Barefoot Photographer, Tom Griffin, The Bronx, New York City, about 1898
This tintype of Grandfather John Thomas Griffin was taken in Clason Point about 1898. Tom, as he liked to be called, is pointing to some tintypes he had taken. At that time he was living nearby in the Union Port section of the Bronx as a boarder with a family who had immigrated from Germany. The 1900 United States census lists Tom as a silk weaver by trade.
In 1903, at 36, Tom married Maryann McNulty. He may have met her though the Dramatic Lyceum in Union Port in which he was active. They lived in Westchester Square, where Maryann had been born, in the house built by her parents. They had four children, the oldest of whom, Frank, was my father.
Tom's early years were a bit hazy to his children. His death certificate, using information supplied by his daughter Elizabeth, says he had been a photographer from Massachusetts.
This was not exactly the case. The 1881 English Census lists Tom, his parents and siblings as living at 5 Barton Grove, Barton-on-Irwell, Lancashire, England. Tom, aged 14, is listed as a cotton mill creeler;
a creeler was a boy who brought spools to the weavers, Tom's younger brother, Michael, who became a medical doctor in America, listed on the 1910 United States Census that they immigrated to Massachusetts in 1884.
Tom is my only grandparent that I did not know well. I was nine when he died.
I remember him as a spy, elderly man who was confused as to who I was. He thought me to be my father, his son Frank. Tom would send "Frank" (that is me) to the corner store to buy him pipe tobacco. Tom's main jobs in the early 1950s were letting his cat in and out the back door of the house and looking for his hat so he could go and see his (long dead) parents in Massachusetts.
I remember elderly men with Italian-accents coming to the house looking for their friend Tom. They told me Tom was president of their bowling club. I never heard anyone else speak of this bowling club.
I wish I had known my grandfather better. Tom did not seem to have been very financially successful in the years (about 1895 to 1915) that he was a commercial photographer but he took many remarkably good photos.The town historian of Floral Park, Long Island says Tom's photos are some of the best he has seen of that town. The Bronx County Historical Society has asked us to put together an exhibit of his work for their museum in early 2013.