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Bleak House: 1940

Bleak House: 1940

October 1940. "Abandoned farmhouse. Ward County, North Dakota." Medium format acetate negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Just behind the barn

If I'm not mistaken, there appears to be a railroad track and a telegraph line in the background.

That's the ticket

The owner must've been a Republican, at least in the 1938 state elections (Gronna didn't run in 1940, so the signs must be survivors from 1938):

Alvin C. Strutz was elected Attorney General;
Ben C. Larkin was reelected Railroad Commissioner;
James D. Gronna was reelected Secretary of State.

The sign with the "ER" looks to have a "K" before the "E", so it's probably for State Auditor Berta E. Baker, who in winning reelection was actually the lead vote-getter for the GOP ticket in 1938.

Wonder if the inhabitants of this farm voted for ex and current Governor (and convicted felon) William Langer in his losing independent bid for Senate in 1938. He would win a Senate seat a month after this photo was taken, would be found guilty of moral turpitude by the Senate committee on elections but seated by a vote of the whole body, and would serve as a strong isolationist until his death in 1959.

Joyce Kilmer poem

I've always loved this poem and this house is a poster child for it:

The start of it:

Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track
I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I’ve passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute
And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.

Is there anything new at all?

Tiny houses seem to have already been old by 1940.


Assuming John steadied his camera on his car window sill, this sad, tiny, well built former farm house sat close to the road - else why would big business attempt to squeeze 5 cents out of passerby traffic for a soft drink or a bit more for a 'hard' one. Wonder if STRUTZ, LARKIN and GRONNA were small real estate hopefuls. The windows and their fittings were probably carefully removed for another frugal homesteader's use elsewhere. Hoping they succeded - - -

Pristine targets for the sharpshooters

How many beautiful and valuable signs I've seen with those damn bullet holes. Wish I could travel back and save those tin beauties...

Pipe dream.

I’ve always wanted to purchase buildings like this and fix them up a bit. Leave them looking old though.

Playing through

A picture (especially of an abandoned structure) in which the photographer has shot through and out another open window or door on the other side is endlessly thrilling to me. It strikes me as being almost too poetic, too metaphorically sublime -- in a very good way. At any rate I love this shot. It's extra.

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