Chicago was burning. The jet circled higher from O'Hare airport, and I could see a giant inky cloud streaking above part of the city northeast of the skyscrapers.
I was determined to find out what was going on in Baltimore. I would cover the race riot -- write a freelance article, take photographs. Make my name as a journalist.From Baltimore I was to take a bus to my parents' home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. As buses left at all hours, I figured I had as much time as I needed. Storing my luggage in a locker at the bus depot, I headed toward the smoke. It was filmy and gray, above one part of the city. This was early afternoon, on an overcast gloomy day.
Radio stations carried news that Baltimore was going under a curfew that afternoon. Anyone outside needed a pass, so my first stop was the police station. There, police cars wailed up a long ramp, lights flashing; the windshield of one was shattered. I learned I had to get my credentials at the Civic Center, where the Army and National Guard had set up headquarters.
Few taxicabs were around, and I tried to get one into the riot zone. The driver told me he could take me to a street just outside, but no farther. Other cabbies had been pulled from their cars and beaten, he said, and the cabs bashed up. He left me off at a bus stop, and I caught a bus to the Civic Center.
The driver said his was the last bus running. There was only one other passenger, an old woman with a shopping bag. Baltimore's streets were nearly deserted except for police cars and military vehicles. Bleak streets. Brownstones with their white glistening front steps. Grates across the faces of stores.
The driver kept a small transistor radio going and said he'd take me to the end of the line; the radio played music, broken with announcements of the impending curfew and information that snipers were killing people. The woman got off and at last we reached an area a few blocks from the Civic Center.
On the way there I photographed burned stores and signs about King. They were in front yards and taped to the windows of stores. Some of these were touching tributes to him, bunches of flowers on hand-lettered placards.
The Baltimore Civic Center had been commandeered as a great staging base. This was a city under military control, with heavily-armed soldiers everywhere. Wearing helmets, they carried M-1 carbines, extra clips of ammunitions on their web belts, canteens. Some were stringing new communications lines to scattered command posts, unrolling huge spools of wire. There were spiderwebs of wires through the grungy air.
In the civic center, I stood in line waiting for press credentials. The famous CBS reporter, Marya McLachlin, was immediately in front of me. Seemed as tough as nails.
When it was my turn to face the credentials officer, I imitated her style: I slapped my Chronicle ID on the table and growled, "Joe Bauman, Daily Utah Chronicle!" As I hoped, he had no inkling that the Chrony was a student newspaper. A press badge was issued to me and I pinned it to my jacket.
Outside, I posed a young soldier beside a bronze plaque on the building that announced it was the Baltimore civic Center. I was trying to document the fact that this was a military occupation of an American city.
Police cars were prowling about, loudspeakers snarling that the curfew was about to take effect. A driver of one of the parked Army trucks was a black soldier, and I wondered how he felt to be called in to help quell this disturbance.
I walked into the riot zone. Everywhere electricity was off, except for the traffic semaphores. Boarded-up stores, buildings with broken windows, scattered bricks, the pervasive smell of smoke.
Heading toward the smoke, glimpsed through the buildings, I saw that it was thinning rapidly. A steady drizzle was falling. Stores had been torched, brick walls blackened, glass broken, the stench of recent fire, wet debris.
Of those not trashed, almost every one carried some sort of sign: "Close In Honor of Our Martyr, Dr. Martin L. King Jr.," "SOUL BROTHER," or simply magazine photographs of King.
Past what was seemed the last military outpost, I took a look back: a cluster of trucks, soldiers standing around and talking into radio-telephones, a paddy wagon.
Within a few blocks I saw my first looter. A middle-aged man was strolling along the littered sidewalk, pushing a shopping cart that was loaded with cans of food.
People thronged the sidewalks now. A man handed a TV out of the shattered window of a pawn shop. I was walking in the middle of the street by then, afraid to be on the sidewalk. There was no traffic.
I could no longer see any smoke. I could smell it, though.
I kept walking. The rain was a little harder. On the sidewalks dozens of people hurried along with bags of stuff, TV sets, canned food. The curfew was about to be enforced and they were going home. Nobody acted hostile, although some looked at me strangely. I kept my head down, hand draped over my camera. I did not dare take any pictures then.
Remembering the reports of snipers, I wondered if I were safer on the sidewalk among the looters or in the middle of the street where I could be picked off by a sniper on a rooftop.
Soon there were fewer people. Somehow, the background changed: instead of stores and buildings, I have an impression of vacant lots and long silvery streetlights against the dingy sky. I didn't notice much else because I kept my eyes on a gang of youths who were pacing themselves with me.
They were walking along the opposite side of the street. As I walked faster, they hurried. If I slowed, they idled. They broke every street light as they kept moving along with me. I think they were in their teens, and there were six or eight of them. This was a chilling moment. I figured I was the next to be beaten up or killed.
Just then, down the street a couple of blocks, a couple of Army trucks pulled into an intersection and stopped. The soldiers began setting up a forward command post of some kind. I trotted toward them, not looking back. I never saw the kids again.
This was a squad of about a National Guardsmen. I told an officer I wanted to stick with them for a while, and he said it was all right. As I waited, I noticed packages on a folding table that they had set up.
An officer was pulling little packages from a paper sack and I thought he was giving the men sandwiches. Then I realized he was handing out ammunition.
He squatted beside a few of his men, reading through orders printed on a stiff card. Then he called the men around him, all of them standing now, and read the orders: when to shoot. And to shoot to kill.
Soon part of the a squad went back to the armory or civic center. I went with them.
I telephoned the Salt Lake newspapers, and they were uninterested in my story. Were there any Utah units among the soldiers? Well, no. But I was there; I was an eye-witness.
We have the wire services reporting on the scene, said some editor.
My day as a war correspondent was over.
When I developed my film, I was chagrined to find that the first eight pictures were missing. I came out with only four of the 12 shots on the roll. When I had loaded the camera, I was so nervous that I forgot to advance the film to the first frame, so most of the pictures were taken before I had cranked the emulsion into place.