Miniature works of art

Richard Bowers Oliver

Following up on Patty Vitale’s recent post on her Uncle Dominic’s war photography, I can offer another take: photos created by Private Richard Bowers Oliver (1913–1985) at Camp Wheeler near Macon, Georgia, during the Second World War.

Oliver seems to have been the camp’s official photographer, a member of the Public Relations Office.[1] While much of his work covered the camp’s daily life, there were occasional celebrities to be seen, as when Cab Calloway (1907–1994) paid Camp Wheeler a visit.

Muzz Patrick counsels two Army boxers.

Another visiting fireman was Frederick Murray “Muzz” Patrick (1915–1998), the 1934 Canadian amateur heavyweight boxing champion and a member of the New York Rangers team that won the 1940 Stanley Cup. Here he coaches two unnamed Camp Wheeler soldiers on fighting form.

Most of Oliver’s work is decidedly less glamorous. He shows soldiers at work or, as below, the name is unrecorded while the occupation (dentist) is noted. Other shots show camp life, a mix of work and play.

The Camp Wheeler dentist.

Richard Bowers Oliver was born in the Dorchester section of Boston on 19 May 1913, the elder child of Wilfred N. Oliver and Louise Bowers.[2] In 1920, the Olivers were living on Talbot Avenue in Dorchester with a second child, Barbara, and Mrs. Oliver’s mother Abbie Bowers and sister Carrie; Wilfred Oliver was a bookkeeper for a hotel, while Carrie Bowers worked for an “Advertising Club” associated with a music store.[3] By 1930, the Oliver family was living on Chadwick Street in Billerica, Massachusetts; the Bowerses were no longer members of the household. Wilfred Oliver has evidently reverted to the industry for which he trained, as he is a structural engineer for a construction company.[4]

The rest of the Oliver family is still in Billerica in 1940,[5] while Richard, an “assistant cameraman” for a newspaper, is boarding on Hampshire Street in Auburn, Maine.[6] The family was reunited in the years after World War II, with Wilfred, Louise, Barbara (a clerk), and Richard (a photographer) living on Chadwick Street in 1949 – presumably in the same house they had lived in in 1930, although the information comes from the Lowell city directory.[7]

Richard had married by 1958, when he was listed as a photographer in the Lowell city directory with his wife Anne T. Oliver.[8] While he resided later in Pelham, New Hampshire, Richard Bowers Oliver died in Lowell 10 October 1985.[9]

The quality of his photography – casual yet more than competent – turns these snapshots into miniature works of art.


[1] See Andrew Brozyna’s 2015 blog post for more information on the photographer.

[2] Massachusetts Vital Records, 1913, Boston, 617: 156.

[3] 1920 Federal Census, T625_738, E.D. 479, 4B.

[4] 1930 Federal Census, T626_0189, E.D. 9, 16B.

[5] 1940 Federal Census, T627_01603, E.D. 9-75, 5A.

[6] 1940 Federal Census, T627_01469, E.D. 1-9, 63B.

[7] U.S. City Directories, 1822–1995 [database on-line].

[8] Ibid.

[9] Massachusetts, Mason Membership Cards, 1733–1990 [database on-line]; Massachusetts, Death Index, 1970–2003 [database on-line].

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

10 thoughts on “Miniature works of art

  1. Scott,
    This post has motivated me to do something with a collection of World War II photographs taken by my grandmother’s John “Wilfred” Hafey who served in Europe from D Day onwards. He died without children, so many of his effects came to me. Wilfred’s candid photos need a larger audience, something they are not getting at present in a filing cabinet. To be continued….

  2. My dad was at Camp Wheeler prior to serving in Europe – Italy, France, and Germany) in WWII, It would be great to see a photo of him from that era since all our family photos were burned in the 1947 wildfire in Bar Harbor, Maine.

    1. What was his name, Martha? I have a list of the people identified on the photos I’ve purchased, but much of the collection remains up for sale on eBay: do a search for Oliver and Camp Wheeler.

  3. His name was Cecil F. Higgins, “Cec” his nickname. Born in 1906, he was drafted into the infantry in 1942, I believe. He served with the 45th Infantry, Thunderbirds. That’s all I know. When I tried to get his military records, I was told that they had burned.
    I did look at the photos on eBay but saw none of my dad.

    1. I don’t have any photos of Cec Higgins, I’m afraid. Do you know the names of any of his friends? I have a number of other Oliver photos, so perhaps one will turn out to be someone you know.

      1. I’m sorry, I do not remember any of his pals. One of them from New York or New Jersey came to visit us in the 1950s, but I can’t remember the name. He really didn’t talk about that part of his life much, understandably, it wasn’t a great experience to be in the infantry at his age, not to mention the things he witnessed. The only time he’d open up a bit was when we watched the TV show, “The World at War.” He might mention that he’d remember this or that place, but that was about it. I think those minutes with my dad were one of the reasons I am so interested in that era of our history and why I got my degrees in History.
        Thank you for you time in looking, I appreciate it!

        1. Absolutely — and I hope you have luck finding out more about his time at Camp Wheeler. (My father was part of the cleanup crew following the Bar Harbor Fire — boys from Fay School in Massachusetts were sent up to help.)

          1. I thank your father for his efforts, that must have been a monumental job! My dad and grandfather also helped, in the clean up, as did most of the locals. There were so many who came to help and it was a wonderful feeling, I’m told, that so many strangers helped.
            Our house was at the very edge of the fire just before it was stopped at the edge of town. We were lucky that my grandparents had a small camp about 16 miles from BH, off the Island, where we were able to spend the winter: no running water, no insulation, a fireplace and wood stove for cooking and heating, hard but doable. I still own that camp, have it insulated well and with running water that I added about 12 years ago. I live there now that I am retired from my 35 year career in Atlanta and love it here as much as I did growing up. I still am working, now as a server for 18 years in a local restaurant, which is how I put myself through college back in the day! What goes around, comes around, in a myriad of ways.
            Thanks again.

  4. I have come across a recording from. Corporal R B Oliver packaged and stamped from Pepsi addressed to his family. My father served also but his memory has difficulties drawing that far back. I would love to send pictures and possibly try to have this incredible artifact in his family. Please contact me at and perhaps we can eventually speak and or you can direct me to any contact you may have. I may also reach out to Pepsi World Headquarters Public Relations. Thank you for you time and consideration

    Mike D

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