Harry "Ray" Wilson Ramsey was born on March 9, 1877 in Granville, Illinois. His father, Owen L. Ramsey, was born 1848 in Illinois and was a farmer. His mother, Julia M. Patterson, was born 1849 in Illinois. His parents married in 1875. He was their first born. They lived on a farm in Granville, IL.
In 1878 they moved to a farm in Trego, Kansas, where his mother gave birth to his younger brother Charles Silas Ramsey. One month later she died from complications of childbirth.
This tragedy overwhelmed his father with grief and the difficulty of caring for a new born and a two-year-old, while running the farm that was their only source of income. In desperation he arranged for a local family to board and raise his infant, while a different family boarded and nursed the newborn. These dramatic developments had profound effects on all three Ramseys. Harry Ramsey was raised by the Purinton family and Charles Ramsey was raised by the Critchfield family, while their father, Owen Ramsey, became increasingly absorbed with religious devotion.
Ten years later in 1890 they moved to Denver, Colorado, where the father received training and was ordained a Methodist minister.
At the age of thirteen Harry Ramsey began to work as an errand boy and inker in the print shop of a Denver newspaper. He had natural drawing talent and soon decided to become a newspaper artist. He attended local art classes and became a staff artist by the age of sixteen. He drew portraits of celebrities, politicians and criminals. He also sketched courtroom cases and drew cartoons.
In 1895 his father married a second wife, Valeta Viola Bohannon, who was born 1864 in Missouri. His father and stepmother moved to Sheridan, Nebraska, where he had been assigned a Methodist ministry, while his sons remained in Denver. Harry had turned eighteen and assumed responsibility for his sixteen-year-old brother. With growing prosperity Harry Ramsey bought a home at 1176 South Pearl Street in Denver, CO. This was the first permanent residence the boys had ever known.
In 1900 he was twenty-two and his brother Charles was twenty. In November 1900 he traveled to Europe with another journalist to visit the Paris Exposition and study art museums for two months.
In 1907 he moved to England for a one year assignment with a London newspaper.
In 1908 he returned to Paris, France, to work on a newspaper and study art at the Academie Julian.
In February of 1909 his father died at the age of sixty in Ainsworth, Nebraska. After which his stepmother went her own way and became the manager of a local restaurant.
Another repercussion from those painful years is the fact that his brother decided to legally changed his name to Charles Silas Ray. This formal repudiation of the family name might be seen as a retaliation for his father's abandonment.
In 1914 Harry Ramsey returned America and moved to New York City to work for The New York Evening Journal. He lived at 337 West 29th Street.
In the decades before the invention of the rotogravure photo engraving process, newspapers depended on artists to draw portraits of newsworthy personalities. As technology advanced these artists were gradually replaced by machines. Staff artists on newspapers were confined to graphic layout chores, such as to "block-out" the distracting background of a photograph with white air brush. In a clever career move to forestall redundancy, Harry Ramsey became New York representative of the Universal Air Brush Company, of Los Angeles.
During the Great war the artist registered with the draft and was recorded to be of medium height and build with brown eyes and hair. He also had a scar on the back of his left hand. He listed his home in Denver Colorado as permanent address, and his brother Charles Silas Ray as next of kin to contact in the event of death. This powerful brotherly bond underscores the significance of the name "Ray" to Harry Ramsey.
Charles Silas Ray had married and moved to a farm in Montevallo, Missouri. His first child was named Harry Wilson Ray. His second child was named William Harry Ray, as a double affirmation of their profound fraternal bond.
Harry Ramsey was not selected for military service, because he was forty-one in 1918. At that time the maximum age for enlistees was thirty-six. So he enlisted for duty in Italy with the A.E.F. (Allied Expeditionary Forces) in service of the Red Cross. During the clearing process with Military Intelligence his application was approved by Brigadier General M. Churchill. Furthermore, his loyalty was attested to by Thomas J. McNamara (1886-1964), a popular cartoonist who created the "Us Boys" comic strip for The New York Evening Journal. He was later a writer and director of the "Our Gang" series in Hollywood, which was loosely based on his strip.
Harry Ramsey served in the AEF with the Red Cross in Italy, France, and Great Britain. On March 24, 1920. long after most battlefield hostilities had ended,"Harry W. Ramsey, age 42, born in Illinois" was listed as a "clerical worker" on personnel records of the Red Cross. Later that year he returned to New York City and resumed his career as a newspaper artist.
In 1926 he moved to an impressive art studio at 9 East 59th Street, which was next door to a construction site of the ritzy Sherry Netherland Hotel. He placed an advertisement for his services in a nationwide guide for graphic artists, "H. Ramsey, Telephone: REG(ency) - 4169 - Specializes in Figures, Heads, in Oil Paint."
In 1928 he moved to Philadelphia, where he was hired as a staff artist at The Philadelphia Public Ledger. He lived at 407 Locust Street, which he rented for fifty dollars a month.
In the 1930s during the Great Depression most newspapers and magazines experienced hard times, because they depended on advertising dollars, which were suddenly in short supply. On the other hand, pulp magazines sold cheap thrills to the masses and only depended on newsstand sales. Oddly enough this was a formula for success, because the 1930s were the most lucrative years for the pulp industry. Out of economic necessity Harry Ramsey drew pen and ink story illustrations for pulp magazines. His work appeared in All Western, Super Sports, Western Romances, and All Sports. He preserved his reputation by using the alias, Ray Ramsey, which used his brother's "new" last name for his own first name. He also signed many of his pulp illustrations with a distinctive signature designed with the initials "RR" in which the first letter is written backwards.
In 1939 he also began to draw for comic books. His drawings appeared in Keen Detective Funnies, Funny Picture Stories, and Blue Bolt. He also drew The Count of Monte Christo, Ivanhoe, and Last of the Mohicans for Classics Illustrated Comics.
During WWII he was over sixty-five, so he was not required by law to register with the selective service.
His last assignments were in 1952 for Roy Rogers and Wildfire produced by Dell Comics.
Harry Ramsey died in a hospital in Yonkers, a suburb just north of the Bronx in Westchester County, NY, at the age of seventy-four on February 28, 1952.
© David Saunders 2012