Horrific images from the 40s, 50s & 60s

Anaheim Car Crashes

Mell Kilpatrick

Fifty Years After His Death

1st Chief Photographer for the Orange County Register

 


During the 1950s, Kilpatrick cruised the two-lane roads of neo-natal Orange County with his police-band radio and Speed Graphic camera, looking for crashes to capture on film. In the formative years of Southern California's car culture, his beat was the aftermath of highway tragedy. Reflections of bent metal, dead bodies and broken glass, Kilpatrick's photos, like Byzantine crucifixion panels, bring us face to face with our mortality. Tempted to turn away, we stare with wary fascination. His frames, frozen in time, suggest that if the crucifixion points to the blessing of forgiveness, the crash points to the blessing of circumstance.

The story of Mell Kilpatrick is about circumstance. If he were alive today, he might say life is a series of unexpected turns that prove we can never foresee how we'll be remembered.

Kilpatrick was born in Arcola, Illinois, in 1902. An only child, he helped with the heavy lifting at the age of 10, when his family moved to Idaho in a covered wagon. They settled in the city of Windor, where his father, James Henry, opened a slaughterhouse.

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Courtesy Carlene Thie. A woman gently rubbing crocodile noses. Jimmy Durante schnozzing an Indian tribe. Seahorses strung from a wire. The Andrews Sisters brandishing revolvers. A man with a six-foot octopus on his shoulder. In Mell Kilpatrick's collection of 1950s Disneyland photographs, Orange County's past is more surreal than a soft watch descending a staircase.

Kilpatrick worked 80 hours per week as a photographer for both the Santa Ana Register and the Orange County Coroner's office. In his first collection of photos, published posthumously, Car Crashes & Other Sad Stories (Taschen, 2000), the focus was on high-speed black-and-white night shots of dashboard decapitations and suicides. Now, his granddaughter Carlene Thie (rhymes with "say") has self-published a three-volume collection of Kilpatrick's black-and-white Disneyland photos—from backstage workers in restricted areas to celebrity set-up shots.

When Kilpatrick died in 1962,

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Mell Kilpatrick

1902-1962

Disneyland Primeval


By NATHAN CALLAHAN

Mell Kilpatrick


His career as a news photographer began in 1948 and he eventually became the chief photographer for the Santa Ana Register. As one of Orange County’s best-known cameramen, he covered Orange County in every possible manner — by air, on foot, by car, and even by boat.


Mell worked relentlessly to capture on film Walt Disney’s dream. He climbed atop scaffolding, crawled into tunnels, even hung out of a light plane 5,000 feet above Disneyland to snap the perfect shot. Like any momentous project, Disneyland under construction was sometimes chaotic and many of the features, such as a darkroom, were low priority. When Mell found out that Walt needed a local place to develop staff photos, he opened his darkroom to official Disney photographers. The park’s first images were developed in Mell’s Santa Ana darkroom.

Walt often called Mell to photograph special days during construction, as well as granting him unlimited access to Disneyland. Along with dozens of the nation’s photographers, Mell was invited to Disneyland’s press premiere on July 17, 1955, as well as Disneyland’s golden opening day, July 18, 1955. History buff that he was, Mell saved every piece of memorabilia from that day, including the official Disneyland Press Kit.

Mell was only sixty years old in 1962 when a heart attack claimed his life. His prized darkroom was locked and left undisturbed for thirty years. Before her death in the 1990s, Mell’s widow gave her granddaughter, Carlene Thie, the full collection of his negatives and photographs. In 2002 Carlene opened Ape Pen Publishing Company and produced the first of five books featuring the spectacular vintage Disneyland photography of her grandfather’s.


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Mell Kilpatrick

1902-1962

Disneyland Primeval


By NATHAN CALLAHAN

Website Created By:

Carlene  thie  &  Rachel  Sontag