Friday, September 28, 2012

Oh, Snap!

It's one of the best snapshots taken of Jimmy Hoffa. The photographer was the legendary Tony Spina, the longtime shutterbug for the Detroit Free Press, and when Spina got behind the camera, iconic portraits often happened.

It was Spina who captured Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in one of the more enduring photos of the late civil rights leader's life---taken before King was to speak before a crowd at a Grosse Pointe High School. Spina caught King, perhaps in prayer, but certainly reflective, clasped hands near his chin.


Dr. King, as seen through the lens of Tony Spina

And there's the photo of Hoffa, with the ex-Teamsters president smiling like he doesn't have a care in the world, snapped in front of Hoffa's metro Detroit home.

The date was July 24, 1975.

It's significant, the photo shoot (which included a few different poses), because less than a week later, Hoffa would leave that metro Detroit home for a lunch meeting and never return.

I saw the photo the other day, once again, because Hoffa is once again in the news, and the Free Press ran a photo gallery chronicling the labor leader's life.


Jimmy Hoffa, snapped by Spina on 7/24/75; Hoffa would go missing six days later


Hoffa is being talked about, some 37 years after his disappearance, because yet another failed effort was made to find his remains.

They dug up a driveway in Roseville, based on a supposedly credible tip, because authorities were told that Hoffa may have been buried beneath the concrete. So far, the four-inch sample doesn't appear to contain anything human.

Add the Roseville driveway to the list of places where Hoffa's body supposedly was dispensed. That list includes, among other places, under Giants Stadium in New Jersey; beneath a multitude of farms in various rural locations; under a home in Detroit; and even under the Renaissance Center, which was under construction when Hoffa disappeared in 1975.

The photo that Spina snapped of Hoffa is rather haunting because it was taken just six days before Hoffa drove to a meeting at the Machus Red Fox Restaurant at Telegraph and Maple and was never heard from again. It's hard to look at the photo of a smiling Hoffa and, knowing when it was taken, not feel something spooky, for here was a man who had no idea he had but six days to live (assuming Hoffa was killed shortly after arriving at the Red Fox).

There will likely always be a fascination with Hoffa's demise, because of the loose ends nature of it, and the lack of closure. We had a taste of that kind of notoriety earlier this year, when Amelia Earhart's remains were theorized to have been found.

I never had any real hope that the Roseville digging would uncover anything of note; after so many years and so many failed attempts, it's kind of hard to be optimistic. But it wasn't whether we would find Hoffa's remains that had me interested this week. It was that photo, snapped by the award-winning Spina, that had me going.

Which is a good thing, because it's a perfect portrait of an imperfect man. And the way I prefer to remember Hoffa anyway, truth be told.

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