America’s first satellite (and my first mass murder memory)

What American fun! My first mass murder!

What American fun! My first mass murder!

Terrorized excitement gripped the kids of Scottsbluff, NE, on January 31, 1958.

Charlie Starkweather, the first real-life mass murderer we had ever heard of was IN OUR TOWN!

But the story is more important to me for many reasons other than our childhood reaction to the presence of a real-life mass-murderer in our town.

Ask anyone who lived in Scottsbluff in 1958 (I was 13) if they remember Starkweather. Of course they do. And they probably remember the picture I’ve posted here. It’s not quite clear to me even today why the media made such a feeding frenzy of the mere fact that Starkweather was in town (well, no, he was across the river at the country jail in Gering) on his way to the state penitentiary in Lincoln. But it was better entertainment than anything on TV.

He had been arrested, it’s interesting to me to remember and note, in the town where I was born, Douglas, WY.

Starkweather’s murder spree was over 50 years ago and is now a footnote to Nebraska and Wyoming history. Even in 1958 it did not thoroughly dominate the news. In his “Recollections” (linked above), Rick Myers observes that even though the transfer of the mass murderer was taking place in our little city, the headline of the local newspaper the next morning was about another—more important—story.

On Saturday, Feb. 1, 1958, the Star-Herald reported on the transfer of the prisoners to Lincoln as they left the jail before a crowd of “200 curious onlookers.”
But the story was not the lead.
Something else happened on Jan. 31, 1958. The headline “America’s First Satellite in Orbit Around the Earth” as the launch of “Explorer” marked the country’s entry into the space age
(Myers, Rick. “A reporter’s recollections.”  starherald.com. Saturday, January 26, 2008.)

I remember that Explorer was launched—about three or four months after the USSR launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. I remember the sense of pride in our nation’s accomplishment even though we lost the race to be first to launch a satellite to the Russians.  I would never, however, have remembered that vastly more important event took place the day we were being aghast, thrilled, frightened, and excited by the presence of the monster in our county jail.

I’m not even sure how we knew Starkweather was in our midst. No FB, Twitter, starherald.com, or any other instant news source—except KOLT and KNEB radio stations. And I do not remember that in the local newspaper “the story was not the lead.”

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and say my guess is that Charles Starkweather bought the guns with which he killed eleven people legally. We had never heard of such a thing as gun-control-legislation. Have you ever been to Western Nebraska? In some minor respects it’s not much different from West Texas, both in geography and in population. You know, “I’ll let go of my gun when they pry my cold dead fingers off of it,” and all of that.

When we lived in Douglas, WY, my father’s friends were Wyoming ranchers. They had vast acreages next to even vaster public lands—wild, undeveloped lands—where they hunted antelope and deer. My dad learned to hunt, and he bought guns. When we moved to Worland, WY, he hunted with new friends, hunted deer and elk. Somewhere in the family pictures are photos of him standing with his rifle beside a deer he killed which was hanging head-down ready for butchering.

When we moved to Kearney, NE, my father learned to hunt pheasants. I knew where his guns were in the house, but I also knew I could not get to them. When my sister was born (my brother was 7 and I was 5), my father sold his guns.

He told me later he did not want us to grow up in a house where guns were kept. He did not want us to believe that owning guns was a way of life.

You have to know what a weak and lily-livered liberal my father was (if you believe that, I have a penthouse on the 19th floor of the Merc

George Pierre Hennard was here.

George Pierre Hennard was here.

on Main in Dallas to sell you). He was certainly a contradiction. Baptist minister and a lifelong (real, not faux) conservative Republican whose hero was Dr. Edwin T. Dahlberg, President of that Communist-front organization (according to J. Edgar Hoover), the National Council of Churches. Dr. Dahlberg had also been a conscientious objector during WWII, and my father told me on several occasions he hoped he would have had the courage to do the same if he had not had a medical deferment.

I obviously come by my hatred of guns honestly. I am perplexed, mystified—no, I am grieved—by the obsession with Weapons of Solitary Destruction that afflicts so many Americans. You can tell me all you want that guns don’t kill people, people do. Or you can throw into any discussion of murder and the Second Amendment or any other related subject the idiotic claim that as many knives are used for murder in this country as are guns.

And I simply remember my father who knew that little boys don’t kill other little boys, but hunting rifles might.

Charlie Starkweather (11), Aaron Alexis (12), Michael Kenneth McLendon (10), James Eagan Holmes (12), Jiverly Antares Wong (13), and George Pierre Hennard (23)—to name a few—would not have been able to kill 81 of their fellow Americans among them with knives.

Collateral damage

Collateral damage

We can no longer afford to fund the space explorations of NASA, but we have enough money to keep alive an $11,000,000,000 annual firearms industry in this country. Something is grievously sick.

One Response to America’s first satellite (and my first mass murder memory)

  1. I started writing this post with the anniversary of my father’s death in mind, but got into the writing and forgot. It was September 20.

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