Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Death Scrapbook

This scrapbook was found in an estate sale in East Point, Ga. It was one of those sales where there was so much stuff in the house that the estate sale people just didnt have time to even get to the garage, so everything was still in boxes, untouched by anyone except the original owners. One can have mixed feelings when looking through a recently deceased couple's possesions. Some people say they dont feel right doing it, but I have always believed its alright if you go about it in an honorable way. I try to do it with respect, treating anything of interest as a treasure that I will truly love, care for, and respect until the day that I die and hopefully someone goes through my things and falls in love with a piece that I once owned. Maybe thats why I feel so comfortable doing it, because the thought of someone finding joy in and wanting to care for something of mine after I die makes me happy.

This scrapbook truly is a treasure; I have never seen anything like it. The scrapbook itself seems to be of the commercially available variety that was sold in the 1940s. The book consists of photographs, cut from newspapers, of horrific car accidents. Most of the accidents occured in Ohio, but the later ones seem to be from various other states, such as Missouri and Pennsylvania. Most of the photos are dated, some have simply a pencil-written year in the corner, others have the full date typewritten onto the clipping. The dates range from 1948 to 1978, with the bulk having been clipped in the late 50s.

Death Scrapbook Cover

Death Scrapbook 01

Death Scrapbook 02

Death Scrapbook 03

Death Scrapbook 04

The scrapbook is shocking and surprising in two ways; that newspapers used to show such horrific images and that someone felt the urge to collect them. Being the tender age of 24, the fact that these images were published in the paper blows my mind. The photos often show dead bodies still hanging out of the car in a puddle of blood. Several of them seem to show the bodies pulled out and lined up in front of the accident as if arranged for a photo-op. Some of them remind me of old photos of people posing around a recently hung dead man.

And if the images themselves werent weird enough, the captions seem like they were treated as a chance for the copywriter to make a bad joke and be as irreverant toward the dead as he could. The headlines range from primitively deadpan ("This Auto was wrapped around a Pole" "Oak St. Driver Died in This" "This Auto was Literally Wrapped Around a Tree") to bad jokes ("On Brink of the Drink" "Visitor Drops In, But Nobody's Home" "Racer Finishes Right on the Nose") to incredibly insensitive ("A Tragic Lesson in Traffic Safety" "Blood Spattered Death Car" "Metal Scrap Heap Remains of Death Car").

These images are truly horrifying, and are the last images I would have ever associated with the "Leave It To Beaver" days of the 1950s.

Death Scrapbook 06

Death Scrapbook 07

Death Scrapbook 08

Death Scrapbook 09

Death Scrapbook 10

When looking through the scrapbook, I cant help but picture the creator rifling through his local newspaper every morning at breakfast, saving any accident photo he could find. The fact that he dilligently collected these photos for at least 30 years is moving and inspiring.

Was this a common practice, to keep a death scrapbook? If his neighbors knew he collected these photos would they have thought he was weird? Did he have to hide this obsession from his wife? Or was it the wife who collected the images? The fact that Ill probably never have answers to these questions is part of the allure of this treasure from East Point, Ga.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a find. This reminds me of another phenomenon of the "Leave it to Beaver" '50's. There was a group called the Suicide Squad that used to visit schools to show a film aimed at teaching kids the dangers of reckless driving. The film was a compilation of horrible accident scenes complete with pools of blood and gore and mutilated victims. Perhaps the keeper of the scrapbook was on a similar mission. Or, perhaps he/she was just wierd.