#3. The Sixth Man Who Raised the Flag at Iwo Jima
So how awesome would it be to do something in war so heroic and inspirational that a reporter actually takes a picture of you doing it and then the government uses it to inspire the whole country for decades after? You'd keep that goddamned photo in your pocket for the rest of your life, right? Cop tries to pull you over for doing 70 in a 30 zone, just whip out that photo. "Sorry, officer, I must have been distracted remembering that time I raised the fucking flag at Iwo Jima." And you can bet you'd never pay for another drink.
Hell, the above photo not only won the Pulitzer Prize in the category of Awesome and/or Badass Photos, but Clint Eastwood made two different movies about it.
"He said he has to do another to make up for Paul Walker and Ryan Phillippe being in this one."
Oh, the men in that photo became celebrities, all right. And, as we just established, that's not everyone's goal in life.
"Does my ass really look that big?"
The problem was, the raising of the flag was by no means the end of the fighting -- of the six men who appeared in the photo, three wound up getting killed in battle soon thereafter. Fearing that it would be a PR nightmare if all of the men lost their lives, the American military brass decided to pull the survivors out of the war and make them famous. John Bradley and Rene Gagnon were quickly identified and flown home, which left the third and last flag man, Native American Ira Hayes, to become the real life Private Ryan. But Hayes didn't want to be found.
Sure, Hayes knew that staying behind would likely kill him (it was the deadliest battle to date in the Pacific theater), but he didn't want to abandon his fellow men just because someone had taken a cool photo. He allegedly even threatened Gagnon with bodily harm if he named Hayes as the sixth man in the scene. But eventually, pressure from his superiors forced Gagnon to give up Hayes' name, and Hayes was pulled from combat, being a celebrity and all.
With a stare like that, who needs middle fingers?
So he came home, heard about how his friends back in the war were killed, one by one, and the resulting guilt ruined his life. Because it's not like the world would let him forget -- for the rest of his years, people tracked Hayes down at his home on the Pima Indian reservation to get his autograph, which just worsened the guilt he carried for having (in his mind) left his friends on Iwo Jima to die. Eventually, he succumbed to alcoholism.
Jesus, that's sad. Let's move on from the tragic stuff and look at a nice, peaceful painting ...
#2. The Victorian Portrait That Killed Its Model
John Everett Millais' Ophelia is probably the most beautiful painting in history of someone dead in a river. It took the artist five months to complete. So how in the hell could a painting ruin anybody's life? It's not even showing a real person.
Actually, it is. Elizabeth Siddal, the model for the painting, was a hatmaker's assistant in Victorian England when she caught the eye of an artist who thought her pale skin and red hair made her a perfect portrait model. So Siddal spent the remainder of her days living as a kind of Victorian Lindsay Lohan, posing for some of the great Victorian artists and ultimately spiralling into drugs and an untimely death. And it all started going downhill with Ophelia.
"If only something could have foretold things involving Ophelia ending so tragically."
See, to simulate the scene, Millais had Siddal lie perfectly still in a bathtub. No problem, except it was winter, and as the heat lamps under the tub went out, the water turned frigid. With the consummate professionalism innate to every supermodel, Siddal stayed motionless for hours as Millais painted, plus five minutes while he stepped out to smoke a comically large pipe and toss ha'pennies at orphans.
But dedication takes its toll: Siddal contracted pneumonia and remained in poor health for the rest of her life. This was the 1800s, remember -- if the pneumonia didn't kill you, the treatment would. In this case, a common treatment was laudanum, a mixture of alcohol and opium that, while probably very enjoyable, wasn't a miracle cure for anything except sobriety. Siddal became addicted, and in 1862, with an unhappy marriage and a recent stillborn pregnancy probably caused by the drug, she overdosed in a probable suicide.
The New York American
The only definite is that Victorian-era doctors were fucking awful.
Her husband, artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was overcome with grief and guilt, for which the only known cure is slipping a notebook of poems you've been working on into your wife's coffin. So that's what he did. But seven years later, regretting his rash decision, Rossetti had Siddal's body exhumed to recover the poems so that he could publish them. Because love is fleeting, but there's no regret like leaving your best poetic work to become worm food.
A douche by any other name ...
#1. The Guy Who Snapped the Fireman at the Oklahoma City Bombing
What we're censoring in the above photo is a firefighter holding a bleeding infant as he carried it away from the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Despite being more disturbing than a lot of the gore photos 4chan users show to each other, the image became world famous (there it is on the cover of Newsweek, obviously). The photo was not, however, taken by a world-famous photojournalist, but rather a random gas company employee named Lester LaRue.
"The plan was to snap a picture of the guy who keeps stealing my sandwiches, but this is good too."
It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime shots, where he just happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture the perfect, heart-rending scope of the disaster.
After being approached by Newsweek, LaRue granted permission to publish the photograph, assuming that he owned the copyright to his own image. To make the most of having captured the human cost of terrorism, LaRue also started to bang out T-shirts, bronze statues, and other merchandising deals for the image.
The 9/11 coin would put up a good fight for most tasteless collectible
based on an American tragedy, but the champ still remains.
Unfortunately, copyright law is a strange, confusing beast. The mother of the infant, Aren Almon, voiced concerns that her child's death was being commercialized. Perhaps sensing a media disaster, the company that LaRue worked for stepped in and claimed ownership of the photograph (he was on the job when he heard the blast and ran to the scene). The argument was that, because the photo was taken on company time and using the company's camera, LaRue took it in his capacity as an employee, and so the photograph belonged to his employers.
"We're also claiming the baby you made during our company retreat."
After refusing to cede copyright to the gas company, LaRue was fired and entered into a long legal battle with Oklahoma Natural Gas Co., and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the big corporation won. To their credit, the company donated all profit from the photograph to charity, while LaRue lost his job and reputation and was left with nothing but a massive legal bill.
But wait, it gets even stranger.
We mentioned that you've likely seen that famous photo before, but what you actually saw was probably not LaRue's photo. Another photographer named Charles Porter was standing just 3 feet from LaRue when they both spotted the fireman and sensed a photo opportunity. Both snapped photos at the exact same moment:
Lester LaRue/Newsweek, Charles H. Porter IV
Porter's photo on the right, black boxes added by us, obviously.
Porter's nearly indistinguishable photo went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, while LaRue only won a destroyed reputation and an unemployment check. Two people, in the same spot, taking the exact same action at the exact same moment. One is celebrated with worldwide acclaim, the other winds up ruined.
Eric Yosomono scours the Internet for crazy images for the GaijinAss webpage. You should go and like their Facebook page! Come experience Drew's wit and gastrointestinal fortitude at The Impulsive Buy.
Related Reading: For a look at iconic things that started as shallow publicity stunts, click here! You'll learn the Nazi origins of the Olympic torch relay. Follow up with some iconic movie scenes that happened by accident, like the infamous line-up scene in The Usual Suspects courtesy of Benicio Del Toro's farts. Last, learn about the iconic pop culture moments that were improvised at the last second- Mickey Mouse was meant to be "Mortimer" until Disney's wife stepped in.