams.
North Adams - Author Joe Manning is hot on the trail of what some might term "cold cases."

A Search Is On

Manning is acting as a matchmaker of sorts, researching photographs taken by famous child labor photographer Lewis W. Hine and locating as many descendants of those named in specific, almost 100-year-old pictures as he can. For the most part, the children, grandchildren and other relatives of Hine's muses are stunned to learn that an ancestor was captured by Hine's lens.

They are also stunned to learn that they are descended from someone whose image reflected a dark time in American history and who was likely a catalyst for federal child labor reforms, Manning said during an Oct. 23 interview.

Manning is currently working with about 50 photographs chosen in part because the children's identities were documented by Hine. Many photos do not identify the children who are depicted.

Hine's work is catalogued at the Library of Congress and the work is accessible on the Internet. That is how Manning reviewed the photos, he said.

"Of the original 50 I picked out, I have talked to descendants of about 27 and I have information about another eight [descendants]," Manning said. "Only two relatives were aware of the photos."

Addie's Legacy Grows

Hine's work drew renewed public attention during 1997 when a photograph he took at a North Pownal, Vt. cotton mill was chosen by the U.S. Postal Service as a stamp designed to reflect child labor and subsequent reforms.


Lewis W. Hine photograph: Hine identified one girl as Minnie Carpenter, Manning said that Minnie's nephew identified the other girl as his mother Mattie.
The child in the photograph was initially identified as "Addie Laird;" during the 2005 fall, Manning was contacted by author Elizabeth Winthrop. Winthrop penned the book "Counting On Grace," a fictional story inspired by Addie's photograph. She subsequently learned that the surname attributed to Addie was an error; her name was really Adeline Card. Winthrop asked Manning to investigate and locate any of Addie Card's living relatives.

"I practically bolted out the door I was so excited," Manning said of the task. "Within 11 days, I was talking to Addie's granddaughter. Within one month I was standing at Addie's grave, in two months I was interviewing her relatives."

The Job Of Lewis Hine

The National Child Labor Committee hired Hine in 1906 and charged him with documenting labor conditions via his camera. Hine worked from 1908 to 1917 and delivered a stark, disturbing portrait of working conditions that faced hundreds of children, many of whom are believed to have been as young as six years old.

"You have to click on every one of the images," Manning said. "You stare, and they stare right back at you."

Built On The Backs

Most people who view Hine's work are left to wonder what became of the children depicted. Many of the children photographed appear thin, undernourished, and tired. Some of Hine's photos show children injured in cotton mills or sardine canning factories. One features a young boy whose arm was lost in a mill accident.

The boy's age was listed as 13 years old.

No portion of the country seemed willing to spare the child; Hine's photos documented children who toiled in mills and factories that stretched from Maine to Georgia.

"This country was built on the backs of people who gave themselves over to dangerous, repetitive work in an effort to hopefully better themselves," Manning said. "And they were taken advantage of by mill owners who kept parent wages so low that the children had to work. Had these people been unionized, perhaps these children would have been in school."

There are some success stories among the children whose fingers spun cotton, sliced off sardine heads, or worked as "helpers" and breathed in volumes of dust and cotton fiber.

Manning is careful to protect the privacy of the families he's contacted, but shared some of the information he's uncovered.

"Eli"

For example, Manning was able to find the son of "Eli," a pre-teen Washington D.C. "newsie" photographed in 1912. "Eli" was accompanied by a brother identified as "Morris" and a third, unidentified lad.

"Eli" was Russian Jewish immigrant. "Eli's" son is a college professor who was considered to receive a Nobel Prize during the recent Nobel selections.

"In one generation, the son of a Russian Jewish immigrant became a college professor and a Nobel nominee," Manning said. "I contacted him and e-mailed him the photo. He was astonished. He knew of Lewis Hine but he'd never seen a photo like this [of his father] in his life. Here was his father and his uncle in a Hine photo."

The professor shared a story with Manning that delivered additional dimension and personality to the Hine photo.

"When the weather was rainy, [Eli] would hide all his newspapers except one, and he'd hold that paper and a sign that said 'Buy my newspaper and I can go home,'" Manning said. "That story turned Eli into more than a picture, it turned him into a child of industriousness. These newsboys had to buy their papers and if they didn't sell them, they lost money. That's how it was then. People would buy that paper, thinking they were helping him out, that he could go home. I imagine he sold a lot of papers that way. These stories remind people of the spirit of America."

"The Other Girl"

Another story involved a photograph of two young girls who worked at a mill in Gastonia, N.C.. One girl was identified as "Minnie Carpenter," while the other girl was anonymous.

"I did my research and I finally tracked down Minnie's obituary," Manning said. "She died in 1973 and she never married."

The obituary listed a surviving nephew who lived in Gastonia. Manning discovered the nephew was still a resident of the town and he called him.

"He said yes, he did have an 'Aunt Minnie,' and yes, she retired from the mill," Manning said. "He had worked at the mill, too. He wanted to see the picture and I sent a copy to him. I called back a couple weeks later and the nephew was so excited. He said 'Why didn't you call sooner, I was going to call you if you didn't call me pretty soon. I have some big news for you.' It turned out that the other girl in the photo was his mother, Mattie. He told me he was 84 years old and had never seen a photo of his mother as a girl."

"I'll tell you, that brought a tear to my eye."

A Six-Year-Old Worker

Another photo is focused on six-year-old "Elsie," who was a summertime "cartoner" at a Maine fish canning factory. Her father was a foreman at one factory and "Elsie" worked at another site owned by the same company. Hine photographed the girl in 1911 at her father's request.

"Elsie" worked in an Eastport, Maine sardine canning factory at age 6. Photo by Lewis W. Hine


According to Hine's notes, the father told Hine that during the winter, the girl worked as a vaudeville singer and was sharp enough to move through an audience and sell her own photographs.

Through investigation, Manning learned that "Elsie" eventually married and moved to Portland, Maine.

"And then I found her featured in an article in the Portland Herald [newspaper]," Manning said. "The article was on the society pages and she was listed as the singer in someone's wedding. I found out that she had a daughter and a son and she got divorced. Her daughter married and had three children and she later divorced. The daughter worked two and three jobs to support the kids and the kids ended up being taken care of by Elsie."

Manning located a granddaughter he identified as "Pamela" who lives in Arizona.

"Pamela absolutely adored her grandmother and when she became an adult, she took her grandmother's last name in honor of Elsie," Manning said. "And Elsie - when she retired, she was a buyer for a department store in L.A.. Imagine that, from working as a six-year-old in a Maine sardine canning factory to a buyer for an L.A. store. Pamela never knew that Elsie lived in Eastport, Maine or that she'd worked in a sardine factory. Elsie lived to be 90 years old and she died surrounded by her daughter and her grandchildren."

Not all the clouds of child labor have silver linings, Manning said. Some children cannot be found and in some cases, that is because they did not survive their childhoods. In other cases, the children and their families were immigrants who returned to their countries of origin.

The Dark Side

And some lives traveled unfortunate paths.

"Willie" was photographed by Hine when he was five years old. Hine's notes described the boy: "Five-year-old Willie, one of Washington's youngest newsboys. So immature he couldn't talk plain but was pretty keen about striking people for nickels."

According to Manning, when "Willie" was a youth, he was sent to a reform school that also housed a young George Herman Ruth Jr..

Manning's information showed that "Willie" was at the institution during the last days of the famous boy-turned-ballplayer's time at the school. At age 33, "Willie" and his brother escaped from a prison and while they tried to avoid capture, the duo kidnapped a truck driver, Manning said.

"Willie" was ultimately caught and returned to prison. He died in Los Angeles during 1975.

"There's the dark side of this, and the dark side of this kid who might have known Babe Ruth," Manning said. "And because of the Hine photo, [Willie] has become immortal [as did Babe Ruth]."

Manning's Efforts May Be A "First"

Manning said that he's spoken with those affiliated with the Library of Congress, child labor committee members, and others familiar with Hine's work and there is no evidence that anyone has ever before tried to connect Hine's photos with living descendants of the photo subjects.

"It appears that I'm the first to be doing this," Manning said. "I'm accomplishing something that's never been done. These photos are almost 100 years old, and this may be the last generation to whom it will make a difference. We're looking at a centennial of the photos for the next several years. And child labor is an issue again in other countries."

Manning is interested in taking the stories of the Hine children to a greater audience. One consideration is an exhibit of photos, stories, and taped interviews with relatives that could travel to places featured in the photos, such as Gastonia, N.C. and Eastport, Maine, Manning said. Other possibilities include an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, a film documentary that could follow Manning as he searches for the descendants of the children Hine photographed, and a book.

"People Prevailed"

He is not seeking any publicity for himself but does want people to know and understand the children Hine photographed, Manning said.

"This whole thing isn't about me at all," Manning said. "It's about the kids, and the history, the information. I'm almost 65 years old and have less of an ego than when I was younger perhaps. I realized early on that I was having an impact on these families, that I was giving them a gift. I cannot imagine that this is not viewed as a gift. And I've realized that if this never comes to more than what it is, I want to do it for the rest of my life."

"In certain communities, these photos have become iconic but only as photos," Manning said. "Here we are now giving them personality, making them people. People have wondered what became of them and through this research, for some of them, we don't have to imagine what happened to them anymore. We know that despite conditions of poverty, of discrimination, of terrible conditions, people prevailed and changed their lives, they changed and bettered the paths of their descendants."

"Some of the Hine children found more was possible than they ever dreamed of."

Manning has authored several books including "Disappearing Into North Adams," "Steeples," and "Gig At The Amtrak." Additional information about Manning is available at www.sevensteeples.com or at www.morningsonmaplestreet.com Internet web sites.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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