A. Aubrey Bodine - Legend In His Time - Messenger, Photographer
MESSENGER AT 14, PHOTOGRAPHER AT 18
Aubrey Bodine never talked about what his life was like before he achieved fame as a photographer. And he never gave anyone an opportunity to ask about it. A 2,500-word article on his career, prepared in 1946 under his direction, spanned his birth to employment in one ambiguous sentence: Bodine went to work for the Baltimore Sun (circulation 300,000) right after leaving St. Paul's Episcopal School. The biographical sketches he wrote or had written for publicity releases in connection with his exhibitions or books always started his life when he had become famous and dealt only with his work. It is obvious that he was not proud of his modest beginnings and that he sought to obliterate any mention of them. When required to furnish biographical facts for Who's Who he exaggerated his education with misleading dates and made other intentional errors. One could never learn from him that in many ways his life was as amazing, and he showed as much pluck, as a Horatio Alger hero.
He was born in Baltimore on July 21, 1906, the second of four children of Joel Goode Bodine and Louise Adele Wilson. Henry, the first child, died at the age of 5 days; Seeber, the third, and Ellen, the fourth, still live in the Baltimore area.
The Bodine ancestors were French Huguenots who fled to America in the Seventeenth Century after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and first settled on Staten Island. Later some moved to New Jersey; others in about the middle 1800's went to Prince William county, Va. It is from the latter that Joel stemmed. He was one of six children of Theodore Bodine, a school teacher living near Manassas. During the Civil War some Union soldiers were once hidden in the Bodine cellar from pursuing Confederate cavalry; ironically, other Union men later took everything the family owned except three geese.
Joel was 48 and a widower with four grown children, two boys and two girls, when he married Louise Wilson, then 33. As she was from Washington county, Md., they were married there: in Breathedsville, June 14, 1904. The Wilsons were well-to-do and socially prominent. They traced their history back to pre-Revolutionary days. The bride's father, Henry Beatty Wilson, was a physician, a contributor to medical journals in both this country and England, and editor of a country weekly, the Boonsboro Odd Fellow. One of her aunts, Sarah Catherine Wilson, was a musician and artist. Her grandfather, John Wilson, achieved passing fame for traveling by horseback through all the existing states. Louise's sister Edith was an amateur photographer as early as 1880; two albums of family pictures she took still exist. Two brothers were physicians. Another, George R. Wilson, was an executive of the Pennsylvania Railroad. When he died in 1951 he left a crossroads church near the family home $150,000. The 300-acre Jericho Farm near Boonsboro on which the Wilsons lived remained in the family until 1951.
There was also a notable character on the side of the bride's mother. A member of her family, George Scott Kennedy, married Rebecca Swearingen, whose great grandfather, Van Swearingen, was a county lieutenant in the Colony of Virginia and was known as King Van. Mrs. Kennedy, according to family tradition, was a woman of strong character and few words. When her husband died she walked into the kitchen of Jericho Farm and told the servants, Clean the silver. Mr. Kennedy just died. And when the horses pulling his hearse became so unruly that the grooms could not handle them, she, without a word, got out of her coach, climbed up on the hearse and drove it to the cemetery. Family archives preserve the deeds of both Kennedy and Wilson ancestors who fought in the French and Indian wars, Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War.
In Virginia Joel Bodine had lived in Manassas; he owned two farms and operated a general store until it was destroyed by fire. When he remarried he came to Baltimore. His bride, a great believer in education, felt that if they had children the city would offer better schools than the country. They bought a two-story row house at 2021 Harlem avenue, between Monroe street and the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks. A fresh spring near the tracks supplied their drinking water. Though it was a workingman's neighborhood, they had a cook and laundress. Aubrey was enrolled in public school No. 78 at Harlem avenue and Monroe street in 1912 and attended there for three years.
His father invested the money from his farms in tenant row houses. Later he supplemented this income by setting up penny gum ball and candy machines in drug and grocery stores. He was not a good businessman and his capital and income dwindled. The couple became unhappy on Harlem avenue and decided to move to Elk Ridge (then spelled as two words), about nine miles south of Baltimore, where a cousin, the Rev. Robert A. Castleman, was rector of Grace Episcopal Church.
The Harlem avenue property was sold and in the spring of 1915 the Bodines moved to a two-acre lot they had bought for $200 on St. Augustine avenue, not far from St. Augustine's Catholic Church. Until a home could be built, a large tent was rented and the family lived in it. Rugs were placed on the ground, beds put up in one corner, table, chairs and a stove in another corner. For six months the family lived this way; then in December the cold and snow forced them into a hurriedly-constructed shed which later became their chicken house. The father paid $20 to have the foundation dug for the story-and-a-half frame cottage that succeeded the shed but he did the rest of the work on the house himself although he was almost 60, blind in one eye and in failing health. His daughter remembers with admiration that he was handy with tools and could do almost anything with them. After the house was finished he did not work regularly because of his health until World War I when he clerked in the Patent Once in Washington. He lived in the capital, coming home every other week by train.
Until he obtained the government job money was scarce. Though the Bodines were poor their life was not unpleasant. The father liked to read and encouraged his family to read too. His favorite books were Dante's Divine Comedy, Milton's Paradise Lost and a biography of Washington. He urged the children to learn new words and to spell them correctly; Ellen became so good with words that her friends called her Dictionary. Aubrey was interested in American Indians; on his bedroom wall for years was a magazine-cover Remington painting of a dying warrior. (During this period - 1913 to 1920 - Seeber lived with an uncle and aunt in Florida.)
After Aubrey and Ellen were sent to bed the parents would sit on the lawn on summer evenings and the father would play a guitar while the two sang folk songs and hymns. The father had a way with him and was particular in his dress. He wore a coat at the dinner table. When he visited relatives in New Jersey he donned a silk hat. In summer he wore a white linen suit on Sundays. After church the family would picnic along the Patapsco River, walking several miles to reach a favored spot. Mother and father would fish while the children frolicked on the bank. The Fourth of July was celebrated with lemonade and gingerbread because, the mother said, that's the way my family did it for generations.
On fall and winter evenings the mother made popcorn and roasted chestnuts, the father read in his rocker, and Ellen and Aubrey sat at the dining room table doing their homework by the light of an oil lamp. The only heat in the house came from a wood stove. Aubrey and Seeber carried wood into the house every night when they came home, no matter the hour, until 1927 when Seeber put in a better heating system. In winter bricks were heated on the stove, wrapped in paper and put in the beds to keep feet warm. There was no stairway to the second floor; at bedtime Aubrey climbed a stationary ladder, lighting his way with lamp or candle. Electricity did not come until 1925.
A cracked and faded photograph in Ellen's possession shows the house at about this time. The trim white cottage had been added to on one side and in back. The side porch had wooden rocking chairs, a glider, and a table and stand filled with potted plants. Rose trellises flanked the doorway, shrubs bordered the walk and there was a bird feeder under a pine tree. In the backyard was a wooden lawn swing. Bordering the street was a row of maple shoots Aubrey had dug up in the woods.
He erected a flagpole on the lawn. Most mornings he had the family and the neighboring Pearson children stand at attention while he raised the flag. This was a landmark. His mother directed visitors, When you see the flag, that's our house. St. Augustine avenue itself was a rough, unpaved road. When Dr. S. Kennedy Wilson drove out he would leave his car at the bottom of the hill, along the Washington boulevard, and walk, puffing, up the steep grade.
The cottage was in West Elk Ridge, with only a few houses nearby. Ellen remembers fields and woods bordering their property with a meadow filled with daisies stretching off into the distance and, beyond a woods, a stream they called the Branch, with forget-me-nots and white violets growing along the green banks.
Aubrey liked to wander alone through the fields and woods, bringing back huckleberries, wild cherries, chestnuts, chinquapins and hickory nuts. With an old rifle of his father's he would go squirrel hunting, and when he did his sister said that he seemed to her, because of his dress and manner, to be a Howard county version of Daniel Boone. The first money he earned was from picking potato bugs in a neighbor's garden, at a cent a can. Later his mother wrote to a relative, Aubrey has been snaring rabbits and selling them in Elk Ridge to buy Christmas presents. The squirrels and rabbits he brought in were also frequently served at the family table.
At Christmas his mother sent him into the woods for a tree and laurel. She strung the tree with pretty ornaments and baked ginger cookies and fruitcakes. There was always a big box from Jericho Farm filled with country ham, sausage, pudding, bacon and scrapple. The Florida uncle, Dr. Seeber King, sent a crate of oranges and a box of pecans. Christmas traditions meant much to the mother and they did to Aubrey all his life. He insisted on selecting the tree and doing the decorating himself.
Before her marriage Mrs. Bodine painted landscapes and still lifes. She stopped when the children were born but resumed when she was in her 70's and Aubrey kept one of her still lifes hanging in his house, though he never told visitors who painted it. She was a woman of strong character and, like all the Wilsons, seldom demonstrative; all had been raised to believe it was improper and weak to show emotion. She was restless and always had to be doing something, a trait her children inherited. She was up by 6 a.m. and in spring and summer went right to the garden to work. There was a half-acre vegetable garden; this and a flock of chickens provided much of the family's food. Seeber remembers his father turning the soil with a hand plow. The old man loved to garden and even when his health was poor he would hoe, sitting on a box as he worked.
Most summers the Bodine family went by train to visit the Wilsons in Washington county. They were met at the Weverton depot by horse and buggy and taken to Jericho Farm's big, comfortable house where family portraits crowded the walls and antique sideboards and corner cupboards were filled with family pewter and silver.
Aubrey attended the Elk Ridge Elementary School from 1915 to 1919, from the fourth through the seventh grade. In September, 1919, he transferred to St. Paul's Boys' School, then primarily a school for boys who sang in the choir of St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church. The school was at 8-10 East Franklin street and had about 30 students, practically all boarders. They had school on Saturday and Monday off because Sunday was a long and strenuous day with several services. The boys marched two-by-two in their black gowns and mortar boards down Charles street to St. Paul's. They sang at the 11 a.m. service, at evensong and sometimes again at 8 p.m. Although Aubrey's voice did not qualify him for the choir he was required to attend all services.
He took the semi-classical course, won the prize for Latin and led the class. Records for that period no longer exist but school administrators are under the impression that Aubrey was there about five years. Seeber attended St. Paul's for three years after Aubrey did and this may have confused memories. Recollections also could have been influenced by Aubrey's own claim-in Who's Who he lists his attendance as five years, 1918 to 1923. According to his brother, he was there only one year.
But St. Paul's always meant much to him. It was his school. Though he never talked about his school days he was proud to be known as a St. Paul's boy and to be identified as one of its prominent alumni. He gave the school a collection of his prize pictures and they hang in the library. During a fund raising campaign he agreed to donate an autographed picture of the school to anyone who contributed $1,000, and willingly printed many pictures. Over the years he received numerous honors, but one of the most treasured came in 1950 when he was presented with the school's first annual award as alumnus of the year.
Aubrey's formal schooling ended at the eighth grade because he felt the tuition was too great a burden for his parents. That spring he wrote to his father, If you can't afford to send me to St. Paul's, then I don't want to go to school. He may not have known that his one year there had been paid for by his mother, who sold her diamond engagement ring to make it possible.
With the help of a cousin, Frank Wilson, who was country circulation manager, he got a job in the business office of the Sunpapers as a messenger. He was 14 when he started work on August 29, 1920, at $8 a week.
Though I knew Aubrey Bodine well from 1946 on I never heard him say that he had started as a messenger. I was under the impression, as most others were, that he had begun as a commercial photographer and had soon-practically overnight-been transferred to the editorial department because of his outstanding ability. So when not long before his death, I as editor of the Sunday Sun had occasion to check his employment record with the payroll department, I was surprised to learn otherwise. When I mentioned this to him he did not bother to comment; as was his habit when he did not want to become involved, he became busy lighting his pipe and then sidled away. Later I asked him directly, What did you do when you were a messenger? I don't remember, he replied somewhat sharply and again walked off.
Some old-timers do remember. He was a thin, good looking boy with freckles, a thick head of red hair, quiet and with such a serious air that he looked much older than his years. One man, looking back, describes him as a country lad; Relay, I think; shy, especially with the young ladies. He would often blush. He was one of about seven messengers-called runners then-who worked out of the business department, which was on the ground floor of the Sun building on the southwest corner of Charles and Baltimore streets. The boys ran errands throughout the building, picked up copy from advertisers and delivered proofs to them, went to other newspapers to exchange advertising mats, and hustled coffee for tips. In August, 1921, he was transferred to advertising art, as the commercial art department was then known. Still a messenger, he went to stores to pick up merchandise that Sun. artists would sketch for ads and then returned it with the sketches for approval.
In May, 1922, he got his first raise, $1 a week. The voucher, still in the payroll department files, was signed by the department head, countersigned by the business manager and approved by the president of the company. He had now become more office boy than messenger. He filled the ink bottles of the five or six artists in the commercial department and filed their drawings and the engravings made from them. Two different artists remember that he did not care much for these tasks. When he thought no one was watching he made his own evaluation of the artists' work. If it was good he filed it. If it was sloppily done he tossed it in a wastebasket.
He began to take an interest in art. George T. Bertsch, then a summer employee and later business manager and general manager of the Sunpapers, recalls him kneeling beside the desks of the better artists, intently watching them draw. Soon he was doing some of the drudgery apprentices did. After an artist had lettered an ad, Aubrey filled in the lettering and did shading and cross-hatching. Fred Stidman was head of the department. His specialty was shoes. When he was too busy to do detail work on the shoes he had Aubrey black them in.
Edward L. Christle was an artist who had preceded Aubrey as office boy. To broaden his experience he was occasionally sent out as a cameraman. His main job was to photograph the new cars for the Sunday Sun's automobile section. This kept him hopping, for there were many makes then - besides Fords and Chevrolets, such cars as Hupmobiles, Hudsons, Essexes, Jordans, Wolverines, Whippets, Willys Knights, Marmons and Chandlers ($995 FOB Detroit). Aubrey went along with Christle, lugging the heavy case filled with glass photographic plates. They sometimes traveled by taxi, but more often by streetcar. Christle remembers an occasion at a North avenue lot when to show an entire automobile, he had to back up with his camera and tripod into the busy street. Aubrey was given the job of stopping all trolley cars until the pictures were made. Before long, though, he was not only doing such chores but also sticking his head under the black cloth to snap pictures. Christle was glad to have him do so, for he himself was not that interested in photography and would have preferred to be back at his drawing board. Thus it was an artist who did not care much about photography, or know much about it, who gave the first on-the-job training to a student who became so absorbed and excited by its magic that he was to become internationally known for his wizardry and art.
Aubrey had been taking pictures before this with his own box camera. Seeber remembers that when Aubrey was about 15 they traipsed through the woods and fields near Elk Ridge on Sundays. Aubrey would have Seeber run down a road, jump off a log or pose atop a stack of fence posts while he clicked away. These probably were the first pictures he made. Seeber has preserved them. They look like snapshots any boy might make of his brother while killing time before Sunday dinner. There is no attempt at composition, the posing is obvious, the pictures are out of focus, and, in some cases, lightstruck.
The Sun's photographic art department was just down the hall from the commercial art department. Aubrey began spending much of his free time there, listening to the news photographers spin tall stories about assignments, asking them questions, and, when they permitted, mixing their chemicals and trying his hand at developing and printing. He was not yet 16, still shy, still blushing, but quick to learn and wide-eyed at the fascinating world opening up around him. The photographic department was headed by Charles Myers, who had a staff of about six that worked for all of the Sunpapers, morning, evening and Sunday. All but two of the men were journeymen who regarded photography as nothing more than a job; the two who became good photographers were young and just learning their trade. The help and advice Aubrey got must have been minimal.
At this time the Sunpapers had also one commercial photographer, Herbert Moore. Bodine frequently accompanied him as he did Christle, carrying the tripod and the box of glass plates. One day while Moore was taking a picture with a flashpowder gun, a tricky and dangerous device that preceded flash bulbs, the powder exploded in his face and he was badly burned. While he was hospitalized Aubrey took over his work. He did well. On November 18, 1924, he was promoted to commercial photographer. His salary was raised from $18 to $21.
In those days at least 90 per cent of all advertising illustrations were made by artists. They drew diamond rings, silk-shade bridge lamps, console phonographs, table-talker radios, and lift-top refrigerators with golden oak finish. So few ads were illustrated with photos that a commercial photographer could not have been overly busy. In addition to snapping new cars and automobile agencies, though, he did real estate-new houses and waterfront property for sale-and illustrated ads in the photogravure section. Such pictures included studio studies of Stieff silverware, portraits of children raised on Western Maryland milk, and shots of corner stores that used Gambrill's Patapsco Flour (the ads mentioned that there were 300 groceries in Baltimore and implied that most sold this flour). The young photographer made such pictures six days a week, and worked in a darkroom smaller than a closet.
But it did not take him long to bang children's portraits or neighborhood grocery stores; he had time left over. So during his lunch hour and in that spare time he took pictures that appealed to him personally on the Pratt street waterfront and in colorful downtown areas. On Sundays he roamed alone through the woods near his home and along the Patapsco River. One of his favorite subjects was the eight-arch Thomas viaduct on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Relay, one of the finest examples of railway architecture in America.
In the fall of 1923, while he was still an office boy-clerk, Aubrey submitted two pictures to Gustafus Warfield Hobbs, editor of the Sunday Sun. One showed the viaduct from a river bank. The other, a much finer picture, was taken from one end of it and the unusual angle caught the eight graceful arches. Hobbs published the pictures in the photogravure section. Many years later Bodine, in a rare moment of reminiscence, remarked that this was the biggest thrill of his life.
° Bodine took many pictures of the viaduct. After he became well known he would ask the B&O public relations department to have a train stopped on it while he made his photo. The railroad's operating department raised heated objections, particularly if he picked one of the crack trains. But he always got what he wanted. He was as impressed with the viaduct's construction, too, as he was with its beauty. When he submitted his picture he would admonish the editor to include all the facts that he had collected over the years about its uniqueness durability and cost. These facts were seldom used for reasons of space. But when he published his first book My Maryland, he insisted that the caption on his viaduct photo include everything he had always wanted to say about it. The information he supplied produced this: The Thomas Viaduct over the Patapsco River between Relay and Elk Ridge Landing is the oldest stone arch bridge in the world. Built in 1835 to take the 'grasshopper' engines of those days it is still in service; trains of all sizes and weights have stood upon it, crawled over it and flashed across it, but never a stone has fallen, never an arch has quaked. The picture shows the Baltimore and Ohio streamliner Royal Blue crossing it. Irish contractor John McCartney, when the span was completed, erected a monument at his own expense putting his own name on it in two places in addition to the names of the B&O directors and officers, and other officials connected with its building. The bridge cost $142,236.51 in 1835. Today stone masons no longer are available to do this kind of work, and if they could be found, one arch would cost many times that.
°° Hobbs was born in 1876, attended City College and founded and edited the school's yearbook, the Green Bag. In 1904 he joined the Philadelphia Public Ledger, becoming its city editor and managing editor. There he started the first newspaper rotogravure section in the country. He became editor of the Sunday Sun in 1918 and founded its rotogravure section. He resigned in 1923 when ordained a deacon in the Protestant Episcopal Church. He was ordained a priest the next year. He died April 24, 1957.
From then on his wooden darkroom tanks often contained as many pictorial as commercial negatives. The news photographers, with one or two exceptions, did not take pictures on their own unless they could make money doing it. They termed Aubrey's pictures arty stuff and teased him about them. In 1924, to find others with similar interest, he began attending sessions of the Photo Club of Baltimore, later known as the Baltimore Camera Club, which had been founded in 1884 and was the second oldest camera club in the country. Most members were amateurs and many had had art training or experience. At these meetings, held at 105 West Franklin street, he learned by listening to lectures and asking hundreds of questions, and he copied the work of the best photographers. Before long he had enough confidence to show his own pictures at the club. The first contest he entered he won. It was a state-wide competition and he got a cup for having the best set of prints.
Some of those prints were found after his death in the attic of his Ruxton home. The earliest is dated 1924. It is a bromide print titled Reflections. A man in a straw hat and business suit is standing on the bank of a pond with a fishing rod. Trees and clouds are reflected in the water. The print has the atmosphere of a Matisse painting. The signature, different from anything that he used subsequently, was almost an inch high. All letters were capitalized except the o; one would read the name Bo-DINE. The sticker on the back indicates that this was one of eight prints submitted to the Photo Club of Baltimore and was part of the print interchange of 1924-25 of the Associated Camera Clubs of America. Some of Aubrey's entries were mounted on boards that had been used by the Sun's commercial art department for layouts; ad sizes for Virginia Rounds and the Koontz Dairy are still to be seen on the back.
At about the same time - while still 18 - Aubrey began sending out salon prints. His first entry was in the salon of the Pictorial Photographers of America. Two photos out of four were accepted. One of these, made along the Pratt street waterfront on his lunch hour, became his first important exhibition print. It was titled Symphony in Reflections and probably was made with a 2-A Kodak, the second camera he bought. It was a close-up of a prow of a Bay craft with the rail of another boat in the background. Mooring chains and lines were reflected in the harbor water. The print was enormously successful on the salon circuit. In the next few years it was exhibited in Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Philadelphia, New York and at the Smithsonian Institution. It won first prize at a Chicago Art Institute show and was purchased for the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Toronto. On the back of the print, filled with salon stickers, Aubrey had pasted a few lines from a review of the Rochester International salon which described the picture as a fussy and illogical pattern study of part of a boat and its reflections. In 1946 in talking about his work he referred to Symphony in Reflections and Fishing Dories, made about 1925, and declared, I don't think I've ever done better than those two. I'm not sure that I ever will. He repeated that observation to me years later. I personally think that sentiment colored his judgment and that these two - while sharp, powerful pictures with strong contrasts and vivid patterns - cannot compare with his work in the Forties and Fifties.
Joel Bodine died in 1924 after a long illness. Aubrey and Seeber had been helping their family financially from the time they started working, but now they gave their mother a larger share of their salary. Seeber was working for the Wolfe and Mann Manufacturing Company. He was paid 20 cents an hour for a 481/z hour week. He gave his mother $5 a week, paid $7.07 for a monthly commuter's ticket on the Baltimore and Ohio and had a few dollars left for himself. Aubrey, because he was older and making more money, undoubtedly gave his mother more. Ellen was still in school but was soon to start work as a secretary.
The boys walked to the depot in Elk Ridge to catch the 7.36 a.m. train, which reached Camden station at 8 o'clock. Except in bad weather they then walked to work. Going home they left Camden at 5.15 p.m. and got to Elk Ridge at 5.32. If they worked late or if Aubrey .stayed in town to take pictures or attend a camera club meeting they had to ride a train that stopped only at Relay. Then they walked the tracks to Elk Ridge and up the boulevard to their home, a distance of about two and a half miles.
Walking between Relay and Elk Ridge they had to pass through a rocky defile seemingly just wide enough for the trains. No one wanted to be caught in there when a train roared through, for according to local lore the speed of the train would suck walkers under the wheels. So whenever the Bodines, or anyone else, walking through that defile heard a warning whistle, they ran as fast as they could to beat the train out of it.
If Aubrey got off at Elk Ridge he often walked up the boulevard with his neighbor Pearson, a self-made man who was an official of a meat packing plant and was not taken lightly at work, at home or in the neighborhood. Most nights Pearson entered his house shaking his head and muttering, That boy! He would tell his wife, Whatever I say, that Bodine kid says the opposite! If I say the Washington Senators have a good team, he says they don't. If I say Harding's a terrible president, he says he's not. Sometimes he would grumble, That boy is so obstinate that I don't know what will ever become of him. On at least two occasions he was so upset by Aubrey's restrained contrariness that he vowed to his family that he would never walk up the hill with him again. Yet he evidently was fond of this 15-year-old boy; when he bought a new Victrola he gave Aubrey his old one.
All his life Aubrey said and did what he wanted and he never seemed to care what others thought. One summer day going home on the train he was sitting next to an open window smoking a new pipe. An elderly woman came and sat down next to him. She had a small poodle concealed under her cloak. She glared at Bodine and finally asked him to stop smoking because it bothered her dog. He ignored her and continued to watch the scenery and puff on his pipe. With an edge to her voice she said that passengers weren't supposed to smoke in that car. He calmly replied that passengers weren't supposed to carry dogs on trains. Suddenly the woman grabbed the pipe out of his hand and threw it out the window. Without a word and without any show of emotion, he picked up the poodle and dropped it out the window. Fortunately the train had been slowing for Elk Ridge. Both got off without speaking. But, as Aubrey said years later, the story had a happy ending as far as he was concerned. Bounding down the tracks came the poodle, carrying the pipe in his mouth.
In their teens Aubrey and Seeber played golf on Sundays. They would leave home early in the morning with their bags on their shoulders, walk nearly a mile to the depot, take a train to Camden station and then a streetcar to Carroll Park to play the nine-hole course with its sand greens.
Afterward they took a streetcar back to Camden, a train to Elk Ridge or sometimes Relay, and walked back home.
Aubrey got his first car, a Model T roadster, when he was about 18. It was his custom to wash it every Saturday afternoon and he never missed doing it even in a driving rain. Traffic was so light in those days that he parked on Baltimore street in front of the Sun building.
Life was pleasant in the Elk Ridge cottage and the three growing children enjoyed living there. The mother raised canaries for pleasure and pin money; there was always bird song in the house. The garden provided fresh vegetables and flowers. Seeber worked the vegetable plot, Aubrey looked after the flowers. The three children made much of Mother's Day, their mother's birthday and other special occasions. Aubrey bought potted plants at Lexington Market and put them at his mother's place at the table. He often took bouquets from the garden to work and presented them to switchboard operators, clerks and secretaries, usually women older than he was. When he was 18 he announced one Sunday morning that he was redecorating the dining room, starting in fifteen minutes. He had picked out a colorful wallpaper, and shocked everyone by saying he was painting the woodwork a matching bright green. In those days young men were not interested in decorating, and woodwork was finished in dark colors. There were objections and even tears but Aubrey persisted and when the room was finished everyone, including inquisitive neighbors, agreed that it looked better than ever before.
There were other family crises caused by Aubrey's uncompromising ways and curt manner. Ellen gave a party for her friends, thinking one particularly attractive girl would interest him. When he walked in she introduced him, and said, Here's a girl who came from Baltimore especially to meet you. Without acknowledging the introduction he snapped, So what? and vanished.
° When Seeber Bodine was recounting this story he added that he now plays golf at the Baltimore Country Club. The Five Farms course is just a few minutes by car from his home. He keeps his bag at the club and a caddy carries it around the 18-hole course. After he has finished his round he can have refreshments or dinner. It's a great club and I love the people, he said. But, you know, I enjoyed golf much more when Aubrey and I played at Carroll Park:
He was accustomed to bring the Evening Sun, home from work and everyone read it. When he saw that Ellen was devouring The Sheik, which was being serialized, he told her she was too young to read such trash and to stop it or the whole family would suffer. The next night he caught her reading it. He never brought the paper home again until the serialization ended, months later.
At the Sun, meanwhile, he was rounding out three years at the routine and often boring work of a commercial photographer. But he was spending more and more time making his own pictures, a number of which were contributed to the Sunday Sun without credit or payment. These were as varied as a tree house along the Washington boulevard, a harbor scene and a railroad switching yard. He snapped them between commercial assignments, on weekends and during vacations. One summer he and Christle went to Oakwood Park Inn on San Domingo Creek. Aubrey played a little tennis, but spent most of his time photographing Talbot county's beautiful scenery and out of this came several exhibition prints. Two other summers he vacationed with another commercial artist, Wilbur L. Colton, at St. Michaels in a country boarding house. They traveled from Baltimore by steamboat. One year, Colton recalls, he thought they had boarded the boat at about the same time but after it sailed he couldn't find Aubrey on board. Not knowing what had happened, he waited on the hot pier at Claiborne, the Shore terminus, until the next boat arrived from Baltimore, hours later. Aubrey was on that one and sauntered off as if nothing were amiss. Colton, a much older man than he, asked in understandable rage, Where the hell've you been? Aubrey nonchalantly replied that he had become absorbed in taking pictures on the Baltimore dock and had missed the boat. I knew you'd wait for me, he said airily. A picture of St. Michaels made on that vacation won first prize in the Cleveland Photo Exhibition.
In 1925 Bodine entered three exhibitions sponsored by the Photographic Society of America and had seven out of twelve prints accepted. The following year he did the same. In 1927 he entered seven exhibitions and had fourteen prints accepted. Not bad for a young man who, for the most part, was learning by trial and error.
His big break came when the Sunday Sun photographer made an error in judgment. Assigned to take pictures of a wild turkey preserve, he turned in a number and they were published. Then it turned out that, unable to get a picture of a wild turkey-a near impossible feat-in desperation he had bought a young turkey and tied it in a tree while he photographed it. The trusting editor published the shot in good faith, but sharp-eyed readers detected a string around the turkey's leg and a tree branch and called it to the attention of the editor. The photographer, though he was a good one, was fired for faking the picture.
When Aubrey heard about this he gathered a batch of his best pictures and dashed upstairs. Upstairs was the editorial office and the word was used with respect, if not awe, by those who labored in the less glamorous departments of the paper.
He knocked on the door of Mark S. Watson, recently appointed editor of the Sunday Sun.* He said he wanted to apply for the position that was open, and he spread his pictures across the editor's desk. Watson was impressed with the young man and his work and he moved fast. The photographer who took the turkey picture was fired May 11, 1927. Aubrey was hired as the Sunday Sun photographer May 15.
* Before becoming editor of the Sunday Sun, Watson had been assistant managing editor of the Sun for seven years. He was born in Plattsburg, N.Y., in 1887, graduated from Union College and worked for the Chicago Tribune until 1917. When the United States entered World War I he enlisted in the army and won a commission. A week after the armistice he was made officer in charge of the soldiers' newspaper, the Stars and Stripes. He supervised a staff that included Alexander Woollcott, later a columnist, critic and author, and Harold Ross, who founded and long edited The New Yorker. After the war Watson became managing editor of the Ladies' Home Journal. He joined the Sun in 1920. He was editor of the Sunday Sun until World War II, when he became the Sun's military correspondent. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his correspondence, and was the first newspaperman to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (by President Kennedy in 1963), the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian by the government. He died in 1966. He did much to shape the career of Aubrey Bodine, who was an ardent admirer and friend all his life.
All Photographs by A. Aubrey Bodine - Copyright Jennifer B. Bodine