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Shine: 1936

Shine: 1936

"Shoeshine stand, Southeastern U.S., 1936. (Title and date from Walker Evans, 1973. No caption for this image in FSA/OWI shelflist.)" Who will be the first Shorpyite to clear up a longstanding curatorial mystery and figure out where this is? Large-format safety negative by Walker Evans for the FSA. View full size.


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High Society

In 1935, my father earned perhaps $60 a week. We lived in an apartment in the Bronx in NYC. Our rent was probably less than $60. We didn't get a phone until 1950 or a television set until 1952.

Popular Shoe Colors

Judging from the row of Shoes in the center of the photo, the popularity of White shoes outnumbered Black shoes and Two Tone Shoes (the pair on the left) by at least a ratio of 3 to 1 in 1936.

Good for the Shoe Shine Business as I assume white shoes would get dirty very quickly walking around on those dirt streets!

19 Million Telephones

By 1935 there were something like 19 million telephones in the United States -- around one for every six people. Sixty years after its invention, the telephone was hardly a luxury.


In 1936, a telephone was a total luxury. Why did Bennie need one and where is it? Did he work by appointment? If he did off-the-foot shines did he get calls for pickup and delivery? That would explain the bike. If he was into running numbers or some other gambling enterprise he might have needed both.

Your background music for viewing

written in 1922 I believe.

Have you ever passed the corner of Fourth and Grand,
Where a little ball of rythm owns a shoeshine stand,
People gather 'round and they clap their hands,
He's a great, big, bundle of joy,
He pops the boogie, woogie rag,
The Chattanooga shoeshine boy!

He charges you a nickel just to shine one shoe,
He makes the oldest kind of leather look like new,
You feel as thought you wanna dance when he gets through,
He's a great, big, bundle of joy,
He pops the boogie, woogie rag,
The Chattanooga shoeshine boy.

(There may be other verses but you get the idea!)

Phone 278

So who out there can lay his hands on a 1936 telephone directory for Marion, Alabama? That would clinch it.

Bennie's sign

I love his sign! I especially like the curved lettering on his name.

Bennie's ride

It's a Columbia. Great classic bike.

Bennie Sims, bootblack

According to the 1930 U.S. Census, Bennie Sims (born circa 1904) was a bootblack employed in a "private stand" who resided in Marion, Perry County, Alabama. He's listed as the head of household and his mother, Lizzie (born circa 1872), resided with him as did his niece, Edith Cannon (born circa 1912).

B-B-B-Bennie and the guess

Bennie Sims: 1930 census, Marion, Perry, Alabama.
26 years old, bootblack, private stand.
Lives with Mother Lissie who is 58 and divorced, washerwoman at home.
Also residing with them is a neice, Edith 18 years old.
The home is owned by them and its worth is listed as $2,000.00
Bennie is listed as married but no spouse is attached to the census.

Winston-Salem, NC?

SSDI gives a Bennie Sims, 1899-1987, born in NC and who died in Winston-Salem. I'll guess the photo's multi-seat setup means it wasn't too small a town, and that that's Bennie in the photo, face blurred, in his mid-30s. He did lots of manual labor and socialized regularly, and so lived to a ripe old age of c. 88 after eventually closing down his shine parlor in Winston-Salem.

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