A Short Life


There is a certain amount of melancholy in old photos of any kind – the subjects may now be dead, now older and less able, now older and less attractive, at places that are no longer recognisable or for countless other reasons. For photobooth photos the melancholy is in all that, plus sometimes in the mystery of how such photos (particularly more recent ones) find their way onto web auction sites.

This is definitely the most melancholy of all the photos in my collection. Someone has created a personal in memoriam card from newspaper clippings, a piece of clear plastic and a photobooth photo.

According to a local newspaper from Hagerstown Maryland, The Daily Mail, (dated the 12th of March, 1956, page 2), Junior Betson was the third fatality in what must have been an horrific accident. From the information above, his injuries were extensive. The incident took place on the 4th of March. He managed to hold on for seven days but died on the 11th.

To me Junior (he was never meant to live long with that moniker, was he?) looks older than his twenty two years. He appears to be a Rebel Without A Cause in attitude, hairstyle and dress. Maybe it was a drag race or some other testosterone fueled stupidity that caused the accident. Maybe it was just an unfortunate mistake with a stop sign or red light being missed. I hope he managed to pack in a lot of great living into those few years.

  1. oglach said:

    Great photo. You’re right about the melancholy associated with old photos, of course; the beauty of them (to me, at least), is to be able to look and wonder about people’s lives. Then I think, what will they wonder about me when I’m gone? I hope someone comes up with a good story.


    • I totally agree with you! I imagine a lot of things when I look at the faces of people, even in newer photos that have lost their home. Old photos are especially precious and can conjure up wonderful images.

      I’m sure that you will leave behind more than a few scattered photos, but if only one or two survive, I bet the will be great stories!

      Liked by 1 person

      • oglach said:

        Got plenty, just not a great storyteller. Someone will conjure something.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ehpem said:

    That is a very interesting, and heartbreaking, photograph. I wonder where it lived during it’s previous life time – in a purse, or a clippings book, or in a parent’s bedside drawer, or in a shoe box in William Henry Johnson’s closet?

    Here is a detailed account of the accident in case you are interested. It sounds like speed was a contributing problem though the facts are no longer clear (the testimony of the witness, badgered in court by a defense lawyer, was changed from a high rate of speed to an I don’t know rate of speed – I would go with her first impression knowing what its like to be interviewed on the stand by an aggressive lawyer), combined with no seat belt (thrown from the vehicle) and very poor design of cars in those days for accident survival. https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/1544552/johnson-v-state/

    One has to wonder if this tragedy extended into the 1990’s with the suicide of a William Henry Johnson: http://bit.ly/1Nen3wY. There are a surpising number of WHJs out there, but this one was at least the right age – within 2 years of Juniors’ and less than 100 miles away from Hagerstown.

    Liked by 1 person

    • OMG! How on earth did you find all that Mr E! When I am more on top of things I will look at the links in more detail. I did numerous searches and could only find one mention related to the case and that was the newspaper I mentioned. Your detective skills are wonderful. Not surprising given your profession, I guess.

      I am sorry to hear that you know what it is like to be cross-examined by an agressive lawyer, Mr E.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ehpem said:

        Hi Kate – I just dug around, trying different combinations of names and words and eventually got to two different versions of the court case which set legal precedent and thus is still cited from time to time. We were in court a few times regarding a complicated and disputed adoption. It wasn’t pleasant, but worth it in the long run.


        • ehpem said:

          I looked at the court case again because of your comment (on another post) and realise now that North Castle Street is in Balitimore (not Hagerston) 3.6km NE as the crow flies from the accident site. This location is only one half an hour drive from where WHJ jumped to his death in 1992, upping the odds WHJ may be the same person as the driver of the car.

          The streets mentioned in the court case are built over now, but remnants of them exist and if extended into the developed area, it can be more or less sorted out – this is about where the accident took place http://bit.ly/1QijQmf.

          However, the distances don’t make a lot of sense. And the idea that the car would take 600 feet to come to rest and not be travelling at an excessive rate of speed is a curious one. Modern traffic analysis would probably show that the conclusion to this case was wrong, that there was excessive speed, perhaps even faster than the witness thought. Strangely there is no mention in the case of the other fatalities mentioned in the newspaper article. All in all, it seems a poor decision, probably turning on points of law without adequate testimony of facts. There were an awful lot of lawyers involved so you would think things were done well, and perhaps by 1950s standards they were.

          Liked by 1 person

          • It is fabulously interesting the anomalies in the case. Even in the 1950s I’m sure it was not hard to work out speed over distance with the mass of the vehicle taken into account. It’s a calculation I think even I could do. There were some other things that struck me as curious. It being Christmas and they’re being a lot to prepare for for the arrival of my sister from Ireland, I am getting very scattered and not sure where I’m up to with loads of things! I do really want to get back to you further as it is fascinating want one little photo can bring up! Thanks again for this discussion. I’m loving it!

            Liked by 1 person

            • ehpem said:

              Great news that your sister is coming! Being scattered is a Christmas condition for many of us, so I hope you can enjoy that seasonal feeling 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article, Kate. It is strange, that a part of tragedy and its emotions got carried true the time, so that you can still feel some personal consternation.


    • Yes, that is so true. There is so much emotion in old photos and for this one, I think the emotion wouldn’t change much over time. I think the emotions of other photos can change over time, depending on the viewer, how long has passed and many other factors.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed he does. Makes me feel he was a man who could have gone places if the circumstances had favoured him.


  4. The yellow[ed] tape, the word “skull,” his name: Junior.


  5. There’s something about the frailty of the photo, the clipped snippet, scarcely held by brittle, browned sticky tape, gradually peeling away that echoes the ephemeral nature of life. Ephemera depicting ephemera, melancoholic indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How did I skip this post, Kate?
    So sad, Junior looks like a life-loving man who had many friends – fun and reckless. He was born in 1934, grew up in tough times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is funny how those kids who grew up in tough times turned into such rebels. It really is amazing how much emotion and history there is in one little photo. Best wishes for Christmas Inese! 🎄🎅🏾🎄🎅🏻

      Liked by 1 person

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