Against a gun metal gray sky, J. B. Rork, professional chimney sweep goes about his lofty work on December 13, 1927. In the European tradition,
he wears a suit coat over his coveralls and a soft collar shirt buttoned formally at the neck. There’s a fountain pen in his pocket, the sign of an educated businessman and between his sooty fingers is a cigarette, an appropriate habit for a profession who’s work is created by smoke. The balance of his boots on the wrung of the ladder suggest the ease with which he strikes his casual, confident pose. And always a hat, which declares his purpose in silhouette to bystanders and policemen wondering about his rooftop location. Most sweeps wore top hats but this fine fellow has chosen pointed leather hat emblazoned with a badge that declares “Chimney Sweep”.
This wonderful glass plate negative portrait provides a rich narrative of the sweep’s daily routine and his city. His steady ladder rests against an adjustable metal derrick for swinging the heavy cleaning lines across the flu of the chimney. The heavy lead or iron weights on the ropes helped pull the metal bristled brushes (not shown) down the walls of the masonry stack sweeping away the soot and creosote.
In the focused distance, the Walker Apartments are visible at 6th and St. Helen and to the right the distinctive, flared woodwork on the dormer gives the building away as the Webster. With a little investigative work, its even possible to find the chimney that was the object of Mr. Rork’s endeavor that winter day. See if you can find it.