Bootblacks Of Yore

So I saw this and thought:

  1. What is a bootblack?
  2. Sounds racist.


As it turns out, “bootblacks” were probably what you think they were–someone who polishes boots and shoes–and they came in every color.

of course it's Shorpy
of course it’s Shorpy

Here is a cute little fella earning his keep. Good thing he has knee socks on.

This kiddo looks pleased as punch to be doing child labor. It’s better than school.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the term. Have you read Ragged Dick?

no puns please
no puns please

This Union Station “model bootblack” was schmancified up with two chairs and all-weather cover.

In a state full of bootwearers, I don’t recall ever having seen anyone get his shoes shined, perhaps because people have no pride in personal appearance anymore, or they have no disposable income. It must be a more urban venture. I guess it’s honest work. It seems less degrading than offering your body to a stranger for money, and some places allow that. There are better ways to earn a dollar on your knees, and bootblacking is one. In fact, ICS Learning Systems should get on this asap. It’s got to be more lucrative than TV/VCR repair.

In any event, bootblacking is alive and well. Okay, alive and ailing. But like a person free to choose his own health insurance, a few of them still exist.

Jim Walker, 72, works on the shoes of Idaho Stampede Assistant Coach Barry Rohrssen, Thursday Jan. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Idaho Statesman, Darin Oswald)
Jim Walker, 72, works on the shoes of Idaho Stampede Assistant Coach Barry Rohrssen, Thursday Jan. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Idaho Statesman, Darin Oswald)

17 thoughts on “Bootblacks Of Yore

  1. When I was a kid, I’d stand and watch as my grandfathers got their shoes shined at these sort of stands, Kerbey. They expected me to continue the tradition of black dress shoes worn all the time. I balked.


  2. I go to an old school barber shop that occasionally has a guy shining shoes. When I need it I treat myself. I think a man feels better with a fresh haircut and shined shoes. But what do I know. I still wear Florsheim loafers. Is that a Christmas shot on your header? And when is your book coming out?


    1. Yes, I was feeling full-on Christmasy today for E.T. I think it’s good you get a nice haircut and shined shoes. If it ain’t broke, why get new loafers? I think the book will come out in Nineteen Ninety-Never.


  3. so. You have racist, sexist, and age-ist covered here. Another day at I Don’t Get It.

    Nothing wrong with a pair of shiny shoes, but let’s not judge a bootblack by their fresh perky femininity. Your photo captions are always golden.

    Like the ET very much! I would make a Phone Home joke, but how cliche…


    1. I’ll do a phone post soon, and then you can do the joke. Ha. BTW, I did use both this ET wrapping paper and my Tom Selleck wrapping paper as a header last year, so be glad you were spared the Tom. He can be very festive for the holidays.


  4. I once saw a shoe shine stand at a truck stop outside of Columbia, MO, where a big guy was getting his boots shined. Half a dozen pairs of shined boots were lined up on the floor, along with a pair of red patent leather pumps. I never found out if they were his.


  5. Charles Dickens worked at a blacking factory before his career in writing. It was a moment of real trauma and hardship in his life. I’ve got some polish in the closet: kiwi brown and kiwi black. I flame it up every now and then to polish my own dress shoes. That was a trick I learned from watching Taxi Driver.


  6. There’s a high-end car wash here in Austin, the Finish Line, that has a bootblack, and he’s an old black guy. Fun to watch him do his thing. The shoes look new again.


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