Your Turn: First News Memory

This week is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination — a huge event in US history, to be sure. But the extent of the coverage is kind of strange to me, because I wasn’t born yet. One newspaper bore the headline “Why we can’t stop grieving”…and all I could think was “Speak for yourself.”

It did get me thinking, though. We all have our seminal news memories — events where there was a “before” and an “after”, when our perception of the world shifted. But if you go even further back, we all have our first news memories, the first time we were aware of events that didn’t personally involve us.

I’ll tell you mine.

In October 1987, I was eight years old. I was pretty sheltered from news coverage — for example, I don’t remember the Challenger explosion or the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which both happened the previous year.

But I do remember Baby Jessica.

That month, a toddler named Jessica McClure fell down a well in Texas and was trapped. More than two days later, after many dramatic rescue efforts, she was freed via a freshly dug parallel shaft. The whole saga was broadcast on TV, discussed endlessly in the print media with diagrams of the well shafts (I remember vividly how the tunnel that was dug between the two shafts sloped up towards the old shaft, so as not to bury Baby Jessica in dirt), and so on.

In hindsight, I don’t think it really occurred to me that she could have died down there — and she certainly could have, from the fall or exposure or even from the digging of the other shaft. It was just a captivating story…with, as it turned out, a happy ending.

(Here’s an update on Jessica as an adult.)

Your turn! What’s the first news event you remember?


7 responses to “Your Turn: First News Memory

  1. I remember Baby Jessica too but the first big news event I remember is the Challenger disaster. Maybe it was a later space obsession that ingrained it in my memory or maybe it was coming from a family full of teachers that made the death of Christa McAuliffe, who would have been the first teacher in space, stand out. I was a bit too young for it to be one of those “I remember where I was when , , ,” kind of memories like the death of JFK was, or things like Columbine and 9-11 in more recent times. But the story definitely left it’s mark.

  2. I’ve been trying to think. Possibly the wedding of Charles and Diana. (The death of Diana was the first thing that sprang into my mind, but obviously not the first.)

  3. I think mine was the death of Princess Di. How bizarre. I guess you can probably identify entire generations from their news memories!

  4. Mieka, it’s funny, I developed a space obsession too, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear about Challenger until sometime later. I can see how the teacher angle might have cemented the memory for you!

    Ellen, the death of Diana was a biggie and felt like a “before and after” moment for sure, even if it didn’t exactly have worldwide repercussions — maybe she is the younger generation’s JFK.

  5. Sorry, Vic, your comment got caught in my spam filter! I have vivid memories of her death, too — for me it was the end of the summer between high school and university, and my whole gang from school was talking about it. In a way, it did feel like the end of an era, linked as it was with our growing up. She was so young and beautiful, nobody expected her to die….

  6. Ohh, this looks fun! I think I missed this (due to the death of Google Reader, RIP); don’t remember seeing it on my FB feed (are you still cross-posting?).

    Okay, I’m trying to think. The one that comes to mind is Lucille Ball’s death — I can still hear Ricky Ricardo’s “Luuuuucccy” — in 1989. And the fall of the Berlin wall, also 1989. I was “around” for Baby Jessica, but I don’t recall being aware of it at the time or anything before that.

  7. I cross-post most of the time, yes. And as for the sadly mourned Google Reader, I’ve switched over to feedly, which is almost-but-not-quite as good (my main pet peeve: the main “unread” page only goes back 31 days). Thanks for sharing your memories! Interesting how different they are from mine, even though we’re contemporaries.

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