Still hitting their mark after all these years
The Tommy Guns have all been silenced but the legacy of violence, greed and murder remains.
Growing up, I remember seeing some graffic photographs that my Great Uncle George took. George was an award winning photojournalist for the Philadelphia Press. One image is of a man lying on the ground, dead, with a bullet hole in his chest.
Another is obviously a crime scene, a body in the woods, covered in blankets, surrounded by detectives.
These photos speak of violence, lives cut short, loss and emotion. Those images moved me. Although one can never truly know where inspiration comes from, there is a definitive possibility that my love of photography came, in part, from looking at those pictures. My family has other photos that George took including celebrities, the Hindenburg and assorted events. Only years later would I appreciate the magnitude of seeing those images.
I am now a photographer. Although I take very different pictures than George did, I also try to find the depth, realism and emotion in the images I take. Whether it is a landscape or portrait, every image should have those attributes. I recently visited The Mob Museum in Las Vegas and saw countless examples this. Every image I saw had them. Those journalists and photographers knew what they were doing. So many of them were graphic and difficult to look at, but they reminded me that history itself is so often just that, hard to look at.
It wasn’t so much the blood but the things these people did to one another. It is no wonder the public became outraged and cried out for change.
The museum was filled with the larger than life stories that we all know. There was Al Capone, Prohibition, The Chicago Black Sox and, being in Las Vegas, there was, of course, Bugsy Siegel and the Flamingo Hotel.
One display in particular took me aback. The vicious and brutal nature of the St. Valentines Day Massacre. The actual wall that those seven men were shot against is on display. It was taken apart brick by brick and put back together to be displayed before me, bullet holes intact. Here is a piece of history at it’s worst, proof of the hideous acts people are capable of.
As we meandered through the museum, floor after floor, I was amazed at how much organized crime infiltrated everyday life. Among the not-so-famous, or at least I’d never heard of them, was the huge drug ring busted up in numerous pizza parlors around the country. The Mafia had the drugs packaged in tomato sauce cans in Italy, then shipped to pizza restaurants to be opened and the drugs were sold here. Did our families eat at those restaurants? Sure they did. Maybe not mine. Perhaps not yours, but many. There was, and is, mob activity in back rooms just up the street from the lives we live, in every town, not just NewYork and Chicago. We were reminded of the Don Bolles car bombing in Phoenix. He was an Arizona investigative journalist who got a little too close. Both my Prince Charming husband and myself lived there as children at the time. I also don’t think I realized the truth in the story line of the movie ‘The Sting’. The horse wire was huge income for the mafia. I just thought it was a fun movie where I got to look at the always handsome and wonderfully talented Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
Leaving the museum, I was disappointed that I hadn’t given myself more time to see it all. Two hours was not even close to enough time. I wanted to stay and learn more about Elliot Ness, G-Men and the Senate Crime Hearings. Some of the hearings took place in the very room I was sitting in. Made Men sat where I sat, lying to save their skins and to protect the ‘family business’.
I wanted to read more about the men and the commitment it took for law enforcement to stop the violence on the streets of America. I would have liked to learn more about the mob’s connection to Hollywood. As a film lover it was hard to learn that they so heavily influenced something I loved.
Ironically, mob families had no trouble destroying what they loved. In fact I think it’s what they did best. If a family member was caught skimming, talking to authorities or crossing the street the wrong way, he was killed. Not just killed but tortured, beaten or mutilated. It brings a whole new perspective to the word ‘family’.
I was proud that a member of my family could have contributed, even in some small way, in putting forth the images that enraged the American people enough to force change. I was proud of the men and their families that made the commitment, many of whom died for it, to rid the streets of the horrors I saw in the pictures before me. It shows the where-with-all and back bone of our society. Yes, the Mob Museum certainly hit it’s mark. It made an indelible mark on me.
There were photos from all over the country and it ocurred to me that I could be looking at a picture taken by a member of my family. Someone in my past that I knew and cared about.
Today, because of my love of photography my Mother kindly bestowed upon me George’s old vintage cameras. A Speed Graphic with a Leica lens and a Rolleiflex. I’ve had them cleaned, fixed up and they both work as if they were new. I shoot with them whenever I can and not just because the nostalgia of it. I also love the quality of the images they take. Advances in film quality and development have taken the images from these old cameras and turned them into fine pieces of art. Could one of these cameras have taken the photos I saw growing up? It’s nice to think that maybe his life’s work impacted history. Like the mob, he made his mark. Being a photographer I sometimes call myself a shooter. Now I look at that term a little differently.