One of the most iconic photos in American history hits a big milestone today. “The Kiss of Life” by newspaper photographer Rocco Morabito captured the rescue of an electrocuted lineman for City Electric in 1967.
Morabito won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Spot Photography with the photo. Fifty years later, only the hero from the photo is still alive, but the memory of that day lives on.
J.D. Thompson was 26 years old in 1967. He was working as a lineman for City Electric, which is now Jacksonville Electric Authority in Jacksonville, Florida.
Another lineman, Randall Champion, was about 400 feet away from Thompson when he grabbed a live, low-voltage wire with four of his fingers. The shock entered his hand and escaped through a burn in his foot, which would later require skin grafts to heal.
Champion’s safety harness prevented his fall, but he hung upside down, unconscious. Thompson made his way to Champion and began performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
“I was putting air in him as hard as I could go,” Thompson recalled. “And also trying to reach around him and hit him in the chest. And, all at once, he came to.”
Thompson felt a slight pulse and hoisted Champion over his shoulder. The two descended to the ground where further CPR was administered by Thompson and another lineman until an ambulance arrived.
Meanwhile, Morabito was working nearby. He was trying to photograph a railway strike that was also happening in Jacksonville at the time.
After getting a few photos of the strike, he chose to go back to where the linemen were working. He arrived just in time to hear yelling and see Champion upside down in his harness.
Morabito stepped back to a house across the way and snapped photos of the event, including the infamous “Kiss of Life.” It was purely a coincidence that Morabito showed up in time to capture Champion’s rescue.
Thompson humbly admitted that the only reason his otherwise-pedestrian act got so much notice was because Morabito had made it eternal through photography. However, Thompson’s heroism is the reason a photograph was even taken.
By administering mouth-to-mouth and later CPR, Thompson was able to revive Champion before the paramedics even arrived. Despite a dangerous shock, Champion lived several more decades. He passed away in 2002.
Morabito has also passed since the photograph gained fame among journalists and the public. Only Thompson is still alive to recall the vivid memory of that fateful day.
“A lot of people can’t believe it was 50 years ago,” said Thompson. “It’s hard for me to believe.”
It sure does feel like those 50 years have flown by since the events of July 17, 1967 unfolded. Morabito’s photograph has served and will continue to serve as a reminder of the importance of heroism and bravery and the documentation of events. You never know when a picture of a single moment will become a historical representation of an entire era.
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