From Schoolhouse, To Symbol Of Servitude, To Dust

Dan Barry: ATALISSA, Iowa — The old schoolhouse on the hill had announced the farm town of Atalissa to the Iowa flatness for more than a century. But a couple of weeks ago, the prehistoric claw of a John Deere excavator took its first swipe, and soon the building existed only in the landscape of memory.

It was just bricks and mortar in the heartland, and yet also a rare landmark of conflicted emotions. In its final years, the schoolhouse had devolved into a squalid dormitory for dozens of Texas men with intellectual disabilities who spent decades here, eviscerating turkeys for exploitative wages at a nearby plant, enduring abuse, growing old.

The turquoise schoolhouse came to represent the men’s plight and figured in various news accounts. It appeared in a front-page photograph in The New York Times on March 9, as well as in an online documentary, to illustrate a detailed “This Land” report about the case.

While many in this town of 300 simply thought that the schoolhouse had outlived its usefulness, a few did not want their horizon darkened by this reminder of unsettling things. It had to go.

In Butte, You Get Back Up

Leah Sottile: When the kid backed up to the end of the street, a thousand pairs of eyes looked his way. Straddling his bike — a red, white and blue machine covered in stars and stripes and his name, Levi Renz — he kick-started the engine, let the machine cough to life and hunched forward as he rode its chainsaw buzz toward the ramp.

When Renz hit it for the first time, he flew up and up and up, higher than the light posts, higher than the flat roof of the auto shop, higher than he had ever flown in his whole life. And every face in the crowd — folks with cans of cheap beer and cigarettes in hand, bikers in leather vests, girls in bikini tops, moms with strollers — turned to watch the kid fly like a bright white shooting star crossing the afternoon sky.

Butte, Montana, held its breath.

The Case, And A Search For Justice

Ashley Luthern: After only four months as a homicide detective, Rose Galindo thought she had the case.

Every detective has at least one.

The case that eats away at you, haunts you. A victim you never forget.

The April 7 shift-change briefing at the Milwaukee Police Administration Building outlined the basics: A woman was driving. She was shot. No suspects.

And, most likely, she wasn’t the intended target.

A half-second earlier or later, an alternate route, any other twist of fate and Fredricka Hodges would not have been killed that day.

Three weeks after Hodges’ death — after the few initial leads had dried up and fresh homicide cases had come in — Galindo pored over the case file and searched for any detail that could be checked again. She came upon more than a dozen 911 calls that had been reviewed soon after the incident happened.

She slipped her headphones on and listened. For hours.

Pushing The Limits

Charlie Scudder: Flies landed on the beast’s back as the cowboy got ready for his ride. He pulled a flank strap around the bull’s backside and a bull rope with a leather handle around the animal’s shoulders, letting it sit loose. He still had time before they would meet again in the chute facing the arena at the Mesquite ProRodeo Series.

It’s the most dangerous 8 seconds in sports, but on this recent evening in June, McKennon Wimberly was smiling. He used to shadowbox behind the chutes to get more pumped before strapping himself onto 2,000 pounds of angry beef.

But after everything he’s seen the last few years — the coma in 2011, the trigger he pulled in 2012, the birth of his son in early 2014 — he takes it easier now.

“I ride better when I’m that way,” he said. “Why not have fun at your job?”

Shipped Away

Tony Rehagen: On any given workday, the stretch of Georgia 9 that cuts north-south through Roswell is a four-lane wall of cars. Almost as old as the city itself, the thoroughfare was once little more than a dirt wagon path called the Atlanta Road, connecting this mill town to the burgeoning railroad hub some twenty miles south.

The road also serves as a dividing line. To its west sits the tree-canopied town square, its centerpiece an obelisk water fountain bearing the names of Roswell’s founding families. Repeated on nearby street signs—Bulloch, Pratt, King—these are the surnames of wealthy planters and industrialists who, in the 1830s, moved inland to escape Georgia’s muggy, mosquito-infested coast. At the southern end of the square, a squat stone monument commemorates their leader, Roswell King, a banker, politician, surveyor, and plantation manager, “a man of great energy, industry, and perseverance: of rigid integrity, truth, and justice.” And on the hilltop beyond looms Barrington Hall, a columned, whitewashed mansion built for Barrington King, Roswell King’s eldest heir. The antebellum manor, like Bulloch Hall due west, has been restored as a museum, a memorial to the romantic affluence that for some is synonymous with the Old South.

On the east side of Georgia 9, as the hill drops toward the creek bottom, the architecture changes. The structures are smaller and more tightly packed together. One storefront with broad single-pane windows is dated 1854; it provided goods for employees of the Roswell Manufacturing Company, the King family’s cotton mills that once drew power from Vickery Creek and the labor of hundreds of women, children, and men to make cloth and thread and candlewicks. Farther downhill, you will find a cluster of brick row homes that housed the millworkers. These buildings line places with no-nonsense names like Factory Hill and Mill Street, but they once were home to the Woods, Sumners, Kendleys—and countless other families whose names have since been lost to history.

For decades, the two halves of Roswell coexisted in relative harmony. Then, in the summer of 1864, war came, exposing a divide almost as deep as any clash between North and South and setting the families of Roswell on divergent paths.

Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Results

Congrats, one and all. From The Mayborn:

DENTON (UNT), Texas — For the second year in a row, an article in The Washington Post by reporter Eli Saslow received the first place award in the Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest sponsored by the University of North Texas’ Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference.

Saslow’s “Into the Lonely Quiet,” published in June 2013, followed the family of a 7-year-old victim of the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, six months after the shooting. In 2013, Saslow won the inaugural Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest for “Life of a salesman: Selling success, when the American dream is downsized,” an account of a Manassas. Virginia, swimming pool salesman experiencing a summer of disappointment.

Co-sponsored by The Dallas Morning News, the Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest was first offered by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference in 2013. The conference has been hosted each July since 2005 by UNT’s Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism.

From its first years, the conference has held its Personal Essay, Book Manuscript and Reported Narrative contests to recognize extraordinary literary journalism and narrative nonfiction from writers who had not published their work. The conference and The Dallas Morning News launched the Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest to honor previously published work and to encourage narrative nonfiction storytelling at newspapers across the U.S. Long-form narratives published during 2013 were eligible for the 2014 competition.

In addition to selecting first-, second- and third-place winners, the contest judges also select runners-up entries and any entries they believe are “notable narratives.” The three top entries, the runners-up and the notable narratives are published in a print and e-book anthology, “The Best American Newspaper Narratives.” The first anthology, which includes the 10 honored articles from the 2013 competition, was published in May.

As the first-place winner, Saslow, who recently joined the Portland, Oregon, bureau of the Post, receives $5,000 and free registration to attend the 2014 Mayborn conference, which will be held July 18-20 (Friday-Sunday) at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center in Grapevine, Texas.

Eric Moskowitz, a reporter at the Boston Globe, received the contest’s second-place award of $2,000 for “Marathon Carjacking.” The article followed “Danny,” who was carjacked by the suspects of the Boston Marathon bombing three days after the bombing. “Danny,” a Chinese national, agreed to speak to no other media representatives about being held hostage except for Moskowitz, who identified him only by his American nickname. “Marathon Carjacking” was published April 25, 2013.

Mark Johnson, a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, claimed the third place prize of $1,000 for “The Course of Their Lives,” an account of first-year students at the Medical College of Wisconsin as they take a human dissection course. “The Course of Their Lives” was published in October 2013. It was also a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. Johnson was honored in last year’s Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest for “I Boy: A family’s challenge to understand gender,” which was named a notable narrative.

The contest judges were Maria Carrillo, managing editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk; Roy Peter Clark, a writer instructor and former dean at the Poynter Institute; Roger Thurow, a former foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal; Michele Weldon, assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School; and Kelley Benham French, former reporter at The Tampa Bay Times, now a faculty member at Indiana University, French received the 2013 contest’s second-place award for “Never Let Go,” her personal account of the months following the birth of her daughter, who was born more than 12 weeks premature.

The runners-up are:
•Christopher Goffard of The Los Angeles Times for “Manhunt,” published in December 2013.
•Stephanie McCrummen of The Washington Post for “A Cloudy Feeling,” published in May 2013.
•Michael M. Phillips of The Wall Street Journal for “The Lobotomy Files,” published in December 2013.

The notable narrative winners are:
•Aaron Applegate of The Virginian-Pilot for “Taken Under,” published in October 2013.
•Meg Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for “Rob Sweeney,” published in July 2013.
•Michael Kruse of The Tampa Bay Times, for “The Last Voyage of the Bounty,” published in October and November 2013.
•Shaun McKinnon of the Arizona Republic, for “Alone on the Hill,” published in December 2013.
•Mike Newall of the Philadelphia Inquirer for “Almost Justice,” published in June 2013.
•Sarah Schweitzer of the Boston Globe for “Together, Despite All,” published in October 2013.

When Hope Needs Hope

Joan Garrett McClane: Before the cancer, there was Christmastime.

There was convincing her curly-headed 7-year-old son for one more year that Santa Claus existed. There was Amazon shopping for her husband, Terry Cannon, and hopes of sledding on the pillowy white hills if it snowed.

And there was her work, her hospice, the hospice she dreamed to open and almost didn’t. There was the nice new sign outside her office building on Rossville Avenue and the excited staff. There was the sense that at age 43 she had finally — after years of toil and worry — arrived.

Deanna Duncan hadn’t planned to have her breasts flattened and analyzed that day. But the doctor she was meeting with about hospice research had the mammogram machine in his office and she was overdue for a checkup. She joked with him about it. It was funny, how good she was at multitasking, how busy she could keep herself and waste not a minute.

Her life was a list: Mammogram — check.

The airiness of the moment seems absurd now.

There was a spot inside her, a troubling spot. And in the next days, a flurry of tests would show that cancer had been creeping through her body and gnawing her bones. What she thought had been routine back pain was actually compound fractures, little pieces of her spine disintegrating, giving in to the disease.

The first scan of her body lit like a Christmas tree.

She had seen the patterns before, in her patients, not long before they were gone. She was a hospice doctor, after all. So she didn’t ask about the stage of her cancer. She didn’t want to know. She didn’t want to know how long she had left. Denial is essential to survive. Denial is essential to survive, she told herself.

But Terry wanted to know, and the doctor told him.

Stage 4.

There were just months left.

The Newsstand

Marisa Gerber: A red truck pulls into an empty parking lot off Fairfax Avenue just before 6 a.m. René Portillo gets out in a rush and heads to a blue shoe box of a building wearing a message in faded paint: “THE NEW YORK TIMES Expect The World.” To the right, a California Lottery banner proclaims: “Millionaire made here.”

Portillo unbolts two padlocks and flicks on the lights. He rips the plastic tether on a stack of newspapers and begins arranging them on a wire rack. Then he hears footsteps.

“Buenos diiiiiiias,” he says, greeting his first customer with the chirpiness of a morning person, even if he might not be one. The men chitchat in Spanish as Portillo rings up the man’s stack: seven copies of the Los Angeles Times, seven more of the New York Times, three USA Todays, two Orange County Registers and one La Opinión.

‘Can I Hug You Again?’

Lori Kurtzman: He remembers the blond hair, the bobbing head, the lifeless body they pulled from the chilly water that evening. Her dad cried from the banks of the Olentangy River: Save my child. Save my child.

And so Gary Wing worked and worked, desperate to get a breath out of that little blond girl. His partner thought it was too late. Wing, then a Sharon Township firefighter, said he wasn’t going to stop until the medics arrived.

“She was just as limp as a rag doll,” he said.

Wing paused. He knew how the story ended, at least that part of it. He jumped ahead to what brought him there yesterday, a 70-year-old retired firefighter standing outside a Worthington restaurant, his pocket stuffed with tissues.

“I don’t know why I waited so long to find this girl,” he said.

The Ride

William Browning: This woman in ill-fitting, soiled clothes sat beside a shuttered gas station in front of Leigh Mall. I would pass by in the middle of the day and see her. Usually her head was down and she was there a lot. This went on for weeks. We all have places to go.

On Tuesday she was there again, and I stopped and walked over to find her chin against her chest and her eyes closed. In her lap was a notebook with some words jotted down. By the way it sat there, it seemed like she had fallen asleep while writing.

Her eyes opened when I spoke and she told me she was trying to get back to Tuscaloosa.

“If I can get back there,” she said, “I’ll never come back.”