An Earth Day Icon, Unmasked

The 1970 photograph became an instant environmental classic, but its subject has remained nameless until now

A long-anonymous college student in New York City reflected both the gravity and zaniness of that first Earth Day protest. (AP Images)
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Hallerman’s 19th birthday was on May 4, less than two weeks after that inaugural Earth Day. That was the day Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on protesters at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine. Four days later, Hallerman attended his first antiwar demonstration, in New York’s financial district; he remembers standing on the steps of the Federal Hall National Memorial when hundreds of construction workers from the World Trade Center building site poured onto the scene, attacking the youthful protesters before storming City Hall in what came to be known as the Hard Hat Riot.

And then his witness-to-history days were over. “My wife, Ellen, jokes that I went through a mini-Forrest Gump phase,” he says.

Rather than return to Pace in the fall of 1970, Hallerman drifted out West, working in coal mines and on railroad crews—fulfilling a high-school guidance counselor’s judgment that he was “uniquely qualified for manual labor.” After six grueling years, he headed back East and into the white-collar world. Now he’s an account executive for Trans World Marketing Corporation of East Rutherford, New Jersey, which designs and makes retail displays, and he lives with his wife on a quiet, leafy lane in South Salem, New York, 50 miles north of the city.

A few years ago, Ellen and their two sons, Ethan and Matthew, now 24 and 21, gave him a mounted blowup of the famous picture for his birthday. But he hasn’t hung it. Even now, he says he’s surprised that it became a cultural touchstone. “I’m flattered to have been involved in something of such historic significance,” he says. “But if that was my 15 minutes of fame, it’s a little frustrating that I was wearing a gas mask and looked like an anteater.”

Timothy Dumas wrote the August 2009 Indelible Images, about a photograph taken at the Woodstock music festival in 1969.


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