The Professional

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,

Chimney Sweep Dec 1927
J. B. Rork, Chimney Sweep

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.

Chimney Sweep General_Photograph_Collection_TPL6997


Written by

This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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