A Boy and a Gun

by Frank Cushing, The Boston Herald

Camera: 4×5 Speed Graphic
Film: Kodak
Lens: 127 mm
Shutter & Aperature: Unknown

On a lazy early summer afternoon in June 1947, Boston Herald photographer Frank Cushing was sitting in his radio car outside a Howard Johnson restaurant, wainting to photograph victims of a two-bit holdup. The story was so routine, he knew that the photograph might not even make the paper.

Then Cushing heard the cracked sounds of an alert coming from the radio of a police car parked alongside his vehicle. A shooting had taken place…an officer was injured…a hostage was held…and it was just down the street. Cushing shifted into gear and sped to the scene.

Two police officers had stopped a fifteen-year-old youth and questioned him about a robbery. Suddenly the boy, Ed Bancroft, pulled out a pistol and started shooting. He wounded one policeman in the arm and fled into a nearby alley, where he grabbed a hostage, another fifteen-year-old named Bill Ronan.

The cops quickly blocked the ends of the alley to cut off Bancroft’s excape, but he threated to shoot Ronan if the police came closer. He fired several times at police and repeatedly shoved the gun into Ronan’s back.

Cushing managed to make a long shot from the end of the alley, but he knew it would be a bad photo because he was too far away.

Events began to move quickly. The police began to move closer, and Bancroft once again screamed his threat to shoot Ronan. He shot at the police as they moved in.

Meanwhile, Cushing went out to the street and calculated which house was across the alley from where the two youths were positioned. He talked the owner into letting him in, crept along a sun porch and – very, very carefully – made his picture of the two boys. “I was wondering whether the kid would shoot me, “Cushing said later, “But I wanted the picture.”

By this time, there were about thirty police in the area. One of them worked his way along the fence to a spot where Bancroft was making his stand and trying to figure a way out. At the right moment, the cop stood up behind Bancroft, reached over the fence, and stunned him with the butt of a weapon. The dazed youth, who had nothing to do with the Howard Johnson robbery, was taken into custody immediately and jailed.

Cushing’s photograph was remarkable because at a time when hostage situations were rare, his photograph showed one actually underway. In addition, the limited lens capabilities of the Speed Graphic, the usual camera of the press photographer, meant that cameramen had to be close to their subjects, which is generally not possible in a hostage situation. Cushing’s ingenuity and persistence paid off and resulted in an extraordinary picture.

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