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Excerpt From: Get That Picture! The Story Of The News Cameraman
By A. J. EZICKSON
The steel strike disorders everywhere were terrifying experiences for the news photographers. At Warren, Ohio, three cameramen, Charles Wilk, Cleveland manager of Wide World Photos, Mack Baron, of International News, and Jack Hines, Associated Press staffer, were fired upon and dropped into a ditch as bullets whizzed over their heads. At the time, they were taking pictures of a food airplane landing in the Warren steel plant enclosure.
Dodging bullets in the steel strike was just one of the many thrills experienced by Baron in his long career as a news cameraman. “Buck,” as he is popularly known, has oftimes been called the “ace flying photographer,” and the “fearless photographer,” and has lived a veritable charmed life amid the dangers of his career. He has taken the longest chances but has always come out on top. “It can’t be done,” are words that are as unknown to him as a Tibetan chant. Now the Morro Castle disaster. . . . Buck will smile proudly when he recounts that experience. It brought him his greatest fame.
Sweeping low out of a thick mist and rain, Mack Baron, International News photographer, made this first picture to be taken of the burning steamship Morro Castle off Asbury Park, N. J., in 1935, in which 134 passengers and members ot the crew perished. Note lifeboat with survivors in foreground waiting to be picked up by rescue vessel. Later other photographers appeared over the scene, but Baron and Pilot Bill Gulick had already landed at North Beach, Long Island, with the negatives which -were rushed by motorcycle to the New York office foi an outstanding picture beat.
The phone jangled wildly in the bedroom of Baron’s home in Sunnyside, Long Island, one early morning in September, 1934. Buck stirred several times in bed, then finally forced himself to answer the phone. He switched on the light, glanced at the time (it was a little after three), then glued his ear to the receiver. It was his office calling: “The liner Morro Castle’s afire off the Jersey coast. May be hundreds dead. Get down to North Beach airport right away. We’ll have a plane ready for you to hop off at daylight.” Instantly Buck was alert.
As he fairly dived into his flying equipment, he took one glance at the window. Rain was slashing at the panes. “Flying weather, eh? Well, maybe. . . .”
When he reached ‘the airport in his car, everything was ready. Bill Gulick, a pilot for the O. J. Whitney Flying Service, had already warmed up his plane. They then waited for daylight. Dawn came with hardly a break in the weather. A misty rain was falling. They stepped outside the hangar door and could scarcely see an object ahead of them. Both shook their heads. Bill was game to take a chance and go out a little distance. They started and pretty soon were in the thick of it. Baron could barely see the outline of the wing tip in the heavy fog and rain. They kept on going.
The pilot had secured the approximate position of the burning ship before he left the hangar. An accurate judge of the distance and familiar through years of flying with the lay of the land below him, Gulick nosed his plane toward the Jersey shore and kept on going. There was no going back so long as the gas held out.
Buck sniffed. There was a strong smell of smoke in the air. They must be somewhere near the burning liner. The pilot turned the plane in the direction from where the smoke was drifting. Then suddenly, the mist lifted, the clouds rolled back, and the sun came through. They had a perfect visibility from an altitude of 500 feet. There, not a half mile away was the ill-fated ship spouting flames and smoke.
They circled the Morro Castle, and Baron obtained about twelve shots in less than six minutes. They came down to about deck level of the burning ship for a few closeups. They could see a handful of persons clustered on the bow of the ship, waving frantically to them. A half-filled lifeboat was pulling away. They were grieved that they could not aid in the rescue, but they realized they were helpless. Two passenger ships and an oil tanker nearby was a welcome sight. Buck asked Gulick to nose down so that he could get a fairly good closeup. The heat was intense and the smoke nearly choked them. Several times they almost went into a spin, but Gulick’s able pilot- ing kept the plane going over and round the ship until Buck had used all his plates. Then they turned north- ward.
The return trip was more dangerous. The fog had returned, and with it a squall with rain. The weather was getting worse each minute. They figured the best thing to. do was to fly as low as possible and follow the shore. Many times they fairly skimmed the waves. A crash seemed inevitable, but, finally, with sighs of relief, they sighted the houses in the vicinity of North Beach air- port. They came down to a safe landing.
At the airport Baron learned that a half dozen planes had tried to take to the air but were forced to return. It meant that his pictures were exclusive. An hour later the prints were rolling off the ferrotyped machines to be rushed to newspapers all over the country. It was fully an hour after that before another plane with photographer flew over the ship. It was one of the finest picture scoops in history.
Later, Baron’s thrilling pictures were introduced at the inquiry into the disaster. His outstanding shot, the one showing flames and smoke rolling upward from bow to stern, won him the National Headliners Award for the best news photograph of the year.
Any moment of the day or night may bring a flash of another story like the Morro Castle fire, the Argonaut mine disaster, a strike riot, a train wreck, an explosion. Everywhere the men with the cameras are prepared for the dangers, the thrills, the privations. They seek no acclaim, want no special awards. They will modestly tell you: “It’s just part of the day’s work!”