Josh Shaffer

Raleigh Times newsboys turn 100

In 1915, a British-born photographer snapped what is likely Raleigh’s most beloved photograph: 30 newsboys gathered on a Hargett Street sidewalk – urchins with bags slung over their shoulders, mugging for the camera, one of them flashing a mischievous wink.

They lined up outside The Raleigh Times newspaper, posing beneath its wildly hyphenated motto – “To-day’s News To-Day” – in a rare portrait of the city’s working class. Half of them stand barefoot, even some of the boys wearing ties and jackets, and their faces show the marks of a grittier age. You picture them dodging streetcars, arguing over nickels, hollering “Extra!”

Long after the paper folded, these boys survive, their pictures blown-up life size on the wall of the Raleigh Times Bar: the lady-killer in the checkered cap, his chin in his hand; the Brad Pitt lookalike in the front row; the pint-sized battler with his arms crossed.

Monday marks the 100th anniversary of that picture, and the Times will show off the original negative from the State Archives. Bartenders will dress in period costume and give out newsboy bobbleheads. Visitors can pose for pictures with cardboard cutouts of the gang from 1915.

But in the middle of this nostalgia for linotype and green eyeshades, I came across a real treasure: two of the newsies’ names and a piece of their life story.

One of them you’ve probably noticed. He’s the kid with his face half-hidden, ducking behind the boy in front of him, fourth from the right on the second row. That’s John Bashford, and he’s only 13. His big brother Ryan stands second from the right, the brim of his cap bent in the middle. He’s 15.

So far, out of all these boys, their names are the only ones to make it into the 21st century. I cast a pretty wide net, and from what I can tell, history swallowed all but the Bashfords. That might be because the brothers traveled so far from the curbs where they hawked papers in their teens, and it might be because they spawned such a proud family. I heard from five different relatives, all of them bursting with praise for the brothers decades after they died.

John and Ryan had shoes for work, at least, unlike many of their paperboy companions. Their father, Alonzo, was a carriage-maker in Raleigh, and he built the family house on Boylan Avenue, which still stands. For the Bashford brothers, selling papers helped boost the family income. But they also sold blueberries and ran a taxi service from the train station – go-getters from the start.

The modern-day John Ryan, who is 59, told me that his grandfather attended school only as far as the seventh grade. But not long after his newsboy stint, he and his brother started Bashford Plumbing and Heating, which thrived in the house on Boylan.

“My grandfather could carry a cast-iron bathtub up a flight of stairs,” Ryan told me. “He would get inside of it.”

Later, the brothers earned enough to dabble in Raleigh real estate, but they stayed humble. Their niece Lizette Pryor, who is 86, recalled Uncle Ryan walking past Raleigh beggars in the city’s leaner years, telling them, ‘I’m begging, too,” as he tossed a dime.

None of the kin I spoke to could recall the brothers talking about their days slinging papers, but they all agreed that the Times gave them their first taste of hard work, which became their credo.

They must have known they were facing something special on Aug. 31, 1915, when they posed on Hargett Street for Albert Barden – Raleigh’s Matthew Brady. A British immigrant with a studio on Fayetteville Street, Barden had taken pictures of King George and Queen Mary, and his North Carolina work graced art calendars and galleries.

The Times welcomed a new editor on that day. The boys all held a fresh edition with his picture printed on the front page, but you can tell they’d been given notice of their photo shoot. Why else would a paperboy wear a tie in August?

The photo wasn’t exactly forgotten in the decades that followed, but it wasn’t well-known outside the State Archives. When downtown developer Greg Hatem came across the picture sometime around 2006, while restoring the Times building, he used it to reconstruct the original facade.

“It was like looking at the Holy Grail,” he said.

Today, the newsboys stand floor to ceiling just inside the Times’ door.

“There’s always somebody at that table,” Hatem said, motioning to the spot across from the photo, “and they start making up stories. ‘This guy’s running from the law. This guy’s the lady’s man. This guy’s the prankster.’”

And on the right, there stand John and Ryan Bashford, ambassadors from our scrappy past.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

See the original

The celebration of the Raleigh Times newsboy photograph starts at 11 a.m. Monday, when the public can view the original glass plate negative. It continues through the day with children’s story reading, pictures with cardboard cutouts and a bobblehead giveaway. See more at raleightimesbar.com.

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