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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Charles Bowman — The Legless Key Tag Maker

Posted By on Sun, May 31, 2009 at 9:11 PM

edbe/1243822508-leglesskeymaker1.jpg Oh, the strange things that I have found over the years. I recently told everyone the story (or what I knew of it) of Thomas Doran, the “Armless News Boy.” So to continue that happy theme, I thought I’d share this interesting old promotional flyer from Chas. R. Bowman, a fellow from the little town of Williford, Arkansas, who called himself the “Legless Key Tag Maker.” If you think THAT is strange, read on . . .

First of all, it’s an order form, and since the bottom part has been snipped off, I assume someone previously ordered key tags from Mr. Bowman. In fact, he begins this interesting epistle by expressing his thanks, with a compelling mix of gratitude and pity that have long been the hallmarks of any correspondence from the Lauderdales. Here’s what Mr. Bowman has to say:

MY DEAR FRIEND: Your nice order received, and have filled it as requested. I wish to thank you many times for the kindness shown me, and will appreciate anything you may throw my way, as a fellow handicapped as I needs all the help in his line I can get. Am in bad health and need all the cheer I can get. Yes — lung trouble. I feel sure after you have read over my price list, you and your friends will favor me with another order.

Good grief — no legs and now lung trouble! He goes on:

I don’t have much enjoyment in this life, for I am sick in bed part of the time — bad health sees very little pleasure — but still I try to hold that same sunny disposition (emphasis his, certainly not mine).

Probably you will hear from me in a few weeks before Christmas, and if you do, I want to ask you in advance, do all you can for me, get as many of your friends to chip in and send some work or orders, so I can count on a merry Christmas. In the meantime, I will place your name down on my list as a good, true, helping friend, and will write you next Christmas.

And then, almost as an aside, Mr. Bowman casually mentions precisely how he acquired his distinctive trade name: The train cut both my legs off several years ago. Just like the “Armless News Boy”!

Yikes! It would take a heart of stone to resist a sales offer like this. And it doesn’t help that the picture of his family (shown above) doesn’t suggest a scene of domestic tranquility. All the children seem to be wearing the same clothes, and none of them has any hair. Those poor kids have probably been toiling away at key tags since they were six months old.

Mr. Bowman made more than just key tags. His price list includes lodge emblems (50 cents), key rings (20 cents), “fancy key chain rings for ladies” (25 cents), and even leather dog collars ($1.50). He concludes his sales pitch with another plea for business, assures buyers that “if I have made a mistake on the work let me know and will gladly correct same,” and then ends the letter with “Your Crippled Friend, Chas. R. Bowman.”

Whenever I think the Lauderdales have had a rough life, I run into postcards for the “Armless News Boy” or sales flyers for the “Legless Key Tag Maker.” I wonder what happened to this poor fellow? You certainly have to admire his plunk. Why, when I get a touch of neuralgia, I’m laid up in bed for days. This gentleman gets his legs cut off by “the train,” then develops “bad health” and lung trouble, but manages to keep going and keep feeding that wife and six kids. Thanks mainly, I suppose, to his “sunny disposition.”

I have no idea how old this is, or what happened to Mr. Bowman and his family. Here’s the entire flyer (click to enlarge it slightly):


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