Wild Bill

Willard Foster Fleagle in an early portrait.

Willard Foster Fleagle in an early portrait.

My dad was about as clean-cut as they come for most of his life. When we his children were ordered to bed and rose to kiss him goodnight as he sat in his chair in the living room, perhaps smoking his pipe, there was the slightest scrape from the day’s bristles on his cheek. But he never once grew a beard as far as I’m aware (if he did I have seen no documentation to prove it), and his hair was always above his ears as soon as he was in long pants.

It was a different story in the early 1930s. Dad once told me that when he was very small his parents clothed him in dresses and let his hair grow long, a testimony I found impossible to imagine and difficult to credit. But here at least is proof of the tresses if not of the dresses. It’s difficult to tell which was taken first, and the one I’ve posted first (above) is not annotated, but the one I’ve posted second (below) is annotated with “winter of 1932-33”, though the photo was taken no later than December 1932.

Billy, wild and wooly.

Billy, wild and wooly.

The location for these first two images is a puzzle. The bench could be anywhere, maybe in the house at home, maybe in a portrait studio in Reisterstown or down in “the city”. The porch in the second shot looks unlike the porch of the Reisterstown house dad grew up in on Walstan Avenue. In fact it’s more of a stoop here, whereas the Walstan house had a porch all the way across the front (and, at one time, may have wrapped around at least one side, if I recall correctly, but I may not). I suppose the direction of the sunlight allows that it could have been a stoop on the east side, but I don’t think there was a door there. In all, my money is on a different house somewhere, maybe Colonial Park.


Billy Fleagle around 1940 (a guess), long since shorn of his toddler locks

This third photo, definitely shot in front of the Walstan house, shows Billy cleaned up and wearing his hair basically the way he would — with more or less panache up at the top — for the rest of a long, well-groomed century. He’s clad in a crisp shirt, a tie and a vest, which means he’s not on his way over to his buddy Carol Grimes’ house to dig a hole in the ground or heading out to throw hay in the barn of Mr. Boyd, owner of the farm across Walstan Avenue. Maybe it’s Sunday and the family has returned from church. Or maybe they’re on their way to a wedding or other auspicious afternoon event. The sun is already striking the west side of the house, so it’s not early morning. -mdf

Image archive IDs:
Top image: 20150615_010_willard_fleagle_bench
Middle image: 20150615_008_willard_fleagle_porch
Bottom image: 20150615_009_willard_fleagle_youth

About the physical photographs:
Top photo:
Nothing written on back.

Middle photo:
Written on back:
“Winter 33-34
Printed on back:
DEC 27 33

Bottom photo:
Nothing written on back.


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