A. Aubrey Bodine - Legend In His Time - But Lovable In Many Ways
. . . BUT LOVABLE IN MANY WAYS
A. Aubrey Bodine. After they were married Nancy asked him what the A stood for. He told her Aloysius. The only place I found the first name in his personal papers was on his 1930 passport - Aldine Aubrey Bodine. The first child had been named Henry after Mrs. Bodines father. Ellen Bodine Walter says that their mother was superstitious. She thinks that after the sudden death of Henry her mother felt it unlucky to take a family name for the second child. The names Aldine and Aubrey came from a book; the mother thought them distinctive and euphonious. Evidently her son never liked the name Aldine. His first school record lists his name simply as Aubrey Bodine. Curiously, I cannot remember anyone ever asking him or the Sunpapers what the A meant. His daughter Jennifer kept questioning him about it. He teased her by saying that it was his secret. She was about ten before she found out, accidentally (its given in Whos Who). From then on she called him Aldine. He seemed to prefer it to Dad.
Aubrey, of course, is a strange name for a man and lends itself to misreading. But though it is distinctive and part of one of the best known bylines in Sunpaper history, many, including old acquaintances, could not get it right. They persisted in calling him Audrey. When he had a funny picture made of himself - as one with his head and hands in the stocks at Williamsburg - he would sign the print The Great Bodinski. Nancy called him Aubrey much of the time, Bodine when she was perturbed, and, affectionately, Bo-dini.
He gave the impression of being taller than he was (5-10 ), had a trim figure, a no-nonsense air and a smile that was warmer and more frequent than one might expect. His voice was flat and twangy, with touches of an Eastern Shoremans drawl. He had a flair for colorful expressions. As Bafford put it, Once he described something, you never forgot it. He swore frequently and with fervor, yet two of his favorite expressions were Oh, gracious! or Good gracious! The red hair of his youth had softened to a sorrel shade and after wearing it in a semi-brush for years he had begun to let it grow a little.
There was a perpetual sharpness about his gaze and he seemed to be taking in and assaying everything about him, whether he was browsing in a country store or speeding down a country road.
He smoked corncob pipes which he bought by the dozen. After a few nervous puffs he would put one pipe aside and begin to stuff another, with Bond Street, the only tobacco he liked. He kept a small screwdriver in the ashtray of his car and used it to jab furiously at clogged tobacco as he sped along at 80 miles an hour.* James D. Dilts, a Sun reporter, feels that he used his corncobs not only as a trademark but also, when necessary, as a smoke screen. Asked a question he did not want to answer, he would work up a good draft and then behind a blinding, choking cloud of Bond Street wafted into the questioners face make his escape. When he made interior pictures he would often have a corncob pipe visible in the picture. I am convinced that it was a symbol, just as Mathew B. Brady placed a pair of shoes in some of his battlefield pictures. ° But Bodine would never acknowledge this other than with an enigmatic smile.
* Once when he was buying a new car he could not make up his mind which make would best suit his needs. He compared horsepower, calculated gasoline consumption, measured the storage capacity of trunks. Finally he made his choice, a Ford Galaxie. The reason? The Ford Motor Company, he declared, is the only one that makes an ashtray big enough for two corncob pipes.
° Bodine had noted that the Encyclopaedia Britannica was not giving any account of Brady and he kept working on the editors until they included an entry. Brady undoubtedly was one of Bodines heroes. The only other photographer he was known to admire was Edward Steichen. As a young man he bought Vanity Fair when Steichen was doing its photography, and he collected Steichens books.
He was a fastidious dresser and he picked bright-colored clothes that, although cut conservatively, were different from what others wore. He favored loud striped shirts years before they became fashionable. Shirts were one of his extravagances. He had more than 50, most custom-made. When he got a new one he dated it with indelible ink. See this shirt, he would brag. Bought it 20 years ago and it still looks brand new. (He probably had worn it only twice.) He had about 25 suits, most of them tailor-made, often abroad. He wore white shoes in summer, even after they had been out of style for years; finally the only place he could get them was at a naval outfitters in Annapolis. He was partial to English Lotus and Church shoes, Burberry coats, Borsalino hats and Italian silk suits.
He never complained about what his wife spent on clothes, jewelry or things for the house, but, like anyone else, he had his idiosyncrasies about saving money. He never permitted more than a 40-watt bulb in his house. When he and Reppert traveled they stopped several times a day for coffee or a Dr. Pepper. At the first stop Bodine would toss a quarter on the counter. At the second stop Reppert would pay. If they stopped a third time, late in the afternoon, Bodine would put his quarter out, telling the counterman, Take mine out of here.
If he liked something he wanted it in quantity. Radios were a passion and he had one playing wherever he was-in the darkroom, car, bedroom or kitchen. He tuned in classical music, but purely for background; he seldom gave the music his full attention. He probably had twelve expensive radios, all in working order, and he was often talking about buying another. He was searching for one that would bring in his favorite station, WOR, New York, clearly at any time, under any condition. He liked its news coverage and commentary. On an assignment in Pennsylvania he fell in love with the rooster pattern of Pennsbury china, which he thought was becoming rare. He bought two dozen of everything. This was 25 years ago; some of it has never been unpacked.
He was an admirer of good handicrafts and often returned home with hand-made quilts, bedspreads, samplers, hand-carved eagles and homemade applebutter.
He bought the canvas for eight dining room chairs and did most of the needle-pointing himself. He found it fascinating and relaxing and hated to put it down. At a party the conversation would flow around him as he sat silently, oblivious to all, absorbed with his needle, yarn and design.
He was vain and conceited about every aspect of his work. Complaining to a governor of Maryland, he wrote, I get around this state more than anyone else, know more people and have a better idea of whats going on, so . . . He did not find it immodest to say that he could do things beyond the capabilities of any other photographer, or when turning in a picture to his editor to call it the greatest one of its type ever made.
In his personal files he kept what must have been every fan letter he ever received. If a knowledgeable person praised his work - in a rejection letter the picture editor of Look, for example, raved about his shots of the birth of a baby - he made photo copies to distribute, and better preserve the comment. He must have saved every clipping that mentioned his name, even a two-line agate listing for a lecture in a Womans Club calendar. Sometimes he had five or six copies of an article, or reproductions of one of his pictures, in his clipping files. When the Sunday Sun art critic commented favorably on a one-man show, Bodine not only preserved six clippings but had the composing room draw 20 or 30 proofs on gravure paper which would last longer than newsprint. Carroll Dulaney, who wrote a column for the Baltimore News, said that the illustrations for the Gas and Electric Companys yearbook have those soft, warm tones that society photographers affect. Even though the photographers name was not mentioned, Bodine saved six copies. This was in 1932, long after he had begun getting his name in the Sun, but the occasion was probably the first on which another Baltimore newspaper referred to his photography.
Bodine was an authentic type. A character. Eccentricity personified. He was usually contrary, often obstinate and always different. A psychiatrist summed him up as tense and perfectionistic. Jennifer termed him the worlds first hippie. (He dressed the way that pleased him without regard to current fashion. He picked a life style that suited him. And he always did and said what he wanted. That, years later, became the hippie credo.) A man who knew him well called him a queer duck, then hastened to add but lovable in many ways. Those who knew him casually or by reputation tolerantly attributed his quirks to artistic temperament. He was shy and often withdrawn. He did not make friends easily, or, more likely, did not want to be bothered with many. The few that he had he treasured and treated with affection and respect. To the rest of the world he was often unpredictable, abrupt, short-tempered, inconsiderate, insulting and mean. Some thought him boorish, and some went as far as to call him a crusty old bastard.
When Helen Henry, who has a Southerners tact and courtesy, would learn that Bodine was to accompany her on a Sunday Sun assignment, she would often telephone ahead to prepare the subject for a possible Bodine outburst. She had learned from experience that he could put a woman on the verge of tears by a frank comment on her taste or a peremptory command that her furniture be immediately rearranged so he could make a decent picture.
In Western Maryland he once stopped in a restaurant in the middle of the afternoon for coffee. The section with white tablecloths was closed off; the part that was open had oilcloth on the tables. Bodine sat down in the closed-off section. When the waitress told him he would have to move he refused. I never sit at an oilcloth table, he said. He ordered coffee and when it came without a spoon he created such a fuss that the waitress threw it at him. His companion said, Aubrey, youve done the impossible. That woman is Amish, a member of the gentle people. You made her lose her temper; thats unheard of for them. Neither the fit of temper nor the criticism of his behavior fazed him. You just think shes Amish, he replied, because shes got one of those caps on. Anyone can buy one in a ten-cent store.
He alarmed and upset many, including friends, with his extreme opinions on any conceivable subject, but particularly on political and social issues. He had a simple, unorthodox - wild is perhaps a better adjective - solution for any problem, no matter its complexity. His solutions usually included eliminating the opposition in some vindictive, diabolical and bloody way. Politically he probably stood to the right of Ivan the Terrible.
Bafford believed that Bodine was an introvert, always trying to prove himself. Mencken was his god and he tried to imitate him in many ways, especially by shocking people. As a boy he felt that if you worked for a newspaper you had to be tough. That was Menckens attitude too. Bafford summed up Bodine as a combination of Mencken and W.C. Fields. That is too pat a characterization and does not do justice to Bodine, who, despite a gruff manner and a sharp tongue, was essentially good-hearted. I think he firmly believed everything he said. As a boy Repperts son Peter often accompanied Reppert and a photographer on interesting assignments. When Reppert asked him if he could choose the photographer, which one would he take, Peter, too young to remember names, replied, The one who cusses a lot. Years later Peter was to make a perceptive observation. To like Mr. Bodine, he said, you have to love him.
The first time Ruth Reppert met Bodine it was at her home during Christmas holidays. When she came into the living room Ralph introduced Aubrey. He was standing in front of the tree so absorbed in examining the ornaments that he did not turn around. All he said was, You stupidly hung the pretty ornaments in the back and put the ugly ones up front. And he began moving the ones he liked best to the front while all waited to go out to dinner along with Mrs. Bodine, who had been left in the car.
Bodine seldom offered a compliment but he always said what he believed. In an Eastern Shore mansion he was shown some English prints. He examined them and announced, Theyre probably fakes. He was not wisecracking. He had been asked for his opinion and since he considered himself an expert in most art matters he gave his opinion.
Years ago Maclean Patterson snapped several pictures of his father, Paul Patterson, which he thought turned out well because, he said, for once they didnt show him snarling. Mr. Patterson was president of the A.S. Abell Company, publisher of the Sunpapers; he called Bodine to his office. Maclean, who was managing editor of the Sun, was there. With the pride of fatherhood and more than a touch of the authority and majesty of his position, Paul Patterson handed the pictures to Bodine. Dont you think thats good photography? he asked. Bodine had a one-word answer: No.
Reppert and Bodine were doing a story on a kindly old man. Before they got to the business at hand he asked them to step into his den. His hobby was carving letter openers which looked like Irish setters with their tails extended. He had been industrious; there were 200, maybe 300, Irish setter letter openers lined up on shelves around the room. What do you think of these? he asked. It was obvious that he was fishing for a compliment from the famous photographer, something that he could mention proudly when he showed the collection to others. Bodine took in the collection at a glance. What, he asked the man, does your wife say about this crap all over the walls?
Bodine hated mediocrity, aerosol shaving cream cans, road markers that did not give distances or mountain heights, the photographs of Wallace Nutting (a New York photographer), the paintings of Maxfield Parrish, subscription cards tucked into magazines, bookmobiles, broadloom rugs, paper plates, the Kennedys (Joe, Rose, Jack, Bobby, Teddy and the sons wives and children), and composition shingles (Why did you ever let them put that damned oilcloth on your house?).
He had a deep hatred of:
The coddling of prisoners: If I were warden, I wouldnt spend more than five cents a day on their food. Theyd get dry bread and water. No books. No movies. No TV. Just bread and water. And theyd work for that. Thered be no repeaters in my prison.
Race horses: Damn it, theyre fed better than you and me, bedded better than you and me, and they never do a lick of work. There ought to be a law requiring all race horses to pull a plow for two years, with certificates to prove it, before theyre allowed to race.
Antivivisectionists: These stupid sobs hinder medical research and advancement. If they needed an operation that came about through research on dogs, I wouldnt give it to them. If it was my hospital and someone came in with acute appendicitis Id make them fill out a form: Name . . . address... age . . . are you an antivivisectionist? If the patient was Id toss a bag of herbs on the bed and say, `Here, you stupid bastard. Chew these.
As noted in the introduction, he liked his work, the Sunpapers and Maryland. He also liked shad roe; every spring he impatiently began ordering it weeks before any restaurant had any. He liked the Saturday Evening Post in its heyday, slot machines, roadside stands-which to him were true Americana - applebutter, country ham, Christmas Eve, a slam-bang mystery story, hand-knitted argyle socks, and Moxie, which he always drank out of the bottle.
He loved to swap. Mencken ordered many portraits of himself and his wife. Bodine was reluctant to bill him. He proposed that in return for a set of prints Mencken give him one or more autographed copies of his books and he collected a number that way, gratefully inscribed. The Maryland Historical Society wanted to buy some of his photographs; he said he would not take money but would appreciate a free membership. Rembski asked if he would make color shots of portraits he painted; he said he would if Rembski would paint his and Nancys portraits.
If Bodine bought something he usually wanted his friends to buy it too. Evidently he felt that he had selected the very best and his friends could benefit from his excellent judgment. When he wore Lotus shoes his friends were to wear them too. (Get rid of those Thom McAns. Do you want to look like Adlai Stevenson?) When Jennifer was small he discovered the craftsmanship of J. B. Ebersole, of Intercourse, Pa., who made beautiful Pennsylvania benches, chairs and rockers for children. He got a set for Jennifer and without asking his friends who had children ordered sets for them too. If you dont want them, Ill buy them back, he said. But, he cautioned, by the time your kids grow up these will be museum pieces. He used the same tactics with books, magazine subscriptions, electric drills, an English cabinetmakers saw, a new type of floor polisher and Aunt Minnies home-made preserves. When he got his free form cement statues from Federalsburg he got one for me too and placed it on our front steps.
But he did not like anyone to select anything for him. Anne Williams took along a Val-A-Pak on a vacation she spent with the Bodines. When they returned, Mrs. Bodine commented on the amount of clothing it held; she said she was going to get one for her husband. From another room he overheard this and shouted, Dont you dare! Nancy, who knew how to ignore him when she wanted to, said it was just the thing to give him for Fathers Day. If you do, he yelled, Ill burn it.
Once, though, shortly after they were married, she ignored him and suffered the consequences. They had been spending a weekend at a guest house near Salisbury. Early Monday morning Bodine tapped his sleeping wife on the shoulder and said, Im ready to go. She dozed off. When she got up she inquired about her husband. No one seemed to know where he was so she assumed he was off making pictures. When he did not return by noon she suspected what had happened. She called the Sun and learned that Bodine had arrived in the office about 9 a.m.
She, of course, was upset that he would go off and leave her. She was also disturbed because that evening she was entertaining Seeber Bodine and his wife for dinner. She was fuming about these things as a taxi drove her into Salisbury, where she would get a bus to Baltimore. To make matters worse the cab driver was talkative. In a friendly, small-town way he wanted to know why she had been on the Shore. She told him she had accompanied her husband, who worked for the Sunpapers.
I know lots of newspaper people. Whats his name? the driver asked.
She was still so angry that she could hardly bring herself to speak his name, but somehow she snapped, Bodine - the photographer!.
The driver responded with a big smile. I know Mr. Bodine well, he said in an admiring tone. One of the finest gentlemen Ive ever met.
He wanted his own way, and he always got it. Even if it took months.
The first picture he gave our family was Winter Sunrise. We were proud of it and hung it in our living room. Bodine had not applied the gold toning evenly and one side of the picture had a ragged edge. This was noticeable only under close scrutiny but it upset him. He kept urging me to have the print rematted to cover the uneven line. It did not bother me. In fact I enjoyed his stewing over this minute flaw in his workmanship. When he realized that I would not do anything he ordered his wife to take the picture back to where I had it framed and demand that the job be done right. She said that if it bothered him that much he should take it back. This dialogue took place whenever they stopped by. One night he took the picture off the wall and said he would make sure Nancy got it fixed the next day. The picture sat in the Bodine house for months and became a test of wills. Only when he started to take it out of the frame-to burn it and the mat, he claimed-did Mrs. Bodine take it to be rematted. Bodine did not boast of his victory when he returned it to us, but he hung it with an air of a job well done. Thereafter whenever I noticed him contemplating it I detected a glint of triumph in his gaze.
We had his picture Snow Around Fence hanging on our largest wall. After a year or more we decided to vary the arrangement, moving it to a corner of the living room and putting a painting in its place. A few days later Bodine happened to stop by while we were out. He studied the new arrangement and then put Snow Around Fence back in the prominent position. He told our children, who were home, that the room was much more attractive that way.
One more personal anecdote. While doing a story on a country circus with Augusta Tucker, the novelist, Bodine kept ordering her to hold lights and do other chores to help with his pictures. After several hours of this she got angry and spunkily told him, Im not working for you. Ive got a story to write for Hal Williams. He gave her one of his cold stares and replied with infinite sarcasm, Hal is nothing in the world but an editor. I know whats good when I see it. Now come back and help me in the mirror house. Augusta refused and asked him, Whats the matter with editors, Aubrey? Not a thing in the world, he replied, except that they sit on their asses in ivory towers and dont know a damn thing about life.
He had a quick turn of mind and was fast with a comeback. When the Sun building at Charles and Baltimore streets was being torn down, employees who had worked there went back to get a souvenir. Most took a brick, a piece of marble from the business office counter, a door knob, or some such prosaic memento. Not Bodine. He went to the mens room he had used and pried out a button that flushed the urinal. It was marked Press. On a Shore assignment he and Reppert were in the marshes and had to walk a mile. or more along a primitive road to get back to their car. They passed a crude house built of concrete blocks. The man lounging on the steps taunted them, Hey, fellers, wherere your fish? Where, Bodine yelled back, is the stucco for your house?
He was an inept story teller, though, either forgetting the punch line, getting it so twisted that it made no sense, or, more often, laughing so hard that he could not finish the story. He was always puzzled that his friends never laughed at jokes which he considered uproarious.
His humor was both subtle and broad.
When he, George and Bafford were traveling in Nova Scotia, he put his view camera, tripod and bulky equipment box in the back seat and always made sure that he had the seat next to the driver. The man in back was so hemmed in by the equipment that he could not move. He was sore about Bodines lack of consideration but to keep peace said nothing. On the last day Bodine had them stop at an antique shop. He pretended to buy a Boston rocker and a rusty parrot cage, took them to the car and told George, Make room for these, and hold the parrot cage. I dont want it scratched.
When Jennifer had her first date with a college man, one from the Ivy League, she fretted about getting him in and out of the house fast to avoid a possible embarrassing confrontation with her father. When the doorbell rang, Bodine popped into the living room. He had taken off his coat, tie and shirt and put on an old vest over a tattered undershirt. He was shoeless and had thrown a dozen empty beer cans on the floor around his chair. He put a bottle of gin on the TV set and tuned in a bowling program. Then he sat back to meet his daughters date.
The beaux of Jennifer and Stuart, his stepdaughter, had tough going with him. Michael Moore, who married Stuart, had been courting her for a long time before Bodine gave him the slightest recognition. One Sunday while Bodine was watching a golf tournament on television, Michael leaned on a nearby chair to watch too. That night he excitedly told his parents, Mr. Bodine finally noticed me! He sent me to the drug store to get him some tobacco.
A friend of Jennifers was ordered by her father to crack some rocks in the back yard. Being a city boy he made the mistake of using the blade of the axe to do it. The boy never heard the last of that, and Bodine told the story often as an example of young people being unable to perform the simplest tasks. But that same day, Jennifer said, her father ordered her to take two checks to the hospital where her mother was a patient and have her make out a deposit slip because he did not have the faintest idea how to do it.
He liked nothing more than to trade insults with old friends. B. E. Sullivan, who runs an antique shop in New Market, Md., could match him insult for insult. The two would spend a pleasant afternoon in the barn with Bodine ridiculing Sullivans wares and Sullivan poking fun at Bodines pictures. Bodine addressed letters to Sullivans Junk Shop. Sullivan wrote to A. Bodine, Box Camera Editor, Sunpapers.
Only one man, a locomotive buff, ever managed to bully Bodine and get away with it. After a Bodine locomotive picture was published this man would write, saying something to the effect that it wasnt too good a picture because there wasnt enough smoke or it didnt show all the drive wheels, but since it was of Engine 307 he would like a print. Not just an 8 by 10, but an 11 by 14, and gold toned. No mention of payment. Bodine was so taken by the mans gall that he usually mailed the print and never sent a bill. If he was slow in getting the print off the fellow would send a sharp note. I wrote you two weeks ago about that picture of 307. Havent got it yet. Whats the matter? No time for old friends? Bodine never received a note of thanks, but sometimes got a postal card telling him to take more pains in packing and mailing the prints because one had arrived with a bent edge. Bodine got a kick out of the letters. Once he told Reppert, I fixed the old bastard this time. When I sent him the ten pictures he wanted I put a note in with them, `You tight S.O.B. When are you going to send me postage?
Bodine carried on a large correspondence, which his wife typed for him. Much of it was routine business about his pictures but a surprising amount dealt with wide-ranging matters. He was vitally concerned about Baltimore and Maryland and was usually prodding someone to do something to make them better and more beautiful. After the Japanese cherry trees in Mount Vernon Place were destroyed by vandals, he wrote to the Japanese ambassador and Mayor J. Harold Grady and arranged to have the trees replaced. He urged the state to set up a crafts center in Western Maryland to sell the work of Appalachian craftsmen. He wrote to Albert D. Graham, then chairman of the board of the First National Bank, Around the corner from my house is a group of interesting old houses which I am told belong to your bank. They have just been painted a very attractive brick red with a coat of green on the woodwork which is a pleasant departure from the conventional white or cream. My suggestion is that the painters leave well enough alone and do not ruin the appearance by putting white stripes over the brick to indicate mortar. The stripe painting seems to be an ancient custom in Baltimore but they give a false appearance and fade in a month or two, thus giving a shabby appearance. (Mr. Graham was so impressed with the suggestion that he inspected the work and said he thoroughly agreed.)
Bodine urged on the governor that mileage be indicated on all state direction markers (his campaign resulted in the State Roads Commissions decision against that being reversed). He complained to many authorities - this was in the early Forties - about the lack of pollution control in Baltimore.
One of his strongest campaigns, one that was pure Bodine, was waged on behalf of an 86-year-old woman who lived in Frederick. His first letter was addressed to the mayor of Frederick on May 10, 1945. It was a long one and said in part, Recently while visiting your lovely town I made a magnificent documentary photograph. A picture that will be considered a masterpiece by my contemporaries. Unfortunately, the subject was one of the most pathetic but courageous individuals I have ever met. Bodine gave her name, address, a description of her house (a magnificent example of poverty and antiquity) and an enumeration of her ills, and added, During our conversation I showed her one of my 16 by 20 photographs of Frederick and was due for another jolt when she said that she could not see it. She said that her blindness kept her from attending church but she tried to abide by the Ten Commandments. The letter concluded, It is my sincere hope that you can prevail upon some doctor or county health authorities to give her some physical relief. God only can help her soul.
The mayor did not get around to replying until August 13-three months later. What he wrote then was a typical letter a politician would send to a complainant who was ineligible to vote for him. It concluded, When you come to Frederick again do drop in my office. I would like to meet you and show you the city. The delay and the tone of the reply infuriated Bodine. He dashed off letters to the editor of the Frederick News Post and the director of the Maryland Department of Health. The three page single-spaced letter to the latter concluded, If no effort is made to better things for Mrs. I will endeavor to find out where the fault lies. My first step will be to make some portraits of her-life size and personally take one to Governor OConor, and simultaneously send a copy to you and to half a dozen other top men in the medical profession, such as my friend, the late Dr. Hugh Young. After that, I will follow up with prints to every church nearby, regardless of creed or color, and that, I am sure, will bring some action . . .
It did. Within two days the director of the Maryland Department of Health, the county health agent, the mayor of Frederick and their aides visited the woman to see what they could do for her. This frightened her and angered her relatives; they thought all these authorities, for devious reasons, were conniving to put her in a home for the aged. The old woman herself said she was perfectly happy where she was. She refused to budge.
There is one other fact to add. When Bodine exhibited the picture of the sunbonneted old woman standing in the doorway of her crumbling house he added an element not in the original scene. With his great skill he had dubbed into the dirty window a vase of flowers.
Despite his indignation in the Frederick case, he was uncharacteristically mild in the action he threatened to take. Usually his suggestions were more violent and sanguinary. When a group of evil and selfish scoundrels wanted to license Bay fishermen Bodine wrote to the state comptroller condemning this idea and proposing, Lets use these characters for crab bait this summer. The punishments he most frequently proposed for those at odds with his system of law and order were floggings or hangings in a public place, usually War Memorial Plaza. His solution for a Chicago railroad strike was voiced something like this, Theyve already got the stockyards there. The weather [this was February] is 8 below and theyve got that wind off Lake Michigan. So Id make all the strikers take their clothes off and herd them into a stockyard pen. Naked. Then Id spray them with fire hoses. Id say, When you simple sons of bitches get some sense in your heads you can come inside and stand by the stove. [Then a long puff on the pipe.] We wouldnt have another railroad strike for 50 years.
He wrote Senator Herbert R. OConor in 1949 recommending that the Taft-Hartley Act not only be kept on the books, but made stronger. If Congress continues to appease these labor racketeers, he fumed, millions like myself will have but one alternative, and that is to rally around someone strong enough to thwart these brazen few who allegedly control millions of workers who have no say as to what is right and wrong. This would mean a dictator or whatever you may call him. The idea is not a pleasant one, but if things continue to get worse this will be far the lesser of two evils.
Later the population explosion worried him and he railed, The trouble with this world is that there are too damned many people. What humanity needs right now is another Hitler.
Bodines day began early. If he was on the Shore or in Western Maryland on assignment he often would be up at daybreak, prowling a back road, sniffing the air like a hunting dog on the scent. A corncob pipe was always in his mouth, no matter the hour. In winter he wore a hunting cap with the ear flaps hanging loose, and in a heavy rain he clomped around in muddy boots and a poncho, sometimes hanging his black focusing cloth over his head. By 6 a.m. he might have made his pictures. He was ready for breakfast and the Sun. He was in a foul mood if he could not get the paper, even in so remote a spot as Cape Charles, Va., the southernmost tip of the Shore, at 6:30 a.m. The circulation manager then got hell. (The circulation manager had mixed emotions about Bodines excursions. His pictures were great for sales in the areas where they were taken, but Bodines nasty notes listing twelve or more places where he had been unable to buy a Sunpaper were ulcer-producing.)
Bodine would work a 10 or 11-hour day if necessary, particularly if the pictorial possibilities were good. He never tired of touring Maryland and searching for new spots from which to portray its beauty.
He seemingly knew every restaurant, diner and lunchroom in the state. He had his favorite spots for blueberry pancakes, calves liver and bacon and sweet potato pie; he would drive 60 to 80 miles out of his way to eat at one of these.
Probably the only admission he ever made that one of his theories might be wrong came in connection with an eating place. The theory was that you could always find where good food was served by seeing where truck drivers stopped. There, he maintained, youll get not only good food, but big portions. One day he and Reppert had not eaten lunch by 2:30 and were hungry. While looking for a place to eat they passed a large crossroads restaurant with two dozen trucks parked on the lot. Bodine zoomed right by.
Whats the matter with that? Reppert asked. Lots of trucks.
Ive been there, Bodine replied. Foods terrible.
What happened to your theory? Reppert inquired.
Its not infallible, he admitted.
If they dont have good food, what brings in all the truck drivers? Reppert wanted to know.
A waitress with big tits, Bodine grinned.
Bodine had fun poking around in country stores, looking for bargains or things no longer stocked on city shelves. The best Christmas present he ever got his wife, he claimed, came from such a place. It was an old-time zinc washboard. One Christmas he gave friends with patios bricks from Williamsport debossed with the greeting Merry Christmas.
Though he drove fast, Bodine never missed a thing along the road. One day he slammed on his brakes after passing a country store with a broken bench on the porch. After examining this he was convinced that it had been hewn out of a chestnut log, was at least 200 years old, and probably was priceless. After 20 seconds of what he considered small talk, he said to the storekeeper, Ill take that broken bench off your hands for $15. The storekeeper did not reply. Bodine had another Dr. Pepper and tried again. The man shook his head. Last week, he said, another city feller offered me $300.
Bodine and Reppert spent a good part of each day on the road scavenging the countryside. They would occasionally buy, but more often pick up, weathered wood from a rotted wharf, blistered glass from an old barn window. bent hand-made nails, cracked jugs, parts of a dismantled still, broken wagon wheels, wormy fence posts, strands of rusty barbed wire, and squeaky garden gates. After one three-day expedition they could hardly make it home, Bodines car was so weighted with treasure.
Bodine hated to be on the road back to Baltimore between 4 and 5 p.m. He always seemed to be behind a gas and electric or telephone company truck. He would rage, Those bastards dont like to work after 4 p.m. If they get back to the garage too soon they might get another job. So they drive at 11 miles an hour to get there at 5 p.m. exactly! He hated to be behind a Howard Johnson truck at any time; he claimed the companys safety program prohibited its trucks from traveling more than 40 miles an hour. He traveled at 80, or more.
If Bodine spent the day in the office he began his routine by throwing most of his mail away unopened. Not in just any wastebasket, but in the vicinity of the most prominent wastebasket in the Sunday department. His theory was that no one sees whats inside a wastebasket but everyone sees whats discarded around it. He took particular delight in littering the floor with press releases from the Red Cross, the National Safety Council and any organization he remotely suspected of being liberal. The more mail he threw away, the more he got. His friends delighted in adding his name to the mailing lists of organizations that would inspire him to new and more imaginative denunciations.
The best practical joke ever played on him developed when he came into the office wearing an expensive new hat for the first time. He left the hat on a cabinet next to Repperts desk when he went to get a cup of coffee. Reppert tried it on. It fit. Then he noticed that Bodine had neglected to have his initials stamped on the sweat band. He had an artist quickly letter R.R. there in gold ink, and the hat was put back where it had been. When Bodine picked it up Reppert yelled, Hey! Were good friends, still I dont want a photographer walking around in my new hat. He pointed to the initials R.R. Thoroughly mystified, Bodine was about to give up the hat when laughter from the staff gave the joke away.
The Sunday Sun has a staff of about 30, including editors, copyreaders, writers, photographers and artists. Outside of his fellow photographers, the editors and some of the older copyreaders and reporters, Bodine did not know most of them by name and seldom bothered to speak to them. He had a few friends and ignored everyone else. One whose company he enjoyed was Hervey Brackbill, assistant Sunday editor and book editor. They lunched in the cafeteria when Bodine was in town and took coffee breaks together. After Brackbill retired Bodine ate at a nearby restaurant with Reppert, Malcolm Allen, assistant Sunday editor, and John Stees, the cartoonist, who spent much time baiting him on the controversial subject of the day. He invariably recognized the ploy and in turn baited them. But occasionally they got him ranting on some subject that galled him and they would come back to the office with a new Bodinism. Almost next door to the restaurant was a nearly-new shop operated for the benefit of Mercy Hospital. This fascinated Bodine and he knew when deliveries were made; at those times he would lead his luncheon companions in to inspect the merchandise, picking out suits, knicknacks, and prayer books for them. He was always on the lookout for an old shirt to wear while he was painting.
He relaxed by puttering around his Park avenue house. He paneled one wall of the living room with old doors, refinished much of the woodwork and did most of the painting. He invariably started painting the bathroom or replastering the kitchen the day his wife was entertaining her bridge club or having a dinner party.
Members of the family were assigned household repair work and this had to be done in a time he specified. Stuart was once invited by friends on an expense-free trip to New Orleans. Her stepfather said she could not go until she had finished scraping the woodwork on her assigned side of the living room. It seemed like an impossible task to accomplish in the few days before she was to leave. Nevertheless he was adamant. She made it, but tenants, neighbors, boy friends and her mother had to pitch in to help her meet Bodines deadline.
He left his personal touch in many ways at 805. He scratched his initials and the date he bought the house on a living room window. When a section of sidewalk was replaced he used his wifes cookie cutters to decorate the wet cement. He had William A. Oktavec, the East Baltimore screen painter, reproduce scenes from Bodine photographs on his screens. The day Jennifer was born he cracked a hole in the front walk to plant an elm tree in her honor. In the bathroom he painted a mural in imitation of her first attempts at art. (Here too he kept framed her reports from the Roland Park Country School. These were not the usual sterile report cards but letters from the headmistress giving detailed accounts of the pupils progress and shortcomings. Anyone using the bathroom could not help but learn how Jennifer was faring in school.) When she graduated from the University of Maryland in 1971, she insisted on hanging the diploma in the bathroom because thats where Aldine would have put it.
In the first floor hallway on the stairs he hung a small gallery of his pictures: Oyster Dredgers, Snow, Park Avenue, Snow Around Fence, Drip, and a portrait of Mencken. In the corner of the dining alcove he had a large screen decorated with a blowup of one of his photographs of Mount Vernon Place.
Occasionally he took a picture of Jennifer, but these were not the conventional father-daughter snapshots. One day when she was three or four her crying disturbed him. He told her to shut up or he would throw her in the fireplace. She did not, so he sat her down right where he said he would. He grabbed an anchor chain from the back porch and draped it across her lap. Then he took her picture. It showed a teary-eyed child sitting in the ashes with smudges on her face and dress, seemingly chained to the andirons.
Although Mrs. Bodine is an extraordinarily fine cook, her husband preferred to dine out several nights a week. His favorite restaurant was Marconis, but he went to many others too, usually small, unostentatious ones. He wanted coffee as soon as he sat down and became angry if he did not get it immediately. When ordering he inquired if Roquefort dressing came with the meal or cost extra. He just wanted to know. He seldom had it with his salad.
Much of his evening was spent reading. He read the Wall Street Journal (he clipped stories from it for his friends), Saturday Review, murder mysteries (if it was a poor mystery he tore the pocket-book in two so no one else would have to endure it) , and a wide variety of serious subjects. He and Brackbill exchanged books on exploration, archeology, natural history and the Latin-American lands. Brackbill was impressed with Bodines range of interests and what he got out of the books. (In a 1945 resume Bodine had written, I consider my principal education has been derived through acquaintances of superior intelligence, constant reading and extensive traveling.)
° As a youth he visited Haiti, Cuba and Canada in addition to making his 1930 trip to France, Austria and Germany, (He noted in a resume, I had no difficulty in traveling through these countries without the aid of being able to speak the native tongue or the need of a Cooks Tour representative or one of similar ilk.) In 1952 he vacationed by himself in Mexico and in 1955 he went to Europe on a National Press Photographers Association tour. In Paris he insisted on hiring a Cadillac with an English-speaking chauffeur for himself and two companions, Paul Slantis, of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and a representative of the DuPont Company. DuPont wanted Bodines opinion on some new film and suggested that he try it out in Paris. Bodine did not use it to photograph the glories of that lovely city; he shot every roll on an unusual bush that decorated the doorway of his hotel. The Cadillac was kept parked in front of the hotel and every evening the three of them rode in it three blocks to an Italian restaurant which, Bodine maintained, served the best risotta alla Milanese he ever tasted. His companions pointed out that .Paris was noted for its French restaurants and that they should try some of these. This did not make sense to Bodine when he knew they could get the best risotta alla Milanese he ever tasted only three blocks away. When they left the hotel a guest asked if Bodine were really Howard Hughes traveling incognito. In Rome he was so busy being fitted for silk suits that he did not have time for sightseeing. In London he asked a member of the Suns bureau to show his party around. He made her so angry with his criticisms of the English that she wrote a stinging column for the Sunday Sun about his visit without mentioning his name and changing his home town from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. He evidently never noticed it.
He went to bed early but slept fitfully. During the night he would read, listen to WOR or prowl through the house. During one early morning ramble he bumped into Jennifer, also a light sleeper. He started asking her about God, but soon switched the subject to furniture and had her crawling under and around his favorite pieces so she could see how well they were made.
His medical history probably weighed four or five pounds. He suffered from hypertension (a 1952 report noted, patient usual hyperkinetic rather jittery self), recurring violent headaches, diabetes (discovered in 1950 ) and in 1964 diabetic neuropathy, a degenerative disease of the nervous system which caused him increasing discomfort and pain. He saw many doctors but his favorite was Dr. John Eager Howard, professor emeritus of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Dr. Howard, who had treated Bodine since 1950, was to observe after his death, I was terribly fond of him, but I never understood the man. And Im not sure that anyone else did either. But he did understand him well enough to note in a 1964 report, I do not believe I shall ever be able to regulate the patient properly with his disposition and way of life, and it certainly would not be justifiable to make him give up his occupation on the grounds of significant benefit to the diabetic complications.
From 1950 on he was in Johns Hopkins Hospital nine times. From these visits came three stories. Once he complained to the nurse that he could not read in bed because of the poor light. Twenty minutes went by and nothing happened. He jumped out of bed and went to the office of the president of the hospital, picked out a reading lamp from the reception room and carried that back to his bedside table.
During another stay he lugged his cumbersome view camera and tripod to the roof of Marburg to photograph the Baltimore skyline by moonlight. There, a bathrobe whipping about his legs and his hospital identification tag shining in the moonlight, he was found by a security guard. Patients arent supposed to be out here on the roof at 2.30 in the morning taking pictures, the guard said, lamely, but not able to think of anything more appropriate. Bodine, of course, ignored him. Suddenly it dawned on the guard. Are you Audrey Bodine? he asked in a different tone. Bodine nodded. Well, in that case, said the guard, its certainly okay.
Another night he became restless and stalked through the hospital in bathrobe and slippers. When he came to the lobby of Blalock, which is decorated with enlargements of his photographs, he noticed that he had never signed these. He borrowed a pen from a passing nurse and began autographing each picture. The nurse called Phipps, the psychiatric clinic. I think one of your patients is down here, she reported, pretending hes Aubrey Bodine.
In 1969 the Bodines moved from Park avenue to a house on Circle road in Ruxton. Here he had a chance to display the curios collected over the years. In the front yard, near a wooden bridge and old garden gate, is a gas street lamp painted in pastel colors and fitted with old street signs for Park avenue and Gilmor and Lanvale streets.
On the front porch are a large bench carved from a chestnut log, a shoemakers last mounted on a wooden block, and a number of jugs plugged with corncobs, mountaineer style. The house number appears five times on the mail box, the street lamp and three times on the house. At a corner of the house is a 15-foot wooden barber pole, the last one in Baltimore according to Bodine. He told children who watched it being installed that he was opening a barber shop in his garage. That night Ruxton cocktail parties buzzed with the rumor.
Mounted on the roof of a potting shed is something that looks like a Rube Goldberg contraption. Stew calls it a smogmaker. Bodine had fashioned it out of stovepipe lengths, camera parts and odds and ends found in his garage. In the window of the shed is an oil painting of St. Therese of Lisieux that he picked up at auction for 85 cents.
The walls of the breezeway are decorated with a small ox yoke (two larger ones hang outside), Mexican plates, fireplace utensils, horse bits and parts of harnesses, an anchor chain, a hay fork, the side of a fruit carton that held Bodine Arizona Girdled Grapes-and at least 20 more items. A potbelly stove stands in a corner and ox-cart hubs serve as small tables.
In 1960 Bodine bought a gilded wooden eagle in Marblehead, Mass., and immediately became a passionate collector of eagles. No one has had the patience to count the ones in the Bodine house but they must number in the hundreds. Several are of museum quality. Eagles decorate an old wall telephone in the kitchen, mirrors, pipe racks, even the cup-holder and guest-towel ring in the powder room.
° When the Elk Ridge property was sold and arrangements were being made for the mother to live in one of the apartments at 805, Bodine told Ellen, Tell her she cant come unless she brings that chest of drawers. He was referring to a beautiful chest once owned by their ancestor, Rebecca Swearingen, that the mother wanted Ellen to have. The mother did as she was told. After her death in 1948, Bodine telephoned his sister, I wish youd get that damned chest out of here. I want to rent the apartment.
The Bodines loved fine furniture. An ancient sideboard from the Wilson family and a corner cupboard Mrs. Bodine bought at auction are collectors items. ° Several small tables were made by their friend William Weaver, a noted Baltimore cabinetmaker. Bodines prize possession was a Hepplewhite tambour desk that he bought during the Depression for $450. He said he wanted it so badly he would gladly have paid $1,000. The living room walls display portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Bodine painted by Rembski. The most unusual wall decoration is a copper label stencil for Melvale pure rye whisky. It came from Menckens basement. The house, which is also decorated with many works of Yardley, several Aaron Sopher sketches and a painting by Herman Maril, has an air of quiet charm. An enumeration of its furnishings does not do it justice.
Bodine did not have much opportunity to enjoy his Ruxton home. His diabetic condition had worsened, the neuropathy had spread from his legs to his hands, he suffered some little strokes and from angina. But he never complained, no matter how weak or ill he felt. He was thin and drawn, his speech was slurred at times, and he had lost much of his old sureness. But somehow he came to the office almost every day. Unable to do major stories regularly, he volunteered to take any minor assignment to be of help. People were surprised and flattered to find A. Aubrey Bodine turning up at their homes on routine assignments. One flustered woman whose recipe was being printed in the magazine gushed, I never dreamed Aubrey Bodine would take a picture of my chocolate snuffle. Without a smile he replied, Ill stoop to anything.
He enjoyed I Remember assignments. These were not taxing-all he had to do was snap a picture of the narrator-and he liked to listen to the old-timers reminiscing with Reppert, who would later ghostwrite their stories. Bodine sometimes interrupted the interview to give his version of the event. Often his recollections were more interesting than those of the subject and Reppert wove them into the I Remember.
Mrs. Mary McKinsey Ridout of Annapolis had been the subject of such an interview. After Bodines death she wrote to the Sunpapers to say how much she had treasured the visit. They came to our home to do an I Remember story about my father, Folger McKinsey. [As the Bentztown Bard he wrote the Good Morning column for the Sun for years. After a cup of coffee Mr. Bodine had a fine nap in a deep chair in the sunshine coming in our living room windows while Mr. Reppert and I talked about my father. And then Mr. Bodine made a photograph of me while he mumbled in a delightful way about his old broken down beloved camera.
In July, 1970, Bodine celebrated his fiftieth anniversary with the Sunpapers. He had dreaded retirement but he began mentioning it more and more because of his failing health. He was having difficulty walking and manipulating his fingers because of the neuropathy. Sometimes other photographers had to thread his film for him and do other tasks requiring dexterity. He had difficulty writing and he kept track of this diminishing ability by signing his name every day on a piece of paper he carried. Some days the signature was almost illegible; he dreaded being asked then to autograph his books.
I asked what he would like to do before he retired. He could not think of any project that excited him. I suggested that he photograph his favorite scenes in Maryland, taking as much time as he needed. He thought that a fine idea. About six weeks later he brought in a stack of photographs. I flipped them over as I placed them on my desk. No, he said with a smile, Youre starting at the wrong end. I flipped them back the way he had presented them. It was a magnificent set of pictures, some of his best work 171 a year or more. 1 stopped halfway through to tell him that. He motioned impatiently for me to continue. The last picture-the one he had wanted to me see last-showed the burial ground on Deal Island. Now turn it over, he directed. On the back he had written THE END. He was smiling as he walked out of the office.
We scheduled a cover and six pages for these pictures, which turned out to be his last major assignment. This issue of the magazine was about to go to press on October 28, 1970. That morning Bodine had planned to make a picture of a church spire but the light conked out, as he put it, and he came into the office. He said he felt fine and he was looking for something else to do.
An hour later while working in his darkroom he became ill. The company nurse called his doctor and and told him she thought he had suffered a little stroke. Bodine, who was resting in his chair, picked up a darkroom towel within his reach and wiped a tear from his cheek. Then he sat there resolutely until the ambulance arrived. He died that afternoon at the Johns Hopkins Hospital from a massive stroke
He was buried in Green Mount Cemetery as he had ordained.
In The Face of Maryland he had written, I like to wander through old cemeteries, particularly Green Mount because it has unusual grave markers, including an upside down bathtub. This picture of Green Mount won a national award. I used the prize money to help buy one of the few remaining lots in the old section where any type of marker is acceptable. If I want to put an iron tripod and camera on my lot I may.
When he bought the lot he, typically, wanted his friends to buy one there too. He urged Reppert to do this and Reppert replied, But, Aubrey, Ive got a cemetery lot.
Sell it, Bodine ordered, and get yourself a decent one. The cemetery salesmans pitch was still fresh in his mind.
Some cemeteries sell you one plot, he said, then plant you somewhere else. Some places plant them three deep. If they want to put you in a creek bed, they do it. How the hell are you going to complain?
He drove on in silence for perhaps ten minutes. Then, taking the corncob pipe from his mouth, he remarked with finality, Nobody is going to set my ass down in a goddamned swamp!
All Photographs by A. Aubrey Bodine - Copyright Jennifer B. Bodine