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Chevy Men: 1972

"Cornett family. Leatherwood, Kentucky, 1972. Men and boys without shirts sitting and standing around two cars." Willie Cornett (seated, right) and some of his 12 children. 35mm negative by William Gedney (1932-1989). From Duke University's  Gedney Collection, encompassing some 5,000 pictures taken from the 1950s through the early '70s. Do we want to see more? View full size.

"Cornett family. Leatherwood, Kentucky, 1972. Men and boys without shirts sitting and standing around two cars." Willie Cornett (seated, right) and some of his 12 children. 35mm negative by William Gedney (1932-1989). From Duke University's Gedney Collection, encompassing some 5,000 pictures taken from the 1950s through the early '70s. Do we want to see more? View full size.

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A classic southern photograph I recognize until this day. The men still take their shirts off and feel comfortable in doing so. The joy of looking at old photographs like this is the great conversation it brings up like above. I agree with Anonymous Tipster about the subject matter, it looks about right to me. Photographs are awesome in a way a video is not. You can notice all the fine detail in a photograph and to me black and whites are the best. As some of the other Hatfield descendants above have noted, our lines go way back in the south, so we know the good stuff is in the details.

Then and Now

No jeans. No shorts. No running shoes. No long hair. And no caps.

More, more, more!

Dave, you always pick great images. I would love to expand the time-line offering. Just keep the fantastic older ones coming too!


Hey, remember "6-12", available in the yellow tube or can? How about "Flit", Real-Kill, Hot Shot, and Black Flag? Back then, every service station had their company's own brand of spray, probably DDT suspended in "petroleum distillates", a polite way of saying kerosene. They were also happy to sell you their pump spray atomizer. Us kids soon discovered what a wonderful experience could be had from spraying them at a lit candle.

The thing hanging from the families kitchen ceiling might have been a "Shell No-Pest Strip".

It was about this time that the miracle product, "OFF!" appeared, and put 6-12 out of business with its new technology: "They don't BITE, they don't even LIGHT!"

No Money but Hearts of Gold

Just think that with 12 kids, the Cornetts had at least 14 people living in their very humble dwelling but still voluntarily "took in" photographer Gedney who was not even kin. Can't hardly find people like that anymore.

[There were indeed 12 children when William Gedney met the family in 1964, but by 1972 but they weren't all living with Mom and Dad. Some of them had married and had kids of their own. - Dave]


For cars one model year apart, the difference in condition is striking. Neither car is ten years old in this image. I believe the better one is Dad's, since he's the only one sitting on it. I'd also believe that one of the boys picked up the battered convertible secondhand (or he had a drinking problem).

My own father, an Arkansas native, was posted to Fort Knox around this time, so the Gadney scenes resonate.

Family Reunion

This shot could easily be my grandfather and his five sons (as the eldest, my father would likely be the one in the center, sans cigarette). The age differences are spot-on, as is the time that they were these ages. The location is the only detail to indicate these aren't my kinfolk, as the family has resided in East Texas since the late 1950s. Interesting, though, because like lawgrl, I also have Hatfield roots in Eastern Kentucky. Thanks for the photo that strikes close to home on several different levels.

Shields Up

I have lived in Kentucky and I still work there and I can assure you that these young men aren't shielding soft spots or anything else except from gnats, flies, and mosquitoes. These guys are in a woods environment in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. They are shirtless because they are at home and among family so no modesty is needed. If the this image was captured in the late afternoon then the bugs are starting to come out and all three on the right hand side of the image seem to be swatting at the same time. If that is the case then they'll all be putting on shirts soon to give mosquitoes less of a target. It won't really be cooling off that much at night in the summer.

I suppose in our bug-spray crazed society we forget that once upon a time in America people spending time outside dressed to ward off biting insects as much as to protect their modesty and to prevent exposure to the elements.

You Betcha!

You know the Bull City Boy wants to see more from this Duke University collection. I could probably do without the condescending comments, but that seems to part and parcel of the Shorpy experience.

Do we want to see more?


The One in Charge

It seems clear from the dynamics captured in this picture that the boy in the middle, leaning on the trunk lid of the Chevy, with his right hand with the cigarette up on his left shoulder, is in command of this scene. The younger guys to his right hang on his every word, and the old guys on his left are afraid of him. Look at how the one older man shields his soft body, and the other holds his hand to his head. The middle boy is the only one not shielding himself in some way. Look how the third boy from the left has his legs crossed to protect his family jewels.

[The "older one" with the "soft body" is Dad -- Willie Cornett. The others are his sons. - Dave]

Yes, please

I'd very much like to see more of this collection. As a Hatfield I have a lot of history and interest in Eastern Kentucky and having spent quite a bit of time there I'd love to see more.

My Kentucky Home

I was about this kid's age growing up in Eastern Kentucky in 1972. We lived a simple life but probably a little better off than these folks, although in the mid '60s my father was a sharecropper and we had running water only in our kitchen sink (no bathroom in the house). Sure made for some cold trips to the outhouse as a tot. Thank God my sister helped me. Times have surely changed but I'm still in Kentucky, and there's no place I'd rather be.

Cigarettes, succotash and hard work

Will keep you thin!


Having occupied that time and nearly that place, I understand the texture and tone of the choices that brought those men and boys to that spot. Though there is an escape, it does not require a change of place but a change of action and perspective; poverty does not by itself produce poor vehicle maintenance, nor poor hygiene or self loathing, but it does place a heavy air in one's lungs and a blur in the eyes. But I could be wrong: Maybe they were happy and had optimism, dreams, and plans for a prosperous future and I am the one who made poor choices.

Minus the cars

This could be a shot right out of the Depression.

Biding their time by the river

... just waiting for Ned Beatty to glide by in his canoe.

Junior's thought balloon

In jes' a few more years ah'll be able to afford:

1. Ciggies!
2. Shoes!
3. My own craptastic car!

Ancient History

Yes, would love to see them. The older we get the more the '70s seem like ancient history.


Back at the right is a 1957 210 wagon. Chevy's forever in this group.

Yes, we want to see more

More Chevys, that is. Got any '58s?

Circa 1979

My buddy Whit had a '63 Impala. We spent hundreds of hours in that car on the back roads of Pennsylvania. Toking and listening to Led Zep, we ruled the world.

1964 was OK

Seems all of us boys did the same from 1964 to ??

I am not sure but those seem to be a 1964 Impala and yes we need and want to see more!!


The young boy on the left is totally fascinated by the collective wisdom of the big guys whether the subject be cars or girls, and I guarantee it's one or the other. I know because that's me 10 years earlier. 1963 Impala hardtop on the right, and a 1964 Impala convertible on the left (owned one in '69).

This is so cool

It's a new twist on the Shorpy formula for success. A different era, still black-and-white, and nice insight into how people lived at another time. I like it. More, please!

A few more, anyway.

That's a good pic - very well composed and with excellent tonal range.

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