Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Hayden and his wife in his UFO library

Hayden with two of his many UFO

Polaroid image of a poster depicting a captured alien
on a wall in Roswell, New Mexico

Early digital reconstruction of a photograph
of a purported UFO


"Do you believe in UFOs?"

I will answer that question later...

It was one of those hot, midsummer evenings back in the day when few homes and no cars had A/C. As was the fashion of the era, people would go driving out in the country on a sweltering night in hopes of catching a cool breeze before turning in. Many times on a particularly humid night "turning in" meant that my family would sleep on the screened-in back porch, sounds of the animals, birds and insects in the darkness helping to create an hypnotic, restful state. Even in the heat, I always fell asleep quickly when we slept on that old back porch.

On such a night in my ninth year, mom, dad, grandma Miller and I were riding with unca Roy (my namesake) in his old Plymouth. We were somewhere west of town on old K-32 highway in Kansas. We were still sipping our milk shakes from Dairy King. (Another sure-fire cooler-downer.) My father preferred them to those of the recent upstart, Dairy Queen. Mom called it a "dad thing."

Sure enough, as we meandered along the two-lane blacktop, rolling up and down the slightly hilly terrain there were distinctly chilly spots, especially in places where the road dipped. Everyone would let out a collective "sigh" when we came upon such a spot.

Then as we approached a little berm on my side of the car I noticed a glow of light from behind, the small hill hiding whatever was producing the light. I watched, riveted, as the glow intensified, and then something shot straight up from the bright light behind the hill and was gone in a split-second. It was all dark again.

My nine-year-old mind was quite excited at this and I started talking, almost screaming, "Wow, did anybody else see that!!? It was a big ball of fire and something took off and I saw it! Did anybody else?"

Nobody else did of course.

After I calmed down, my dear, now departed grandmother Miller said "That's OK Roy. I believe you" and patted me on the hand.


Some twenty years later there was a movie. Made by the master himself, Steven Spielberg, it was an epic work of early digital blue screen magic. It was called "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

The title reflected a way of referring to human-UFO interaction: A close encounter of the First Kind is a sighting. A close encounter of the Second Kind is physical evidence. A close encounter of the Third Kind is contact. Now, some UFOlogists (yes, there really is such a thing, but the term won't be found in any scholarly tome-unless it is used in derision) are calling an alien abduction a close encounter of the Fourth Kind. Speilberg's movie included all four but only alluded to the three that had been codified up to that time

But I am getting ahead of myself...

The movie generated lots of press and lots of spin-off stories. Always having an interest in the mysterious and unexplained, I pressed the editor of Star Magazine, Howard Turtle, for an assignment to do "some sort of UFO piece." I guess he finally became weary of hearing me yap about it and relented. He had not much interest in the subject.

I called authors who had written books on the subject. I talked to local UFO enthusiasts. I called one writer who specialized in debunking UFOs.

At length I discovered Hayden Hewes.

He lived in the Oklahoma City area and was president of the Midwest UFO Network (MUFON), which was a clearing house for people wanting to make UFO reports.

Hayden, an avid UFO-olgist, worked as a manager at a TG&Y store (a national chain general store type business that went away in the 1980's) in Oaklahoma city.

He met me at the door, offered tea or coffee and introduced me to his wife, a pretty, petite woman with long blond hair and a few years his junior. I was to find out later that she was a fortune teller.

Hayden excused himself to gather up some papers and photos he wanted me to see and left the room.

At this point I realized that the snow storm that was just hitting Kansas City as my flight left had made its way to Oklahoma City. The wind began to howl and whistle around around the corners of the Hewes' apartment and for a moment caught the attention of both his wife and myself.

"Looks like it's blowing in," she said.

"I must have brought it with me because it was right on my airplane's tail all the way here."

"Thanks a lot," she retorted with feigned sarcasm.

When we both brought our focus back to the room she told me of her life-long natural talent for fortune telling and asked if I would like for her to give me a reading.

Sky blue, cows moo, grass green, Pope Catholic. Sure, I wanted her to read my fortune.

This was a serious session. She had a genuine, fortune-telling crystal ball and kept wiping it with a black cloth, as if trying to see more clearly.  She gazed steadily into the crystal ball and was very quiet for several minutes.
                                                                                                                                                                               She asked me if I had any plans to go to Africa.

No, I didn't.
She rubbed the crystal ball some more.

She kept seeing me walking along a path in the deep jungle, black, large-toothed leopards and other beasts clawing at me and trying to attack me. She said that it seemed as long as I stayed on the gentle, winding path the fierce animals could not harm me.

Let me digress for a moment: While I did not go to Africa, not ever, I did have an assignment a few months later to shoot the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas. The explorer couple recorded the very first sound film in Africa and this museum was full of thousands of artifacts they had brought back from the continent. Fortunately, none of them were reaching and clawing for me. But it sure LOOKED like Africa. How could she have known, or at least have come so close to predicting...

Anyway, by this time Hayden had returned and the storm outside was getting worse.

We talked into the teens about grey aliens, Area 51, and also Big Foot, another of Hayden's interests.

The very fascinating evening concluded, and as I walked to the car through the pelting snow/sleet or whatever it was, I imagined I saw a Big Foot or grey alien behind every snow-draped bush...

"Roy, you've never met me, so let me describe myself. I am 6'5" and over 250 pounds. There is not very much that scares me. But that night, I swear my hair stood on end!"

The man on the other end of the phone was a deputy sheriff in North Dakota. He formerly worked for the Coffeyville, Kansas sheriff's office, where his UFO encounter of the First Kind occurred and ultimately was the reason he wound up in North Dakota.

He went on to describe what happened: "It was a Saturday night and all of a sudden the radio started chattering about people seeing a strange, luminous object in the sky, scaring the heck out of kids, adults and especially the farm animals. Another deputy and I were able to make out the light in the distance and with one other part-time deputy, we triangulated our positions by radio relative to the object. We figured that I was closest so I would take the lead and follow whatever it was.

"When I approached the light I saw that it was huge, hard to say just how big in the darkness with no ground reference point, but my best guess was maybe 100' in diameter. It actually wasn't perfectly round. More diamond-shaped. There was a row of white rotating lights around the edges.

"It flew about 50' high and headed pretty much straight down the dirt road right in front of me.
After a few minutes, it stopped over a pond at the end of the road. That was when I got out of the car and realized that I wasn't exactly sure who had cornered who. I called for backup and have to say I was pretty shook up. It slowly moved toward me, shined a reddish light on me and my patrol car, stopped, then shot straight up and was gone.

"Then I began to shake. I was about as scared as the time when an escaped prisoner somehow grabbed my gun, held it up to my temple and said 'I'm gonna blow your brains out!' And he would have if my canine hadn't got to him first."

I will not use the deputy's name because of what he told me next.

"After the incident I wrote up a full report and went about my business. The next day I was inundated with media attention. It got to be a real circus and I could barely do my job. Then the harassing phone calls and the snickers behind my back started. There is a mind set that says that anyone who sees something unusual in the night sky is a nut case. It is now pretty obvious to me that the Air Force has promoted this idea, why I can't say."

The deputy had apparently not read any of the reports about numerous pilots who had seen UFO's. In the fullness of time, when pilots all figured out the reaction of most people, especially their bosses, they simply quit filing reports. Some commercial pilots who reported seeing UFO's lost their jobs.

I did some background checking on the deputy and nothing in it would have led anyone to think he was one of those nut cases. He received a number of commendations for his work, did not drink or smoke. The guy was an adult Boy Scout for gosh sakes.

But even given his exemplary record, that one close encounter of the First Kind on an otherwise deserted dirt road near Coffeville, Kansas led to his having to resign his job and move far from his hometown. The public pressure was just too much for him and his family to bear.

Final note on the interview: It was recorded, with his permission of course. As I listened over and over again to the tape (pre-digital) something struck me as rather odd. When we first began the conversation he definitely had a Kansas accent, that sort of "twang" that we locals don't usually notice. But as he related the incident his voice lost virtually all of its regional characteristics. He was accent neutral. A while later, in an interview with a professor about the psychological implications of UFO encounters, I learned that my experience was not unusual. "Most people," he went on to instruct, "when describing a first time ever experience will lose their colloquial speech patterns. It is as though they are a child, seeing something for the first time and have no frame of reference to accurately describe it. Children are born with the ability to speak any language, any dialect. The theory is that a completely new stimulus somehow triggers that early, intuitive instinct."

It was a little over my head, but I caught the drift...


The last days we spent in the bakery that I opened in Colorado in a fit of midlife crisis were long, hectic and stressful. We had the sale of the business to finalize, the move back to KC to arrange, new schools for the girls, etc. So, we decided to go to the dollar movie in Aurora to escape reality that Friday night. Not much more than the few movie dollars left after dropping the quarter million dollars in the big hole in Denver called The Great Harvest Bread Co...But, that is another story.

The movie I would rate as about a grade B+, but entertaining. I recall still the name: "Under Fire" starring Nick Nolte. He was a photojournalist covering some South American war. He shot the old manual Nikon F cameras.

After we got home I was reminded that the two daughters were having a couple of friends over for a slumber party (boy, there is an oxymoron!). The wife and I made snacks while the four girls made up their beds.

The rental house in Parker, Colorado had a walk-out terrace kind of basement, so that our rear window gave us a spectacular, panoramic view of the Front Range, from Long's Peak to the north, all the way to Pike's Peak in the south.

As I glanced up from popcorn-making I noticed that there was what appeared to be a lighted radio transmission tower off to the south-south west and near to the ground,  that I did not recall seeing before. I remarked as much to my two young daughters, and they took a look as did their two overnight friends. As we talked about where it might be and how far away it was, a strange thing happened: The five red "radio antenna" lights began to peel off, the top one starting a circle to the right, followed by number two, three, four and five. Now the five lights, instead of standing up straight as a radio antenna would, were going in perfect circles. After a short time, they then went in random directions, all the while keeping a fairly close pattern. Next they would form a static, horizontal row of all five lights. This display, back and forth, up and down, sideways and all ways, went on for the better part of an hour. This was no radio antenna. Oddly, my wife refused to look. No amount of persuasion would change her mind. She just wasn't going to look, an attitude which puzzles me to this day.

At one point the girls became frightened and ran over and hugged me, as if I would have been any help.

"I think if they meant us harm they would have done so already," I told them, trying to reassure myself as well.

At length the lights just disappeared.

Not long before that incident I started freelancing for the Denver Post, so as an integral part of that gig I had the name and direct number of the Parker cop shop dispatcher. I called and asked if he knew what it was. "Oh, I wouldn't worry about it Roy," he said. "You see some funny things up here in the mountains. It's not like back in Kansas."

I hung up, a little puzzled at what he meant by that...

But unlike my initial First Encounter, this time I had witnesses. Young witnesses, granted, but all of perfect eyesight and with all the curiousity of ten-year-olds and twelve-year-olds.

And no, I did not get any pictures. I had already sold my long lenses.

So, the answer to the question: "Do you believe in UFO's?"

That isn't even the right question.

The real answer is far more complicated than a simple matter of belief or non belief.

Instead of the term "UFO sightings" I learned from my research that the phrase "UFO phenomenon" more precisely describes what we are talking about.

The UFO phenomenon is a complex interaction of human perception, man-made structures and flying objects, celestial convergences and many, many as yet unexplained, naturally occurring electrical, chemical and optical events. Throw into the mix the ridicule that attaches to those who have admitted to sighting a UFO, and you have a veritable witch's brew of electro-chemical-optical-psychological-physical manifestations. That is the consensus scientific explanation. In short, the "UFO phenomenon" contains many more elements than just unknown objects in the sky.

Let me give you a for instance: Decades ago many reliable observers reported seeing blobs of lights racing along above high-tension power lines near coastal areas. Close scrutiny proved that the phenomenon was a sort of plasma being created by just the correct amount of humidity, barometric pressure, temperature and fog. Not unlike the centuries-old tales told by seafarers who saw what they called St. Elmo's Fire, an unearthly glow of light that would suddenly appear, jumping around on their ship's masts and sails. That had to be scary.

Further for instance: In the 1970's there were a series of loud booms from above heard at various times all over the country. Thousands of inquires from citizens in all states. What was going on? The government said "We don't know." Well they DID know. It was the secret SR-71 Black Bird bomber making supersonic runs. The truth came out years later.

When I asked Hayden Hewes what UFO's were, he said "Our best thinking is that they are other-dimensional craft from an alternate universe that have developed the capacity to cross over between our world and theirs. Or maybe there are more than just two realities. Maybe there are multitudes, perhaps an infinity of such realities."

Shades of Star Trek.

Are there really little grey, super-smart women who pilot intergalactic craft from planet to planet, or from one space-time continuim to another, abducting beings for study or God only knows what purpose? I shudder to think...

What exactly was the US Air Force spokesman telling us when he responded to the question posed by a reporter: "Sir, how do you reconcile the fact that high altitude weather balloons were't operational until 1949, and yet you are saying that what crashed near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 was a high altitude weather balloon?"

"Compression of years" was the spokesman's response.

How's that again?

I do still wonder what it was I saw as a nine-year old and again as a starting-over photographer some twenty-five years later. And I still wonder about the mystery of why my wife wouldn't look...


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Missouri Town

Smoke from the fire mixed with a ray of sunshine to
create beam particles of light in the blacksmith shop
run by Don Bailey.

Stark, simple structures.

Lots of great angles and props at Missouri Town.

'Ol daddy rooster posed perfectly
in the doorway of the chicken

Judy Rains planted herbs.

Judy Rains also fed the chickens.

King of the barnyard protected his turf.

Pete the ox loves human attention. He
gave me large, affectionate licks all over the
front of my shirt and enjoyed having
his chin petted.

Volunteer Jody Watkins pulled weeds from among the
onion plants.

"It's de ja vue all over again"-Yogi Berra.

And it was when I revisited Missouri Town this week.

Three-plus decades had passed since I first shot at this Jackson County Parks and Recreation department's depiction of a typical Missouri town of 1855.

And, appropriately enough, things hadn't changed much.

The first time 'round was for a story about the living history class from UMKC that spent a week on the grounds working, living and dressing like folks did back in the 1850's. They even overnighted. I did not stay over, but spent almost the entire week traveling between the city and the site.

If you have not been to Missouri Town 1855, I would highly recommend it.

"It's like going back in time" is one of those phrases that wire service and newspaper style books say to avoid. Bromides they are called if memory serves. But in the case of Missouri Town, it is absolutely true.

Unlike a museum inside a building, the experience at MoTown completely immerses one in not only the architecture of the period but the sounds (rooster crowing, sheep blaring) and smells (there is nothing quite like fresh manure).

The most powerful impression I got from that first visit, however, was the pace of life. Time seemed strangely warped. It was as though I had suddenly gotten off one of those moving sidewalks at airports and was now walking at a leisurely pace, noticing the flowers, the starchy-white simple houses and the animals.

That first day I had brought all my lighting gear, which required a 110 volt power supply. "Where is your outlet?" I inquired of the person leading us around. "About a half-mile that way," he said, gesturing towards the front gate. So much for wrap-around umbrella light. And a good thing as it turned out actually, because I was forced to shoot at the same speed as the surroundings, with slow, thoughtful deliberation. Remember that I was using FILM-color film , which meant using a tripod and asking the subject to hold very still, just as in days of yore. The photos you see here were done with a digital camera and pixels.

So it came to pass that at the conclusion of the week, on a Friday late, sweet summer evening, that I had an epiphany of sorts.

The sky was turning the deepest blue and way off in the distance I could see the glow of the lights of the frenetic metroplex that was and is Kansas City. I had always thought that it was just about my favorite place to be, right in the heart of the action in the middle of what I thought of as my personal, home planet.

The students from UMKC were settling in for the night. The young women were in typical, long cotton dresses, the guys in overalls or jeans with suspenders. They all moved as though soft shadows. And they all carried lanterns or candles to see their way. Everyone talked in a hush. The humans were in synch with their world, and like the other animals, were taking their cue from the Earth: when the sun set in 1850, life quieted down. It was a natural rhythm of life unfolding before my eyes.

I then realized that I had grown so fond of this languid, lush, spot of warmly sensual existence that I didn't want to go back.

And it was a scary, almost terrifying feeling. I mean I REALLY didn't want to go back to the bustle of the city I thought I loved. My known world was shaken.

I had never experienced this before on an assignment , and never have since.

Everything raced through my head at once: What would I do? I would not be a photographer any more, at least not one who got paid. What would be my goals? Could I really find fulfillment just taking care of crops and animals, chopping wood and tending fences?

You can see I was getting into the fantasy of a total reordering of that I thought was important and significant.

It took probably a week for me to fully return, mentally, from that sentimental journey.

Maybe I never came back completely...I had the same feeling this time.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Scary Prairie, or Kansas in proper focus

Fences create a barrier between neighbors, keeping
cattle in and keeping strangers out. Try hopping over this

A wall cloud is best seen on the prairie. In the city
buildings hide the mass of the phenomenon. On the
open prairie there is no shelter, no protection for a
tiny human in this vast landscape.

On the edge of the city where one can
see the full openness of the prairie sky,
the awesome power of a lighting strike
can be more fully appreciated.

Cousin Lonnie Miller recreated a scene from Nancy
Picard's short story of a terrified woman trapped in
the Flint Hills and an ominous stranger on a Harley.

What if that car in the distance carries a drunken or
drugged driver? What if the single cotter pin holding on the
wheel breaks and the vehicle comes lurching into your
lane? Distances close so rapidly on the prairie, especially
on a narrow, rain-slicked two-lane road. Whoosh! and the
car is past. You are safe until the next set of headlights
looms in the misty darkness...

Cows really are kind of spooky when they look at you.
Especially when shot on infra-red film. Will it clear up
or become a torrential downpour? Will there be time to
dash back to the car for some semblance of safety?

Another former photo assistant, Kathy Wismer, agreed
to hike this hill in the Kansas prairie. No matter how
much weight one puts on, the mere human is but a spec
in this world. I hasten to add that Kathy is actually
rather skinny, at least she was the last time I saw her...

Ah, the final resting place on the prairie. Some of the
grave stones had dates in the 1800's

"Let's get out in the country away from it all" is a typical
urban dweller cry. Yes, far away from neighbors and
most crime. Yet also far away from vital services, like
hospitals and police. How long would it take the
sheriff to get to this cozy spot on the edge of the wood?
Remember Truman Capote's In Cold Blood?

The essential prairie since the white
humans took over: their ubiquitous fence,
frames the eternal sky and the earth.

The American Bison, or more commonly known as the
buffalo, are "just plain dumb and mean by any
human standards" I said in the Star Magazine piece.
One, solamente uno, person wrote a letter to the
editor proclaiming that their bison "Were tame and
loving. One even comes to the back door for hand-fed
treats." I was, quite frankly, hoping for a little more buzz...
Where is the ASPCA when you need it?

Of all the photos I shot in my quest for
scary, this one I can most relate to.
There has always been something a little
menacing about bare trees against a bald,
grey sky.

It is, after all, the sun and sky that drive life on the prairie.
Massive momma clouds portend a greater danger-
maybe hail, strong winds or even a tornado.

The concept of "The Scary Prairie" evolved during a conversation with local internationally-acclaimed, award-winning book author Nancy Picard. I was photographing her for some magazine, don't recall which one... She is a mystery writer to her very soul; I am fascinated with strange stuff, and so our talk naturally drifted in the direction of ghosties, things that go bump in the night, and the psychology of fear.

At length we wandered into the subject of some sort of a possible collaboration of her words and my photos.

She had written a short story years back that told the tale of a woman who had moved to the solitary, wind-swept, bleak world of the Kansas Flint Hills. I don't recall why the woman was there, but I imagine that if you check Nancy's web site, www.sweetmysteryoflife.blogspot.com, there might be a link to the story. It is a real page-turner.

Anyway, to give a synopsis: The woman was terrified of the vast, open prairie. Something about the empty space created a feeling of dread. She kept having this fantasy nightmare of a menacing stranger on a motorcycle. The figure and his Harley were roaring down the gravel road in front of her fragile wood frame house, which on the infinite prairie was obvious, exposed and vulnerable. Just like her.

The dark, foreboding image came to reality one day and.... I will not spoil the ending for you.

So, why not do a series of my photos and Nancy's words about how frightening the prairie can be, maybe even making it into a book?

We both loved the idea, and in fact I began to shoot, all black and white, as I traveled dusty, dry, stark Kansas on other assignments. This went on for more than two years. By then, Nancy had gotten involved in other more pressing work and I figured I had done about all I knew how to do with the subject.

It took a little research. What was in that woman's mind in Nancy's story that made Kansas so frightening? Most find it merely boring, the state that most perfectly defines fly over country. As I searched I found some pretty strange phobias. There is one for fear of anything new, Neophobia; fear of dark or night, Nyctophobia; fear of dirt, Rhypophobia; fear of frogs, Batrachophobia; fear of open spaces, Agoraphobia-that one was a bingo!; fear of trees, Dendrophobia, and on and on. I reasoned that if I could somehow visually interpret some of those phobias, I would be on the right track.

"The Scary Prairie" subject and the negatives (yes, it was all film) were filed away with the contact sheets for nearly a decade.

Then one day as I was discussing possible photo exhibits with Sabrina Staires, the idea popped into my alleged mind: Why not do "The Scary Prairie" on the wall instead of on the pages of a book?

Sabrina, one of the most talented young photographers in town, by the way, ("and a former photo assistant", he said with considerable pride) graciously allowed me to display the mini-photo story of the prairie in her Landon Gallery and Sabrina Staires Studio at 329 Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City.

A number of talented photographers have rendered Kansas The Bland State with the touch of an artist: delicate spring wildflowers flutter in the every-constant prairie breeze, clouds of all variety in unlimited colors hover above the gently rolling Flint Hills, a solitary old wodden windmill is occasionally included in the landscape for visual relief. Yes, folks like Wes Lyle, Patricia Duncan, Kevin Sink and others have seen beauty where others have seen only dullness.

While I have tremdous respect for these image-makers and their work, I submit that making Kansas look really good is akin to creating an appealing still-life photo of, say a slice of bread. There is little inherent loveleness in either the bread or the Kansas landscape. There is in fact, a certain raw ugliness, both in the bread and in Kansas.

That is what I was trying to capture-the raw ugliness of the Kansas prairie. The sullen greyness of the continuing, overwhelming presence of the open sky. The danger just under the surface, as seen in the piece of sharp barbed wire or the unseen rattlesnake crouching under the limestone rock. It may all appear serene, even peaceful, but it is in reality just the opposite.

Some psyches, either over tuned or somehow cross wired can pick up on the two faces of the state: the safely of the sheltering sky that can turn to dread in a powerful thunderstorm or tornado; the restful and endless vistas across the rolling hills, hills that are filled with things that either bite or sting; and finally, the sense of solitude from the aloness of it all, to the sudden, violent interruption by another human, far from what urbanities call law and order.

Whew, that IS pretty scary...

The exhibit was great fun to produce and it is always a kick to meet and greet the friends, friends of friends, family and just passers-by.

Some of the photos from that show are presented herewith.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Prequel to my checkered photography career

Random image: Light The Night Walk,
Corporate Woods.

Random image: Dilapidated Joplin,
Missouri Santa Fe depot.

Random Image: Grandson Jacob Krafft in school per-

Random image: Old Sears store on the Country Club
Plaza, Christmas 1960

Country Club Plaza holiday lights.

Not a user-friendly winter has this been for Kansas Citians.

Imagine spending it in a car...


I never saw my dad until I was six years old. He was "in for the duration" of World War II, attached to an Army Air Corps unit in the South Pacific.

I lived with mom, grandma Miller and uncle Roy Miller (yes, I was named after him) on Spruce Street on KC's east side, and every night we would gather 'round the RCA table radio listening to reports of the war from Edward R. Murrow in London, punctuated with the deep baritone chimes of Big Ben in the background. We never knew exactly which small island my dad was on at any given moment. When we would hear of a "fierce jungle battle" or "planes shot down" over some tiny atoll whose name we had never heard before, we held our collective breaths.

But, like all wars this one too was finally over. Dad (a stranger to me, really) returned. For years thereafter this extended family still lived together, getting our lives back.

Then one day an old army buddy of dad's wrote with a business proposition: "Come to Michigan and help me build boats for all this post-war demand. We'll get rich!" Seemed like a good idea at the time, so mom and dad invested their meager savings in this venture, and away we went to Three Rivers Michigan.

Actually, we lived in a tiny cabin on a lake about 25 miles from Three Rivers. There were long fishing docks and boat launching jetties that extended out over the crystal clear water. The water was so clear, so clean in those days that I could shine my Ray-O-Vac flashlight into the depths at night and watch huge Muskies swimming about. That two years we were there was the only time in my life I ever gained weight. It was an outdoor paradise for an eight-year-old and all I did in the sweet summer months was fish, chase butterflies and explore the surrounding woods. And eat. Winter was a different story of course. We had to stock up on everything, laying in at least a two weeks supply from Three Rivers. The road to town was not much of one and the snow plow only came by every so often.

At length, the boat business went belly-up, so we packed all our worldly possessions into the 1939 Dodge and headed back to Kansas City.

It was a bad idea to come home, as it turned out, but probably the best of the alternatives at hand.

We arrived in Kansas City just in time for the tail end of the 1950 flood. Old timers will recall that there were two major floods back then: The one most remembered, and most severe, in 1951, and the one not so well publicized, in 1950.

We had no money. Dad had no job. Mom never worked outside the home and never drove.

So we took up residence in the car in Swope Park. I can pinpoint the exact location of our street camping days: On Gregory, 1,000 yards from the Union Pacific tracks.

Different world back then. No fear of getting caught in a crossfire between two rival gangs or a drug deal gone bad. In fact, the police actually watched over us.

There was no help available from the Red Cross or Salvation Army. All of their resources were stretched to the limit helping flood victims. Just when we thought we might get a break come spring, the 1951 flood hit.

The first part of that summer the temperature did not get above 85 degrees. It was dark, grey, sullen, and drizzled a lot.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but things were desperate. As a kid, it began as kind of a great adventure for me. Oh, it was inconvenient having to walk a few hundred feet to the public restroom and using the creek for a wash tub was a hassle, but overall it seemed, well, rather fun. At first.

The full realization of our plight hit me the day that we had to split a hot dog three ways for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

My dad finally got a job at a filling station on Troost. The building still stands and is sort of a maintenance shed for the University of Missouri at Kansas City. The bad part was, we did not have the money to get an apartment, so mom and I had to stay in the car all day, parked around the corner and out of sight of the owner. Later in the summer the weather turned hot and humid and I had what I now know was heat prostration several times.

This too passed, and eventually we were living once again with the extended family, with three additions. My uncle had married for the second time, so his wife Mary, her girl Cherie and their dog Blackie joined us all in a shotgun house at 1935 North Valley in Kansas City, Kansas. The street featured one of the steepest hills I had ever seen, a dream sledding spot, but really, really tough to peddle to the top in spring and summer.

When I got my own dog (who was constantly being harassed by Blackie), I wanted to take some pictures of him. I received a Baby Brownie camera for Christmas and shot a bunch of rolls of my little fuzzy, treasure pup that I named Spec.

One day I was rushing out of the house to ride my bike to the corner drug store to take my film in for processing. My uncle looked up from reading his newspaper and said "You know, you can process that film yourself."

Screech! Stopped in my tracks. What! I can actually perform this magical process myself? I was amazed, astounded and asked for an Eastman Kodak Tri-Chem processing kit for Christmas. My uncle Roy gave it to me.

Thus began my checkered photography career...

Epilogue: I did not learn for many, many years the reason we did not go to live with
grandma and grandpa Inman in Kansas City after our return from Michigan.

Grandma and mom did not get on well, to put it gently. They hated each other in fact.
Early on, long before the return from Michigan when we lived with grandma and grandpa briefly, she and mom got into an intense
argument which resulted in grandma hitting mom in the back of the head with an iron.

Pretty scary stuff for a kid to watch.

Mom carried the scar the rest of her life. I think that grandma probably did too...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What ever happened to the old-fashioned fire-eating press photographer? 4

My favorite of the New Christy Minstrels.
The group performed at half time of Super Bowl IV

Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson had great protection when
he dropped back to pass. Notice how clean his uniform is
compared to the other players.

Coach Hank Stram and the Chiefs leave
the field at halftime of Super Bowl IV.

One Chiefs fan was so happy she cried.
Or maybe it was because of all the runs
in her stockings...

Final scoreboard shot at Super Bowl IV.

View from the top row of the Sugar Bowl.

Minnesota Vikings mascot and Chiefs cheerleaders
before the game.

Coach Hank Stram was head and shoulders above
everyone else on the field at the end of the day.

The late Steve Kulmus, Star photographer,
always was a natty dresser, even on the sidelines

A Chiefs fan endorsed the prevailing Kansas City sentiment.

Chiefs cheerleaders do their stuff.

The hot air balloon never got very far off the ground at halftime.
In fact, it nearly settled in on the crowd. The long lens compressed the view and
made the lighter-than-air craft seem closer to the masses than it really was.
Although it was close enough to make some people duck.

Part of the photo pack


"So, what do you have from the game?"

At the moment that Kansas City Times managing editor Bob Pearman asked me that question I had not thought much about my eight rolls of Ektachrome from Super Bowl IV, which the Kansas City Chiefs had won by beating the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7. I worked for Star Magazine and our deadline for my Super Bowl stuff was weeks away. Bob, however, was kinda desperate because most of the film from the other three Star Super Bowl shooters got fouled up in the paper's negative processing machine. I shot trannys for the magazine, not negative film, and had it souped at Custom Color. Consequently, at least I had images. By the way, for you younger readers, the Kansas City Times was (The Morning Kansas City Star).The line of explanation was inserted underneath the Kansas City Star flag on page one, in italics and parentheses.

We set up a Kodak Carousel projector in the tiny magazine darkroom and started clicking through images. I had shot the game with a publication date in mind that was a month or more off, so I concentrated more on non-action images. Let the daily guys worry about that.

Fortunately, I did do some action photos from the sidelines.

As we tediously went through all the unedited photos, there was one that froze my clicking finger in mid-air.

Despite being displayed as it was on the middle-yellow darkroom wall and partially interrupted by my Nikon calendar for 1970, the photo popped out from all the others.

"That's it!" We both said simultaneously.


Lou Penella was the rookie of the year for 1969, American League, KC Royals. His home was in Tampa, so a writer and I flew down there to do some words and pictures for the magazine. As it turned out, Florida was having one of the coldest January's on record. Shooting Big Lou running on the beach was a bit of challenge. His face kept turning blue.

But we somehow got it all done, the writer went back to KC and I stayed on for a couple more days to catch Lou at the gym and at few other haunts.

Even before I left for Tampa I kept looking at the map and thinking, "Hmmmm....New Orleans is just across the Gulf. Why don't I see if I can talk the Star into letting me hop over and give them some additional coverage on the Super Bowl. Heck, the big game was only a few days away and the home town team, the Chiefs were playing in it again. Seems reasonable to me."

A bit of a digression, but the Chiefs had played in the very first Super Bowl in 1967, losing convincingly to the Green Bay Packers, 35-10. We all hoped for a better outcome this time...

I was a bit surprised actually, when I got the go-ahead to fly over to New Orleans and shoot the game. I had to buy more film and some clean underwear, but otherwise I was more than ready. Chomping at the bit as it were. And, since I was booking my own flight, I went first-class on Eastern. Quite commodious circumstances.

At that late date there was not a motel, hotel room or dog kennel available, so I crashed with a Star photographer John Vawter, and Star writer, Fred Kiewit. Nobody got much sleep. I was too excited, and John and Fred spent most of the time drinking and carousing in the French Quarter.

The big day, January 11, 1970 arrived with showers and temperatures in the mid-sixties. Before the kickoff, the showers stopped. The natural grass field was soft. Clouds remained, which made for better pictures. That direct sunlight was brutal on chrome film.

Half time was, for the era, pretty spectacular. The New Christy Minstrels performed, a hot air balloon didn't rise as it was supposed to, and we sideline photographers enjoyed a hand-delivered, hot meal of crab, lobster, and fixins'. Amazing it was. Never before had I been treated to such delights at a football game. Stale donuts, cold coffee and

At the conclusion, the Chiefs had won, 23-7 of course, and the real grass field was a muddy mess. As fans filed out of the stadium, one local came up and engaged me in conversation. At length, he asked if I had time for a cup of coffee, but I declined, realizing that all the while he had been looking more at my camera gear than me.

At about the same time, I heard my name on the stadium's loudspeaker, "Roy Inman, report to the press box immediately." Oh no, what now...

On the phone was Fred Kiewit. His first question was "Roy, who won the game?"

It seems that Fred had literally been out all night drinking in the French Quarter and missed the game entirely. Problem was, he was supposed to write the page one color story of the Chief's Super Bowl.

So I drained my memory banks and told him everything I knew about the game and the peripheral goings-on. I will say that Fred was one helluva writer and a phenom at taking information over the phone and making it sound as though he was on the spot. A very good rewrite man, as the old time news heads used to say. Good thing, because he would need all of his considerable skills that day. Sure enough, when I read the page one story under his byline, it was as though he had seen it all in person. I did recognize some of my phrases though...I said it in New Orleans and it came out in Kansas City.


The photo that Bob Pearman and I remarked over the next day was the one at the top of the column. Many of you have already seen it, but for those who haven't, it shows part of the reason the Chiefs won: Quarterback Len Dawson, #16, had great protection, allowing him to throw perfect spirals with precision. The Star used it on page one of the Chiefs Super Bowl special section, which Bob edited.

At the time, the American Football League and the National Football League were separate, competing entities. No one gave the Chiefs much of a chance against the "Purple People Eaters" as the Minnesota Vikings were called by the press.

This game proved to the football world that the AFL had indeed come of age.

Friday, January 1, 2010

What ever happened to the old-fashioned, fire-eating press photographer? 3

Photograph by Dale Monaghen©

Thomas Hart Benton was both crusty and kind. When I photographed him in 1971 I saw both sides.

Writer Jim Lapham and I visited Tom and wife/business manager Rita at their home and Tom's studio in the Valentine neighborhood. It was one of those houses from Kansas City's earlier days, probably build around 1920. Big fireplaces, cozy surroundings. And paintings. Lots of paintings.

Our Star Magazine editor, Howard Turtle (when he introduced himself he always added "Just like the hard shell kind") loved to recreate stories he had done for the daily paper in the 1950's. Howard, God love 'em, was big on sure things. Thomas Hart Benton was a sure thing. But I looked forward to the assignment, since I always thought Benton's work was pretty cool, and I was always in awe of artists.

We went about shooting the conversational stuff, semi-posed (if there is such a thing) portraits, and before we knew it, noon was upon us and we hadn't yet made any trannys (That's film, 120 BTW) of the man working in his studio.

Rita offered to fix everyone sandwiches for lunch, thereby saving us time and allowing us to start right in again after we ate. Both she and Tom were getting up in years, as the saying goes, and I think they wanted to get us out of there so they could relax.

I followed Rita into the kitchen and asked for a glass of water. She pointed to the glasses cabinet and the sink.

Then she said it was kind of dark in the kitchen, pointing to the burnt-out florescent bulb overhead.

"I really don't like Tom climbing up on ladders" she said, and looked over at me.

Eager to help I blurted out, "I will happy to change the bulb for you," replying to her glance and implication. "Where are the bulbs?"

"Oh, we don't have any the right size. But there is a hardware store right down the street, and by the time you get back, your lunch will be ready."

I was getting the feeling that I had been set up, but didn't mind a bit. At that stage in my checkered career, I was quite capable of becoming star struck. And in my book, Benton was a big star.

Bought the bulb, got back, changed the bulb, had lunch and commenced the color shooting in the studio with Tom.

"OK if I shoot while you work?" I asked him. Some artists are touchy about being photographed while they work, so I always ask first.

"Sure, do anything you want. Just make me look young and handsome again." I babbled something about "character lines," but realized pretty quickly that I was on the wrong path there, so I dropped that subject in mid-sentence. In what I like to think of as my approaching golden (and wrinkled) years, I now understand more fully what he was talking about.

So I got a few images, and looking back at them, I wish I would have lit things differently. In those days we had to put light on just about everything we shot inside in color. But at least I had a record of the man himself at work.

Benton had visited the sideline of a Chief's game in November of 1969 and drew sketches of the players. The end result was a bronze sculpture and a 30"x 40" oil on canvas, both titled "The forward pass." He was making clay sculptures for those two projects when I photographed him that day.

Jim and I packed up and left around 5:00 PM. I carried a bunch more equipment than now, and, darn the luck, left an extension cord at the Benton's.

So that evening I had to return to pick up it up. Tom greeted me at the door, extension cord in hand. In the background I could hear the sounds of animated merrymaking of friends around the fire, glasses tinkling. It was an inviting atmosphere, but I was not asked to join.

Instead, he said "Rita told me you replaced the bulb in the kitchen, and thanks. She also told me you paid for it." And with that he thrust a couple of dollar bills my direction. I waved them off and said something like "Don't worry about it. Glad to be of help."

"I can't have you buying my goddamn lights!" he growled, and once again pushed the money my direction.

Realizing I was irritating him and that we were at a Mexican standoff of sorts, I finally was able to muster "Consider it a gift of appreciation from the Kansas City Star." Apparently that satisfied him, and he closed the door with a snort.



Some Kansas Citians, intimates of Thomas Hart Benton, proudly acclaim to the fact that they were models for some of his paintings and murals. Crosby Kemper, for example, was a favorite. As was Harry Truman and Lyman Field.

But how many, I ask you, can say that they changed the artist's kitchen light bulb so that wife Rita could fix his dinner?

I may be one of the few, the very few, who can lay stake to such a claim...


The Thomas Hart Benton Home is now a museum located at 3616 Belleview, KCMO, and is open to the public. There is a small admission fee. To check tour schedules, call 816-931-5722.


The Photos:

This photograph of the legendary Wes Lyle (more about him later!) photographing Tom Benton at a Kansas City Chiefs game in November, 1969, was created by Dale Monaghen ©, who graciously allowed me to present it here. Benton was doing research for his football mural.

The late Jim Lapham, writer, and Thomas Hart Benton in his studio 1971.

Thomas Hart Benton portrait, 1971. He died in 1975.

Benton at work in his studio on clay sculptures for his bronze "The forward pass." He also created an oil on canvas of the same scene and also titled it "The forward pass."

His studio as it is today.

Tom and Rita.

Tom in the living room.