Texas History

Once, Odell McDuffey and Sam Stillman Were Two Kids In a Photo Taken in Dallas in 1913. This Morning, At Last, They Come to Life.

Lewis Wickes Hine
Six-year-old Odell McDuffey, left, and 7-year-old Sam Stillman on a Dallas street corner in October 1913
We first saw this photo of Odell McDuffey and Sam Stillman selling newspapers on a downtown Dallas street corner in December 2008, when it showed up on Shorpy accompanied only by the original caption provided by photographer Lewis Wickes Hine: "Two six-year-old newsboys. Odell McDuffey and Sam Stillman. There are many other of six and seven years selling here."  The photo, taken in October 1913, is present in the Library of Congress as part of Hine's collection of images intended to document kid-worker abuses on behalf of the National Child Labor Commission.

In May, Massachusetts historian Joe Manning let us know that he'd made contact with Stillman's son. Joe, who has spent the last several months tracking down the tales of the kids Hine met in Dallas, said he would provide more details shortly. Four months later, what he eventually discovered is nothing less than astounding: Joe directs our attention this morning to detailed tales about the lives of both men as recounted by their relatives -- Odell's stepson and great-niece, and Sam's son. Joe found out how both arrived in Dallas, how they came to share that street corner and what happened to them afterward; there are even pictures of both as grown men, and a photo of Odell's parents, John and Stella.

As Joe writes by way of introduction:
These two boys were probably standing in a busy downtown section of Dallas, where many of those that walked by relied on reading the newspaper every day, and had ready change in their pockets. Note the three well-dressed people who have just passed. The lady on the left is looking back, well aware of the camera. From what little Hine tells us in the caption, he must have asked the boys how old they were. Apparently, they said nothing else of significance. He would not have known any of what I know now.

Odell had lost his father 18 months earlier (April 1, 1912), when the family was living on a farm in Fannin County, Texas, near the Oklahoma border. His father's ancestors, probably Irish, had settled in North Carolina in the early 1800s. For reasons unknown, Odell, his widowed mother, and his two sisters moved to Dallas.

In stark contrast, Sam's father, a Jew, had fled Russia in 1907, gone to Bremen, Germany, and then sailed on a boat called the Chemnitz. He landed in Galveston on August 24, 1907, and settled in Dallas. Almost three years later, Sam, his mother, and his five siblings also came through Bremen, and sailed on the Hannover, which landed in Galveston on April 28, 1910.

Standing together on a Dallas street on an autumn day in 1913, would the two boys have comprehended the significance of the entirely different routes they had taken to get there, and the opportunity that America had given them to share that brief moment, despite their differences? Their lives were destined to take different routes once again, though ... each of those routes were to travel through the world of baseball, the most American of games.

The most amazing thing? Joe's not finished yet. He wrote me, at 5:14 this morning: "That makes two stories of photos left to go, of the ones I chose to research. For those, I still have one more interview to conduct, and two more interviews to transcribe." Heroic. Absolutely heroic.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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