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Hey, I’m Alive!…part two

April 19, 2012

The photo assignment was to drive to a little town in Missouri where a fellow had some pieces of a plane his late father had crashed in 1963. The man was planning to gather more of the plane, rebuild it and fly it.

A question kept coming back to me on the drive up: Why?

Frank Flores with parts of his father's crashed plane in his Willard, Missouri garage.

Frank Flores holds a sign his father, Ralph Flores used after his plane crashed in the Canadian Yukon in 1963. (Photo by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES.com)

The gentleman I was to meet was Frank Flores whose father, Ralph Flores and a passenger, crashed in the remote Canadian wilderness in the dead of winter. They survived for 49 days with almost no food in subzero temperatures before being rescued.

As Frank Flores recounted his father’s ordeal and his plan to rebuild and fly the plane that was still mostly at the crash site, I began thinking the story sounded familiar. I had seen a movie made a couple of decades earlier based on a book written by Flores’ passenger, Helen Klaben.

The 1975 made for TV movie starred Ed Asner as Ralph and Sally Struthers as Helen and was, in my humble opinion, just so-so. The story, as Frank told it, was fascinating. Maybe I’ll read the book if it is still in print.

The “Why?” of this “part two sequel” was still unclear. Why go to all the trouble and cost to rebuild a crashed plane and then fly it after all these years? The answer was it was an unfulfilled promise the younger Flores had made to his father who had passed away a year earlier.

But, still I wondered, “Why”?

You can read a 1963 two part newspaper story about the crash and rescue with photos of Ralph and Helen here:

http://www.whitehorsestar.com/History/hey-im-alive-part-1

http://www.whitehorsestar.com/History/hey-im-alivepart-2

You can read the story of Frank’s attempt to collect and rebuild the plane in this 1999 LA Times story here:

http://articles.latimes.com/1999/jan/24/news/mn-1218

I couldn’t find any followup story so I doubt Frank finished restoring the plane. If that is the case, that’s a little sad but predictable. At the time, Frank seemed like he was heavily grieving the loss of his father which can skew rational thinking.

Here is a link to another blog post related to this story: http://www.gadsdentimes.com/article/20101226/WORK/101229935?p=1&tc=pg

And, here is a photo (photographer unknown or I would gladly credit) of the plane as it sat in 1998 where it crashed more than 30 years earlier.

RalphFloresPlane1998

John S. Stewart

JSanimated

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MISFIRE!

January 28, 2012

Unlike fishermen, photographers usually don’t like to talk about “the one that got away”.  But, I have decided to swallow my pride and add my story of the one that got away to the LEFTeyeSTORIES files.

In the summer of 1993, the midwest was drowning in what was being called a hundred-year flood. Seeing an opportunity to help as well as an opportunity for some feel-good public relations,  country music tourist destination Branson, Missouri, decided to have a fundraiser in the form of a nationally televised telethon.

Anyone who was anyone in the entertainment business (and many in the “Who?” category) showed up in B-town wanting to do their part and get a little face time on national television. This included billionaire Ross Perot, who had just the year before made an unsuccessful bid for president.

I was there working for The Ozark Marketing Council and a couple of publications. I was also hoping to sell a few other photos on speculation.

Bob Hope was scheduled to be up next. I had already seen him backstage and he looked very frail so I was thinking that I better get shots of him because there may not be another opportunity. Then a hand on my shoulder and a whisper in my ear told me of another plan.

A happy-go-lucky Ross Perot walks from his chartered helicopter at the Grand Palace in Branson, Missouri. Following are Beth Wanser, the pilot and an aid of Perot. (Copyright John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

Beth Wanser of the Ozark Marketing Council was telling me that Ross Perot was sitting in his chartered helicopter outside the theater and was going to fly to the Grand Palace to meet country singer Billy Ray Cyrus who was still riding the wave of  his big hit, “Achy Breaky Heart”. There was one seat left on the helicopter and I could have it but we had to go now.

From the theater where we were to the Grand Palace is about a mile and a half, if that far. The problem was the traffic. It would have easily taken an hour by car so the helicopter was a good option.

Beth and I made our way past a few other glaring photogs and TV videographers to the helicopter that was already warming up with rotors turning. I headed to the copilot’s door thinking that’s probably where the vacant seat would be. Instead, the door popped open and that distinctive head with those distinctive ears spoke in that distinctive high-pitched Texas drawl that could be heard in spite of the noise and whirling blades above,  “Son, you ride in the back. I’ve got it up here.” So I got in.

Five minutes later we were on the ground behind the Grand Palace. A waiting van whisked us the remaining 100 yards to the backstage door. Perot was particularly jovial. “Son, where do you need to sit with all your equipment?” and “Son, you go on ahead if you need to. You need to get the pictures.”

When we got to the backstage door, Beth led the way through a maze of cables, equipment and stage hands to the green room which normally would have been filled with performers waiting to go onstage. For now it was the place where Beth had arranged for Perot to meet with Billy Ray Cyrus.

Just before we entered the green-room door, one of Beth’s colleagues pulled her aside. Perot continue on into the green-room and I followed, raising my camera in anticipation of  the pending Ross Perot/Billy Ray Cyrus hug-fest.

The room was large, furnished with chairs and coffee tables filled with finger food for the performers. It was also completely empty. Perot and I  stood there for a moment; Perot staring straight ahead and me staring at his back. I lowered my camera and in that instant, he spun on his heel and looked straight at me.

The happy-go-lucky, former presidential candidate I walked in with had transformed into a scowling Elmer J. Fudd. All that was missing was the steam coming out of his ears.

An unhappy Ross Perot

A less than pleased Ross Perot makes his way out of the "green room" backstage at the Grand Palace after being stood up by Billy Ray Cyrus. Beth Wanser (L) and Lisa Rau (R) stand aside. (Copyright John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

And there it was, the missed shot: Ross Perot standing with hands on hips looking straight at me and anger oozing from his pores. It was perfect; I had a wide-angle lens to capture the empty room behind him and since I’m a head taller than him it was a great angle. The only problem was that my camera, now hanging around my neck,  might as well have been a concrete block sitting at my feet because I couldn’t get it back up to my face fast enough before he shot past me towards the door spewing, “MISFIRE! MISFIRE!”

Like an angry warrior spraying the room with machine gun fire, he shot in rapid succession at nobody in particular, “THAT’S WHAT THIS IS, IT’S A MISFIRE AND WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU HAVE A MISFIRE IS YOU JUST GO ON, SO THAT’S WHAT I’M GOING TO DO. I’M GOING TO GO ON BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THIS IS, IT’S A MISFIRE!!”

Ross Perot is a smart man and not used to being stood up. He figured it out really fast. I had to get the news from Beth Wanser and Lisa Rau, director of public relations for Silver Dollar City (who owned the Grand Palace at that time) and co-owner Peter Herschend who had all huddled together trying to calm Mr. Perot down.

In the five minutes it took to fly to the Grand Palace, Billy Ray Cyrus’ people had decided it would not be a wise thing for the singer to be photographed hugging, shaking hands or even standing next to the then still politically hot Ross Perot. It might alienate some of Billy Ray’s fans.

So, Ross Perot’s “Misfire” became my “Misfire”. End of story, almost.

Years later Lisa Rau and I were talking about the misfire photo-op and she said, “Let me tell you about the rest of my day that day.”

She went on to tell me that she was assigned to drive Billy Ray around Branson and let him see the sights. One of the things he wanted to do was go to the Factory Outlet Mall and buy some shirts. So she took him to a store using the back door while the store manager politely asked the shoppers (mostly women) to step outside for a few minutes. The manager then locked the door.

With the store secured, Billy Ray walked onto the sales floor and wasting no time, stripped off his shirt.  He then began trying on shirt after shirt leaving the unwanted ones on the floor. All the while, the displaced female shoppers pressed their faces against the store’s windows and squealed with delight.

After he made his final selections and checked out, Billy Ray was ushered out the back door. The store manager then unlocked the front doors and the ensuing scene resembled  something like a miniature Black Friday shopping frenzy. The female shoppers were scrambling to pick up and purchase all the shirts he had tried on and left on the floor.

Happy shoppers. Happy store keeper. No memorable photo…but that’s OK; it makes for a good dinner story now and then.

John S. Stewart

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Andy Williams-A Class Act

November 26, 2011
Debbie and Andy Williams

Andy and Debbie Williams. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

Celebrity for the sake of “celebrity” has never had much appeal to me. I think that’s a plus when photographing famous or nearly famous personalities in one on one photo sessions.  It sends a subliminal message of, “I’m not here to stroke your ego” and lets them know that the annoying  “star stuck fan” is not in the room.

Honestly, I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to who’s who and who did what in the show biz world. I let the reporter on the assignment do that homework. Some of these folks have egos so large it was difficult being in the same room with them and others were actually humble and interesting to talk to. But then, that’s like it is in the non-celebrity world. Right?

In a word (or two), Andy Williams is the epitome of class, good taste but also personable and seemingly in touch with the real world.

In the ten or so photo shoots I have had with him, he never tried to control the shoot and was open to and tried to accommodate ideas I had. He was game when I wanted to hire a flatbed truck so he and “Herkimer” (Gary Presley) could stand next to a Highway 76 road sign some nine or ten feet in the air.

Andy Williams and "Herkimer" (Gary Presley) pose for a magazine cover on 76 Country Music Blvd. in Branson, Missouri.

Andy Williams and “Herkimer” (Gary Presley) pose for a magazine cover in Branson, Missouri. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES.com)

The photo shoot was for a travel magazine cover that was to illustrate the two flavors of live entertainment in Branson, Missouri. Everything was in place. The truck was in place next to the sign. Camera, lights and Herkimer were all in place. With exposure readings taken and camera adjustments made, Andy drove up from a feeder road to 76, rolled down his window and said, “We’re going to have to make this fast.” Pointing to the traffic on 76 and tourists on foot he expressed some concern.

He was right, but we got through the shoot. Within two or three minutes after Andy climbed up on the truck, traffic on Highway 76 began to stop. Car doors opened in the middle of the road and tourists with cameras in hand began crowding around the truck. Within another minute, I had helped him off the truck and he was back in his car headed to  his theatre.

The whole shoot was over in less than five minutes with fewer than 20 frames of a 120mm roll of film exposed but the editors were able to select one for the cover.

Andy and Debbie Williams share a moment with Sophie in the Moon River Theatre apartment/dressing room.

Andy Williams and his wife, Debbie share a moment with Sophie in the Moon River Theatre apartment/dressing room. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES.com)

Most  other photo shoots were in or around the more crowd controllable setting of his Moon River Theatre or his spacious apartment/dressing room and adjoining courtyard at the theatre. His wardrobe closet is larger than some dressing rooms I’ve seen and is meticulously arranged with shirts, pants and of course sweaters of the same design grouped together.

Andy Williams at the piano

Andy Williams at his dressing room piano. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES.com)

In the main part of the apartment is a grand piano with framed photos of family and friends. One of them was from friend Robert F. Kennedy. It was a photo I had seen before of Kennedy, his wife Ethel and all their children lined up in front of their Hickory Hill home. Kennedy had written on it, “Andy, If you take Ethel, you have to take the kids. Bobby”.

Andy recounted how he and Kennedy met and Kennedy asked him to join his campaign for president. Andy told him he would be glad to but that there was a problem because he (Andy) was a registered Republican. He said Kennedy responded, “Oh, that’s not a problem. We can fix that.” Later that year in the early summer of 1968, Andy would sing “The Battle Hymn Republic” at Kennedy’s funeral.

A few weeks later at another photo shoot in his theatre apartment I noticed the photo was gone. I asked Andy about it and he kind of mournfully opened a drawer where the photo, torn in several places but still in the frame, lay with the glass shattered. He explained that one of his grandchildren had dropped it and over the years the photo had become stuck to the glass causing the photo to tear. Even big stars have those everyday “Dang it!” moments.

Sophie and Andy at the wet bar

Andy cleans up after a lunch interview as Sophie waits for table scraps. (C. John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

Interviews with photo shoots were usually scheduled to run over the noon hour after his morning round of golf and before the afternoon performance. That meant it was sometimes a lunch interview with lunch at his wet bar in his dressing room and almost always accompanied by Sophie, one of his favorite and really friendly German Shorthair Pointers. And that was a good thing.

After you have passed Sophie’s head to toe sniff test which is just a dog’s way of getting to know you, she makes a great photo prop…someone for Andy to interact with…a new element in the mix.

Andy Williams relaxing in his Branson, Missouri Moon River Theatre dressing room after a round of golf.

Andy Willams relaxes in his Moon River Theatre dressing room after a round of golf. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES.com)

Andy Williams as Carmen Miranda at his Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

Andy Williams shows his sense of humor with a stage performance as Carmen Miranda. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES.com)

Every shoot I have had with Andy Williams has yielded some of the most relaxed images of any entertainer I have photographed. This even applies to those couple of times a reporter failed to tell his staff ahead of time there would be a photographer along.  That serves as a testament to him being comfortable in his own skin and OK with the moment at hand which probably has something to do with his career’s longevity. That and keeping those golden pipes healthy all these years.

John S. Stewart

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Fishing with “W”

August 11, 2011

Three weeks before the 2000 election when George W. Bush eked out a very contested victory over Al Gore, the governor made a stop in the Ozarks in support of Roy Blunt who was running for the 7th district house seat.

George W. Bush fishing in Missouri before the 2000 election

George Bush fishes with Bass Pro Shops owner, Johnny Morris and his son in October 2000 three weeks before he is elected President. (Photo copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

He was also planning a brief rest and relaxation period away from the campaign and media as the house guest of Bass Pro Shops owner, Johnny Morris. The night before they were to go fishing together, I got a call from an Associated Press reporter telling me he had been in contact with a Bush aide and the governor had agreed to allow one still photographer to come along but no reporters or video cameras. They would need my social security number for a quick background check and since there wasn’t time to get a “Letter of Introduction” for me to present to the Secret Service, I would need to bring as much identification as I had.

Before the sun was up the next morning, I made my way to the private lake east of Springfield. When I turned off the asphalt road to the private gravel drive, two men in dark polo shirts and sport coats stepped to the center of the drive and motioned me to stop. One stepped to my window and asked, “Could we help you?”

They never identified themselves as Secret Service agents but the ear pieces and slight bulge under their coats were pretty good indications I was in the right place.

I explained my early morning mission and he seemed to have no knowledge of it and asked if I had any identification. I handed him my driver’s license, media photo ID tag, and my passport. The two stepped back and looked at each one turning them over a couple of times and spoke in low inaudible tones.

Thinking there was some SNAFU, I started to explain further who made the arrangements when one of the men looked up and said, “We know. We’ve been expecting you. Did you have any trouble finding the place?”

Relieved, I quickly shot back, “Oh, no. Not at all.” There was about ten seconds of silence while I rethought my answer and amended it to, “Well, actually I went about a quarter-mile too far and had to turn around and come back.” Still looking at my photo IDs and without looking up, the agent replied, “Yeah, we saw you.” I’m now thinking to myself, ‘You’re off to a great start. You fibbed to a Secret Service agent and he knows it.’

“Ok, you’re fine. We just need you to step out of the car and place your camera bag on the hood.” In lieu of an electronic metal detector or wand, I was treated to an old-fashioned pat down by hand while the other agent looked through my camera bag.  No big deal and not nearly as invasive as today’s airport TSA pat downs.

“Ok, one of the Governor’s aides is waiting for you down by the dock. He will direct you and the Governor will be along shortly.”

The aide and I would be in a tiny…and I mean tiny… jon boat that was barely 10 feet long and had two bench seats wide enough for one person each. The aide would be at the helm manning the 8 h.p. motor. The second boat was a 16 foot open aluminum fishing boat. It contained three Secret Service agents (one drove) and Morris’ brother-in-law who was along as Morris’ photographer. The third boat was a first class bass boat complete with pedestal deck chairs. It contained Governor Bush, Johnny Morris and Morris’ son.

I was told my time on the trip would be limited to about 15 minutes. The Governor wanted this to be a truly private affair and there would be no questions or interview. Conditions were not great for great shots but that’s what makes photojournalism what it is. You deal with what you have in front of you. It was a beautiful crisp fall morning but the sun hadn’t been up long so light readings were still pretty low meaning slow shutter speeds for the next 3o minutes or so even using ISO 400 film. I was going to be in a less than rock solid boat so a tripod or monopod really wouldn’t help.

I stepped onto the dock and it seemed like all eyes from boat #2 were on me as I approached Governor Bush who was bent over closing up his tackle box. I introduced myself and he stood up and introduced himself and said in that GWB twang, “Boy, it’s pretty early in the morning to come out just to take some pictures.”

Everyone piled into their assigned boat and the bass boat with Bush in it backed out of the boat slip. Morris was at the helm and stopped about 20 feet from the dock and said, “Why don’t throw one out here and see if you get any bites?”

I thought this would be a better opportunity to shoot from the dock and not the boat I was in that would not be still no matter how still I was. So I scrambled back onto the dock as did the governor’s aide and as did two of the Secret Service agents. The dock was one of those with a metal roof but not the heavy commercial docks that feel firm under foot. When anyone walked, the dock gave way a little making it only a little more stable than the boat I just left.

I braced myself and camera against one of the uprights closest to where the Bush boat was. Behind me at the front of the boat slip the two agents continued to move and reposition themselves making the dock sway under me. I looked back at the aide and said, “Can you…?” nodding at the agents. He said, “Oh, sure, sure! Hey guys…can you be still?” I looked back to my left and saw two United States Secret Service field agents attached to a Presidential candidate frozen like mannequins at my request. Ok, it was a bit of a heady moment for about two seconds.

I was asking myself if he was doing this for my benefit which was a little unsettling but later learned that the bass they were going after often hang around docks and brush piles.

Bush got off his first cast I assume without any practice casts earlier because the lure landed on the roof of the dock shattering the early morning quiet only the way hard plastic on sheet metal can. His reaction and that of the others in his boat is what you see in the photo.

His second cast was better placed but still way long. The heavy bass lure designed to disturb the water as much as possible as it plows its way back to the rod remained airborne until it landed squarely on the head of one of the frozen secret service agents on the dock.

There was an audible grunt from behind me and a very concerned look from Bush who said, “Oh…you OK?” The agent dutifully replied, “Yes sir. I’m fine.”

There were no bass to be had by the dock so the flotilla of bass boat, photo boat and gun boat motored across the lake where there was a brushy shore and the casting started again. My 15 minute photo-op turned into 20 and then 25 and Bush finally said, “Well, I really would like to pull one in while you’re here but that may not happen.”

That must have been a cue for his aide because the aide indicated it was time for us to go back. No sooner had we pulled alongside the dock than out in the water across the lake we heard splashing and excited voices. We sat and listened and tried to see across the  100 yards or so. And then, when the quiet returned there came that unmistakable Texas twang, “Hey photographer. I got one.”

Oh, well.

John S. Stewart

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“Wasteland” in the Ozarks

June 18, 2011

The 2010 Oscar nominated documentary film, “Wasteland” profiles a few of the estimated 250,000 people in Brazil who make their living reusing and recycling the trash the rest of the population generates.

The Ozarks has its own 1976 version of “Wasteland”.

I lay in bed listening to the nearby early summer nighttime chirping of crickets and tree frogs. The more distant sounds of highway traffic and dogs barking completed the nocturnal ambient noise drifting through the open windows of my new non air conditioned abode in Salem, Missouri.
So much for nostalgic sensory memories.

Humans and animals pick through pick through garbage at an open burn waste dump in the rural Ozarks-1976.

An old woman and a dog look for something usable or edible in an open burn waste dump in the rural Ozarks in 1976. (Copyright John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES.com)

What really got my attention this night was the smell drifting through the window screens; a burning smell. This smell wasn’t the sweet smell of wood smoke on autumn days but the acrid smell of stuff burning that will burn but wasn’t made with the intention to burn it. Things like household products and the stuff we need or think we need to live each day.

The next afternoon on my way home from work, I made it a mission to follow my nose to the source of the offending odors. I found it at the end of a gravel road across the highway from where I lived.

At the end of the road the terrain dropped off to a sloping hillside until it reached flat ground again 30 or 40 feet below. At the top of the hill garbage trucks, pickup trucks and even cars would back up and empty their contents down the side of the hill.

An Ozarks' Version of "Wasteland"

Two boys pick through refuse at an open burn waste dump in the Ozarks-1976. (Copyright John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES.com)

Within a few minutes, three or four or a half-dozen people would gather around the fresh drop and begin picking through it. Men, women, children and the old all made up the group of people who gathered daily to find something they needed or could use that others didn’t need or couldn’t use.

I photographed some of the pickers and approached a few but found none anxious to talk. Most turned and walked away when they saw my camera. Whether the shame of such pursuit is self-imposed or handed down from society, it is there regardless.

An attendant told me most of the pickers came late in the afternoon when most of the trash was dumped. Then in the early evening he would set fire to what would burn reducing the volume on the hillside.

The resulting piece was offered to the editor as a photo page with little copy since I wasn’t able to really talk to the subjects. If I remember correctly, I likened the experience to walking into Dante’s Inferno and presented it as a window the people of the town could look through and see a part of their town most of them had never seen.

I’m not sure if it was really appreciated but I had found the source of my sleepless nights; the nocturnal smells drifting past my open bedroom window and now visions of people picking through garbage.

  John S. Stewart

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A Biker’s Funeral

April 23, 2011

“Well, you sure have some pretty rough, scruffy lookin’ friends”, the office secretary shot across her desk as I came through the door of the small Missouri town newspaper where I worked in 1978.

Booger Red's friends escort him to his final resting place.

Friends of “Booger Red” line up for the funeral procession that will take him to his final resting place. “Hagen” is at right in the German helmet. (Photo copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

Twenty minutes earlier, the office was full of a dozen or so leather jacketed tattooed (tattoos weren’t so mainstream then) motorcycle gang members wanting to see me. Their friend and fellow gang member, “Booger Red” had been ‘murdered’ and now they were going to bury him with a proper biker’s funeral.

Some weeks earlier I had taken a photo of a local teenaged boy being airlifted to a Shriners’ Burn Hospital after he ignited himself  with gasoline while filling up his motorcycle. His father, “Hagen” was the gang’s leader and wanted me to photograph their friend’s funeral. I was to go to his house where the gang had gathered and we would talk about it. O…K….sure why not?

Motorcycle gang member "Booger Red" at the funeral home the night before the biker's funeral.

Motorcycle gang member “Booger Red” at the funeral home the night before his biker funeral. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

Booger Red got his name from his flaming red hair and by his friends’ own description, he was a “booger”…mean. He was killed by a single gunshot to his chest through a screen door after he threatened the person inside with an ax during a drug deal gone bad. I was not going to argue with his friends whether he was “murdered” or killed in self-defense.

I arrived at Hagen’s house and was greeted in a quiet way like anyone arriving at a wake. The group, dressed in leathers accented with chains and images of skulls and fire was somber.

Years later while visiting an Amish household I would remember the

Mounted on their hogs, friends of Booger Red line up outside the funeral home.

Mounted on their hogs, friends of Booger Red line up outside the funeral home. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

similarities in the two experiences. None of the men, except the leader, would talk to me. When I made eye contact with the female members of the group, they would look away.

Hagen and I sat a table and he thanked me for coming and then outlined the next day’s funeral activities. There would be a traditional funeral at the local funeral home for “Booger’s” immediate family. Yes, Booger actually had a mother and siblings. After that, it was the gang’s show. There would be a motorcycle escort the fifteen miles to the grave site out in the country and graveside services.

Hagen went on to explain that after that at most biker funerals,  everyone stands around and drinks beer and puts their empties into the casket. Charming. That would not happen for Booger Red. The celebration would wait until that evening when there would be dancing and drinking ON his grave. There would also be a couple of vans parked there with a girl in each …there for the taking. Thanks but no thanks.

At this point a whirl wind of journalist ethics, morals and questions began spinning in my head. Do I even continue pursuing this story? It was unusual to have been granted such access without a great deal of rapport but was my presence as a journalist guiding the behavior of the subjects?

The day of the funeral was cold, rainy with a little sleet and snow mixed in. The procession would be stopped several times as biker after biker

Mourners at fellow motorcycle gang member, Booger Red's funeral.

Mourners at fellow motorcycle gang member, Booger Red’s funeral. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

slid out on the slick pavement ending up on the ground in front of the hearse.

I didn’t go to the evening activities after the graveside services. Instead, I developed film, printed photos and worked on a full-page layout to present to the editor the next day. He went for it and it would run in that afternoon’s paper. Before the presses started to roll, one of the pressmen asked me, “How many extra copies do you want to run?” “Extras?” I replied. “That’s not my decision but I don’t think we’ll need any.” He assured me there would be a need and by six o’clock that evening he was pulling early run rejects (those first copies that come off the press before they have the ink adjusted correctly) out of the trash to put out in the now sold out boxes on the street.

The next morning the office secretary that had remarked about my rough-looking friends locked her eyes on me as I came in and said, “Do you know how many phone messages I have listened to this morning about your biker funeral story and I’m not even to the end of the tape?”

The break was about 50-50. Half  the readers loved it and half hated it

but everybody wanted to read about it. Some saw it as glorifying a seedy element of society and others were interested in getting a glimpse of a side they ordinarily would never see.

To me, that is why you do stories like this one.

John S. Stewart

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Frozen Forms

April 2, 2011

This ballet on ice was actually shot by my father. I say that because he is the one holding the flash and the one who fired it, albeit on my command.

Driving around one winter evening in 1976, I came upon the lake in the subdivision that was a favorite for ice skating in the winter. This evening the skaters were mostly without skates; just running and sliding arms flailing  in the air. It had all the grace of a poorly choreographed ballet with jerky movements.

Skaters on a frozen pond are “frozen” with a handheld flash. (Copyright John S. Stewart)

I thought in stop action it might have a more aesthetically appealing look and make a stand alone weather shot for one of the wire services.

Enlisting the help of dad, I instructed him to stand on the bank of the lake with one of my Honeywell strobes  keeping it pointed at me while I slid out among the skaters.  I set the camera on a tripod, stopped down to about f8 or f11 and opened the shutter with the long gone “B” or “bulb” setting.

I then waited for “the moment” to flash a small penlight flashlight sending my father his cue to fire the flash.  After several times of repeating this anticipating the delay between the cue and the flash and replaying the frozen image in my mind, I was confident I had something useful on film.

Getting this shot today would be a little easier using a digital camera with the ability to check each shot and a strobe  fired using a radio frequency remote. But then, I would have missed out on some quality time with Dad.

John S. Stewart

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