Walter Mitchell figures he would have left the Navy with a tattoo if his plan to enlist as a young man had worked out. But that fell through.
Mitchell, from the Town of Newburgh, waited to get his first tattoo until he was 61 years old. He picked a flower on his right biceps topped by the name of his wife Mary.
Other members of his family had gotten tattoos before him, and "I wanted to show how much I loved her," said the retired Yellow Freight worker, who is now 7l. He added that the tattoo has held its colors well over the years. "It’s very nice."
"It’s very romantic," said his wife, who doesn’t have a tattoo of her own.
Skin art was once confined to the bodies of sailors, bikers and criminals and other unconventional characters, but it has entered the mainstream in a big way. A 2015 Harris Poll survey found that 29 percent of the respondents had a least one tattoo, up from 16 percent in 2003.
Tattoos are particularly popular among millennials, but an increasing number of mature adults, often in their 60s and 70s, are embracing the trend as well. According to Harris, the number in the 50-64 age group with a tattoo in 2015 had grown to 14 percent from 10 percent and for those older than 65 it jumped to 11 percent from 7 percent.
Frank Scalzo, owner of Millenium Tattoo in Newburgh, who did Mitchell’s tattoo, said his shop sees a "fair number" of senior citizens. The number is "definitely on the rise," agrees Jamie Henderson of Forsaken Ink in Milford, Pa.
Local artists say that many of their older customers have thought about getting a tattoo for years. The stigma associated with tattoos is dissipating, and they no longer care what other people think.
Henderson said that his oldest client was an 83-year-old widow who asked for a heart with her husband’s name. While her husband was alive he had forbidden her from getting a tattoo.
Older local residents get tattoos for a wide range of reasons, including to self-identify, honor loved ones, mark a new stage in life, make an aesthetic statement, root for sports teams, express their patriotism or religious devotion or obscure the effects of recent medical procedures.
Meg Gardner of Goshen has had five tiny tattoos clustered on her shoulder since she was 67 years old – a butterfly, a hummingbird, a tamarind rose and two "critters." Ironically, Garner, now 71, is blind and has never seen her tattoos.
She didn’t lose her sight entirely until she was 18. She could remember colors and she could describe the tattoos she wanted. Nobody in her family had ever had a tattoo, said the retired mental health therapist. She wanted the experience of getting one, she said, and enjoyed talking to the artist.
Teena Alexander of New Windsor, 57, is in the last stages of getting an elaborate (and expensive: $1,000) tattoo of a green vine with blue, pink and purple flowers twining from her hips to her stomach to cover unsightly scars from abdominal reconstruction surgery.
She said that the work of Stephanie Cecchini, part-owner of Lucky Lady Studio in Goshen, has been "amazing."
"It just gave me a different outlet on the way I look," she said.