Seventy years ago today, on November 16th, 1941 The Daily Tar Heel ran a front-page article entitled “Morton Got an Illegal Start Now Gets 100 Shots a Week” by a fellow classmate Hayden Carruth. The article begins . . .
The marble pillars bristled with dignity., the be-robed judges bowed with solemnity, all was hushed and reserved. In a word, the Supreme Court of the United States was met for the historic session to decide the fate of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. To furtive figures crept into the hall, sat down with their hats on their laps, stayed throughout the session, and departed with the crowd afterwards. As they were standing on the sidewalk outside, an authoritative looking gentlemen approached and eyed them severely. He had heard the click of their cameras beneath their hats.
Fortunately for Hugh Morton, and his school mate from the Episcopal high School, Alexandria, Virginia, the gentleman was only Thomas McAvoy, who had been unable to dodge the law restricting cameras in the court. His identity was common knowledge, and the guards had been warned to watch him for taking illegal photographs. McAvoy equipped Morton’s friend with high speed films, and the pictures he took in the next session appeared in Life [magazine].
Trying to unpack the above has led to one interesting revelation and a brick wall. First the revelation.
Many may recognize the name of Hayden Carruth, a 1943 UNC graduate with an A.B. in journalism. Carruth, who died in 2008, served in Europe in the Army Air Corp after graduation. In the years after the war he obtained a M.A. from the University of Chicago and became a notable poet who won many awards, including (according to the University of Vermont Special Collections finding aid to his papers) “the Bollingen Foundation Fellowship, the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (twice), the Lannan Literary Fellowship (1995), the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (three times) and Senior Fellowship, the Vermont Governor’s Medal, the Ruth Lily Prize, the Whiting Award, the Carl Sandburg Award, the Lenore Marshall/The Nation Poetry Prize (1991), the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry (1992), The Paterson Poetry Prize (1994), and the National Book Award in Poetry (1996).” Carruth was an assistant news editor at The Daily Tar Heel at the time he wrote the feature on Morton.
And the brick wall? I cannot verify the veracity of the photograph being published in Life. I found only two possible Supreme Court cases when the story Carruth conveyed could have occurred: United States v. Butler, argued on December 9 and 10, 1935 and decided on January 6, 1936; and Mulford v. Smith, argued on March 8 and decided on April 17, 1939. Reading through issues of Life around those dates (on microfilm, which is no fun and voids the experience of looking at a photographic magazine!), only the latter revealed a photograph on a page of Life—the May 1, 1939 issue, which was the second issue of the magazine after the ruling. That photograph depicts William Orville Douglas, and the caption states that he is entering the building to take his constitutional oath on April 17. The court building’s columns dwarf Justice Douglas, with his back to the camera, as he walks into the shadows beneath the portico. Life credits Thomas McAvoy for the photograph.
One of Carruth’s sentences reads as if Morton’s friend, not Morton himself, made the photograph as McAvoy handed the film to Morton’s friend. Another reads as if both Morton and his friend made photographs because McAvoy “heard the click of their cameras.” Either way, it seems neither had one of their photographs in Life.