Jerome F. Esterson, photographer

Jerome F. “Jerry” Esterson, a colorful photographer, has died.

Jerome F. "Jerry" Esterson, a colorful photographer whose work entertained Baltimoreans for nearly 60 years, died May 28 at his Pikesville home of complications from an infection. He was 88.

Jerome Frank Esterson, the son of Julius Esterson, a Baltimore Soda Fountain Manufacturing Co. salesman, and Celia Esterson, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Ulman Avenue in Lower Park Heights.

After graduating in 1944 from City College, Mr. Esterson enlisted in the Army and served in Germany, Italy and Austria with the 409th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Division, as a squad leader. He later became a chaplain's assistant.

Mr. Esterson participated in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in April 1945 and had attained the rank of corporal at the time of his 1946 discharge.

Mr. Esterson's entry into the world of photography began in 1939 when he was given a classic 8x10 Speed Graphic with an attached flash as a bar mitzvah present.

"He took pictures of friends, family and neighbors, experimenting with the camera [and] using photo magazines and intuition as a guide," said Linda L. Esterson, his daughter-in-law who lives in Owings Mills.

Mr. Esterson established a darkroom in his family home on Ulman Avenue to develop his film.

After the war, Mr. Esterson's photography caught the attention of his neighbors and by 1948, he was photographing weddings. He then started photographing bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations, parties and other social events, as well as portraits.

He established Jerome Studios in his Ulman Avenue home and later moved the business to a residence in the 6700 block of Greenspring Ave. in Pikesville.

He worked for a variety of corporations and hospitals, including the old Baltimore County General Hospital, Bon Secours Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, Save-A-Heart Foundation, Israel Bonds, Baltimore Zionist District and Talmudical Academy.

As his business as a commercial photographer expanded and camera technology changed, Mr. Esterson upgraded his equipment.

He abandoned the Speed Graphic for a 5x7 view, and later went to a 4x5 view until finally adopting 35-mm cameras.

"I easily went through 65 different types of cameras," he told the Naples [Fla.] Sun Times in a 2006 interview.

Mr. Esterson then added photographing local celebrities and show business personalities who performed at Baltimore theaters, nightclubs and benefits to his repertoire.

Whenever a celebrity or president was around, it wasn't uncommon to see Mr. Esterson busily snapping away.

He served as a staff photographer for The Jewish Times for 15 years. As an on-assignment photographer, his work was published in The Baltimore Sun, Northwest Star and Baltimore Beacon.

He amassed a vast collection of photographs that included Presidents Harry S. Truman and Jimmy Carter and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, and such dignitaries as Abba Eban, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.

Mr. Esterson's photograph of President Truman nearly ended in disaster, and he barely avoided being arrested by the Secret Service.

Mr. Esterson knew that the president liked to take a daily walk around the White House at 4 a.m., accompanied by his Secret Service detail.

When he heard them approaching, he hid in the bushes and was prepared to jump out and surprise them, he explained in the 2006 interview.

President Truman was unfazed by the photographer's "ambush," and broke into a wide smile while his bodyguards rushed Mr. Esterson. He quickly swapped the exposed film that they demanded for an unused roll that was in his pocket.

Some of the show-business celebrities he photographed included David Cassidy, Milton Berle, Tab Hunter, Mitch Miller, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Bob Hope, and Edward G. Robinson.

His favorite Hollywood star, he said, was Dorothy Lamour, who had lived in Sudbrook Park and later Dulaney Valley.

In addition to shooting a picture of a celebrity, he then had a picture of himself taken with them, which he filed in his personal collection.

"One day I asked myself, 'Why don't I just get in the picture with them?'" he told the Naples newspaper in the 2006 interview.

Mr. Esterson would set up his equipment and then ask a passer-by to snap the shutter.

His beat as a roving photographer even brought him love.

He was at the press table for a Talmudical Academy event in 1959 when he met Lois Rosenthal, a 21-year-old Jewish Times assistant editor who was 12 years his junior.

It was a whirlwind courtship, and the coupled married nine months later at the Rogers Avenue Synagogue.

"I married him only because he introduced me and took my picture with three celebrities in just one week," Mrs. Esterson told the Naples Sun Times in 2006.

Eventually the couple settled in the Ranchleigh neighborhood of Northwest Baltimore. His wife of 53 years died last year.

Mr. Esterson purchased a condominium in Naples in 2000 and retired in 2004. He and his wife moved there in 2006, and he took a job at a Ritz Camera store, where he imparted his photographic expertise to customers.

"He was very popular with the customers," his daughter-in-law said.

Mr. Esterson returned to Pikesville after suffering a stroke in 2008.

He was a Mason and longtime member of St. John's Lodge No. 54, Golden Eagle Square and Compass Club, and Yedz Grotto. He also was a member of Ner Tamid Greenspring Valley Synagogue.

He and his wife enjoyed spending Passovers in New York and New Jersey, and attending Broadway shows.

Funeral services were held May 29 at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.

In addition to his daughter-in-law, Mr. Esterson is survived by his son, Eric "Rick" Esterson of Owings Mills; a daughter, Elana E. Rock of Pikesville; two brothers, Morton "Morty" Esterson and Louis Leonard Esterson, both of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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