a photograph to remember

Tom Howard’s famous photo

Toronto. The other night, my wife and I were watching an old 1933 movie featuring James Cagney called, “Picture Snatcher“. The flick was about a NYC hoodlum who wanted to go straight by being a reporter. He was hired by the alcoholic editor of a ‘yellow journalism rag’ that used a photograph to illustrate and support each story – the worse the tale, the better.

At one point Cagney’s character returns to Sing Sing under false pretences to illegally snap a photo of the execution of a woman (with a Leica on his ankle). After a few minutes of thought, I said to my wife, “That actually happened, you know. The woman was Ruth Snyder photographed at her execution in 1929“.

Turns out I had the date wrong. The execution was in January 1928, not 1929. The photo was taken for the NYC Daily News by an out-of-towner unknown to police, Tom Howard. Howard used a single shot miniature camera (one source said it was made by Leica, but I doubt it). Only a tiny portion of the negative actually captured the now dead body of Snyder and the fuzzy result was plastered across the Daily News’s front page, sparking a massive change in police protocol since such sensationalism was verboten.

Note: I once again used a riff on the title of Walter Lord’s Titanic book for the title of this post.

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