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Scared of School: 1908

Scared of School: 1908

September 1908. Grafton, West Virginia. "Tipple Boy and Drivers. Maryland Coal Co. mine near Sand Lick. Boy with mule was afraid at first to be in the picture; another boy said he feared we might make him go to school." View full size. Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.


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Those are oil lamps on their hats. Shaped like a little watering can, they held whale oil with a wick that went down the spout.

Mine Headlamps

Oops, I just looked at the other photo of open-flame headlamps (which in fact I'd never seen before). Were the carbide (enclosed) variety considered "safety devices"?

Great site full of the America I grew up in. Thanks...

Carbide lamps..

Those are, in fact, carbide lamps, which worked by dripping water (regulated by a valve) onto rocks of calcium carbide in the body of the lamp. The amount of water determined the amount of gas produced, and therefore the brightness of the flame.

I was born in coal mining country in the 40's, and later came to discover through a friend how the flammable gas produced by calcium carbide could be used to power deafeningly loud paint-can cannons.

Also, BTW, most of us would rather have gone to work than school, I think...

My Sweetheart's the Mule

My grandfather, who started working in a coal mine about a decade after this photo was taken, used to sing this ditty to me:

My sweetheart's the mule in the mines
I drive her without reins or lines
On the bumper I sit
And I chew and I spit
All over my sweetheart's behind.

Carbide Lights

I think the name of the lamps on the boys heads were carbide lights. My dad has a couple of the ones my grandfather wore.


I would love to know what is on the boys' hats.

[Headlamps like these. - Dave]

Coal Camp

Yeah, I'm sure many of the jobs back then were horrible, but I can't imagine any kid not wanting to work with horses (or mules)--- and ditch school at that. That's not far off from what many of the well-to-do pay good money for their kids to do at expensive summer camps, after all!

Shocked. Shocked!

I'm shocked! One of them is smiling -- I'm surprised Hine didn't destroy the negative and demand another be taken with all-scowling faces.

How could it be?

How could school be any worse than this? I suspect that they didn't have a choice to go to school as their families probably needed the money.

["Worse than this" -- it says something about life today when we can't wrap our minds around the possibility that these boys might actually have liked working. - Dave]

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