Fred Rackle

Fred Rackle, born in 1920, moved to Honolulu in 1938 as an Army Corps photographer. He then worked for a camera shop in Waikiki as a still photographer, but in 1959, when Kīlauea Iki erupted on the Big Island, he decided to try his hand at movies, “using a 2nd hand B&H 70DL that I picked up quickly for $30”

Because Rackle had over two decades of experience photographing the islands, he had an eye for beauty, and a tripod. During the Kīlauea Iki eruption, he worked closely with Gordon Macdonald of the USGS, and thus learned which aspects of scientific interest to capture on film. Rackle also filmed the 1960 eruption at Kapoho, and a little of Halemaumau and Mauna Ulu.

A man films an eruption at HalemaumauIn 1961, Rackle filmed an eruption at Halemaumau, on the summit of Kilauea.

A man films a volcano eruptingFred Rackle captured amazing footage of Kilauea Iki's 1959 eruption.

A man stands near a small airplaneIn 1997, Rackle still enjoyed flying his small airplane.

He then packed the film away in a closet for almost 30 years, because “I phased out of photography and into flying airplanes, and became a Real Estate Broker, and running fishing charters” In the late 1980’s, Rackle met Maurice Krafft, who was extremely interested in his footage: “I assembled a proof copy for him, and he followed shortly by BUYING my ORIGINAL to take back to France, to be part of his Volcano World History. I was delighted that my baby was ‘finally out of the nursery’ and to be appreciated. …As we all know now, the Kraffts passing in Japan was a disastrous calamity to the Volcanological world”

After the Kraffts perished in the eruption of Mt. Unzen in Japan, Rackle sent an SVHS copy of his eruption footage to Robert Decker: “The film I produced of IKI-PUNA was the highlight of my photo life. I harbored that 1600 ft 16 mm film for all these years without really doing anything about further production. … My interest at this writing is only to offer my help in any way desired” Decker, the founder of the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes, was impressed, and forwarded the videotape to CSAV staff for review and archiving. Staff at CSAV immediately contacted Rackle, asking permission to share the unparalleled videotape with the scientific community.

Rackle agreed: “I feel more comfortable putting the ‘first-run-master’ into your capable hands, and thus you will be more able to enlarge the demand among your scientific people. …I want you to have the very best as I know it has that type of need. I authorize you to furnish copies to any high level volcanologists anywhere who might appreciate same. ... I know you’ll make a good emissary for needful placement”

Scientists who received copies of the video were delighted. Ed Wolfe (USGS) wrote to Rackle in 1994: “You did a wonderful job not only of the initial photography but also of editing and narrating to produce the resulting video tape. The tape is a marvelous record, important both scientifically and educationally, of the 1959 – 1960 eruptions. Thank you very much for your photographic work more than 30 years ago, for your effective compilation of this documentary, and for sharing it with us”

Prior to 2010, CSAV provided copies of the tapes only to “high level volcanologists” who used the tapes for research, and to folks who had lived through the Kapoho eruption. It is now over 50 years since the Kīlauea Iki and  Kapoho eruptions were photographed by Fred Rackle; to honor Rackle, and to fulfill his wish that the video be shared and appreciated, CSAV is pleased to present his extraordinary footage on YouTube.

CSAV has been archiving video footage of eruptions, floods, tsunamis and earthquakes since 1990, for use in educational and research projects. If you have footage or photographs of such natural events in Hawaiʻi, that you would like to donate to CSAV, please feel free to contact us; we would be honored to add your film or video to our library, no matter what the format.