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The Stories Behind Famous Photos

Photo Credit: National Archives / Getty Images and Bettmann / Getty Images
Photo Credit: National Archives / Getty Images and Bettmann / Getty Images

Famous photos stand as enduring testaments to singular moments that have shaped history, culture, and our collective memory. Behind these iconic images lie narratives that often tell unexpected tales that go beyond the captured moment. Here are some of the stories that led to these incredible snapshots that have become cemented in history.

Skyscraper lunch

Steelworkers eating their lunch on a steel beam high in the sky.
The famous photo, “Lunch Atop A Skyscraper.” (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

The famous “Lunch Atop A Skyscraper” photo was taken in 1932 during the construction of the RCA building, better known nowadays as 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It shows 11 construction workers casually seated on a steel beam, high above the city, taking a lunch break with the New York skyline as their backdrop. While the identities of the individuals in the photo remain largely unknown, this image has become a symbol of the resilience, grit, and industriousness of the labor force during the Great Depression era.

Many believe that, because the photo was staged, there was something beneath the workers to provide some safety during the shoot, but this has yet to be proven.

Diana’s dance partner

Princess Diana and John Travolta dancing, other people dancing around them.
John Travolta and Princess Diana dancing in this iconic photograph. (Photo Credit: Pete Souza / The White House / Getty Images)

In November 1985, President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, held a dinner at the White House to welcome the newly married royal couple, Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The star-studded guest list included the 24-year-old princess’s requests, including Clint Eastwood, Neil Diamond, and John Travolta. Following the evening, Travolta explained how at “About 10 o’clock at night, Nancy Reagan tapped on my shoulder and said, ‘The princess, her fantasy is to dance with you. Would you dance with her tonight?’ And I said, ‘Well, of course.’”

After being introduced, Travolta asked Princess Diana to dance, which, of course, she agreed to, leading to the iconic photo. Travolta said that “the whole room cleared. We danced for what felt like 15 minutes.” As the night continued, Diana was not afraid to cut a rug, dancing with the two other guests she had invited, as well as others.

Elvis meets Nixon

Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley shaking hands.
President Richard Nixon meeting with Elvis Presley at the White House. (Photo Credit: National Archives / Getty Images)

The legendary meeting between Elvis Presley and President Richard Nixon at the White House on December 21, 1970, remains an intriguing and unlikely encounter in history. Seeking a federal badge as an honorary member of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, Elvis, an avid collector of law enforcement badges, arrived at the gates unannounced. In her autobiography, Priscilla Presley explained how, “The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him.” With it, she wrote, “he [believed he] could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished.”

Nixon granted him a meeting and issued him his honorary badge, receiving a commemorative WWII Colt .45 pistol from the King in return. Before leaving, their unexpected meeting was captured on film. Former Secret Service agent Clint Hill explained how after being given the badge, “[Elvis] believed he had some authority, which he did not have … [But] he went away happy.”

Einstein’s tongue

Albert Einstein sitting in a car with two others, sticking his tongue out.
The iconic ‘tongue-out’ photo of Albert Einstein. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

One of the most iconic images in history captured what seemed to be the playful side of the legendary physicist, Albert Einstein. Taken on March 14, 1951, by photographer Arthur Sasse, the moment took place during Einstein’s 72nd birthday celebration at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. As he was leaving the party with the institute’s former director, Dr. Frank Ayedelotte, and his wife, Marie Jeanette, they were bombarded by the paparazzi. With their cameras constantly flashing, Einstein’s frustration mounted, causing him to yell something along the lines of “That’s enough!“, followed by him sticking out his tongue.

After the photo was published, the physicist actually became quite fond of it, sending copies to friends.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!