Photosynthesis Redux

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A few months ago I posted an analysis of the photo of Robert E. Howard posed near Galveston with his father and two members of the Chambers family, Dr. Solomon Chambers and his daughter Deoma. When we left off, I was intending to get a scan of the original photo from Solomon Chambers’ son, Norris, along with a scan of the writing on the back of the picture. Here, then, is an update.


The scans Norris sent me aren’t very good, owing to the brightness and contrast apparently being adjusted by the scanner. Nevertheless, there is more detail here than in the best copy of the photo known to date, the one Glenn made of this same original years ago:


Note the nice color tinting on the original photo, and the increased detail in Dr. Howard’s suit and REH’s pants over Glenn’s copy, as well as the details on the ground and in the grass. It appears that the writing that is on Glenn’s was added after he made his copy — or else he made his copy from another copy of the original, one with writing on it — for the original has no writing on the front at all. This original looks a bit worse for wear than the one Glenn copied — the lower left corner is now missing. Unlike other Howard photos I have hunted down the originals for (such as the three photos stored at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley), there is no significant difference in cropping between these two.


On the back you can see that someone scrawled some basic information about the photo: “Robert Howard — about 12 yrs / Dr. Howard / Dr. Chambers / Deoma Chambers / in Feb 1918 near / Alta Loma Tx — in Galveston Co. / Tex Chambers Home burned at / sight [sic]” At least I think it says “burned.”

So who wrote this inscription? One of the Chambers family, or one of the Howards? I guess some handwriting analysis will have to be applied by someone with examples from all the primary suspects.

I’ve been doing some more poking around looking for original Howard photos. The pics I would most like to find are the ones Tevis Clyde Smith used in his self-published books on Brown County (Pecan Valley Days, Frontier’s Generation, etc.). But I e-mailed Tom Munnerlyn, who had handled TCS’s papers after he died, and he referred me to Roy Barkley, the heir to Smith’s effects. Roy says the REH shots were not among Tevis’ belongings at his death, and he has no idea where the originals are. Perhaps some distant relative inherited a photo album containing them, or perhaps they are truly lost. If so, that’s a blow. Some of those photos are among the best images of Howard on record, and it would be wonderful to see the originals in all their detail and glory.

At some point we have to hunt down the heirs for Truett Vinson and see if they have any letters or photos. I can’t help but think that they must, that although Truett refused to talk about REH at the end of his life he still may have quietly retained some items of interest. There’s just too much biographical research to still undertake, and not enough people on the trail of the ghosts.