The world of LIFE

Looking for complementary photos for my chapbook “Seventy Years Ago in the South” – to come soon in Michael Rothenberg’s wonderful BIG BRIDGE online – I found that ole Google has the entire archive of Life magazines on line, free.

Hard to explain the impact of that magazine on us kids in the 1940s – before TV, before newspapers carried color photos, when timely war news came with whistles and surges over the short-wave radio.  I went for the issue published just after VE day — May 14, 1945.


It’s enormous: 130 pages.  And full of amazingly well-written text as well as photographs.  Not to mention ads for cigarettes and whiskey, and the smiling housewives scampering about kitchens in high heels, fancy dresses and frilly aprons.

The photos I poured over when I was seven or eight wouldn’t be shown on network TV today.

This edition pictures an American soldier the instant after being hit by sniper fire, shining blood pooling from his head.  His two platoon members, their eyes blocked with grey rectangles – to “protect their identity,” – are seen climbing over the body to fire at the shooter from a balcony in the background.

There are graphic photos of Mussolini – not just the famous one of his body hanging upside down with four others – but close-ups of his mutilated corpse.

There is a whole section on German suicides, showing mid-level bureaucrats, the mayor of Leipzig, for example, lying dead of cyanide on couches and office desks. A dreadful one shows two little boys, about five and two, with bandaged eyes, on a living room carpet after being murdered by their mother. (She was found dead in the cellar.)

If you’re of a mind to trip in a time capsule – take a bit of time with this one:   The San Francisco Peace Conference. The Broadway musical Carousel. Tallulah Bankhead and her press agent. An amazing cartoon from 1944 showing how the Germans will pretend to be penitent and harmless and then return to a total victory in 1960. The rampages of DP’s looting Nazi storehouses.

And more ghastly coverage of the still-raging Pacific war including a captured Japanese photograph of an officer in the act of beheading an American prisoner. He is kneeling in front of the small hole where his head will land.

My childhood.

Before I could read very well, I poured over the weekly copy, only rarely asking a grownup what it was about.  So did all my middle-class age mates. To think the grownups were worried about comic books!

The picture at the top is from a retailer selling actual back issues, but the entire archive is available free online at