Day 1: The 50's: The Bombing Of UAL Flight 629
It was 6:52 p.m. 1955. A Tuesday.
United Airlines Flight 629, a DC-Six, had just taken off from Stapleton Airfield in Denver. Eleven minutes into the flight, controllers at Stapleton tower saw two bright flashes, and within minutes, calls started coming in from people who saw flaming debris dropping from the sky.
The wreckage of Flight 629 was spread over six square miles of Weld County farmland. All 44 aboard died. But this was no crash. It was murder.
The plane was brought down by a bomb. The early stages of the investigation were dramatized in the Jimmy Stewart film The FBI Story.
It was the lead story for days on Channel 9 and everywhere else in Colorado. The bomber? John Gilbert Graham. He was the beneficiary on a life insurance policy taken out by his 53-year-old mother, who was on board.
Graham confessed that he'd hidden the dynamite in his mother's luggage. He'd wrapped binding cord around a sack of dynamite and two blasting caps, in case one of the caps failed.
His trial the following year went quickly. The evidence against Graham was overwhelming. The trial made history, and it was the first to be broadcast live.
In May 1956, Graham was convicted. He was executed the following January in the Colorado State Penitentiary gas chamber. Before he died he said this about the bombing:
"As far as feeling remorse for these people, I don't. I can't help it. Everybody pays their way and takes their chances. That's just the way it goes."
Incredibly, there was no federal law at the time that made blowing up an airplane a crime. So Gilbert was convicted of premeditated murder against a single victim: his mother.
Day 2: The 60's: The Great South Platte Flood
9NEWS has covered plenty of weather disasters over time, from blizzards, to wildfires to drought. But the Great South Platte River flood of June 16th, 1965 was beyond imagining.
A powerful cloudburst 20 miles south near Castle Rock filled the Platte with so much rain, it crested at 25 feet above normal. First responders had plenty of time to warn people, but 28 still lost their lives. The flood caused almost $550 million dollars in damage.
It wasn't so much the water that was so destructive...but the junk. In the years leading up to the flood, the South Platte had become an ugly dumping ground. As the flood pushed north, it carried old cars, freezers and other heavy debris with it, damaging or destroying more than two dozen bridges between Littleton and the Colfax Viaduct.
The flood zone included many businesses in Denver's industrial area. Homes were soaked, especially those in the Columbine Country Club neighborhood in Littleton. The water devastated Centennial Race Track, prompting the rescue of more than a hundred horses by owners, trainers and jockeys.
By the time it was over, the flood left several feet of mud and debris up and down the South Platte and left local water supplies and phone services a mess. The cleanup took months.
There were upsides. The heavy rains that caused the flood helped bring relief from a three year drought, and the disaster led to a massive flood control project which included the creation of Chatfield Dam. And as the South Platte was cleaned up, it was also beautified. The junkyard river was never to return.
Of course, this flood foreshadowed something much worse: the Big Thompson Flood. It happened on the last day of July in 1976. A stalled thunderstorm sent a wall of water 20 feet high through the canyon west of Loveland, taking with it cars, homes, buildings and people. 143 people died, and it remains Colorado's deadliest disaster.
Day 3: The 70's: File Tape Number 1
There's a place deep in the basement of Channel 9 where the past speaks. This archive is packed with stories all done on three-quarter inch tape. We used it all the time back then, but not anymore.
The tapes are carefully catalogued and marked. And up toward the front, tucked away near the door, is File Tape Number 1.
File Tape Number 1 is more than just a black box. It's a time capsule. A snapshot of what we covered in the first week we made that giant leap from film to videotape. The first entry: September 23rd, 1976.
Ron Parker was out covering a cattle auction at the National Western Stock Show. Bert Gurule was listening to a man complain about his neighbors not keeping the Swansea neighborhood neat and tidy.
There's a young Jimmy Carter campaigning for President on the 16th Street Mall. There's a feature about a little preacher named Michael said to have the power to heal.
There are highlights of the Colorado Rockies. Hockey, not baseball. There's a preview of a big heavyweight fight between Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton at the Denver Auditorium Arena.
And our personal favorite: a pre-ski workout class in all its 1976 glory, complete with short-shorts, tube socks and lots and lots of interesting hairstyles and facial hair.
File Tape Number 1. Time to put you back on the shelf. Thanks for the memories.
Day 4: The 80's: Caution Frequent Stops
There was a lot to cover in the 1980's. There was that blizzard that cost Mayor McNichols his job. There was an energy economy that went suddenly bust. And lots of people wanted to know about a young quarterback named Elway who came to the Denver Broncos in a huge trade.
But for many long-time 9NEWS watchers a series called Caution: Frequent Stops is what stands out.
9Wants To Know Investigative Reporter Paula Woodward spent weeks tracking city work crews with a hidden camera. They were supposed to be doing maintenance, plowing, pot-hole repair, and street maintenance. Instead, Paula caught them doing.. nothing. Her first story aired on February 29th, 1988.
Mayor Pena was outraged, and delivered on a promise of a quick, but thorough investigation, not only of the workers, but their supervisors too. The result of Paula's series: a major shakeup and re-alignment of how things got done at Denver Public Works.
Day 5: The 90's: The Pilgrimage To The Peaks
It was described as a giant festival of faith. Young Catholics from all over the world, a half a million strong, came to Denver for World Youth Day. It was August, 1993, and an opportunity for the city to host history's most popular Pope.
Everywhere he went, the Pope was showered with a love expressed in tears, cheers and adulation. And at every opportunity, he spoke of life and love. It made for an extraordinary visit, starting, from the moment he was met by President Clinton.
One long-time 9NEWS photographer remembers something else from that time. For a few days that August, everyone behaved.
Day 6: The OO's: Storytelling For A New Generation
January 1st, 2000. We all survived Y2K. No computer meltdowns. No end of the world. The sun came up, just like every other day.
But few of us realized how dramatically this new century would transform things, including 9NEWS. We were about to say goodbye "newsroom,"hello "information center."Memories of Carl Akers, manual typewriters and ActionCams would soon fade further into the station's past.
Specific, time honored roles: anchor, reporter, producer, photographer, were about to blend as part of a new age of always-on "multimedia journalism" where the deadlines would turn digital, and more people would be geting their news by tablet, instead of tv.
But on that first day of a brand new century, we kept doing what we've tried to do since first signing on in October of '52. And something we hope to keep doing, for as long as we're around. Tell a good story. On January 1st, 2000 it was a story both ancient, and timeless. The migration of the Sandhill Cranes to Colorado's San Luis Valley.
It was another keeper for the archives. And who knows? In another sixty years from now, somebody else might open them up, and look back again.
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