Miniature works of art

Richard Bowers Oliver

Following up on Patty Vitale’s recent post on her Uncle Dominic’s war photography, I can offer another take: photos created by Private Richard Bowers Oliver (1913–1985) at Camp Wheeler near Macon, Georgia, during the Second World War.

Oliver seems to have been the camp’s official photographer, a member of the Public Relations Office.[1] While much of his work covered the camp’s daily life, there were occasional celebrities to be seen, as when Cab Calloway (1907–1994) paid Camp Wheeler a visit.

Muzz Patrick counsels two Army boxers.

Another visiting fireman was Frederick Murray “Muzz” Patrick (1915–1998), the 1934 Canadian amateur heavyweight boxing champion and a member of the New York Rangers team that won the 1940 Stanley Cup. Here he coaches two unnamed Camp Wheeler soldiers on fighting form.

Most of Oliver’s work is decidedly less glamorous. He shows soldiers at work or, as below, the name is unrecorded while the occupation (dentist) is noted. Other shots show camp life, a mix of work and play.

The Camp Wheeler dentist.

Richard Bowers Oliver was born in the Dorchester section of Boston on 19 May 1913, the elder child of Wilfred N. Oliver and Louise Bowers.[2] In 1920, the Olivers were living on Talbot Avenue in Dorchester with a second child, Barbara, and Mrs. Oliver’s mother Abbie Bowers and sister Carrie; Wilfred Oliver was a bookkeeper for a hotel, while Carrie Bowers worked for an “Advertising Club” associated with a music store.[3] By 1930, the Oliver family was living on Chadwick Street in Billerica, Massachusetts; the Bowerses were no longer members of the household. Wilfred Oliver has evidently reverted to the industry for which he trained, as he is a structural engineer for a construction company.[4]

The rest of the Oliver family is still in Billerica in 1940,[5] while Richard, an “assistant cameraman” for a newspaper, is boarding on Hampshire Street in Auburn, Maine.[6] The family was reunited in the years after World War II, with Wilfred, Louise, Barbara (a clerk), and Richard (a photographer) living on Chadwick Street in 1949 – presumably in the same house they had lived in in 1930, although the information comes from the Lowell city directory.[7]

Richard had married by 1958, when he was listed as a photographer in the Lowell city directory with his wife Anne T. Oliver.[8] While he resided later in Pelham, New Hampshire, Richard Bowers Oliver died in Lowell 10 October 1985.[9]

The quality of his photography – casual yet more than competent – turns these snapshots into miniature works of art.


[1] See Andrew Brozyna’s 2015 blog post for more information on the photographer.

[2] Massachusetts Vital Records, 1913, Boston, 617: 156.

[3] 1920 Federal Census, T625_738, E.D. 479, 4B.

[4] 1930 Federal Census, T626_0189, E.D. 9, 16B.

[5] 1940 Federal Census, T627_01603, E.D. 9-75, 5A.

[6] 1940 Federal Census, T627_01469, E.D. 1-9, 63B.

[7] U.S. City Directories, 1822–1995 [database on-line].

[8] Ibid.

[9] Massachusetts, Mason Membership Cards, 1733–1990 [database on-line]; Massachusetts, Death Index, 1970–2003 [database on-line].

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward