Jack Burris was the Broadway “door shaker” and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. After I shot a night assignment or sporting event, I’d have to go home to process and print the film. I’d rather stay up late than get up early, so I’d drive the photos back to The Missourian to keep from having to deliver them in the morning.
After that, I’d cruise the streets listening to police calls through my Tomkins Tunaverter, a little gray gizmo that lived between the car antenna and the AM radio. It converted the VHF FM police radio transmissions to AM broadcast frequencies so they’d play over the car radio. The only catch is that the Cape cops didn’t have but about three cars on the street at any one time, so there wasn’t a lot of radio traffic. You didn’t know whether the radio was quiet because the tubes had warmed up, causing the radio to drift off frequency, or if the Tunaverter had slipped off channel.
Jack carried a Motorola Brick
That’s where Jack would come in handy. He had been issued one of the first Motorola two-way radios that didn’t look like a lunch box. The HT-100, was better known as “The Brick” because it was about the same size and weight of one. I found one on the surplus market about 15 years later and had it converted to work on my newspaper’s frequency. I never picked it up without thinking of Jack.
Anyway, I’d pull up along the sidewalk and shoot the bull with him. After a decent interval, I’d say, “Jack, how about calling dispatch to give them a 10-4 check?” He’d do that, I’d fiddle with the radio dial and make sure I was back on frequency.
He taught me how to cultivate police and fire dispatchers working nightshifts. On slow nights, they welcomed a visitor who could speak their language and trade war stories. They’d pay me back by giving me a middle-of-the-night call if they thought something was going on that I’d be interested in. Even if I didn’t think it was worth running, I’d pull on my pants and head out to check on it, making sure I stopped by the station to thank them.
“Please expedite. We’re in excess of 105 mph”
I was passing the time with Andy, the Athens, Ohio, police dispatcher one night when a laconic voice came over the radio, “Athens 1 to Athens PD, run Ohio XYZ-123, please.” I told Andy that I could save him the trouble. “That’s my new car. I’m parked on the sidewalk in front of the station. John probably didn’t know that it’s mine.”
“Athens 1, Athens PD, please expedite. The driver just took off. We’re northbound on 50 in excess of 105 and he’s pulling away from me.”
If I had thought for a minute, I would have known that my Datsun couldn’t have hit 105 if it had been dropped off a cliff in a downdraft. Instead of processing that thought, though, I blasted out the front door where I spotted my new car and two cops in cruisers enjoying their joke.
Photo technical notes
I shot these photos under what you could call “available darkness,” because it sure didn’t pass for light. The film was so underexposed that I wouldn’t have even tried to make a print on photo paper. It’s amazing how much detail my Nikon Super Coolscan 8000 can find in something taken under miserable lighting conditions. The negative sleeve was dated May 23, 1967.
Years ago, I worked on a special edition of The Palm Beach Post called “Crests of Hope, Troughs of Despair,” which chronicled the Cuban Boatlift and the plight of Haitian refugees. Yesterday’s post was a lot like that, starting with “fits like socks on a flamingo,” and ending up with “SHUT THE WATER OFF!!!!”
This morning, while Wife Lila was getting ready to go to church, her brother, John Perry, was installing the connections for the washer hookup. He wanted to have someone standing by the hookup to look for leaks while he was out at the street turning on the main. Since that’s a pretty good distance, I volunteered to stand in the living room to relay the word from Lila that all was good.
The last thing John said as he headed to the front door was, “I left the faucet on outside, so if you hear water running, don’t worry.”
A relay person wasn’t needed
As soon as John opened the main valve, I’m pretty sure you folks in Cape heard Lila screaming. It seems that John had left the faucets open to let steam escape when he sweated the fittings. He forgot to close them for the test. The water came out full force right at Lila.
I’ll be ready to pull the plug
The next nearest experience like this was when Lila and I shared an old house in Gastonia, N.C., with Chuck Beckley, a photographer I brought from Athens, OH. We needed to hook up the ice maker on our refrigerator, but I couldn’t find the main shutoff valve.
“Chuck, you drill a quarter-inch hole in the cold water supply pipe, then we’ll stick the ice maker tap into the hole. A little water won’t hurt anything because we’re in an unfinished basement. I’ll keep my hand on the electrical cord back here at the receptacle in case the drill shorts out from the water.” See, a good supervisor always thinks about the safety of his workers.
You’d be surprised at how far water under 40 to 60-psi will shoot through a quarter-inch hole. You’d be even MORE surprised at how much water can come gushing out of two faucets aimed at eye-level.
All is forgiven
Just to show that there were no hard feelings, Lila quickly ran over to John to give him a big hug. The fact that she was soaking wet with cold water very quickly became apparent to John. She was sharing more than the love.
How do you shoot pictures like this?
Some of you may wonder how it’s possible to quickly capture photos like these.
It’s all part of the going to special photojournalism classes at schools like Ohio University where you learn how to quickly make the right choices and decisions. I recall one test question that asked, “You see a man jump off a bridge. You have a camera in one hand and a rope in the other. What do you do?”
The answer: it all depends on whether you have a wide angle or a telephoto lens on the camera. You may have to change lenses before you can shoot.
I had expected this would be the year when I would do the definitive piece on what a small Ohio university town was like in the months leading up to the shootings and the days afterward. I wasn’t at Kent State, but in Athens, Ohio, the home of Ohio University.
At two in the morning, I was looking at 545 scanned negatives and a stack containing at least that many more. The best I can do for the 40th anniversary is to hit some of the high spots.
A nation near civil war
It’s hard to remember how torn apart this country was in the late 60s. The country was polarized by age divisions, by feelings about the Vietnam War, by economics and by race. Opportunistic politicians promoted those rifts for their own advantage.
Richard Nixon, while running for president in 1968, told the electorate that the country was torn by division: “America has suffered a fever of words, from inflated rhetoric that fans discontent into hatred; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading. We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another – until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”
Peace march on Court Street
Athens religious leaders led a peaceful, non-violent march down the main drag in Athens on a beautiful October day in 1969. (My film sleeves are dated Oct. 16, 1969, but that might have represented when I processed the film, because Wikipedia says Moratorium Day was celebrated on Oct. 15.) The ministers and these children were at the head of the line.
The garage with the glowering man was on the parade route. I didn’t even notice that frame when I edited the film 41 years ago. Maybe I was so used to seeing that reaction that it didn’t register then like it does now.
Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam
Moratorium Day – a day to take off from work or classes and think about the war – was centered on the College Green in the heart of the campus and downtown Athens. It’s a beautiful setting with huge trees all around. The crowd ebbed and flowed throughout the day. It may have ranged from a few hundred to maybe a thousand at any one time.
There were a number of speakers, all forgettable. The thing that has haunted me since that day was a relay of volunteers reading the names of the servicemen killed in Vietnam. Every name was accompanied by a drumbeat on a drum with a smiling OU Bobcat mascot on its side.
If it takes about two seconds to read each name, you need about 24 hours to work your way through 50,000 names. The sound system wasn’t strong enough to carry the names much farther than the immediate area, but that drum beat was audible throughout most of downtown and the central area dorms.
Drumbeat marks the dead
Even if you couldn’t hear the names, you couldn’t escape the realization that every beat represented someone just about your age who was dead.
The Pounding Of The Drum The Pride And Disgrace
You Can Bury Your Dead But Don’t Leave A Trace
Hate Your Next-door Neighbor But Don’t Forget To Say Grace
ROTC: a stand-in for the war
Whether or not ROTC should be on campus was the surrogate issue for the debate over whether the university should be pro-war or anti-war. I attended small meetings and big meetings like this one for months. (I’m not sure if I noticed the guy in the front row with the turtle when I shot it.)
Photographers love action
Photographers gravitate to action. TV, in particular, has the slogan, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Demonstrators learned to play to that with marches, demonstrations, signs and street theater.
Unwittingly, they played right into the hands of the Nixon administration, which wanted something to demonize. Peter Davies, in The Truth about Kent State, wrote, “In less than two years the victors of that election  had become masterful exponents of inflated, angry, bombastic rhetoric and evinced little inclination to learn from the dissenting views of others.“
Nov. 15, 1969, half a million people participated in a March on Washington. Nixon, in what has to be a classic understatement said, “Now, I understand that there has been, and continues to be, opposition to the war in Vietnam on the campuses and also in the nation.” He continued, “As far as this kind of activity is concerned, we expect it, however under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it.”
The war seemed to be winding down by the spring of 1970, and student activists were starting to shift their focus to more domestic issues. That changed when Nixon announced on Apr. 30, 1970, that he was going to have American forces invade Cambodia.
Reaction on campuses was swift and angry.
Dissenters should be treated as Nazis
Vice President Spiro Agnew, who later resigned in disgrace over petty bribery charges, escalated the rhetoric much as Nixon escalated the war. At a Republican fundraiser in Miami, Agnew recommended that campus dissenters be treated as if they were Nazis.
Students at Ohio University were stunned by the killings. One of the largest groups I can recall seeing turned out on the College Green to hear speakers and to be close to one another. The group wasn’t made up of your “usual suspect” campus radicals and protesters. Faculty members and Greeks were sitting side by side with long-haired hippies.
OU President Claude Sowle
Another mass meeting was held in the Convocation Center, usually used for basketball games. Speakers, including university president Claude Sowle, lined up for their turn to speak. What I find astounding looking at these pictures today is that President Sowle (standing, in jacket, with back to camera) was surrounded by thousands of students without any security present.
These are the same kinds of students Ohio Gov. James Rhodes characterized at a table-thumping law-and-order press conference in Kent on May 3 as “worse than the Brownshirts and the Communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes. They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America. We’re going to eradicate the problem, we’re not going to treat the symptoms.”
That speech was widely broadcast, including into the National Guard’s bivouac area on the Kent State campus, something that was thought to give tacit approval, if not encouragement, to the shootings that would happen the next day. Rhodes was two days away from a tight primary race and he was hoping to fire up his base.
Some of the campus religious leaders announced a one-day fast in honor of the Kent State victims. It would be broken by the taking of Communion on the College Green the next day.
After having attended a Lutheran school for eight years, I always associated Communion with golden chalices, fancy wafer, droning organ music and great formality.
There were so many students participating in THIS communion service that the ministers had to dispatch someone to a nearby store to pick up some cheap bottles of wine and some loaves of ordinary bread off the shelf.
I understand Communion now
I usually never participate in the events I cover, but I understood, for the first time, the real meaning of communion. It wasn’t about the religious trappings, it was about coming together with something bigger than yourself.
I got in line for a chunk of bread and a swig out of a shared bottle of wine. I was never so moved by a religious ceremony before, and I’ve never felt like taking Communion since. I don’t know if it was the place, the people or the circumstances, but something special happened that afternoon.
Days and nights blurred
Almost every day there was some kind of rally, march, demonstration or protest. Most of them were fairly benign. It was almost like no one wanted to push the envelope too far after what happened on May 4.
Alcohol, not revolutionary spirits
Even the night-time bonfires next to the War Memorial seemed fueled more by alcoholic spirits than the spirit of revolution. Ohio University has long celebrated The Rites of Spring where confrontations with local police were common when the first warm days chased the cold winter away.
The bars let out
When the bars let out on a nice spring night, it’s not uncommon for the students to take over the major intersection in town at Court and Union. On this night, there’s some political tension in the air, but there are no political signs and no organization. It’s a crowd, not a mob.
Officer reads the riot act
The officer in the center of the photo with the white hat uses a bull horn to tell the group to disperse. That’s commonly known as “reading the riot act.” It’s all part of the Rites of Spring ritual.
Streets clear, everyone goes home
Everyone pretty much stayed withing the Rules of Engagement and nothing unusual happened. Police and students all seemed on their best behavior.
Library taken over
At some point during the week, Chubb Library was occupied by the students. Some of the reporters and photographers decided that we would stay in the library during the brief siege. We figured the students would be less likely to trash the place if we were there to record it. We also assumed the police wouldn’t storm the building if we were there to photograph any head cracking. We were keeping both sides honest.
Movement is losing steam
There was one last half-hearted night of protest that involved a relatively small crowd that marched on the president’s home. I don’t recall much happening and the group started to disperse. Other newspaper folks and I had the feeling that this was about the last gasp. The movement was running out of steam. Even students get tired.
Herded back to College Green
Students started running back to the group saying that the Green was surrounded by police who were keeping them from leaving. To this day, I think this was a result of bad intelligence on the part of the police or bad planning.
I don’t think they realized that the energy was gone from the student movement and that it was about to collapse.
If they had allowed the students to disperse on their own, everyone would have gone home and it would have been over.
Bats n’ hats
To make matters worse, I discovered that police from all over the area had been brought in for reinforcements. These folks rarely had contact with students and were even more poorly trained than the Athens PD.
It wasn’t a good thing to see everyone decked out in full “bats ‘n hats” riot gear with gas masks. I don’t think I had ever seen Athens PD use gas before.
Like I described on my other blog, it wasn’t long before a cop I knew launched a tear gas grenade right toward me. It gave me great pleasure to give him a grin before I pulled on MY gas mask.
My tactical blunder
Friend and photographer Ed Pieratt shot me in my riot gear. I had to wear my glasses on the outside of the mask because I was blind without them. The old WWII mask kept the gas out, but the lenses fogged up so badly I couldn’t see WITH the mask or WITHOUT it. (By the next riot, I had a state of the art M16 mask courtesy of a policeman who “liberated” one for me. I had it fitted with prescription lenses and used it for another two decades.
I’m not happy with the photos from the night of the riot. For some reason, despite the fact that I specialized in shooting available light under lousy conditions, and despite that stuff I had shot by street lights earlier in the week looked good, I decided to bolt a flash on the camera.
Shooting flash draws attention to you – and can look like a muzzle flash from a gun – so you tend to shoot sparingly. It also makes for ugly pictures. Photographers shouldn’t think, they should shoot. Having that bleeping flash on the camera made me think, which caused me to miss photos I wish I’d had.
Ohio University shut down
It was over. By morning, President Sowle had made the decision to close the university until the summer session. Mayor Raymond Shepard and President Sowle decided jointly to request the Ohio National Guard.
Students leave town
With tear gas power still falling from the trees and the whole town suffering from red, itchy eyes from the night before, carloads of anxious parents descended on Athens to pick up their kids.
Kent State garnered all the attention
On the front page of The Messenger that detailed the closing of Ohio University is a story that has been dwarfed by Kent State: the killing of two students and the wounding of five at Jackson State University in Mississippi.
Does Agnew sound familiar?
Vice President Spiro Agnew said in April 1970, “One modest suggestion for the academic community: the next time a mob of students, waving their non-negotiable demands, starts pitching rocks at the Student Union – just imagine they are wearing brown shirts or white sheets and act accordingly.”
Shootings were “unwarranted”
The Scranton Commission concluded that the gunfire from the Ohio National Guard was “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”
James Michener, in his book Kent State: What Happened and Why, wrote that “a depressing number” of the four hundred Kent State students interviewed “had been told by their parents that it might have been a good thing if they had been shot.”
Think of that the next time someone on the left or the right loses touch with reality. Words can sometimes ignite more than the political base.
[Editor’s note: I’m sure there are some “facts” that are wrong. Dates on the film sleeves could be the day the photos were taken or they could be the date the film was processed. After weeks of marches, rallies, meeting, speeches and songifying, days and events run together. Like so many things I’ve covered, I’m glad to have been a witness to history, but once was enough.]
Gallery of photos from Ohio University
Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the photo to move through the gallery.
Warning: non-Cape, obligatory Earth Day content follows.
When I was working for The Athens (OH) Messenger, I had to produce five photo essays a week. We called it The Picture Page, but it was really a 9×17-inch hole that was given to the photographers to fill during the weekdays. We had to find the subject, shoot it, write a minimal amount of copy and lay it out ourselves.
Deadline was 10 a.m. and I was sucking air. I didn’t have a clue how I was going to fill the space. I didn’t want to be the first photographer to end his career at The Mess by having a 9×17-inch blank space mark his professional obituary.
Please, let there be a picture out there
With the clock clicking down, I was frantically driving around hoping SOMETHING would catch my eye.
Suddenly, this tree popped out of the fog. I knocked off a couple of frames before the light changed, then blasted back to the darkroom. I needed to cut corners, so instead of spending seven minutes using film developer, I used paper developer, which produces more grain and contrast, but only took two minutes. Serendipity kicked in and the technique made the photo better instead of worse.
This and another photo of the park got me off the hook for yet another morning. It turned out to be one of the most popular photos I took in three years at the paper.
Hocking River flood control took my tree
About six months later, I went back to the site to shoot this photo. A flood control project to reroute the Hocking River was going right over my tree. This was the result.
Hokey Poem #22
I was flattered when Carol Towarnicky, a reporter I worked with at The Ohio University Post, wrote Hokey Poem #22, which said, in part,
. . . consider the man.
who records the land.
low-key, like the hills.
gentle, like those who
who dot the country side.
he grabs his camera,
squints, clicks, moves on,
who ridicules the thought
of an “eternal message,”
yet mourns the passage
of a tree.
I’m sure CT (I called her that because Towarnicky was a mouthful, even for someone with a name like Steinhoff) was rushing to meet a writing class deadline like I was trying to fill a hole on just another work day, but I still hold on to that tree photo and Hokey Poem #22. It’s funny how something seemingly insignificant can mean so much.