Barber Ed Unger Retired in 1983

Cape Girardeau Barber Ed Unger

The Southeast Missourian’s Out of the Past column on December 13, 2008 carried this note:

25 Years Ago: Feb. 13, 1983

After a million or more snips, Ed Unger is putting away his hair clippers and razor and retiring from the barber profession; Unger began barbering in 1935 on Main Street; he has been associated with several shops virtually all over Cape Girardeau.

Ed Unger knew my head well

Back in the days when I still had hair to cut, Ed Unger was most likely the guy who did it.

I don’t know who this kid is, but I was probably about that age or younger when Ed gave me my first trim.

The best part was that he didn’t mind if I read comic books while he was working away.

A Machine for Contemplation

Wright Morris, in his book, God’s Country and My People, described the barber chair this way:

A machine for contemplation, a throne for reflection, a couch for taking in or giving out information, capable of elevation, bodily suspension, facial and tonsorial transformation, the Iron Age went on to more imposing constructions, but none of them so well scaled to the nature of man.

Seated on a cushioned board placed across the chair arms, I first appraised the world from a point of elevation, observed my new head emerge from my old one, experienced the baptism of green tonic, held my breath in the cloud of fragrant talcum, and as I descended, heard the voice of authority pronounce the code word, “Next.”

Cape Girardeau Barber Ed UngerI have my own throne

When my brother Mark said that a buddy’s dad was selling three barber chairs from his shop, I told him to snatch one up for me. It took a U-Haul trailer to get it from Missouri to Florida and three friends to help get it into the house, but it’s been ensconced in my living room for over 35 years. It’s getting a little tired, but grandson Malcolm still likes to be pumped up and down in it.

Don’t discuss politics

My hair was a bit shaggy when I started working at The Athens (OH) Messenger in 1968, so I hopped into a barber chair to be made more presentable. At some point in the conversation, I mentioned my new job.

I was stretched out in the chair while he shaved under my neck with a straight razor when he asked, “Do you know ‘Joe Smith’, who’s running for whatever?”

“Yeah, I shot him last week. There’s a guy who’s a couple bricks short of a load.”

His next two sentences were, “He’s my uncle, ” and “Oops.”

I didn’t bleed much

I didn’t bleed much, but my conversation in a barber shop is now limited

  • “Mornin.'”
  • “The usual.”
  • “Thanks.”

Why Pictures Don’t Run

Bill East and Russell DoughtyBill East posted this picture of two 1966 Outstanding Seniors posing at the sundial outside the old Public Library at the Common Pleas Courthouse grounds.

That’s Russell Doughty on the left and Bill on the right.

I remembered Bill and Russ, but I didn’t recall taking that picture until I stumbled across the negative this evening. It was shot as a full-frame vertical originally.

Sometimes photos are cropped to save space or to remove distracting elements to tell the story better.

Sometimes there are other considerations.

Outstanding Seniors Russell Doughty - Bill EastWhen I looked closely at the plaque on the sundial, I noticed something I hadn’t seen when I pushed the shutter: a commonly-used four-letter word beginning with the letter S. [As always, click on the photo to make it larger.]

That turned a well-composed full-length vertical into a tightly-cropped square.

“IT” Happens

I’m not the only photographer who has had that happen: The Simon and Garfunkel boxed set Old Friends includes a live version of the song A Poem on the Underground Wall, prefaced by an anecdote from Garfunkel about its origin: he explains that a photo shoot for the cover of the album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. was ruined because the subway wall they had intended to use as a backdrop had obscenities written on it. Something that they didn’t discover until AFTER the shoot, according to one version.

Students wear costumes to class at Central High School

You find out who your friends are

My debate partner Pat Sommers, in the front row in the white sheet, attempts to send a message. Fortunately, I had other frames.

The Tiger was less lucky with a photo of a group of athletes, one or more of whom flashed the single-digit salute. It wasn’t noticed until after the photo was engraved, the page made up and ready to go to press. Just before we decided to kill the picture and lay out the page differently, one of the engravers thought he had a solution. He’d take some acid and carefully etch out the offending digit.

The only problem was that he wasn’t successful. When the paper was distributed, the digit was still there, except now it was surrounded by a white circle. I vaguely remember that there were repercussions. If I had been given a vote, I would have held out for neutering.

It’s not just people you have to watch out for

When I got to West Palm Beach, I was given an assignment for The Palm Beach Post to shoot a major piece on a small town that had gone on an annexation binge. They gambled that they could score a bunch of tax money if they acquired a bunch of undeveloped land,¬†that wouldn’t require services for many, many years. (Or at least until the current crop of politicians moved on.)

The tiny village had a distinctly rural feel, so I was very pleased to shoot a photo of a pony looking through a fence within a block of what passed for the main drag. The editors liked it well enough to run it huge on the section front as lead art on Sunday.

Saturday afternoon, while the page was being put together for an advance press run, I got a radio call from an engraver.

“I can’t get in touch with any editors or your boss, but your name is on the picture and I think you need to come in.”

Do you see anything wrong with this picture?

When I got there, the engraver asked, “Do you see anything wrong with this picture?”

“No, you did a great job of separating it. It looks just like the original.”

“Take a closer look,” he said. “Let me give you a hint. There’s something in this picture that isn’t a fence post.”

Indeed, he was right. That pony was REALLY happy to see me. Fortunately, I had another frame. The engraver got a six-pack of thanks from me.

Penzel and Stone Are Appreciated

Cape Girardeau Optimist Club recognizes Jim Stone and Carolyn PenzelThe 1965 Girardot says that the Cape Girardeau Optimist Club honored Jim Stone and Carolyn Penzel during their first annual Youth Appreciation Week. Jim and Carolyn were given trophies.

The school was presented with a print of Wasserberger’s Sad Clown. Sounded like kind of a strange choice to me, but I barely made it out of Art 101 in college.

Who was Wasserberger?

A Google search turns up a Polish artist named Nathan Wasserberger, who was born in 1928 and is still alive, at least as recently as early 2009. He is best known for his nudes and darker works which reflect the horrors he saw when his family and friends were killed in World War II and he spent time in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

I wonder if the print is still kicking around.

Photographers hate grip ‘n grins

Carolyn Penzel recognized by Cape Girardeau Optimist ClubThe bane of every smalltown newspaper photographer – and what else is a high school but a small town? – is the presentation photo.

We hate grip n grins, three-people-and-a-piece of paper, check passings with a giant check, ribbon cuttings with giant scissors, ground breakings with gold-painted shovels with ribbons tied to the handles wielded by guys wearing suits and hard hats… Geez, the list could go on and on and I get the shivers just thinking about how many of those I’ve done.

You have to keep it in perspective

Jim Stone recognized by Cape Girardeau Optimist Club during Youth Appreciation WeekThe most important thing you had to keep in the back of your mind, though, was that this routine PITA assignment for you might be a big deal for the folks in the picture.

I remember when my Dad was awarded the Boy Scout’s Silver Beaver Award. It was the highest adult award you could get as an adult volunteer and Dad was very proud to have received it. The newspaper photographer did a lousy job of taking the picture; it was poorly set up and badly lit.

After that experience, I made it a point to do the absolute best job I could even if the assignment WAS a cliche.

After all, EVERYBODY is SOMEBODY’S mother, father, brother or sister.

Photographers get the last word

OK, I have to recall one check-passing I did in Athens, Ohio. A gaggle of local movers and shakers were making my life difficult by hamming it up and mugging the camera while I was shooting.

I ended up running a three-shot sequence of their antics.

The day it hit the streets, the publisher called me in and said that some of the people in the picture thought I had made them look “undignified. I promised them that I would talk with you about it. That concludes your obligatory chewing out,” he concluded.

Kage School, a Picture with a Question Mark

Students in front of Kage School in Cape Girardeau circa 1965-66

It wasn’t until I had looked at this picture five or six times that I realized that the students are forming a question mark.

That leads me to believe that I must have shot the picture for a “What’s going to happen to Kage School?” story.

Since the school, which was established in 1880, closed May 20, 1966, exactly 112 years after its creation, that’s probably what it was.

One of the last one-room schools

Interior of Cape Girardeau's Kage School before it closed in 1966

The National Register of Historic Places Registration Form has fascinating factoids buried all through it.

  • It was one of the last one-room school houses in the area, right up until it closed.
  • It was unusual because of its racial and economic diversity. Enrollment included white children from well-established families, the district’s African-American students from as far back as 1889 or earlier and children from the County Poor Farm.
  • Because of the need for children to work on family farms, the school term was usually only the three or four winter months.
  • The current brick building was erected in 1880 for a low bid of $1,200. (Additions and changes brought the total to $1,600).
  • The original log cabin school cost $180.25, including a $9.25 fireplace. After the new building was completed, the old one was sold to Henry Klaproth for $13.
  • Electricity and lights were installed January 21, 1938, most likely as a result of a WPA project to upgrade schools.

The long, cold walk

Outhouse behind Cape Girardau's Kage School

The school started serving hot lunches in 1933 once a week. Later a makeshift cafeteria was created by erecting a partition in a back corner of the classroom. Times were tough and Kage was the first rural school in the area to serve a hot lunch.

One thing the school DIDN’T have was indoor bathrooms. Outhouses were used until the school closed.

Updated photos

Here’s what Kage School looks like today, including old initials carved into the brick walls.