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Willie of Montgomery: 1914

Willie of Montgomery: 1914

October 1914. Montgomery, Alabama. "Willie Cheatham, Western Union messenger #1. Says he is 16 now; been messenger for 6 years. Late Sunday night, October 4th, I talked with him, still on duty, until 10 P.M. 'You bet I know every crooked house in town. Went to school with one of those girls when she was straight. Her mother died and she went bad. Some young girls were there too. I go out to Red Light some with messages and packages, and if I want to, I bust right in and sit down.' Hard face." View full size. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine.


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My husband bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Cheatham. So much so that when we showed his mother, she thought I Photoshopped his picture into this one. What's more, after reading more about him on Mr. Manning's fabulous website, we found that he passed away a year and a day after my husband was born. If it had been that much sooner, I'd really be spooked!

He looks so much older then

He looks so much older than 16. It's amazing how working hard, and living hard can age you so quickly.

Willie Cheatham

As part of my project to find descendants of child laborers photographed by Lewis Hine, I was able to contact Willie's oldest living direct descendant. I found some interesting information in my search, and you can see it at

Probably not a fake name.

It looks like in Ward 1 of Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1900 and 1920 censuses there's a Willie D. Cheathem, born c. 1897/98. (I couldn't find him in the 1910 census, but that could be from a transcription error in the index.) No matching entry in the Social Security Death Index so he may have never had an SSN, or may have died after 1920 but before the social security system was in place.

Fake name?

"Willie Cheatham" is way too much of a double entendre... reminds me of the "Car Talk" office located in the fake law firm of "Dewey, Cheatham, & Howe."

Mandi- That's a good,

Mandi- That's a good, plausible explanation for these type of pictures.

I wonder how kids seasoned later in life then when they learn almost everything early on.

His left arm...

...doesn't match his right. I wonder if something was wrong with it. Poor kid...

Old timer once told me....

An old timer once told me that whence the meaning of "red light" as it relates to ladies of the evening began when a so-inclined woman put a red shaded light in her street-faced window ---- if the light was on, she was available, if off, she was either in service or not home in the moment ---- as birds of a feather flock together, so did the ladies, either by choice or by community ordinance ---- at the turn of the 20th century, some "higher-class" ladies only received gentleman company by appointment and the cutting edge of making an appointment was by telegram ---- so, as pointed out already, it was the messenger only doing his task at hand ---- I believe though that the term "red light district" applied to prostitution rather than gambling and speakeasies although there was certainly "intercourse" betwixt....

Red Light Districts

"Ghetto" has racial overtones that people probably didn't apply to a red light district, which was typically where the gambling and whorehouses, and, during Prohibition, speakeasies could be found.

Kids and Bad Houses

I frequently see messengers going in what was then called "Red Light District". I guess "ghetto" is what we now call them?

Why would a young kid deliver messages from a well-respected company to the dirty areas?

[Because that's his job. - Dave]

red light district

Yeah no kidding, I was thinking the same thing!

Red Light District

Did every kid that worked for Western Union go to the Red Light District? I think they all mentioned it

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