Baxter's Blog


Posted in Human Interest by misterroadtripper on September 7, 2010


By Terrance Mapes

On September 4, 2008, I left home and family for Baton Rouge, Louisiana to begin a Red Cross deployment to the Louisiana Gulf Coast following the devastation caused by Hurricane Gustav three days earlier. I had been on disaster deployments before with the Red Cross as a Disaster Mental Health Supervisor primarily working shelters and supply distribution camps. Most recent to this deployment was Hurricane Katrina in September and October of 2005. I had an idea of what to expect, and that was to absolutely expect the most unsettling unexpected but, even in the wake of destruction and suffering, we find some of the most amazing personal experiences. This time around I had an unexpected encounter with a true piece of tattoo history.

On my second day after arriving in the makeshift Red Cross headquarters set up in Baton Rouge, I traveled eighty miles southeast to St. Rose, a community on the west end of New Orleans. Here was the regional headquarters and warehouse for the Louisiana Gulf Region Red Cross efforts. This was the last stop on my way to Terrebonne Parish and the hurricane effected areas near Barataria and Terrebonne Bays, which was my assignment for the next four weeks. Already the effects of Gustav were evident all around New Orleans, considerably more than the chaos that was happening north in Baton Rouge, and I knew that even my present conditions were going to seem pleasant in comparison to what lay ahead of us down in bayou country. So, I was feeling a bit self absorbed with my thoughts as I wandered around outside the warehouse areas waiting for the two other folks who were going to be driving down to Houma with me that afternoon. I was leaning up against a metal railing when I heard a couple of guys coming up behind me. I knew they were warehouse volunteers from the shirts they wore. I tried my best to ignore them, being the friendly guy that I am and given the fact that I was working to mentally prepare myself for the upcoming venture into the unknown. I heard one of the guys start talking to the others about my sleeves, and he approached me with some complimentary words regarding the ink that he saw sticking out of both sleeves of my T-shirt. I gave him a nod and mumbled a few words of thanks, hoping they would keep walking. He stopped for a minute and said, “I got a couple of small tats myself, on my arms. They’re kinda old though. Nothing like you got there.”

I took a quick look over at his arms and, not seeing anything, I just nodded again. Everyone and their mother has ink nowadays and, for those of us who are heavily tattooed, you all know how it goes: someone sees your work, they have a small tat the size of a peanut on them and suddenly they feel bonded to you like some kindred tattooed brethren. Well, I was trying my damnedest to put out this “leave me the hell alone” vibe, when, suddenly, he pulls one of his T-shirt sleeves up and I see this ancient-looking skull and snake on his bicep. I can tell by the looks of this ink that it has been on him for decades, you know, lines blurred out, colors faded, the look of the old tattoo inks after years and years of fading. I couldn’t resist asking—by now my curiosity was tweaked—“When did ya get that?” “Sometime back in the early ’60s, maybe late ’50s,” he tells me. “Where?” I asked. “Out in Long Beach on the Pike, when I was living in California,” he replied.

No way, I thought. This can’t be. “Do you remember who gave it to you?” I asked, not really expecting to hear the answer that I really wanted to hear. “Some guy by the name of Grimm. Bert, I think. He had a tattoo parlor for a long time down on the Pike. I got another one on my other arm. Want to see it?” By now my eyes were wide as saucers. I could not believe what I was seeing and hearing. I had never seen a real, live Bert Grimm tattoo before, and I never really expected to ever see one in my life. Now, here I was looking at two of them, and the older gentleman sporting these priceless beauties has no idea what kind of tattoo treasure he’s been scrubbing in the shower every day for the past fifty years. So now, I’m scrambling for my cell phone, because it is the only thing I have to get photographic evidence of this discovery. While I’m excitedly asking this guy to pose his arms for me, he’s asking me why I want pictures of these two old, faded tattoos. He can’t understand why someone with as much ink as I’m showing would be so thrilled with his small collection. I tried my best to explain to him the historical significance that he’s carrying around on his arms and what semi-omnipotent position Mr. Bert Grimm holds in the history of the tattoo world and industry. I think he started to get it, you know, like someone discovering that they have a Picasso or Monet stuffed away in their attic. I could tell he was feeling a bit different about his treasures, as he was enthusiastically explaining to his buddies why the heavily tattooed guy was so enthralled with his two small tattoos.

I never did get his name or contact information. In the midst of the chaos, it didn’t cross my mind. Afterwards, as I thought more and more about him, I wish I would have. I would have loved to get his entire story of the time he spent with Bert Grimm.

—Terrance S. Mapes, Founder

The Devil Lords—International Tattoo Tribe® (DLITT)

One Response

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  1. Uncle Tim said, on September 7, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    I love these stories. As a matter of fact, I was getting my phone updated at the Verizon store when this old guy interrupted me to show me HIS tattoo he got back in 1960. It was a blurry Eagle carrying a banner with unrecognizable lettering. He said he got it in a tiny shop in Chinatown in Honolulu. I love it when I see old Sailor Jerry stuff. I tried to explain the historical significance of who did it, but, he was more interested in telling me how drunk he was when he got it.

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