Figure 1.--This American boy in a classic sailor suit wears ringlet curls. He looks to be about 8 or 9 years old. The boy is identified as "Lonnie L. Dennis. Baby Preacher."
Lonnie was a 8-yearold boy was was known as a "Baby Preacher". While we know little about him, a surviving pgotographic image does show how he was dressed.
HBC at thistime has no biograohical infornmation on Lonnie other than he is American and was noted at the time this photograph was taken as a "Baby Preacher", reminding one of the novel Elmer Gantry. The use of the term "preacher" suggests an evangelical denomination like the Southern Baptists. The available portrait shows a dark-haired boy, but no indication as to when or where the photograph was takem. In his right hand he holds what is probably a thick Bible.
Based on the clothing, shoe, and hair style, HBC believes that this photographb was probably taken in the late 1890s, but thecearly 1900s before 1910 is quite possible. The classic sailor suit was very poular in the 1890s, but began to decline some somewhat after the turn of the century as did the style of ringlet curls for boys. Boys still wore them in the 1900s, but not as commonly as before the turn of the century. Of course mother in Lonnie's case may have been clinging to an older juvenile style to accentuate his age an inosence, thus the earky 1900s is possible. HBC believes that the portrait was unlikely to havebeen taken much past 1910. The style of the portarit also suggests the late 1890s or about the turn of the century. An HBC contributor comments, "I would guess 1890-1900 or there abouts. He was probably located in the Bible belt so it might be a little later."
Lonnie in this portrait looks to be about 8 or 9 years old. The ringlets, however, priobably make him look younger than he is, so he may be as old as 10 years. That is probably the upper limit. Also if he was older than 10, I doubt if even mother would have called himma "Baby Preacher".
Lonnie wears anpresumably dark navy blue kneepants (note the side buttons) sailor suit with long dark stockings. His sailor suit is very plain with little detailing, except some nuted stripes ion the "v" collar. He wearsit with a dickey that has two v-shaped stripes below what appears to be an anchor. The sailor suit was quite a common outfit for a boy this age. There are no notable special enbelushments. Mother has not selected a fancier or more juvenile suit style to accentuate his age.
Mother has kept Ronniein ringlet curls. It is unclear how his hair id done in the back, but there are two rather slender side ringlets coming almost to his shoulders. Mother has even added hair bows. I'm not sure if he wore the hairbows when preeching, or that they were just added for the portrait. But at this age you might imagine that he would have objected to bring done up with hairbows for the portrait if he was not used to wearing them. to accentuate
Mothers of prodigies would often in the late 19th and early 20 cenytury dress child prodigies in juvenile outfits to stress their youth and innocent appeal. The younger the child looked, the more amazing his accomplishments seemed. Also by making an older child look younger, you could streach out his child prodigy status. What seened amazing for a child to do, as not nearly as impressibve an accomplishment for a teenager. Often money was involved as impressive child prodgies could command impressive box office returns. This wasless true for preacher prodigies, but the same prinviple applied.
In Lonnie's case, mother has not used juvdenile clothes. The sailor suit was clearly a child's outfit, but this sailor suit was not different in any respect to what other boys his age would have worn. The ringlets are a different matter. Again many boys wore ringlet curls, but after the turn of the century it was becoming less common. Most boys would have had their curls cut at aaboy 5 or 6 years. Some boys wore ringlets much longer, but they were a destinct minority. The addition of hair bows makes Lonnie look even younger. He is at the upper age limit for ringlets and hairbows. Some older boys did wear them, but primarily boys from well to do families thatwere porobably educated at home and led rather closeted lives. This would not have been the case for Lonnie, as he preeched in church and thus led to some extent a "public" life.
An HBC contributor notes," I have a few comments about this page. I think juvenile curls were more likely than not to be worn by boys who were considered to be child
prodigies in order to prolong their status. A child prodigy often had commercial value which was lost once he became to old. A 5-year boy preacher would be amazing. A 10-year dressed in a suit with a short haircut a great deal less so. I can give an example. Felix Mendolson had long hair and worn childish clothes until he was 13. I don't know if he
ordinarly worn these clothes everyday but as he got older he continued to perform in clothes suitabe for a 6 year old. Another expamle is from a book of short stories by Thomas Mann titled: The Infant Prodigy. [HBC note: The introduction of the Mann short story is available on the prodigy experience page.]
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