Beitler Photograph

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Lawrence Beitler photograph

On August 7, 1930, three young men were thrown in jail in the city of Marion, Indiana because of previous actions. One night, these young men were forced from the jail, beaten, and prepared to be lynched. Right before the lynching took place, one of the young men escaped his near death situation. The others were not as lucky. These young men were Abe Smith, Tom Shipp, and James Cameron. The bodies of Smith and Shipp were left to hang long enough for a photographer to catch a glimpse and take a photo. Lawrence Beitler took this infamous picture.

Lawrence Beitler

Small-town professional photographer, Lawrence Beitler, was 44 years of age at the time of the Marion Lynching. His career in Marion started when he arrived in the city in the year of 1917. Beitler made his living by taking photographs that usually consisted of weddings, babies, school and church groups, and public events (Madison 112).

On the night of the lynching, Beitler took out his 8-by-10 inch view camera, tripod, and flash powder to take the on of the most famous lynching photographs in American history. After spending days printing the photos, he sold them for 50 cents apiece. It is estimated that there were 50,000 copies made. Beitler spent the next few days selling his photograph until he was forced to stop by the state police (Allen, Als, Lewis, and Litwack 176).

The Photograph

Many conclusions can be drawn from the Lawrence Beitler lynching photograph taken in Marion, Indiana.

The Crowd

Analyzing the crowd in the Marion Lynching photograph helps give a further understanding of people in this time period and their reactions to this event in history. The spectators in the crowd are all white and show to be nicely dressed. The use of flash in this picture reveals an audience bigger than first perceived. Many people in this photograph look at the camera, some more distinct than others. The person who displays this trait very clearly is the middle-aged man with the Hitler style mustache and the tattooed arm that is pointing specifically to the bodies hanging. His intense, wide-eyed stare indicates that he feels no remorse to what has happened. His placement in the crowd and the hand gesture suggest that he may have worked with Beitler to stage the photograph this way (Apel and Smith 12). A young couple in front also looks at the camera but with a softer gaze. The couple appears to be no older than the victims are. The smirks upon their faces also suggest that they too are not remorseful toward this action but happy to what has happened. Another woman in the front is displayed with different characteristics than the others in the crowd. This woman is wearing a long sleeved coat with a fur collar in August, while everyone else in the crowd is wearing short or rolled up sleeves. She is also the only one in the front who is not looking directly at the camera; instead, she looks over her shoulder with a somber look on her face (Apel and Smith 11). This look portrays that the woman feels a sense of sorrow to what has happened at this time.

Abe Smith and Tom Shipp

Hanging in the tree are the bodies of Abe Smith and Tom Shipp. The flash from the camera helps reveal the bloodstained bodies of the victims and the tattered clothes from where they were beaten before they were hung. The photograph also displays the victim on the right wearing no pants or shoes. This indicates that someone in the mob ripped them off his body. In turn, the picture shows a cloth hanging over the bottom half of the victim on the right that someone has placed there (Apel and Smith 14).

Uses of the photograph

The notorious photograph taken by Lawrence Beitler has been used in various ways during the time of the lynching and years to come.


During the time of the lynching many newspapers ran the picture, but not the Marion Chronicle. The Marion Chronicle decided not to run the photograph in the 1930s or thereafter because it was considered “too violent, too graphic, and too close to home” (Madison 113). The photograph today is locked in a safe at the Marion Chronicle-Tribune to be preserved for safe keeping. Other newspapers in central Indiana ran a copy of the Beitler photograph for days following the events that occurred on August 7, 1930 (Madison 113).

The other newspapers that ran the photograph either cropped it or left it as whole. When the picture was cropped for a newspaper, there were many different styles of cropping done to the image. Some styles captivate the crowd rather than the victims, while others do the opposite. The imaged would be cropped in a way to satisfy the editor of the newspaper. Cropping the photograph provides insight to the reader of the news article about how the writer felt about the piece.

Other Uses

The Lawrence Beitler photograph was used in many different scenarios not just in newspapers or sold for profit. The image has traveled to France, in order to teach students who are learning English for a first time about the culture behind the language. The image is also cropped to only show the white men and women viewing the victims (Apel and Smith 27). The photograph is also displayed on covers of books to CD covers. Some of the books that this photograph is used on are; A Lynching in the Heartland By James Madison, A Time of Terror by James Cameron, and Lynching Photographs by Dora Apel and Shwan Michelle Smith. The Beitler photograph graces the cover of the rap group, Public Enemy, CD cover for their single " Hazy Shade of Criminal" in 1992. On the CD booklet was an explanation of the use of the photograph as their cover. The image was used as a protest image for an African American on death row in Indiana in 1994 (Madison 116).


1. Madison, James. A Lynching in the Heartland. New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. Print.
2. Apel, Dora, and Shawn Michelle Smith. Lynching Photographs. Los Angeles, C.A: University of California Press, 2007. Print.
3. Allen, James, Hilton Als, John Lewis, and Leon Litwack. Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Twin Palms Publishing, 2000. Print.


This article was written by Kiley Furnish and submitted in May 2011 for Mr. Munn's IU ACP US History Class at Marion High School.