The year is 1973 and Pittsburgh Press photographer Don Stetzer, dapper as always in a suit and tie, is standing somewhere on the University of Pittsburgh lawn and taking pictures of an outdoor student event when something very strange happens.
A blur of pink flesh darts across the grass. The gathered crowd gasps.
Of course, Don raises a camera to his eye. He’s an old-time news photographer who got his start in the late 1940s. Unexpected public nudity certainly qualifies as news, and Don epitomizes the conscientious photojournalist. Very little gets past him.
Next day, the Press presents its readers with a picture of a naked young man running away from the camera and hoisting one of those plastic stadium horns popular at the time.
Streaking had come to Pittsburgh. Almost.
Don’s picture appeared in the typically prudish manner of the Press. A vital part of the streaker’s anatomy had been removed by an artist’s air brush.
“They blocked out the crack in his butt,” recalls Robert Pavuchak, one of Don’s colleagues in the Press photo department. “It really looked stupid in the paper. We all had a good laugh. Somebody thought the picture was in bad taste, so they made it in worse taste.”
Andy Starnes, a long-time Pittsburgh photojournalist who recently retired as head of the PG’s photo department, recalls some details of the picture, like the plastic horn. And he remembers the strangeness of seeing a man who lacked an intergluteal cleft. “The guy looked like an Alien,” he says.
Such treatment of pictures was common in the ‘70s. “They also painted out cleavage,” Andy says. “A little bit of cleavage was OK, but if too much was showing, they’d have the art department take it out.”
Among local newspaper photographers, the story of the man with the missing butt crack became legend, passed down from one generation of shooters to the next. It’s a great tale, one we have long yearned to tell in the Digs. The only problem is this: We’ve never located the original print or a clipping of the published picture.
Don died in 2010 at age 82, so we can’t ask him about the picture or the event.
We searched our photo files and found a folder labeled, “Streaking.” Inside were mostly wire service photographs of naked running people of various sizes and shapes from around the globe. The folder contained one local photograph, which shows a police officer detaining a naked young man in an unidentified grassy area, but no information on the back of the image indicated where or when the picture was taken.
We did find a strip of negatives labeled “Streaker 3-11-74.” This series of pictures, shot by PG photographer Morris Berman, show a young man stripping down and then bolting down a set of steps on opening day of Pitt’s Engineer’s Week.
One of those pictures made its way into the next day’s edition of the Post-Gazette. The man’s butt crack survived the publication process unmolested. We present those pictures here as a substitute for Don Stetzer’s now legendary image.
But we’re not giving up. If you remember Don’s picture, let us know. We’re determined to get to the bottom of this issue.