Dad was born April 17, 1917, which would have made him 104 this year had he not died at 60 in 1977. I found some old letters in his files recently that have helped fill in some blanks and also confirmed stuff I had heard (or misheard) over the years.
I did a blog post in 2010 where I used a post out of his scrapbook to show me and a check he had received for what sounds like the first job he and his new partner, James Kirkwood, did in Ellington.
1949 letter to his brother, Paul Steinhoff
Here’s the three-page letter he wrote to his younger brother, Paul, on Oct. 3, 1949. You can click on any image to make it larger, then use the left and right arrow keys to move around.
I’ll pull out excerpts from it, and add comments.
Paul, Dad and Their Father
This was in Dad’s high school scrapbook, so it must have been taken in the early 1930s. Paul is on the left, Dad is in the middle, and Louis Steinhoff, their father, is on the right. This may be the only photo I’ve seen of him.
It’s hard to read, but, based on other photos on the scrapbook, it was taken at 116 North Middle Street. That would have made it possible for him to be close enough to the Broadway theater to have used his toy wagon to carry music for the woman piano player to play in the silent movies. We always thought that to be a family legend until we saw an obit for the woman in the past decade or so.
The folks wanted to take a trip so we, along with Mary Lee’s Dad and Mother took off to the south. We spent 3 weeks with everybody having a good time. Kenny finally had to give up his bottle in Mexico where we couldn’t get any milk. That was one good thing the trip did or he might have been on the bottle yet.
In February I took in a partner by the name of James Kirkwood. Kirkwood was an engineer for the Highway Dept. for 20 years, having a very good background.
Mother Had to Run Her Dad’s Store
We moved the trailer to Ellington and was there until July 14, except that Mary Lee had to come home in the late part of May and stay at Advance. Mr. Welch had a serious heart attack and was forced to stay at home in bed for three months. He is just now being able to do a little work at the store. Mary Lee had to take care of the business during this time. I moved the trailer to Charleston, but batched it during this time.
Steinhoff & Kirkwood Built Rt. W from Cape to Fruitland
On July 29th we were successful bidders on Route W in Cape Girardeau county. This job begins on Perry Ave. outside of Cape Girardeau city limits and runs to Fruitland, Mo. It’s a rather large job but are doing well, and except for weather conditions we should finish sometime this month or the first of next.
Our Trailer Was On a Now-Gone Hill behind Colonial Restaurant
We have moved the trailer to Cape and have parked it on Hyway 61 near the Colonial Restaurant in a private-owned yard. Kenny likes it back at Cape and has several playmates. Kirkwood has one boy 6 months older than Kenny and one girl that is just beginning to go to school.
Kenny is quite a big lad now and talks a blue streak all the time and is plenty heavy for his age. He has a tricycle and rides all the time. He is crazy about books and I do believe that he has well over 100 of them at the trailer and at his grandmother’s.
1949 Cardinals vs Cubs
There is one thing he will be able to say when he grows up, and that will be that he saw a National League baseball game as soon as his daddy. We went to St. Louis a week ago Sunday and saw the Cardinals play the Chicago Cubs. He finally went to sleep before the game was completed. We spent the morning at the zoo taking in the Monkey show.
February 14, a day that strikes fear in male hearts. If you are dating, have you been dating long enough or too long to recognize and celebrate Valentine’s Day?
William Saffire, one of President Nixon’s speechwriters, penned a political thriller where one of the characters had something go extremely wrong, and he “experienced a Klong – a sudden rush of excrement (not the word he used) to the heart.”
That’s what the married man experiences late in the day on February 14 when he looks at the calendar and thinks, “That date sounds like one I should remember…KLONG!!!”
See if you can pick out the good sport
So, here’s a collection of old and a few new photos of couples, relationships, queens and kings and the like. Most were taken in Missouri, but some oddball shots could have slipped in.
See if you can pick out the one shot taken early in someone’s relationship that could have ended it had the girl not been a good sport.
Valentine’s Day Gallery
Click on any photo to make it larger, then navigate around using the arrow keys. X or Esc will get you out.
Maybe I should have used the disclaimer I used when I went to take photos in some redneck bar. I’d stand up on a table and say, “I’m here from the newspaper to take pictures. If you aren’t supposed to be here, or you’re here with someone you shouldn’t be, hang out over in that corner (pointing) until I’m done. You’ll be safe.”
I met David Kelley in Altenburg at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum about the time he was helping found the Starzinger Family Research Library in memory of his long-time friend, Margaret Starzinger Wills, whose family was from the area.
I became better acquainted with him when we kept running into each other at Jackson’s Cape Girardeau County History Center, where he was creating memorials to the Talley side of his family.
How would you like to document The Bootheel?
It might have been Director Carla Jordan’s nudging that got him to broach the idea of having me document The Bootheel. I was intrigued, but not sure it was the right project for me.
Unfortunately, Mr. Kelley died of COVID, so he’ll never see the project through (and, to be honest, I’m not sure I will, either, for a number of reasons).
David E. Kelly, Sr. 1930 – 2020
David E. Kelley, Sr. was born on September 13, 1930 in Steele, MO to Pleasant Lafette (Jack) Kelley and Winnie Talley Kelley. He passed away on November 12, 2020 in Mt. Home, AR at the age of 90.
He lived in Steele until 2016, when he retired and moved to Mt. Home, AR.
David was a lifelong member of the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Steele. He was a veteran who served his country as a member of the U.S. Air Force. He had been employed as a teacher, farmer, and insurance agent. He was also a 32nd Degree Mason and a Shriner.
He was united in marriage to Barbara Lennox Kelley on November 23, 1955. She and his parents preceded him in death.
He is survived by two sons: David E. Kelley, Jr., and his wife, Donna, of Mt. Home, AR; Mark L. Kelley, and his wife, Lynn, of Van Buren, AR; five grandsons: Jared, Josh, Jonathan, Sean, and Dalton; four great grandchildren: Kayra, Kendall, Beau, and Noah.
What’s The Bootheel?
I guess it’s as much a state of mind as it is a geographical entity.
A Wikipedia entry defines it this way:
The Missouri Bootheel is the southeasternmost part of the state of Missouri, extending south of 36°30′ north latitude, so called because its shape in relation to the rest of the state resembles the heel of a boot.
Strictly speaking, it is composed of Dunklin, New Madrid, and Pemiscot counties.
However, the term is locally used to refer to the entire southeastern lowlands of Missouri located within the Mississippi Embayment, which includes parts of Butler, Mississippi, Ripley, Scott, Stoddard and extreme southern portions of Cape Girardeau and Bollinger counties.
It starts at the Benton Hills for me
I consider The Bootheel to begin at about MM 82.8 southbound on I-55 just north of Benton. That’s where you leave rolling hills, and gravity takes you down to the flatlands that will carry you all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, more or less.
Mr. Kelley and I drove about 1,200 miles just surveying most of the counties listed above. During that overview, I learned much from his monologues, but shot less than two dozen photos.
I had trouble wrapping my head around the region. It was the very definition of FLAT, with few places to gain any perspective. On top of that, many of the towns and villages had either disappeared or were in major disrepair.
I’m fond of shooting dying places like coal towns in SE Ohio or Cairo, Ill., but there was a dearth of places where I could feel the vibes of those who had passed through.
I can’t figure out how to show what I shot, so I’m going to post a series of random galleries, followed by links to blog posts I’ve done that might or might not put some of the images in context.
Here’s a selection of photos from Pemiscot county. Click on any image to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move around. Escape will take you out.
Pemiscot county was where Mr. Kelley and his family raised cotton for many years, and it was the place we talked about the most.
He said that when mechanical cotton harvesters came into common use in the 1960s, the county lost about 85% of its population. When the more skilled workers fled to places like St. Louis, Chicago and Memphis, and the lesser-skilled migrated to the smaller regional towns, the stores dried up for lack of customers. When the stores folded, so did the banks and other businesses.
I felt like I had let Mr. Kelley down because I couldn’t paint a portrait of the area like we both had hoped. It wasn’t until I started looking through all the blog posts I’ve done about the region that I realized that I had been working on this for a long time, even before I met him.
Dad built roads in Mississippi County, and I’m pretty sure we had our trailer parked in Caruthersville or Portageville at some point.
When I was about 10 years old, he took me to where they were getting gravel delivered by railroad hopper cars. He let me crawl under the cars with a hammer to cause the gravel to fall out onto a conveyor belt that loaded it on trucks.
He told me to stay under the rail car while a bulldozer pushed the next one up into position. “Just keep low and keep your arms and legs between the rails.” Can you imagine what OSHA would say about that today?
I was curious to see if the arch was still there. We not only saw the arch, but we had a great lunch at the Dixie Pig in Blytheville. I’m pretty sure that the last time I was in Blytheville before that was in the mid-70s, when I wanted to rent a truck to carry a load of Dutchtown lumber to Florida to build a shed in the back yard.
Renting it one-way from Cape was going to cost a mint, but I found out that Arkansas had a surplus of trucks, and they wouldn’t hit me with a surcharge. The only thing was that I had to be careful of the mileage allowed, and renting in Arkansas, loading in Missouri, and driving to Florida meant I had to find the most direct route possible.
I ended up going on some backroads not normally travelled by tourists. When I gassed up at one tiny station, the kid who serviced me asked, “How much do they pay you to drive that-there truck?”
It was obvious that he had never seen a rental truck or understood the concept of one.
Here is an interesting historical nugget about the Arch area: The area around the arch became known as “Little Chicago” because of the type of activity that went on there. A long-time resident of nearby Yarbo, Arkansas, once said of the arch, “It was a good place to go while the wife and kids were in church.”
Once I established that I wasn’t some kind of pervert taking pictures of kids (apparently that had happened not long before), I got a friendly welcome from the folks at the Malden High School’s football game. The mosquitoes gave me a great welcome, too.
I also shot a reunion of people who had been stationed at the Malden Airport during World War II, but I never got around writing about it.
I spent a lot of time in the New Madrid area trying to track down people I photographed being baptized in the Mississippi River in 1967. Unfortunately, the exodus from the area after mechanical harvesters arrived caused a lot of them to leave.
I’m going to put the Baptism gallery at the end of the post because it contains so many images.
This was one of the few small towns I was able to find much to document. I was amused to find that my parked car’s dashcam captured me wandering around the street like I was a loose ball in a pinball game.
That drove Mr. Kelley crazy. He couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t just get out of the car, snap a picture, then head out to the next destination.
That impatience eventually brought an end to our collaboration. I left him in the car while I went to chat with an old man at a mostly-abandoned cotton gin. He was a little reluctant to be photographed, but just about the time I had won him over, Mr. Kelley started honking the horn to tell me I was wasting too much time.
After that, I became a solo explorer.
Most of my time in Stoddard County was spent in Advance, but because we had extended family and friends in the area, I grew up sitting on a lot of front porches hearing and overhearing tall tales about the taming of ‘Swampeast’ Missouri.
My mother and grandparents came from Advance. Dad’s construction company once had an office in the Prather Building, along with Welch’s Liquor Store. For awhile, we lived in our trailer parked in my grandparents’ driveway.
Because of that, I have lots of random stories and photos of the town, including some of its mysteries that are still unsolved to this day.
This was one of the last things I shot before transferring to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, as a junior in 1967.
Most of the photos I had taken, up until I shot the Smelterville photos and the Baptism, were fairly pedestrian traditional newspaper photos. These two projects were the first time that my “style” started to show up.
I’ve always considered them to be my Missouri “final exam.”
I had hoped to do a Smelterville-type project where I tracked down the people in the photos, but the out-migration brought about by the change in farming methods and markets scattered most of the subjects out of the area.
I was the wrong guy to send out to shoot celebrities. For the most part, there was a good chance I wouldn’t have a clue who they were, and it was embarrassing to try to dodge around that fact.
Secondly, with maybe one or two exceptions, I never found them to be interesting subjects. They had their public face, and they kept the mask on.
I DID shoot a picture of Sandy Dennis in Palm Beach that captured what thought was her real personality. I sent her a copy, but I don’t know if I ever got a response. Maybe I’ll run across that shot when I’m least expecting it.
Meet Monroe at home in Jupiter Inlet Colony
Anyway, the photo request in the winter of 1973 said for me to hop on my pony and head up to Jupiter Inlet Colony, a ritzy address, but not quite as hoity toity as just up the road on Jupiter Island proper.
I had at least HEARD of Vaughn Monroe, but I can’t say as how I was much of a fan.
He was gracious and easy to shoot. Before I left, he asked if I’d like a copy of his latest album. I usually didn’t take anything from a subject, but I sensed it would be rude to say no. I didn’t even have the sense to ask him to autograph it.
It may still be in its original shrinkwrap with the rest of the music on my wall of vinyl.