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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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The Writing on the Walk: 1940

The Writing on the Walk: 1940

October 1940. "Michigan, North Dakota." A cryptic message in chalk on the walk. 35mm nitrate negative by John Vachon for the FSA. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Boy Sitting on the Wagon in North Dakota

Joe Manning, once more. My story of this boy (Charles Thompson) is finished. It includes interviews with his widow, his brother and his daughter, and many photos.

The Writing on the Walk: 1940

Joe Manning again. With the help of a newspaper reporter in the area, the boy was recently identified as Charles Thompson. He passed away in 2001. I have interviewed one of his brothers, who was surprised by the photo. I plan to interview at least one of Charles's children soon. Eventually, I will post a story about this boy on my website, and will let Shorpy know when I do.

The Writing On The Walk: 1940

Joe Manning again. It's been 10 days since the Grand Forks Herald published this photo and asked if anyone could recognize the boy. I am sorry to say that no one has responded as yet.

The Writing on the Walk: 1940

This is Joe Manning, of the Lewis Hine Project. I am certain that it says, "You will find some thing heaped up in red cloth. Please do so. Good luck." I have done some stories about people in photos by John Vachon, so I have decided to work on this one. I contacted the Grand Forks Herald, which covers Michigan, North Dakota, and they have agreed to publish the photo and ask if anyone recognizes the boy. If he is still around, the boy would probably be about 82 years old. Maybe he'll read the paper and spot himself in the photo! I will let Shorpy know what happens.

1935 Chevy . . .

I believe that is a 1935 Chevy Master -- it appears to have front suicide doors and the headlights are mounted on the FENDERS. I have a 1936 Chevy Standard Coach which has the basic '35 Master carbody (the '35 Standard did not have the turret top), the headlights are mounted on the radiator housing and they don't have suicide doors. May be the photographer's car.

last three words...

"Please do so" (find whatever under heaped red cloth

Final Words

Click to embiggen.

I did the same as Tim!

Here's a sharpened up and de-distorted version: Wouldn't the boy (and whoever wrote the words) be amazed at us discussing it this way and sending these images across the world?!

Little mysteries like this are so entertaining.

Steve B
(In England)

The Message

My guess: it's part of a scavenger hunt or something of the kind. Maybe it's his birthday - perhaps the reason for the fancy duds - and his folks have made a game of finding his present by a series of clues.

Decisions, Decisions!

You can tell he's mulling over his options: do I go past this warning or do I just turn around and head back the other way. His friends in the background are awaiting his decision. Great Photo.

What's the occasion?

A timeless scene, you might say. Not much different than the way we played 35 years later, except ... That necktie! Is it Sunday? The kid doesn't even look embarrassed that his mother made him put it on!


"You will find something heaped up in red cloth ... something something good luck"?

"Sherman, set the WABAC Machine..."

All of the macabre places my head goes with "something heaped up in red cloth" are overshadowed by the penmanship's hurling me back to 1960 grade school - especially that "f". Whoa. Dominican nuns everywhere.

What might it be?

"You will find something heaped up in red cloth downstairs -- "

Who knows? The Shadow knows.

OK, here is my guess on the upside-down messgae - "You will find some-thing heaped up in red cloth: Please do so _____ Rusty". Was it a message from the Thin Man, the Green Lantern or Garcia?

1936 Chevrolet in the background

Looks like my old Chevy parked on the street

Something heaped up in red cloth

It says: "You will find something heaped up in red cloth." After that, it's hard to make out even using advanced imaging software. "about to so: Good Rust" ? Perhaps a kid left something metallic in an article that was to be washed, and it got rusted? About to be good 'n rusty? Maybe someone else will have more luck with it.

You will find

something heaped up in red cloth?

Snappy Dresser

Nice tie. I guess some cufflinks might be a bit over the top.

Upside down handwriting

I'm normally pretty good with upside-down writing, but upside-down cursive is surprisingly difficult.

I read, "You will find some thing heaped up in red cloth. Please(?) to so(?) (x) just"

I need more pixels, captain!

By the way, this is my first Shorpy post! I'm currently going through the entire archive backwards. Now on page 747, got a long ways to go. There are a lot of pictures I wish I had been around at the time to comment on. I know I could now as well, but it's less fun without active conversation.

Fantastic blog. I've peeked in and out for quite a while, but now find myself wanting to view the whole thing.

Definitely creepy

The message reads "You will find some thing heaped up in red cloth." I can't read the last few words.

Before Couch Potatoes

Action-filled boys, every single one is on the move and in motion and I'm thinking it was a Sunday because each kid is well-dressed. Especially interesting is the three-fourths of a small boy on the extreme right edge of the picture with a nifty suit and fedora who might have just exited the car beside him after returning home from church. Just an ordinary moment in time captured 71 years ago, but an outstanding picture. I bet Mom was cooking chicken for dinner.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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