Looking up, I spied a second floor balcony and snuck up there in time to catch a beam of sunlight as it struck the casket.
I have often wondered if that magical light was a moment of divine intervention. It only lasted for a few seconds.
That was 1963. In 1969 President Eisenhower died. Thoughts of another picture from the rotunda flashed through my mind. Only this time my camera angle would be even more dramatic.
Somehow I hoped to suspend my Nikon from the Capitol’s dome, some180 feet high. But there was no precedent for doing that and the Congress or the Army would certainly not approve my request.
I called a secret service agent in Washington who I knew well from weeks of traveling with Kennedy. He agreed to help.
We designed a Plexiglas plate to house the camera and steel wires to pull it across the ceiling. We wired from the camera with 500 feet of zip cord down back stairways to a foot switch on the ground floor where I would be stationed.
We also rigged powerful studio strobes to illuminate the otherwise darkened walls. This was all done and tested over two late nights when nobody was around.
That picture became a Life cover and a howl went up among competitors that it should be ‘pooled’. It wasn’t.
Years later, National Geographic wanted to do something similar and cited my cover as a precedent.
About Bob Gomel
During a varied and eclectic career, Bob Gomel has documented many great moments of contemporary history, photographing and working with world leaders, top athletes and entertainment celebrities.
During the 1960’s, while with Life, he participated in much of the history of the decade, working with presidents Kennedy and Nixon, cabinet members, governors and senators. He covered the Bay of Pigs, political conventions, and the funerals of Mac Arthur, Eisenhower, John and Robert Kennedy. He also worked with icons in the worlds of sport, entertainment, literature, and law.
During the 1970’s, Bob’s work branched out to advertising, where he helped introduce Merrill Lynch’s Bullish on America campaign and photographed for Bulova, GTE, Audi and Renault.
In 1977, Bob relocated his advertising studio to Houston, and lent his skill to campaigns for Shell, Houston Power and Light, Compaq, Exxon, and others.
Recently he has focused on documenting the people and life styles of cultures from India, Nepal, Russia, Argentina, Israel, Laos, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Tibet, Thailand, Brazil and Chile.Visit the archive collection on Getty Images