STEPHEN HEMELT — Bart Bragg excels in visually documenting Port Arthur history for decades
Published 12:04 am Sunday, June 25, 2023
Bart Bragg was a few years short of graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School in October of 1964 when he got word that Barry Goldwater was going to be in Beaumont on the Lamar campus.
A former American general and U.S. Senator at the time, Goldwater was stopping in Southeast Texas as part of his campaign for president.
“I was a sophomore in high school, and I wanted to photograph him. So I left school, went and photographed him, and then got in trouble the next day for cutting class,” Bragg remembers. “The photos were great. I think we ran them in the school paper, I can’t remember exactly. I got to meet (Goldwater) and take some pictures of him.”
According to Bragg, Texas Senator John Tower and Hollywood actor Clint Walker came down and campaigned with Goldwater.
The young photojournalist got to be in the thick of it all.
“That was big stuff for a high school kid,” Bragg said.
Nearly 60 years later and Bragg is still in the thick of things, recently photographing Port Arthur City Council candidates ahead of this year’s election cycle.
He doesn’t want to stop anytime soon.
“It’s just something inside, a desire to be with people, photograph people and be a part of the action,” he said, adding times are exciting for Port Arthur with numerous LNG projects and Motiva helping lead the way for the revitalization of Downtown Port Arthur. “I think there is a bright future and a lot of hope for progress.”
Bragg was born at St. Mary’s Hospital and described his youth in Port Arthur as spending time with friendly, good people, who were very neighborly.
“I felt like a small town,” he said. “You know most of the people you associated with in school and church. Beyond that, a youngster didn’t have outside influences.”
Following high school, Bragg went to Lamar and then joined the Naval Reserve when Vietnam was a big scare to all of the young men.
“Nobody wanted to go, so I joined the Naval Reserve and the first duty station I got was in Saigon. I didn’t dodge anything. I got right in the middle of it,” Bragg remembers with a laugh.
“It definitely made me want to come home.”
He was in the Naval Reserve for a year and then on active duty for a year. The only active duty station he had was in Vietnam.
Back then, he remembers, everyone who served in Vietnam got an automatic honorable discharge and didn’t have any more Reserve obligation.
Even before then, while still in high school, Bragg stated working with Frank Cricchio, a Port Arthur photographer who would become a titan in the field.
They would take pictures for the school yearbook and newspaper.
He worked with Cricchio off and on during the summers and during football season.
“We photographed all the Thomas Jefferson and Lincoln and Stephen F. Austin football games for the Port Arthur News. We would develop film after the games. We would shoot two or three ballgames, develop the film and rush it down to the sports editor at the time,” Bragg said.
According to Bragg, it was easy to see Cricchio’s sharp focus for photography and his hometown of Port Arthur.
“He had a passion to give back to the community,” Bragg said. “He traveled the world during his career, teaching and lecturing, but he always came back to Port Arthur. He was active with the chamber of commerce and the Rotary Club. He could have been anywhere but chose to stay at Port Arthur.”
Bragg says today he enjoys thinking back on his career and how it allowed him to pass by and photograph many local and international stars.
“I look at so many pictures on my wall in my house that it is hard to count them because there are hundreds,” he said. “And almost every one (of the people photographed) came to Port Arthur. Very few of them did I leave town to photograph. We’ve attracted a lot of celebrities through different events.”
He still has a letter from the 1970s from Claude Brown, a realtor, who wrote to Bob Hope, telling the iconic entertainer he had seen him in World War II and Port Arthur had a crippled children’s school. Brown and others wanted to name the high school after Hope.
That was 1975, and Bob Hope came for the dedication. And, of course, Bragg took the photos.
And he is still taking the photos today.
Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia, which publishes panews.com, The Port Arthur News and Greater Port Arthur The Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected] or 409- 721-2445.