A Diversion:

The Search for "Little Abe"

I have been searching for the identity of the boy that I provisionally refer to as "Little Abe" after Murray's citation for Card 13-B (Murray, 1943/1971) since July, 1990. At that time I learned from people at the Library of Congress that the photographer was not "Nancy Post Wright" as Murray had stated but instead an important FSA photographer, Marion Post Wolcott. Soon thereafter I began searching the approximately 17,000 images in the America 1935-1946. The FSA/OWI Photographs: South Fiche collection for other photographs of Marion Post Wolcott that might provide a clue to the identity of the boy and the exact location of the log cabin. In addition to a large number of pictures taken on this particular Kentucky assignment, I found four other photographs of the cabin. LC-USF34-55880-D shows a left-front view of the cabin, LC-USF34-55862-D shows a right-front view of the cabin, LC-USF34-55842-D also shows a right-front view of the cabin from a slightly closer and somewhat different camera angle, and LC-USF34-55789-D shows a close-up of the right-front double-dovetail corner joints of the cabin. Later in the year I read Marion Post Wolcott: A Photographic Journey that described her experiences on this Kentucky assignment. I traced down Mrs. Wolcott's address and wrote her asking about the photograph. Unfortunately, Mrs. Wolcott was then terminally ill and did not remember any information other than, "It was taken when, accompanied and guided by a Mrs. Turner, then Superintendent of Schools...." I also sent a copy of the photograph to The Jackson Times and requested their assistance in identifying the boy and cabin. The editor was kind enough to run an enlarged picture of "Little Abe" and a small piece requesting help from their readers on 8 November 1990.

Remember, It's A Projective Test

In March 1991, I became quite excited that perhaps my search for "Little Abe" was over. I received a handwritten letter dated November 12, 1990, but postmarked 5 March 1991, from a lady claiming to be the older sister of the boy pictured in The Jackson Times. She said that her brother was two-years-old at the time the picture was made and identified the location of the cabin as about 25 miles from Jackson, KY. She said that she lived in the two-room cabin with her parents and numerous brothers and sisters and that she remembered the day that the photographer came by the cabin with the owner of the farm to measure trees. All the other children hid except her brother who just sat in the doorway.

The Picture Look like him Now. I Knew him and the Log house At first glance. I have No Picture's of eny of us When We Were Little. No one But rich had Camer's in thos day.

I wrote her back thanking her for her response and asking her some additional questions. She replied by giving me her phone number, and I called her on 6 May 1991. By this time I had obtained prints of the other views of the cabin, and so I was able to ask her specific questions about details of the cabin that she remembered and compare her answers to Wolcott's other FSA photos of the cabin. She stated that the photographer that she remembered had been a man, and although she remembered Mrs. Turner as the school superintendent, she did not remember her being present when the picture was taken. She also supplied me with the name of her brother and told me that she had sent him a copy of the picture from the newspaper along with my name and phone number. Later in the month I talked on the phone with her brother. He said that he did not remember the incident nor could he identify himself as the boy in the picture but did remember some things about the cabin. He said that the cabin had a window in the front, no upstairs or sleeping loft, that there were no other buildings nearby except an outhouse, no fences nearby, and that they got their water from a nearby spring.

A comparison of these remembered details with the other pictures of the cabin led to the conclusion that I had still not found "Little Abe." A later independent correspondent also remembered the cabin referred to by the brother and sister but was sure that it was not the one in the Wolcott photographs.

The Search Continues

During a visit to the Library of Congress later in May 1991, I met with the curator, Beverly W. Brannan, coauthor of the book, A Kentucky Album, that had published some of Wolcott's Kentucky pictures. She suggested that I contact James Clell Neace who was quite knowledgeable concerning Wolcott's pictures and had been a school teacher in Breathitt County and even appeared in some of the photographs taken by her on her assignment (Neace, 1989). I enlisted his help in my search although he did not recognize the cabin. He was most helpful and suggested many other residents whom I could contact. He later wrote an article summarizing my search and requesting additional help from readers (Neace, 1991).

In 1992, Paul Hendrickson, a staff writer for the Washington Post, published another biography of Wolcott in which he reports successfully tracing down a number of individuals and locations pictured in some of her North Carolina and Mississippi photographs (Hendrickson, 1992). Unfortunately, he was unable to offer any additional suggestions to aid me in my search.

My Best Clue

A close examination of the photograph showing a close-up of the corner of the cabin reveals a license tag attached to the wall. It is a 1939 Breathitt County, Kentucky tag # 91253. Since auto tags were changed yearly in those days and since this tag was only a year old, I reasoned that the owner of the tag probably lived nearby if not in the cabin. All I needed to do was find to whom the tag was registered. So far the Kentucky Department of Motor Vehicles, the Kentucky State Archives and the Breathitt County Clerk all deny having any auto registration records that old. Surely, someone must.

The Identity of "Little Abe" Still a Mystery

Despite my work and the efforts of several enthusiastic students over the years, the identity of "Little Abe" and the exact location of the log cabin remain a mystery. Any suggestions, clues or help from readers will be appreciated. Surely someone remembers.


          America 1935-1946. The FSA/OWI photographs: South fiche. (1984). [Microfiche]. Teaneck, NJ: Chadwyck-Healy Ltd.

          Brannan, B. W., & Horvath, D. (Eds.). (1986). A Kentucky album: Farm Security Administration photographs, 1935-1943. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky.

          Hendrickson, P. (1992). Looking for the light: The hidden life and art of Marion Post Wolcott. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

          Hurley, F. J. (1989). Marion Post Wolcott: A photographic journey. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

          Neace, J. C. (1989). Story behind the FSA photographs in Breathitt Co. The Kentucky Explorer, 3(8), 12-18.

          Neace, J. C. (1991). Do you know this boy? The Kentucky Explorer, 6 (6), 42-45.