W. A. McArthur, Photographer
Not retiring at 92 years of age – 75 as a photographer
From The Rutherford County News
By Stover Dunagan, Jr.
July 5, 1951
“I remember the Yankees well –the old gentleman said as we talked on his porch. He was W. E. McArthur, well known photographer in Cleveland and Rutherford counties for the past 75 years.
“I was living near Bostic, in Rutherford county, where I was born, in 1859. I guess I was five or six years old at the time they came down, following the war. They had a camp over near Forest City (known then as Burnt Chimney) and I remember a Yankee Captain and two colored men riding over to our farm and asking if we had any horses.
“My mother told them we didn’t, and they started to leave. Now, my mother told the truth, for we had no horses, but my uncle did. He had seen the Yankee Captain coming and had tied his horse in a patch of pines at the edge of the farm. Well, it had been so long since that old horse had seen another one, that he broke loose, ran up to the fence next to the road, and let out a loud neigh. The Captain didn’t say a thing. He just put a halter on the horse and took it along with him.”
Getting back to Mr. Mac’s photography work, we questioned him about it. How did he pick photography as a profession?
“That was a pure accident, son. My older brother, John, made a deal with a friend for some photography equipment, and started in the business. I was just a kid, no more than 16, and the work fascinated me. I got to hanging around more and more, and finally John who had a great love of hunting, began going on hunting trips and leaving me in charge of the studio. I guess if it hadn’t been for his hunting, I might have ended doing something else. Before long, John quit the business and I took over, and I’ve been at it ever since.”
In 1914, after some 30 years as a photographer, Mr. Mac decided it was high time he retired, so he bought a farm in Rutherford county, some eight miles from Rutherfordton, and started in the cattle business, but this venture was destined to end in failure.
“Between bootleggers and rattlers, I didn’t make much of a success at cattle,” he said.
In the first place, there was no road to the farm, a only a horse trail. In the second, the place was so infested with rattlesnakes, I spent more time killing them, that I did raising cattle; and third, a bootlegger neighbor of mine, cinched the deal when he shot and killed a man not to hundred yards from my house, shortly after I arrived.
“With these unpleasant facts facing us, my family refused to live there, so I sold the farm, bought a place in Rutherfordton, ad before I knew it, I was back in the photography business again.”
This wasn’t Mr. Mac’s first attempt at retiring. Around the turn of the century, he sold his studio, in Shelby (where the family had moved some 25 years before) to two Germans. They made a complete flop of the business, however, and he was forced to take it back.
Mr. Mac finds it difficult to accept many of the modern ‘whims’ of photography. His camera, which can take plated ranging from 2 ¼ x 3 ¼ to 8×10 in size, could be as old or older than he is.
“I bought this camera, second handed about 50 years ago but I don’t have any ideas just how old it is.
“It really took me a long time to get used to chemical developing,” he said. “I had printed my pictures in the sun and toned them for so long that I couldn’t believe there was any other way. Chemical photography is faster, but the old way always gave me better results and pictures certainly lasted longer.”
He then set out to prove his point, and produced several pictures that were more than 50 years old which, except for the dress of his subjects, looked no more than a year old.
“Retire? Yes, I guess I’m about ready to retire. After all, I’ll be 92 in October. But I’ve retired many times before, and I always end up right back in it.”
“Two years ago, I retired, but to months later, I was at work building a studio here in my garage; it isn’t much, but it serves the purpose.”
The studio Mr. Mac built is small, but for a 91-year old man to build, it is amazing. The building is about 12 x 15 feet with two rooms; his studio in front, and a small dark room in the rear. He and his daughter erected the building, poured the cement floor and papered the walls. Quite an undertaking.
Don’t worry about Mr. Mac’s retiring. Even at the age of 92, he has many successful years in front of him.
Clipping provided by Phillip White.