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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Strauss says that before meeting Richards and the rest of the family, she had no intention of installing “Mattress Flip” at the entrance to the museum. But after joining them at a memorial for Hakim on the date that would’ve been his 21st birthday, and learning more about Boo’s life, she was certain.

“The context changed,” Strauss says. “I was thinking about the position of the museum in relation to the city, and the way the museum is seen as disconnected from the city in many ways. I thought [“Mattress Flip”] seemed representative of both the feeling of joy I wanted to talk about but also a fitting memorial … I wanted to talk about his life and say that he was here. He existed and mattered.”

The name “Boo” glitters across the top of a Christmas stocking hanging off the staircase of his grandmother’s house on Sixth Street. Debris litters the stoop but inside, it’s tidy. Even though the family is Muslim, the house is decorated for the holidays with gold garland tacked to the wall and a big tree dotted with mini stockings. It’s a week before Christmas, and Richards says she needs to go to the dollar store and buy 50 more in order to have a stocking for each of Gloria’s 94 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Lots of kids and young adults stream in and out of the house. At least five cousins hanging out today have Boo tattoos on their arms. One of Boo’s sisters, 31-year-old Ceron, has “Boo” and his birth and death dates tattooed across her chest in black ink. Another sister, Khadiyah, rolls up her sleeve to show a tattoo of a long rose, its thorny stem threading through four ribbons: one for Boo, Quaan, Hakim and Nellie, a friend who died too young of a bad heart.

“He was a special baby,” says Richards of her son. “He was kind of spoiled, being the only boy with three older sisters, so of course they teased him a lot.”

Sumayya, 32, is the oldest, followed by Ceron and 29-year-old Nydeea. Then, when Boo was 2 years old, Richards had another son, Leron, 22, and then two more girls, Khadiyah, 21, and Natara, 19.

Richards smiles while reminiscing about Boo as a kid. About how he always begged for a puppy and how he was always much smaller, and gentler, than the other boys. He had a temper, too, and they say he was an overprotective brother. Still, even into his teens, the family thought of Boo as a big baby who mostly liked to stay to himself. He sucked his thumb until he was 17.

“He didn’t carry guns,” says Sumayya. “He rarely got into fistfights … he was a homebody.”

“The only thing he liked was [video] games and shows,” says Richards. “In preschool, he’d come home, take all his clothes off, sit down put his thumb in his mouth and watch TV.”

As he got older, he started getting into some trouble. At 18, he got caught with some pills and arrested for receiving stolen property. The year he died, he was arrested for robbery and related charges, which were withdrawn.

Everyone describes Boo as an animal lover and says he thought about becoming a veterinarian one day.

When his uncle, 40-year-old Wayne Richards, brought home a puppy named Roscoe in 2007, Boo was the one who took care of him every day.

The family trades stories about how much Boo loved this dog, even though he’s “crazy,” and about how he “lives in the basement” at Gloria’s, which they call the boy zone because it used to be mostly just Boo and the dog down there. They say Boo rarely left the basement because he felt safe down there. The family continued to take care of Roscoe because Boo loved him.

“He had this dog from when he was a puppy to when he died,” says Richards.

But two hours after this reporter left the family’s house that day in December, Roscoe died.

“They killed Roscoe,” says Richards. “They killed the dog for nothing.”

According to Richards, her nephew was sitting in a car with tinted windows across the street from Gloria’s house when a cop pulled up and stopped in front of the car. He panicked and ran from the car and straight into the family’s house, down into the basement. “There wasn’t nowhere for him to run,” says Richards. “So he just gave up. But it was too late, the cops kicked the door open and shot the dog.”

According to Richards, her nephew wasn’t arrested and the family filed a complaint with Internal Affairs. The Philadelphia Police Department did not comment by press time.

When Boo was born, Richards lived in the projects at Fifth and Washington. When he was 3, his mother sent him to Kaleidoscope, an arts enrichment pre-school program offered through Settlement music school. Back then, Patti Pedrick was a new teacher just out of college.

“He was my student for two years,” Pedrick says. “And then as he was getting ready to go to kindergarten, we just knew there was going to be trouble … [They’re a] great, great family, but overwhelmed. And he was having a hard time with the cognizance stuff.”

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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”

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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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