|Richard Wolverton, Newark, Ohio, Summer 1938. Photo by Ben Shahn.
Newsboy, Newark, Ohio, 1938 Summer, photo by Ben Shahn
In the summer of 1938, Ben Shahn, then a photographer for the Farm Security Administration, made a
long trip through the Midwest. He stopped in the small town of Newark, Ohio, and snapped a few pictures of ordinary street
scenes: a man standing in front of a drugstore, another man reading the paper in front of the Salvation Army headquarters,
and a newsboy squinting at Shahn’s camera. None were identified.
The newsboy attracted my attention immediately. The photograph is reminiscent of the many newsboy
photos by Lewis Hine taken a generation earlier, although they tended to have a much gloomier look about them. What are we
to think of this boy, with the mop of hair and the missing front tooth? Why did Shahn pick him out? Perhaps, like the other
Newark photos, he was just recording 1930s America for posterity, a mission his boss, Roy Stryker, had a passion for.
I resorted to what has become a reliable
method of identifying photos. I got the Newark Advocate to publish the photo and an article. It appeared in the paper on March
23, 2008. That evening, I received a call from a woman who identified herself as Pam DeVaul. She said: “I opened my
paper today and was surprised to see a picture of my Uncle Beans.”
Uncle Beans was Richard Wolverton. He was born in Ohio on March 18, 1925, the son of Paul Wolverton
and Bessie Cochran Wolverton. He was one of nine children. Paul and Bessie were married about 1911. In the 1930 census, Paul
is listed as working as a machinist for the railroad.
In her own words, Pam described her uncle as “a little slow,” but that she had very
fond memories of him. On the following pages, see my interview with her, and a lovely photo of Richard as an adult.
Interview with Pam DeVaul