Photographer Zoe Strauss Took This Photo 10 Years Ago. Here Is the Story of "Mattress Flip"

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 17 | Posted Jan. 10, 2012

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Boo had a learning disorder. “It was hard [for him] to read,” says Richards. “He was intelligent, though.”

Richards and Pedrick hatched a plan to let the boy stay with Pedrick during the school year. She loved him and was willing to be a live-in caretaker and tutor.

“He was very tiny, and had huge eyes and the greatest smile ever,” says Pedrick. “My entire family fell in love with him and that shy sweet smile. I was very worried about him growing up in the city because he was just too sweet and kind.”

So Boo stayed with Pedrick for one school year.

“He loved his Patti” says Richards. “And she really loved Boo so much.”

Pedrick and Richards talked about arranging for Pedrick to legally adopt Boo, so that if she needed to take him to the hospital she had authority to make the necessary decisions.

“When you’re young and stupid, you think you can do everything and everything,” says Pedrick. “[Richards] was a very loving mom. I don’t remember it any other way than that, but she just wanted him to do well, and since I’ve known her she was always had her hands full with working, trying to get better jobs, and it was rough.”

They started the paperwork, but Pedrick felt pressured by the courts to say bad things about Boo’s family. “The courts wanted her to say that I’m on drugs, and unfit and stuff like that,” says Richards.

“When it got to that point, we got uncomfortable,” says Pedrick.

Then the family moved around South Philly a few times. But Richards always worried about Boo’s safety. “We live in an area where it’s the Fifth Street and Seventh Street gang,” says Richards. “You have to get out of dodge.”

When Boo was about 13 years old, she sent him to an Islam boarding school in New Jersey.

Pedrick was happy to hear it. “Our city is a rough place for sweet, nice boys to grow up and there’s not enough things for our boys to be involved in to keep them out of trouble,” she says. “Just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, things happen.”

He lived there for a year, but then the school moved to Malaysia and Richards didn’t feel comfortable sending Boo so far away; it was right after 9/11.

The last time Pedrick saw Boo was about five years ago when she was teaching at George Washington Elementary School. “I was taking [my class] to the playground, and there’s this big young man with Boo’s smile, and I said, ‘Boo?’ And he was like, ‘Miss Patti!”

“Sometimes I figure if I would’ve let her go ahead and raise him, maybe he’d be still living,” says Richards.

In 2002, Boo was attending South Philadelphia High School but got in trouble for truancy. His little brother Leron was skipping school, too. “They didn’t feel comfortable going to school because they were not comfortable with the gangs,” says Richards.

Richards enrolled them at George Junior Republic, “one of the country’s largest, private, nonprofit residential treatment communities in western Pennsylvania for at-risk youth.”

Boo lived there year-round, until he returned to South Philly in 2005, and was shot two years later.

Khadijah Alderman is the funeral director who helped Richards take care of Boo’s final arrangements.

Alderman, like many funeral directors working with clients in violent neighborhoods often do, covered the cost of the services while awaiting reimbursement from the state’s victim’s assistance fund.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 17 of 17
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1. Shadira said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 11:51AM

“Congrats Cuz U Reaaly Can Change A Person Life Foreal! Ily!”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 01:12PM

“I have lived on this block of McClellan St. since 1997... I remember the summer of those mattresses, how they drew the local children, how we watched in awe at the deftness of their moves and insecurity that one of those children might land badly and be hurt terribly. It went on for at least a week or maybe more before they were removed, gratefully before anyone got hurt. Years later, I wandered into Ms. Strauss' exhibit under 95, saw the photo and bought one. What a memory to be preserved so beautifully! I am sorry to hear about Boo, he represents so many that I watch grow here, some coming to a tragic end as he did, seemingly more then your average small neighborhood. The moment caught in the photo is one, having experienced it myself, is true and pure, the surge of joy in youth, testing the limits of it's body, a real life celebrating it's own force... What a gift.”

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3. Zoe Strauss said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 01:22PM

“Thank YOU, Sa'Diyya! Much love.”

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4. Mary C. said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 01:33PM

“Seeing the picture and then reading Boo's story left an ache in my heart. It is as if nothing could be done to prevent the outcome but this isn't true. Why was this the outcome and why were we so helpless to prevent a young man's death. Thank you, Zoe Strauss for capturing that moment and thank you, Philadelphia Inquirer for relating this story to all of us, We need to learn from this.”

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5. kcrace said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 02:29PM

“”

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6. Girls' Club said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 03:03PM

“It's a beautiful image.... Mattress Flip is on view now thru September 2012 at Girls' Club in Fort Lauderdale as part of the exhibition "Re-Framing the Feminine: photography from the collection of Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz." Exhibition surveys more than 50 female artists working with different modes of contemporary photography. More information about the exhibition, open hours, directions, etc. at www.girlsclubcollection.org”

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7. Anonymous said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 04:18PM

“wow. I'm crying. Condolences to Boo's friends and families.”

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8. Kathy said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 09:01PM

“Sincere condolences to Boo's kin and friends. I hope many people read this and understand there are so many stories and faces like Boo's underneath the crippling violence. Before reading this, I've always felt such incredible energy in this photo. I'm glad that it's a funny of him having fun that he's remembered in. You can just imagine the many lives that Zoe's photos depict a moment of.”

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9. Thomas Devaney said... on Jan 12, 2012 at 08:29AM

“Tara Murtha's story of Zoe's legendary photograph "Mattress Flip," is extraordinary. One of her best. The story of Lawrence Edward Rose Jr is absolutely heartbreaking. Zoe's story is giant and contains multitudes, but the magic of the work is that her photographs are so powerfully intimate, immediate, heroic, unforgettable.”

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10. htshell said... on Jan 12, 2012 at 01:11PM

“Excellent article. I've seen this photo for years and not known the story and how many lives it has touched. Very excited for Zoe Strauss at the PMA!”

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11. Anonymous said... on Jan 12, 2012 at 02:41PM

“I am so sorry to hear about boo. I had this picture as my computer wallpaper for about a year because those kids made me feel so happy. I feel like I've lost an old friend.”

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12. Khadijah Alderman said... on Jan 13, 2012 at 08:55AM

“From this article I have felt such ambivalence. It's sad and I continue to pray for the Richards family and Lawrence Rose, as well as all the young men and their families who have been affected by gun violence.
But I must say!" It was so refreshing to see this photo". It was LIFE with no inhibitions. It was like "NEXT"! This will be my lasting memory of Lawrence Rose.”

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13. Erica Bantom Martin said... on Jan 14, 2012 at 10:35AM

“Phenomenal work and phenomenal story. Thank you so much Zoe for your beautifullworks of art that tell the story of living in the city and Tara for writing this story. There are sooo many stories in our neighborhoods that go untold, I am grateful for this family that Boo's story did not go unnoticed. Thanks.

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14. Dorothea said... on Jan 15, 2012 at 08:32AM

“i would like to thank Zoe and the staff at the at the Art museum for keeping my son memory alive. Thanks you Ms.Suku for helping help finding the picture. making To here from some many positive people about my son it just brings tears to my eyes. At least my son didn't die in vain. This is a message to everyone please put down them guns live and let live. Life is to short, enjoy each day like its your last, have fun, run, jump, flip but don't shot. Thanks Sister khadijah and Tia Mr. & Mrs. Suku for everything and most of all Thank you Zoe.
peace and blessing to each and everyone”

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15. Anonymous said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 09:36AM

“So... the boy who is doing the flipping never got a penny from this? nice.”

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16. Anonymous said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 09:36AM

“So... the boy who is doing the flipping never got a penny from this? nice.”

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17. Moe said... on May 22, 2012 at 10:21AM

“I really like that picture. It reminded me of my childhood. I would love doing flips in the trampoline and on my parents king sized bed. I will have to check out more of this guy's work. It looks excellent from what I have seen so far. I remember that when I was getting a roofing inspection that I looked down from the roof and got a little scared. I thought of the people who jumped down from a burning home onto the trampolines that the firemen would be holding out. I think that it would freak me out. I bet that this guy in the picture would flip onto the trampoline.”

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