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Shorpy at Work: 1910

Shorpy at Work: 1910

"A greaser in a Coal Mine. Location: Bessie Mine, Alabama." November 1910. View full size image or view Shorpy even bigger (cropped). This is, as far as we can tell, the first of only four photographs Lewis Wickes Hine took of Shorpy on his visit to the Bessie Mine late in 1910. (The others are here and here and here.) Almost 100 years after being taken, they retain a strange and startling immediacy even though their subject is almost certainly dead. Who were you, Shorpy Higginbotham, and whatever became of you?

What became of Shorpy? Here's a summary of what we know, based on research using census and death records, contributed by visitors to this site: Shorpy -- Henry Sharpe Higginbotham -- was born Nov. 23, 1896, in Jefferson County, Alabama, to Phelix Milton Higginbotham and the former Mary Jane Graham. He served in the armed forces during World War I. On Nov. 19, 1927, he married Flora Belle Quinton. On Jan. 25 of the following year he died in a mine accident at the age of 31, crushed by a rock, and was buried in Jefferson County. He became a father, posthumously, when his widow bore his child in the summer of 1928. The writer Joe Manning says he has spoken with Shorpy's son but that he didn't want to talk. You can read more about Joe's report on his Web site.

On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Henry Sharp Higginbotham

This is Joe Manning, who wrote the story about this boy. The link to that story on my website has changed. It is now here.

Shorpy's father

I was looking up my ancestors and found Shorpy's father is listed as a Patriotic Descendant with the DAR.

Daughters of the American Revolution - Descendants Database

Member: -- Name Restricted -- Nat'l #: 818072 Ancestor #: A002137

Phelix Milton Higginbotham born on 29 - Apr - 1865 at AL

died at Jefferson Co AL on 17 - Aug - 1917 and his ( 1st ) wife

Nancy Jane Graham born on - Nov - 1869 at AL

died at _______________ on - - married on 14 - Mar - 1884

married at Jefferson Co AL

Well gosh

It seems hard to believe that his descendants would have no interest in discussing him at all. I never knew my grandfather, but I do know if someone called me out of the blue with a lot of pics of him as a young boy, I would be incredibly interested. Such disinterest - shame on those folks!


I am now haunted by Shorpy and his friends. I will be sharing these pics with my spoiled nephews this weekend!

A miner's name

Higginbotham is a name from the north of England, particularly the county of Yorkshire, noted for its strong coal-mining traditions in the past. I would imagine Shorpy's ancestors went from the Yorkshire coalfields to those of Virginia and finally Alabama, following the family profession.

-- A Yorkshire miner's grandson.


What a fascinating story about Shorpy. Someone sent me an email about the mines and set to Jim Reeves music. I googled his name and an amazing story unfolded. The kids of today should be made to see these photos and they would appreciate how easy they have it. The spooky part for me is that I was born on 25th January 1952. Poor Shorpy was killed on the same day and month although some years earlier. To work in those conditions at such a young age is so sad, and I hope he had as happy a life as he could, albeit a short one. R.I.P. Shorpy and all of your mates who worked in that hellhole.

Bob List
Sydney, Australia


I grew up in the Birmingham, AL area and I am very familiar with places like Dora. My grandfather, father, and most of my uncles worked in the coal mines. That is really interesting.

Women of the coal mine communities

Hi folks. I wondered if anyone had any photos of women in the coal mining communities of Pennsylvania around World War I. I am especially interested in Shenandoah. I often see a lot of photos of the men and boys, but I often wonder about the moms who kept the home fires burning.

why did you named the site

why did you named the site after him? just curious...

[We were going to call it, but the domain was taken - Ken]

I am now very happy I

I am now very happy that, I have been loging in to a site, which has rendered one hundred years of useful service, to the mankind! Long live "Shorpy" !!

[Shorpy thanks you! The mankind thanks Shorpy! - Dave]

Henry Higginbotham

Starting with the research posted here and on Mr Manning's site, I was able to piece together a short biography stub for BhamWiki (the project to document the Birmingham District)

BhamWiki:Henry Higginbotham

Thanks for publishing this great blog and for bringing attention to a life that might otherwise be entirely forgotten.

Shorpy's mother

The Marriage Index for Jefferson County, Alabama, 1818-1920, at the courthouse gives Shorpy's mother's name as Jimmie Graham and his father's name as F M Higginbotham and location as Book 10, page 353. License date is given as 3-14-1884.

"Gone But Not Forgotten" by Belcher, a memorial book for the Mount Olive Cemetery in Jefferson County, gives this information about her:
"Nancy Virginia (Jennie) Graham, b Nov 30, 1869, d Mar 27, 1946, daughter of Henry Harrison and Mary Penelope Elizabeth (Goode) Graham."


Shorpy or Henry or Shorty was a pretty interesting subject (for the photos.) It's a shame that his son isn't interested in talking. I'd like to hear more about him.

As another poster said, I can't imagine what doing that kind of work would do to your body. By 32 he might well have been closer, in a physical sense, to 50 or 60.


My guess is that "Shorpy" is some combination of Sharp (his middle name), Shorty and his given name, Henry. Maybe a nickname given to him by the guys at the mine.

Average Life Expectancy

I'm 32, the same age as Shorpy when he died. I can't imagine breathing coal dust and oil for 20 years does anything good for you.

Also, I wonder if the Sharpy/Shorpy spelling discrepancy has something to do with Alabama pronunciation as transcribed by a northerner.

Other Info

Henry Sharp Higginbotham registered for the draft on June 5, 1918. He was still employed by the Bessie Mine. He was born 10/23/1896 in Alabama

In Alabama, Henry S. Higgenbotham died in Jan 1928.

More info about Henry aka Shorpy

Home in 1910: Precinct 48, Jefferson, Alabama
Household Members:
Name Age
P M Higgenbotham 45 (Should be F(elix)
Nancy J Higgenbotham 43
Robert Higgenbotham 23
Jock Higgenbotham 20
Cervet Higgenbotham 16
Sharpy Higgenbotham 13
Harley Higgenbotham 11
Ruthie Higgenbotham 8
Paulie Higgenbotham 5
Annie Lee Higgenbotham 4

1900: Graysville, Jefferson, Alabama
Gix M Higginbotham 34 (This is really Felix)
Mary J Higginbotham 30
Doffie J Higginbotham 16
Robert B Higginbotham 13
Jack J Higginbotham 10
Susie Higginbotham 9
Fardix D Higginbotham 7
Henry S Higginbotham 3 <-- (THIS is "Shorpy")
Harley G Higginbotham 1

1880: Felix is living with his Parents Robert (b: VA) and Avarilla (VA)

This branch of Higgenbothams came to Alabama from Viriginia

If you try to say "Sharpy" with a heavy Alabama accent, a yankee photographer might her "Shorpy"


Well I hope so. I'd hate to have started a website based on a typo! In any case a big THANK YOU to the nice person who supplied the census data. That looks like Shorpy and his family to me.

Yeah, it's Shorpy.

Census takers were (and still are) temporary workers, and it's a very boring job. All census data is subject to mistakes, sloppy work, and flat-out lies from the person being interviewed.

Shorty? Shorpy?

The photographer, Lewis Hine, gave the name as Shorpy for all four pictures, as recorded by the Library of Congress. Which was also how it was spelled in the National Child Labor Committee's official report.

Shorpy is already taken.

Shorpy = Shorty?

A 23-year old "Short Higginbotham" in 1920 would be about 14 in 1910, could "Shorpy" really be "Shorty"?

What happened to Shorpy Higginbotham

On the 1920 Federal Census a family is listed as living at the Bessie Mine Camp, Jefferson Co., Al.

Harley Higginbotham (head of household) age 21
Nancy J Higginbotham (mother) age 56
Short Higginbotham (brother) age 23
Ruth N Higginbotham (sister) age 19
Paul S Higginbotham (brother) age 17
Annie Lee Higginbotham (sister) age 14
Alex a Coleman (boarder) age 19

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