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Free to Use and Reuse: Fun and Games

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Will Rogers playing horseshoes. Photo Bain News Service. Prints and Photographs Division. 

The Library’s Free to Use and Reuse sets of copyright-free prints and photographs collections are endlessly entertaining. Games for Fun and Relaxation, like travel postersweddings,  genealogy and so on, are yours for the taking. You can download them, make posters for your home or wallpapers for your phone. Christmas presents? Sure.

Let’s check out three.

Will Rogers was a multimedia star before the term existed. The Oklahoma-born member of the Cherokee Nation was a hugely popular film actor, author, Broadway star, standup comedian, newspaper columnist, lariat twirler and horse rider. He traveled internationally as a young man, working as a trick rider in circuses in South Africa and Australia, before returning home to become a megawatt celebrity.

His one-liners are as famous as those of Mark Twain, to whom he is often compared. “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” “Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this,’ and they didn’t, they got worse.” “I never met a man I didn’t like.” He opened his act with, “All I know is what I read in the papers.”

You can hear him roast a convention of bankers in New York in 1923, addressing them as “Loan sharks and interest hounds.”

“You are without a doubt the most disgustingly rich audience I have ever talked to, with the possible exception of the Bootleggers Union, Local No. 1, combined with the enforcement officers,” he told them.

The self-described “cowboy philosopher” died doing what he loved — flying planes. He perished with famed aviator Wiley Post on a seaplane trip through Alaska on Aug. 15, 1935. They were taking off from a lagoon in the late afternoon. The plane flipped. Both men were were killed instantly. Rogers was 55.

Above, we see him at his ease, playing a game of horseshoes. There’s no city or date information on the photograph, although the image is from Bain News Service, which tended to focused on New York City and was most active from 1900 to the mid 1920s. The event looks official — there is chalk marking the boundaries, and his right foot is near an iron stake that his opponent would have tossed at — and he’s leaning forward, intent, ignoring the crowd of men and boys surrounding him. Check out those two teens in short pants and white shirts, one guy with his arm slung around the other. You just want them to be skipping school for this. Rogers is wearing a fedora and a tie, but he has removed his suit coat. As a man who made his mark riding horses, you know he’d want to toss a danged horseshoe better than any city slicker.

Girls playing hopscotch. Flatbush, New York, 1942. Photo: Marjory Collins. Prints and Photographs Division.

Hopscotch was and is a beloved sidewalk game, known to children for ages. This photograph captures a picturesque day in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. The girl in action is Chinese-American, the caption information tells us, and that she is playing in front of her house. She appears in the middle of the photograph, and appears to be the middle in age of her two playmates. It’s mid-morning or mid-afternoon, judging from the length of the shadows. (I’m going with mid-morning, as two of the girls appear to be wearing long-sleeve cardigans.) In the background, the woman walking towards the camera is carrying two bags of groceries; the gentleman in suit coat and pants appears to be wearing a Panama hat. In short, a regular summer day.

But … wait a minute.

The date on the photograph — August 1942  — tells us we’re in the middle of World War II, as does the credit line, the U.S. Office of War Information. That tells us that this almost certainly a planned photo shoot, rather a feature photography happenstance.

That month, news of the war was grim. The Nazis were beginning their siege of Stalingrad. They executed roughly 1,000 Jewish people in Stanislawów, Poland, as part of the Holocaust. The U.S. had just invaded Guadalcanal,  part of the Solomon Islands, setting off one of the most vicious battles of the Pacific theater.

So, a regular summer day revisited: In August of 1942, the United States Office of War Information wanted to project the idea that the American home front was quiet, peaceful and a place where little Chinese-American girls could play hopscotch on the sidewalk with no worries at all. Rather than just a peaceful image, it was more likely a manufactured image of peace.

Buckaroos playing poker on the Ninety Six Ranch, 1978. Photo: Suzi Jones. American Folklife Center.

Lastly, we have this terrific image of cowboys playing poker in 1978 at the Ninety Six Ranch in northern Nevada from photographer Suzi Jones. It’s part of the American Folklife Collection, “Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945-1982.

That collection includes dozens of motion pictures, sound recordings and more than 2,400 photographs. It focuses on Paradise Valley, which is both the name of a cattle-ranching valley and a crossroads community in Humboldt County.

Here, an open window provides the lighting for a midday poker hand, with a wood block doubling as a table and an empty cot doubling as a chair. You get the feeling that not a lot is at stake here, just a lunchtime diversion, but you never know. Those fellas aren’t all hat and no cattle.

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Comments (3)

  1. Fun

  2. ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ and you’re one of the best storytellers around!

    • Thank you!

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