MORNINGS ON MAPLE STREET

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John Slebzak, Page One

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John Slebzak, near Pasadena, Maryland, July 1909. Photo by Lewis Hine.

John Slebzak. Location: (near) Baltimore, Maryland, July 1909, Lewis Hine.

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Slebzak family (individual identities not clear), near Pasadena, Md, July 1909. Photo by Lewis Hine.

Slebzak family (Polish) working on Bot[t]omley farm, near Baltimore, Md. They have worked here 3 years and one winter at Avery Island, Louisiana. All work except the very smallest. She hangs around the fields. Begin work about 4 A.M. and sometimes works until sunset, July 1909, Lewis Hine.

"Having lost their slaves, farmers had trouble finding laborers, especially for picking strawberries. After changes in immigration laws allowed large numbers of Eastern Europeans to emigrate, Polish and Czechoslovakian families (in Baltimore, Maryland) filled this need. They lived on local farms for six or eight weeks each season and picked berries, peas, and beans. Because a farmer did not receive cash for his crop until it reached market, and because the pickers were not comfortable with written records, farmers paid them with brass checks bearing their initials and a numeral to represent the number of quarts or pecks that had been picked. Farmers redeemed these checks before the pickers returned home." - from Between Two Rivers, by Isabel Shipley Cunningham, Pasadena Business Association, used with permission.

In a brief phone conversation with the author, Ms. Cunningham told me that despite the difficult working conditions, many of the Polish families in Baltimore enjoyed getting out of the city in the summer and living on the farms. Some of them brought accordions, and it was common for them to sing and dance in the evenings.

Perhaps the Slebzak family was similar to those described above. But many of the Polish immigrants in Baltimore also migrated to the Gulf Coast to work in the seafood canneries in the winter. One of Hine's captions notes that the Slebzaks did this at least one year, having gone to Louisiana.

Bottomley's farm, where the Slebzaks worked, was located near Pasadena, Maryland, about 15 miles south of Baltimore. My research revealed that it was owned by Robert Bottomley, one of the investors in the Rock Creek Company, which ran ferries and steamers from Baltimore to the Pasadena Peninsula. In the early 1900s, he created a popular variety of green-meat cantaloupe. I contacted one of Mr. Bottomley's daughters, now in her nineties, and she confirmed this. She said that when she was a child, she remembered the farm workers coming in from Baltimore in the summer. The Compass Pointe Golf Course is located where Bottomley's farm used to be.

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Location of former Bottomley's farm (source: Compass Pointe website)

Continue with story of John Slebzak

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