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May 29, 1998

Photograph of Hobo Day in the 1920s
Celebrating Hobo Day in the 1920s were these Perry high school students, posed on the east steps of the courthouse park band stand. This photo, made by B. P. Enright, was the property of Orie Nida, long-time Perry resident. Today’s Northwest Corner tells more about the photograph, Nida and Enright.

Orie Nida died the other day, and with him went a lot of local history. On several occasions he shared some of this with me and I was most appreciative. He was one of those whose career began at the old Pride of Perry flour mill but he left here to work for General Mills after the local business was purchased by them. Orie moved back here to the town of his roots when he retired a few years ago and he has been a wonderful resource source person for me whenever I called for help. Recently he gave me a great photograph showing Perry high school students assembled on the courthouse park bandstand in the 1920s as they prepared to celebrate "Hobo Day," an event that is no longer on the school calendar here. Even Orie did not remember why it was observed in the first place.

There is no date on the photo, only the embossed name of "B.P. Enright, Perry, Oklahoma," in the lower right corner. For many years, Barney Enright had a studio on the balcony at the rear of Everest Nelson's Southside Pharmacy in one of the buildings now occupied by City Hall. Mr. Enright was sort of the unofficial town photographer. He captured many local people and events on film with his large, hood-shrouded camera, often using flash powder for outdoor settings in poor light conditions. He photographed so many events and people over such a long period of time that he must have been the omnipresent guest at just about every occasion of any consequence in Perry for several generations.

Mr. Enright had a rather large frame topped by a shock of white hair. He limped perceptibly because of a lifelong foot deformity, and his fingernails were permanently stained brown by the chemicals used to develop film in his darkroom. He was serious about his art, and good at it, but he also had a sly sense of humor and he would look for the irony in composing some of his shots. He would carefully arrange each individual posing for a picture and details of the background were scrutinized to make sure they belonged in the final print. He believed that photos needed to tell a story, and that they were not necessarily intended merely to capture a slice of life or a brief moment of time. I remember asking him one day to explain the meaning of a "candid camera,” when that term was just coming into vogue. Mr. Enright huffed and shrugged as if to dismiss the question, but eventually told me that "candid" just had to do with the small 35 mm cameras to distinguish them from the more professional 4x5 film plates that he himself preferred. He never seemed too busy to answer frivolous questions from the swarm of kids who hung around his studio. He would not have been a member of the paparazzi in today's culture and society. But he was a dedicated craftsman who took pride in what he did and today we are indebted to him for the body of work he left behind.

Orie's photo is remarkably sharp in background detail, absolutely focused and finely composed, a typical hallmark of Mr. Enright's photos. The students were on the east steps of the bandstand, spilling out onto the adjacent broad sidewalk, and their "hobo" attire is very clear. In the right background (that would be the northwest corner of the courthouse park) stands the old brown stone post office, and just beyond it on the north side of the square is my dad's City Drug Store. On the left side (the southwest corner of the park) is the regal Perry Carnegie Library with business buildings on the square in the background. Model-T Fords and their look-alikes can be seen parked at the curb. Most of the youngsters, both boys and girls, are wearing headgear -- caps, hats, berets, a number of cloches on young female heads -- and some appear to be wearing theatrical makeup (burnt cork) to achieve an unshaved or soiled look about the face.

Although the basis for Hobo Day now seems to have been lost in antiquity, it must have been a lot like Sadie Hawkins Day, which used to be celebrated at PHS to commemorate the fictional chase popularized by maidens in the late Al Caps memorable Li'l Abner comic strip. If you're too young to remember that one, ask sour parents about it.

My thanks to Orie Nida and all the others who bring me treasures like this photo of young Perryans enjoying life on an agreeable sunny day in the Noble courthouse park some 70 sears ago.