Stan Stearns dies at 76; photographer at JFK's funeral
Photographer Stan Stearns captured the famous image of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's coffin in 1963.
Retired United Press International photographer Stan Stearns in 2007 holds a print of his iconic photo of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's coffin in 1963. (Joshua McKerrow / The Capital / March 4, 2012)
As a photographer for United Press International, Stearns was assigned to cover John F. Kennedy's funeral on Nov. 25, 1963. He was standing outside a Washington cathedral with about 70 photographers when he saw Jacqueline Kennedy lean down to whisper to her son, who turned 3 that day. The boy then stepped forward as the flag-draped coffin rolled by.
"His hand went up, it went down; one exposure, that's all I got," Stearns told the Baltimore Sun in 1999. "Seconds, that's all it was. And I knew I had the picture of the funeral."
Other still photographers missed the picture because they had focused on Jacqueline Kennedy or the president's coffin, Stearns later said.
Another photographer, Joe O'Donnell, had taken credit for the photograph, but when his obituaries in 2007 mistakenly said he took the image, photojournalists offered evidence that Stearns had snapped the famous photograph.
Stanley Frank Stearns was born May 11, 1935, in Annapolis, Md., and discovered photography after receiving a Brownie camera for his bar mitzvah. He dropped out of high school at 16 to work as a photographer at a small newspaper.
He was a photographer in the Air Force and then for UPI before leaving in 1970 to open a private photography studio in his hometown.
"I got $25 for winning picture of the month" at UPI, Stearns said in the Sun. "That and my regular paycheck. It's frustrating when I think of how much money that picture has made in the last 30 years. Probably $3 [million] to $5 million."