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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Character Study: 1937

Character Study: 1937

January 1937. Ottawa, Illinois. "Two types living along the waterfront." Photo by Russell Lee for the Resettlement Administration. View full size.

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Their hands

Their hands indicate that these gents are no strangers to hard work.

Tell me about the Rabbits

Which one is George?

Which waterfront?

The Illinois River Valley includes the river, of course, but also the I&M Canal. The river was dammed for barge navigation in the early 1930s, but that did not prevent flooding. My guess is that this photo may have been taken nearer the old canal, which still sports some old structures.

Hanging tag

No way to be sure, but I remember from my youth that Bull Durham had a tag just like that. A bag of so-so tobacco in a little sack with a drawstring closure attached to the tag and with 20 cigarette papers. Much cheaper than "ready rolls"; Bull Durham was 5 cents.

After you opened the sack and poured an adequate amount of tobacco into the paper, the smoker closed the bag by pulling on the tag with his/her teeth. The other hand was holding the loose tobacco in the paper ready to roll 'er up and smoke.

No other word would suffice

other than "types"

I expect

Their stations did improve with the outbreak of World War II if they could hold on that long. Too old by that time for military service, they would have been able to get jobs in defense work on the homefront. By the end of hostilities, unless their bad habits intervened, they could have launched into more productive pursuits.


The word waterfront today finds itself in such phrases as “luxury waterfront condos” or “exclusive waterfront residences.” These two guys live down by the river.


These 2 guys, most likely WW1 veterans, look like they're as close to the abyss as they could get. The tag hanging from the pocket of the fellow on the left is probably attached to a pouch of chewing tobacco which was probably not his worst habit. Hopefully their situations improved, but I have my doubts.

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