Walter Krajicek was a man about Montauk since the early 1970s. Many knew him in retirement as a dapper and gregarious fisherman, golfer, painter, and cravat-wearing photographer who hung his work in local galleries. But Mr. Krajicek was a man of many parts whose early life alternated between haberdashery and bearing photographic witness to two of the grimmest events of World War II.
He died last Thursday at Southampton Hospital. He was 89.
He was born in Astoria on May 20, 1922, the son of Anthony Krajicek and the former Sadie Perez. For a while he attended the High School of Music and Art on 117th Street in Manhattan. There he learned about photography, painting, and textiles, but from a fine arts perspective — which he said was “not me” at the time.
He switched to Straubenmiller Textile High School on 17th Street, where he was captain of the fencing team. Right out of school his photographic skills won him a job with Men’s Reporter, the owner of seven fashion and fashion trade magazines. That was in 1940. When the war came he enlisted in the Army and was assigned to a special detachment of photographers, draftsmen, and writers. By late 1944, when his troopship, with 13,000 on board, arrived in England, the Allies had reached the south of Germany.
His outfit’s mission (the others called him “Cracker Jack” because they had trouble pronouncing his name) was to photograph, measure, and otherwise record the damage done by the Allies’ 5,000 and 10,000-pound bombs. “We didn’t know it, but they were probably planning for Japan. They didn’t know yet about the atomic bomb and wanted to see what the conventional bombs were doing,” he said during a 1997 interview in The East Hampton Star.
Concentration camp inmates were beginning to be liberated and Mr. Krajicek bore witness with his camera to their emaciated progress along the roads.
The outfit was shipped back to the states for a few weeks of leave in 1945 before moving on, first to Guam and then to the desolation of what, two months before, had been the city of Nagasaki. While on leave he met Sally Morrissey, who would be his wife for nearly 65 years.
Mrs. Krajicek died last June. Mr. Krajicek is survived by their two children, Kathleen Koonmen of Westhampton Beach and James Krajicek of Bayside. He also leaves two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
When he left the Army, Mr. Krajicek returned to New York and began freelancing as a designer of men’s ties. “Good and Thiese textiles was buying my sketches. Then they asked me to work as a salesman. I was designing and selling ties to the best houses in New York City,” he said. His professional name was Walter Kelly, and he opened a factory on 18th Street and a showroom for his Kelly 1 ties on 39th Street between Madison and Park Avenues.
Mr. Krajicek told of meeting Ralph Lauren, a fellow necktie salesman. “I was the first to go to three inches,” he recalled. Eventually, Mr. Lauren “went to three-and-a-half-inch tie width, then four,” he said recalling the birth of the wide-tie rage of the 1960s.
While he was selling ties, he was dabbling in photojournalism. Two series of photos shot on the Bowery, “Death of a Bottle” and “Death on the Bowery,” graphically document life and its opposite on the street. A trip to China in 1977 resulted in “The Children of China,” which showed at Guild Hall. Montauk and its many moods became his favorite subject from the time he first took the Long Island Rail Road’s Fisherman’s Special to Fishangri-La, a charter and party boat dock on Fort Pond Bay.
“We used to stay at the Montauket when we first came out,” he said in 1997. It was $7 a night. The Krajiceks later moved to Essex Street.
A funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church in Montauk on Tuesday. Father Michael Rieder officiated. Burial followed at Calverton National Cemetery. R.D