Location: Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
Title of Song: Wait, My Childrem, Wait
Composer: Dekress, Charles R
Publisher: John Church
Year & Place: 1880; Cincinnati, Ohio
Collection/Call Number/Copies: Music B-152
Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasm.b0152
A raucous scene of a group of boys who have disrobed and swim in a large body of water near a shore takes place in this image. One boy, completely naked, dives into the water while the other float displaying an assortment of body parts. While some are almost completely submerged with only their heads peeking above the water’s surface, others are upside down with legs and feet visible to the viewer. In the bushes on the shoreline are two personified animals who seem to stare at this curious scene. With their rapt gaze and comportment exhibiting a verticality with two legs and feet firmly on the ground, their behavior recalls that of a human. Above this aquatic adventure is an angel blowing a trumpet, to which two of children seem to both acknowledge and respond, while resting on a set of clouds.
This out-of-control, ambiguous, scene combines the fantastic, with revival-esque religious undertones. Rather than render an apparition, the angel looks just like the other figures and interacts with them. Additionally, it is unclear from the lyrics whether the angel is there to warn the children of an impending danger or to issue more malicious taunts about their ‘wooly’ hair as the lyrics suggest. The two animals present look and behave like humans and stand up vertically, while children are upside down and several limbs appear without attached bodies. The eerily static animals have a sinister manner as they silently watch the kids, who seem in a curious reversal, to act like animals. All of these elements push this scene beyond the denigrating humor of caricature to a visual realm that is disordered, sub-human and out of this world.
Wallace Shelton Polk, 1874 – 1877
Wallace Shelton Polk was born around 1870 to Elias J. and Sarah Polk. At the time this photo was taken the family was living on West Canal St. Elias was a laborer and a foreman at the city stables. Wallace became a porter and tacker and later an advertising agent. He had an older brother, James. Wallace Shelton Polk was about four years old when this photograph was taken. The photographer was James Presley Ball, an African-American photographer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is standing on an arm-less upholstered chair. The chair is velvet with heavy fringe around the seat and buttons in the back. There is a tassel hanging from the curved back. He is leaning on a round table covered with a solid cloth. There is a painted background with a column and a drape on the left. His dark hair is parted on the side. He is wearing a bolero style jacket with buttons on each side. The top button is buttoned. The card is on thicker stock and has been trimmed all around. The imprint is lengthwise on the back in purple with “P. B Thomas, Retoucher” printed in the corner. Wallace’s name is written in pencil on the back. Wallace died Sept. 27, 1915 and is buried in the Union Baptist Cemetery.