Presidents, hurricanes, DiMaggio and the Beatles: Foster Marshall's big photos

·2 min read

A few weeks ago while doing a story on the Beatles' eventful 1964 visit to Jacksonville, I came across several photos of the band shot by Times-Union photographer Foster Marshall. That led me to think about the momentous events covered on the spot by the paper's photojournalists over the years, including those witnessed by Marshall in his four decades at the T-U.

The paper's Sandy Strickland touched on some in her obituary of Marshall, a Jacksonville native who died on New Year's Day 2019 at 83.

"A few of the memorable events he photographed were the Roosevelt Hotel fire, the visits of six presidents, the arrival of the Beatles and Hurricane Dora," she wrote. She went on to describe more of his exploits.

"In his younger years Marshall had a reputation for being ready to do anything to get a good picture, whether it was hanging half out an open helicopter hatch or going to roof level for a view from the top of a new fire department ladder."

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It was quite a career, this newspaper business: "Mr. Marshall once said the job gave him the opportunity to fish with Joe DiMaggio and Jack Dempsey and see the heavyweight champion of the world turn green from sea sickness."

In 1984, Marshall became part of Jacksonville newspapering lore when as assistant managing editor for graphics for the Times-Union and the Jacksonville Journal, he had a problem.

President Ronald Reagan was coming to Naval Station Mayport to attend a memorial service for sailors killed aboard the USS Stark during an Iraqi missile attack in the Persian Gulf. How could the paper's photographer, well before the digital era, get film out of the locked-down base all the way downtown where there was a 12:30 p.m. deadline for the afternoon Journal?

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Marshall made a proposal: How about a homing pigeon?

After the help of a local pigeon racer was enlisted, photographer Bob Self carried the caged bird into the base, shot photos, then put the film into a capsule attached to the bird's leg. He released it and the pigeon flew to its keeper's home, where, as Strickland wrote, "a newspaper lab technician was waiting to speed the film across the Mathews Bridge and into the newsroom to the cheers of staff."

It was a big staff effort, but the deadline was made, and a big color photo of the Reagans, descending the steps of Air Force One, made that day's front page of the old Journal.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jacksonville photojournalist covered JFK, Beatles, hurricanes, DiMaggio