Weegee Wednesdays: Weegee Does New Jersey. Or, “I always got lost in Jersey.”

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Unidentified Photographer, Weegee on Lindbergh Case, Flemington N.J., ca. 1935, (19796.1993)

Three days and 73 years ago, on April 26, 1942, Weegee photographed a tragic train crash in the Exchange Place station on the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad. (Low ridership due to the construction of tunnels and bridges under and over the Hudson River led to the bankruptcy and transformation of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad into the Port Authority Trans-Hudson, PATH, around 1962.) The Weegee archive is now located in Jersey City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River and in a different state, from Weegee’s beloved Manhattan; about an hour from Weegee’s last residence in Midtown.

This post presents Weegee in New Jersey, maybe chronologically, beginning around 1935 when Weegee was in Flemington, New Jersey, covering the trial surrounding the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son. Weegee writes about visiting The Garden State a few times in his autobiography, Weegee by Weegee, 1961. The earliest reference is from the late 1930s. He has left Acme Newspictures to be a freelance photographer and after some success as a crime photographer he begins to have serious fiancial problems:

The Daily News, which never failed its faithful readers, had a beaut; screaming two-inch black headlines over the whole front page: “JERSEY AXE MURDER.” A mother had come home, found her seventeen-year-old strawberry-blonde daughter with a boy friend, and objected to their love-making on the kitchen floor. The loving couple had grabbed a handy axe, hit the woman over the head, and killed her.
Why did it have to happen in New Jersey, why not in midtown Manhattan? The story was a natural for any paper, a gift from heaven for the tabloids. But so far, no pictures. The sob sisters and reporters were rounded up, given a couple of thousand dollars (as a starter) to buy the couple’s life story, exclusive pictures, etc. As an extra inducement, one paper even sent a lawyer over to prepare the couple’s defense.
I was itching to go. It would take my mind off my financial crisis. But I had no gas in my car. Besides, I always got lost in Jersey.
I called up the New York Post and offered to go on speculation if they would get me there. They were interested. They sent down one of their reporters (Leo Katcher [1911-1991, an editor at the Post and perhaps most famous for an interview with Bruno Hauptmann, while in jail], who has since become a very successful Hollywood writer [The Eddy Duchin Story, 1956] and producer) to pick me up at headquarters. We drove off in his sports car.
We reached the jail around five in the morning. Instead of the mob of newspaper reporters I excepted to see, we found the jail deserted. The warden said that the mob had been there but that he had not permitted anyone to talk to the couple or to take their pictures until the morning. The newspaper crowd had made a gentleman’s agreement to go to sleep and to come back at eight a.m.
We were in luck. The warden was an old friend of Katcher’s; Leo, who had once covered Jersey, had done the warden many favors. So I asked the warden to bring the couple out, also to tell the girl to make up real pretty. The papers like their murderesses pretty and wholesome.
When they appeared, she looked nice, a real museum piece. The boy friend looked as if he could have made the All-American axe team. This was too good to be true. I began to work fast. Like a movie director, I shouted, “Let’s see the love-light in your eyes!” I had them hold hands, kiss, and embrace… full-length shots walking towards the camera, also close-ups. I went on shooting until I ran out of plates.
I could hardly wait to get back to the Post darkroom to finish the pictures. The Post made their first edition with my shots. It was the only New York paper to run pictures. I got twenty-five dollars in cash from Walter Lister, the city editor, then fifteen dollars from Associated Press Photos, ten dollars from Acme, and fifteen from the Mirror [65$?]. Even the Herald Tribune used my pictures on the front page. So far I had cleaned up seventy-five bucks. The axe murder had saved my life. I guess that some must die that others must live.
Weegee by Weegee, (1961) pp. 48-51

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PM, April 27, 1942

Hudson-Manhattan Train Jumps Rails in Station… …4 Are Killed, 260 Are Reported Hurt

1. Four people died and 260 were injured when New York-bound Hudson-Manhattan train from Newark jumped rails 10:50 last night in Jersey City Exchange Pl. Station. First two cars of train telescoped, left; third car landed on platform. Cause of the crash had not been determined early today. The motorman was arrested on a manslaughter charge.

2. Firemen dig into rammed cars. They used acetylene torch to free 13-year-old Negro child in one car. The child was taken to hospital with more than 200 other people.

3. Inside of car shown at right in first photo looked like this. Hats, packages, other articles carried by passengers were strewn around. This car, third in train, was first to jump track. Andrew Sabol, of Brooklyn, a passenger, said: “As the train came into the station it began lurching from side to side. Then it stopped. Lights went out…”

4. After it came to rest, first car of train tilted at angle. Service on busy Newark-New York City line was held up for hours. Crash cut telephone cables, disrupting service for 275,000 phones in Staten Island, Jersey City and Newark.
PM Photos by Weegee

Two years later, a resort fire and a fiery Republican…

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Weegee, Palisades Park fire, girl bather gives a piece of ice to injured fireman, August, 1944 (1081.1993)

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Weegee, “Palisades Park Fire, Money also Burns, Rescue of Cash Registers,”, August, 1944 (15174.1993)

2nd Resort Fire in 2 Days Rout 35,000… 25 Fire Companies Battle Park Blaze… Seeking Relief from Heat at Palisades Park
Everybody pitched in and helped in first aid yesterday. One girl bather cooled off an overcome fireman with pieces of ice. Another gave a fireman water.

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PM, August 14, 1944

Palisades Park Burns; 27 Injured in Hospitals
Three-Fourths of Jersey Resort Destroyed; 5000 Stranded in Pool
The second devastating fire in two days in amusement parks in the New York area yesterday destroyed three-quarters of Palisades Park, on the Jersey side of the Hudson River at 125th St. The blaze started in the Virginia Reel, filled with men, women and children…

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Weegee, [Clare Boothe Luce, Newark, New Jersey], October 7, 1944 (8972.1993)

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Weegee, [Clare Boothe Luce addressing New Jersey State Women’s Republican Club, Newark, New Jersey], October 7, 1944 (8960.1993)

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PM, “Rep. Luce making a campaign speech, October 4, 1944, Photo by Weegee

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PM, October 8, 1944, Photo by Weegee

Name-caller. Rep. Clare Boothe Luce, addressing the New Jersey State Woman’s Republican Club in Newark last Saturday night, called the Administration’s foreign policy “schizophrenic” and said that contributions to CIO’s Political Action Committee were a “union poll tax.” If GI Joe is to get a break after the war, she said, Gov. Dewey “is the inevitable man” to give it.”

From the Naked City to the Naked Country… (I’m going to go out on a limb and write that this was probably about twenty years after Weegee was photographed covering the Lindbergh kidnapping case in Flemington, perhaps the late 1950s…)

One summer when things were a little dull around police headquarters, I picked up a book on nudists. Being naturally curious, I immediately decided to become a nudist myself. I bought a copy of a nudist magazine, looked over the pictures, and discovered an ad which read, “Respectable nudists wanted to join group.” I figured that I might pass…
[At the nudist colony office on West forty-second Street, after filing out an application.] When she observed that I was a photographer, she said that I was just what the group wanted. They were looking for a photographer to make publicity pictures for the nudist magazines and to use in the office to impress prospective members. I was offered the job of camp photographer, which meant that I would get my membership, lodging, and meals for free.
I accepted the offer. I was told to be at the office early Saturday morning to take off for the camp, which was in New Jersey. New York doesn’t allow nudist camps…
It was lunchtime. The cooks, waiters, and waitresses [link is to a short New Yorker article, called “Where They Are Now”, By Lauren Collins, about the subject of an Arbus photo] were all naked… [Perhaps Diane Arbus was inspired by Weegee to photograph at Sunshine Park (1931 to 1983), in Mays Landing, a New Jersey nudist camp, in the early 60s. Sunshine Park was founded by Ilsley Boone (1879–1968) and was the national headquarters of the American Sunbathing Association.]
Sunday, I was very busy helping the members to set their camera, to load their films, etc. My camera case came in very handy for carrying my cigars and matches, but I had no place to pin my badge. (I thought of having it tattooed on my chest.)…
Everyone seemed to have a camera. Soon there were so many photographers in the nudist camp that I put up a tent like the one Matthew Brady, the Civil War photographer, used. I even started a nudist camera club. This one was a great improvement over the camera clubs in the city. [Weegee’s photos from a nudist camp can be seen here, here, here, and here.]
I had plenty of models for my photographs. I had switched from cold, dead bodies of gangsters to the nice, warm, sun-kissed bodies of the nudists. I was back to nature, a primitive with a camera, like Grandma Moses. I put a shingle over the tent: “THE WEEGEE SCHOOL OF PRIMITIVE PHOTOGRAPHY.”
Weegee by Weegee, (1961) pp. 77-80

Weegee Wednesdays is an occasional series exploring the life and work of Weegee.

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