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Kathy Herring Walley: Growing up in a photo studio

Kathy Herring Walley's grandfather and father operated Herring Studio on the second floor of 304 Broadway in Hannibal. Photo below: Jack Herring, son of J. Hermann and Leta Mae Herring, had an orchestra during the 1940s and later. Jack is pictured at the piano. STEVE CHOU COLLECTION



J. Herrmann Herring spent much of his life peering through the viewfinder of his old floor-model studio camera, in order to capture images of Hannibal’s people and property for posterity.

From 1918, when he was a 20-year-old working in a Hannibal photo gallery, until 1973 when he sold his camera equipment and negative collection to another Hannibal photographer, Herrmann Herring chronicled the people and places which existed throughout the decades of his livelihood, thus preserving the images and associated stories from this town’s past.

But, as is the scenario with all family businesses, Herrmann Herring did not accomplish this feat by himself.

The entire Herring family, including granddaughter Kathy Herring Walley of Hannibal, contributed to the family’s business’ success, and she carries with her to this day fond memories of growing up in a photo studio.

Kathy’s first memories of the family business take her to the second floor of 304 Broadway, where her grandparents both lived and worked.

But this wasn’t J. Herrmann and Leta Mae Herring’s first studio. That distinction goes to a building located at 312 North Main Street. The Herrings operated a studio on the first floor and lived upstairs.

The 1918 Hannibal city directory lists J. Herrmann Herring as a photographer and as the proprietor of Electric Studio, living and working at 312 N. Main.

Herrmann Herring registered for the draft on Aug. 24, 1918, listing his birth site as Pine Bluff, Ark., and his current residence at 312 N. Main, Hannibal. A hint as to his stature, the draft records report that at the age of 20, he was “short and stout,” with blue eyes and dark hair.

Daughter Evalyn was born around 1918, followed by John H. (Jack) Herring Jr., in 1920.

By 1935, the Herring family had relocated their home and business to 304 A Broadway, upstairs over what is now the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Hannibal. And all family hands were working together to ensure business success.

Cathy’s memories begin in the 1950s, when she started working with her father and grandfather in the photography business.

“There was an old, huge floor camera, and the negatives were 4x5 or 8x10. They were all black and white or sepia tone. Grandma was in charge of color tinting. She did all the painting by hand.”

Kathy recalls as a teen writing the color descriptions of the photography subjects for her mother to follow. “It was way cool,” she said.

Retouching negatives was an art, and Kathy remembers that her grandfather wasn’t very good at it. She would walk the negatives over to Sam Friedman, a lawyer whose office was in a second floor space on the east side of the 100 block of South Main Street, and he would retouch the negatives as necessary.

Kathy and her siblings worked in the dark room with her father while he developed the film. “We made up the chemicals. We’d all be in the darkroom together and we’d soup the film. The only light was flames from the heater.” Kathy remembers her father throwing old Kodak boxes in the stove, and when the fire would flare up, he’d say “What’s that?” to scare the kids. “It was great,” Kathy said.

The studio had all kinds of props, which were stored in an alcove. “When you had a baby, every month you’d bring the baby in for a studio photo. At the end of the year, you got a photo album so you could see how the baby changed month to month.”

Kathy remembers sharing two jobs with her siblings: 1) to make the baby smile, and 2) to place the photos into the album.

Kathy remembers a metal horse on rollers. “We would scrunch the little horse’s body and let it go, and the horse would move,” hopefully gaining a smile or giggle from the baby.

“Everybody had a job,” she said.

During busy times, the whole family would work into the evening to get orders filled. “(My brother) Jackson and I would go to Hoag’s Tavern and get tenderloins or hand made tamales and bring them back to the studio.”

Inside the second-floor studio was a dressing room, with brushes and combs so people could fix their hair prior to their portraits. There was also a dressing room, which had a long row of mirrors.

“We would play there when things were slow. I remember practicing my V jump for cheerleading in front of those mirrors. They were bigger than life.

“It was a neat, neat thing growing up at the studio,” she said.

A few years ago, Kay Obermann, one of the building’s owners, allowed Kathy to go to the second floor to see the remains of the family’s long-time photo studio.

Walls had been torn down on the second floor, but Kathy could still see the studio in her mind.

“The hallways were long and narrow and dark, and there was one bathroom,” she said. “When Nanny and Papa lived there, the back room, where they lived, was private.” Her father told her that a little room, by then used for storage, had been his bedroom when he was a boy.

When Kathy visited the building, the third floor was unchanged. “Papa was a woodworker, and he kept his machinery on pulleys that hung from the ceiling. During the 1920s-1940s, the third floor was used as a dance hall.

“Papa talked about sand between the second and third floors of the building, to absorb sound,” she said.

Musical family

“Papa used to do vaudeville in the early 1900s at the Orpheum,” Kathy said. “The whole family was musical. Aunt Evalyn played the organ and piano. Dad (Jack Herring) played the trumpet and sang at dances.”

Jack started his own orchestra, which in 1938 was known as Jack Herring and his Rhythm Swingsters. Orchestra members included his father, Herrmann, who played the violin; his aunt, Evalyn Herring, on the piano; Edward Billingsley, trombone; Jack Herring, trumpet; Charles P. Anton, saxophone; Guy Jarman, bass; and Glenn Griggs, drums. They were members of Local 448, American Federation of Musicians.

“They played out at the Owl Theater, on 61 by the Injun Joe Campground, I believe,” Kathy said. “They played at dances all around, every week.”

Click here for accompanying photos

Click here for childhood photos of Evalyn and Jack Herring, local musical entertainers

Click here for more details on the role Sam Friedman played in negative retouching.

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