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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • STAY ONE JUMP AHEAD OF TROUBLE, 1945

Nighthawk: 1943

Nighthawk: 1943

April 1943. Washington, D.C. "Girl sitting alone in the Sea Grill waiting for a pickup. 'I come in here pretty often, sometimes alone, mostly with another girl, we drink beer, and talk, and of course we keep our eyes open -- you'd be surprised at how often nice lonesome soldiers ask Sue, the waitress, to introduce them to us.' " Medium-format nitrate negative by Esther Bubley for the OWI. View full size.

 

How Did They Do It?

I struggle to get candid shots like this with my compact digital camera or DSLR. Somehow, when people know they are being photographed it shows on their face.

How did a guy with a camera the size of a cinder block and a flash the size of a frying pan get such a natural look? I can only imagine that he was there for a while and possibly pretending to fiddle with the camera so she didn't know the shot was coming.

[Esther Bubley, the "guy with the camera," often used floodlights. Which she seems to have employed here. - Dave]

The guy in the window

doesn't strike me as particularly creepy. He looks to me more like he was walking by and glanced in the window as he passed--if the picture had been taken a second earlier or later, the camera would have just caught his ear and the back of his head.

Anyway, it's a lovely, evocative picture.

Lonely

& people in company are not necessarily not lonely.

I zeroed in on the crumpled napkin on the bench before I ever saw the guy in the window. Photographer's eye.

Hey Lady!

Try the Snapper Turtle Soup. Ask them to put the sherry in it. And definitely have the rum buns. Hic!

Poor guy in the window

Was probably just walking by on a dark night, not expecting to see a photographer in a well lighted bar. He probably has no idea that many decades later people are calling him a stalker.

What's in your envelope?

Delta3 is the closest to the "truth." That envelope holds the secret to life, the universe and everything.

Lonely Working Girl or Tough Paloma?

I'd go with lonely working girl. Fresh out of high school in Wichita, my mom went to live with an aunt in San Diego in 1943, and worked for the telephone company (where she eventually met my dad in 1945, back from the war in Europe). She often talked of double-dating sailors or marines with an office girlfriend, and going to dances or on long bike rides around San Diego on their one day off. She was 18 and shy and had never had time for fun on her parents' farm. For all the noir cynicism, and the factually lurid stuff that did go on during the war, most young women and young men that the war threw together were and remained quite innocent in their behavior, at least by later standards. So, did my mom, uh, you-know, with anybody? She never said, but if she did, why the heck not?

Beer On Tap

Do joints still use that sign? I'm an innocent lad, so I don't know.

Waiting for Guy Noir

She was tall and dark and so beautiful you wanted to just give her all your money right way and skip the preliminaries

Fantastic Noir

I'm waiting for Robert Mitchum to come by and clock the character in the window and save her!

Putting out for the war effort

WhenI was a kid, my father, an 8AF B17 pilot, made this remark on several occasions when he and his two brothers had had a couple when they took my cousins and me camping. Otherwise a great photograph.

Dave,I now assign my Intro and Advanced photography classes to look at Shorpy's. Have also hipped the History of Photography instructor to Shorpy's. A great site, thanks a million for doing this.

[I am always tickled when people call Shorpy "Shorpy's." Like we're the corner bar or a diner. Maybe I should start calling everyone "hon." - Dave]

Stop objectifying Shorpy women!

Yes, but wow, a great pair of gams!

Freddy Krueger in the window

My first look at this fascinating photo zeroed in on the no-goodnik in the window who seems very suspicious. When I read the comments, they are intriguing, but I personally do not believe "lonely" people get dressed up and go out to socialize (else they would not be lonely). A lonely person would be like the introverted Laura in Tennessee Williams "The Glass Menagerie" who stays home with her mother every night and collects crystal animals with which she is obssessed. Just because a person in alone does not mean they are lonely. That is the end of my theory regarding this wonderfully inspiring picture. Excuse me while I go and rearrange my Pez Dispensers.

And the plot thickens...

She works at the War Office during the day. Her younger brother is being held captive by the SS. She is waiting to pass the documents concerning Operation Pointblank in the envelope to the man in the window (who is making sure the coast is clear before he comes into the restaurant) in exchange for her brother's release.

What is that on the table?

Beer, matches, salt & pepper, ashtray. But what is that clear caterpillar tractor thing on the table? And it looks like she has an envelope to deliver, noir indeed.

[It's a cigarette case. - Dave]

The world's oldest profession?

Not sure how many of you have seen Sands of Iwo Jima, but in it John Wayne's character meets a girl very much like this in a bar. He goes home with her, but nothing much happens when he discovers she has a baby in the next room. I always assumed she was a paid professional, and assumed the same thing when I saw this photo. It looks like I'm the only one, though.

I can hear the music

Classic Film Noir... with the mystery killer lurking behind the blinds!

Wow

I was so taken by the way this shot is lit and composed that the first couple of times I looked at it I completely missed the man looking in the window. It's a great shot.

What a dame.

She's a tough cookie, and could size you up in two seconds.

Check out the creepy guy looking through the blinds.

Noir

I was fixing to say this looked like a still from a Noir film, and then I saw the man in the window. There's a story for a great pulp novel hiding in this picture.

Very much like Hopper

. . . and made only a year apart.

Both are works of art.
Esther Bubley is underrated.

Spooky

Beautiful girl. But what's with the incredibly spooky dude peering in the window right behind her head? I hope she got home safe that night.

Ahem.

Someone really should pick up that crumpled napkin.

From Any Angle...

...she's gorgeous. The guy checking her out through the window would no doubt agree.

"Tang o' the Sea"

1930
1930_sea_grill

1943
1943_sea_grill

What an atmospheric photo.

What an atmospheric photo. That guy behind the blinds is creepy!

Meryl Streep

Is that you?

Surprised

I'd be surprised only if the nice, lonesome soldiers DIDN'T ask Sue the waitress for an introduction.

So, how did the nasty servicemen behave?

Hope that's not her father glaring in on her, over her head. He doesn't look approvingly upon this scene.

Lonely Spinster

or Femme Fatale?

Long, cold, night.

What a dark and lonely picture. Very 40's noir.
I wonder if she's still there ?

Goodnight Mrs. Calabash

Looks like Jimmy Durante peeping in the window behind her.

Brrrrr

Who is the Mysterious Face in the Window?

Work it girl.

Elizabeth Short's friend, in an interview she gave after the Black Dahlia murder, said that the pair used to do the same thing. When they were broke they would, go out, flirt a little and a man would then buy them dinner.

I think it was not uncommon practice during the war, like many young women having to share one apartment, etc.

People were more trusting, I guess, or maybe it was just if a man bought them dinner the guy was expected to only be hoping for a second date.

Nowadays, I would not even have my pocketbook so far from me.

Lunch that sticks

During my years as a Montgomery County resident (early-mid '90s), my then partner and I were looking for a late lunch one Saturday and happened upon McDonnell's Bethesda location. Lunch was fine, but what I recall most is our surprise appetizer. Being Southerners (yes, Bethesda is below the Mason-Dixon, but it seems MD has more in common with its neighbors to the north), we were confused when the server brought us sticky buns as a free and unsolicited appetizer. I never did figure out what sticky buns had to do with lunch, or seafood for that matter.

Looking for Love

During WWII many women felt alone and looked for company, as the song goes, "in all the wrong places." Some got hurt, some came out unscathed and some actually found the companionship they sought. The District had many more single girls than most other cities and this photo highlights the poignancy and desperation of a lonely young woman.

[Not all that lonely. Before long she'd met this nice young corporal. - Dave]

WW2

I hope that in time she found love and marriage. In the factory where I worked in WW2 there was a very nice looking young woman who would leave work, stop at a bar, pick up a servicemen and take him home for the night. In time she met and married one of the company engineers.
It happens.

Don't Look Now, Sister...

... but there's a man behind you!

I'll bet she paints her toenails

Too many years ago when I was a pre-teen, my grandmother was horrified that I wore polish on my toenails.

"Dear, only hussies and party girls paint their toenails -- you don't want people thinking badly of you, do you?" I didn't know what she meant by "party girl," but it sounded okay to me at the time.

"Edward, this is Esther"

"Miss Bubley, I like what you do with light and shadow."

"Mr. Hopper, I love the way you show the isolation of the human condition."

The Big Sleep

Wow, very Phillip Marlowe like!

Sea Grill

According to their web site the Sea Grill Restaurant of 1943 was at 1221 E Street NW. Now on Kentlands Boulevard in Gaithersburg.

 
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