ALERT: This is another of those insufferably syrupy “BobLee’s Home Town Memories” columns. Not ANOTHER ONE?! Yep.
If you grew up in a small town around the 60s you surely had “a George Denmark”. How could a small town exist without “a George Denmark”. Everybody knew “George” even if they didn’t know him personally.
Our George Denmark passed away on Monday along with Miss America 1945 – Bess Myerson and 24 hours after Stuart Scott. 48 hours after “Little Jimmy” Dickens. George had to be around 80. The obituary didn’t say.
If you grew up in Clinton or Greenville or Hickory or Salisbury or New Bern or Smithfield or Cape Girardeau or Florence or…. et al; you HAD to have had “a George Denmark”.
I bet your local newspaper was locally owned (NOT just a line item on a soul-less corporate balance sheet). The Publisher might have been the Editor too and maybe the typesetter. He and his staff somehow put out a daily newspaper every day (aka “the 24 hour miracle”) and it was thick enough that a breeze would not blow it off your driveway. Was delivering it on your bicycle one of your first “real jobs”?
How could a small town of God-fearin’, salt-of-the-earth Amuricans generate enough “news” to fill 10-12 pages? They did. Be it births…. deaths…. weddings…. high school ballgames…. car wrecks…. school board debates….. cats up a tree…. bridge parties…. country club fetes….. vandalism…. dogs biting men and men biting dogs…. “stuff” happened and it made the local paper. Woe unto any reporter that misspelled the name of a local socialite or got a date wrong in an obit. There’d be Hell to pay the next day.
In my hometown NOTHING officially happened until George Denmark showed up and took a picture of it. George Denmark was THE official photographer for The Kinston Daily Free Press aka America’s Premier Small City Daily as Publisher H. Galt Braxton touted it.
I never actually “knew” George Denmark. Never knew where he lived or if he had a family. Still don’t. Never met him at the lunch counter at Standard Drug Store or at Aunt Jennie’s Bakery. Never ran into George at McClellan’s “dime store” or while shopping at Brody’s or H. Stadiem’s or while getting a haircut at Hathaway’s on Saturday morning. George just magically showed up wherever anything was happening…. had just happened…. or might happen in 30 minutes.
I recall him as a thin man (“skinny”?), always in a white long sleeved shirt and dark tie. He had a “lazy eye” which I figured was a byproduct from squinting through his camera lens a bazillion times…. not unlike “a sniper” might develop.
“His camera”, back in the 60s, was a short techno-leap from what Matthew Brady probably used at Gettysburg or that guy used on Mt Suribachi to get the Iwo Jima flag rising. About a foot square made out of black Bakelite, and needed two hands to hold it with a big flash bulb thingy on top. No film. George would pull something outta the back and snap another something in for each shot…. while ejecting and popping in a new flash bulb. This was well pre-Polaroid much less “digital”.
He was a quiet man never raising his voice as he set up the shot whether it was the high school football team picture or a wedding at Queen Street Methodist Church. Or the smoldering remains of a tobacco barn that burned down out near Falling Creek.
Kinston / Lenoir County is NOT Wyoming-esque in square miles. But how George got around to shoot everything was a mystery. Somehow he did and without a smartphone. Was there a duplicate twin George?
A call would come in on a rotary phone, of course, to Free Press Editor Jake Strother….. “Jake, we got us a mess out on Hull Road. A pulpwood truck blew out a tire and sideswiped Claude Thigpen’s Studebaker. Sheriff Broadway has a deputy enroute, but you might wanna have George get a picture….” and George would probably get there before Clay Broadway’s deputy did.
It was either ’63 or ’64 when we had THE provocative event of the century in our town. The afore-mentioned Sheriff Clay Broadway conducted a “sting” on The Cadillac Motel a/k/a Eunice’s Court just over the Queen Street Bridge across from Dr Randall’s animal hospital.
Eunice was running a for-real whore house out of her No Tell-Motel and Broadway’s deputies busted her. I’m sure George had to have been there as who-knows-which local “city fathers” were frog marched out in a walk-of-shame.
Those pictures never made it to print. Did George use them to backmail said city fathers? George Denmark would never do that. I recall being curious about “a whore house” and trying to find it in the dictionary. Not knowing that the “w” was silent kept me in the dark until several years later. Eunice’s daughter, Esther, was in our class – Holy Cow!
George Denmark retired several decades ago and moved to Swansboro. His successor as THE official photographer for The Free Press was Clyde Buchanan’s younger brother Charles. Charles held that esteemed position for several decades before he preceded George in death a year or so ago.
“Growing up”, wherever one does it, has its indelible memories whether in a small semi-rural Southern town or in a bustling metropolis. I’ll never know how it would be in “a bustling metropolis”.
It was my lucky lot in Life to grow up in a small semi-rural Southern town with people like George Denmark…. that Everybody Knew.