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Shut This Door That Means You

Shut This Door That Means You

Vance, a trapper boy, 15 years old. Has trapped for several years in a West Virginia coal mine at 75 cents a day for 10 hours work. All he does is to open and shut this door: most of the time he sits here idle, waiting for the cars to come. On account of the intense darkness in the mine, the hieroglyphics on the door were not visible until plate was developed. September 1908. View full size. Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

One trapper's description of the job, which paid about $1.60 a day:

Trappers were responsible for opening and closing the underground ventilation doors. In those old mines, they had a system of doors between sections to direct the flow of air. Air was supposed to go up the main haulage and back to the fan. So a trapper sat all day by his door with an oil lamp on his cap. There was a "manhole" - a shelter hole in the wall by the track. The motorman would blink his light at me, and I'd throw the switch and open the door for him. Then, I'd jump into the manway until he was past, and run out and close the door. A trip would come along about every hour. Was I bored or lonely? Well, it was my job.


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The picture that the son thinks was Vance's high school graduation photo is in itself unusual. In 1911 graduating from high school was an accomplishment for a W.Va. coal miner. However, it does explain his election to the Clarksburg Trades and Labor Council as Secretary/Treasurer.
Thank you Joe Manning for another insightful look at the past.

Vance, The Trapper Boy: 1908

This is Joe Manning, of the Lewis Hine Project. I have completed my story about Vance Palmer. I interviewed two of his children and obtained some family photos of Vance.

Vance, trapper boy

Vance Swisher Palmer was born September 16, 1893. After working in the mine as a boy, he worked the rest of his life as a glass cutter for the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in Clarksburg, West Virginia. In the 1920s, he served as secretary of the West Virginia Farmer-Labor party. He died in Clarksburg on August 20, 1945. Surviving were his wife and four children. I interviewed his daughter and will publish excerpts at a later date on my Lewis Hine Project website.

Canary in a coal mine

Don't scare the birds

Vance van Gogh

After looking at this for about the zillionth time I see that trapper boy Vance is the artist here - he signed the door drawing with both his initials (V.P.) and his full name, Vance Palmer. Kind of sad to imagine him chalk-drawing all by himself by the light of his hat-candle.


My grandfather started out as a Trapper boy in 1890 at the age of eight in PA. He was in the third grade and had to go to work because his father had been blacklisted for trying to start a union. The family spent the winter of 1890 living in a half-tent as they had been evicted from company housing. Finally quit the 'mines' in 1935.

Lonely and dangerous

Here's a short death notice published in 1912 in The Pointer in Riverdale, Illinois:

"Herrin — Oliver Fraser, 20, a trapper boy in a mine, was killed when a runaway car struck the trap door and knocked him in front-of the car."


So lonely it must have been.

incredible photo

Thanks, photo it is incredible.

Tamara Razov.

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