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‘I saw my entire life flash before my eyes,’ part III

You know the saying: “dog bites man” is not news, but “man bites dog” is. Years ago, I actually came across a true Miami Herald man-bites-dog story from 1996.

Such “weird” news stories have dotted newspapers for a long time, providing respite from news about crime, natural disasters, wars and politics. Several odd news stories caught my attention as I scanned through reels of microfilmed old newspapers at the Library of Congress.

FLORIDA’S A BRIDGE TOO FAR

Florida, my home state, is a fountain of odd and strange stories (some of which overlap with political news). That may not surprise you.

Headline: “Florida wants to Annex V(irgin) I(slands).” According to this 1964 story, Democratic congressman from Jacksonville, Florida, Charles E. Bennett proposed the annexation of the U.S. Virgin Islands to be absorbed as Florida’s 68th county. He explained the project’s feasibility by saying that some of Alaska’s islands were farther away from the mainland than the U.S. Virgin Islands from Florida. Four decades after this story’s publication, a Jacksonville bridge was renamed Charles E. Bennett Memorial Bridge, spanning not to Frederiksted, Saint Croix, but across the Intracoastal Waterway.

BARNEY’S MASSACHUSETTS NIGHTMARE

As sober and proper as Massachusetts can be, it has generated its fair share of news-story curiosities. Did you know that Puritans banned Christmas celebrations early in the colony’s history? Or that in 1919 a wave of hot molasses (an essential ingredient in Boston baked beans) flooded Boston’s East End? It’s actually not funny; 21 died and hundreds were injured. The disaster has come to be known as the Great Molasses Flood.

Headline: “A Brutal Attack on Barney.” It happened in April 1994 in Worcester, Massachusetts, whose official webpage claims it is “the country’s most vibrant and livable mid-sized city.” At a drugstore opening a young man beat up Barney; not Rep. Barney Frank, but the “I love you, you love me” Barney. According to the story, the victim was wearing an unauthorized Barney costume, which an official of the Barney Fan Club characterized as “grossly illegal.” Vibrant and livable, perhaps, but don’t visit in a Barney costume.

PINK HAIR CRIME IN CONNECTICUT

Pink hair has become acceptable, actually fashionable. Think Cyndi Lauper, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, even Helen Mirren. But that was not the case three decades ago, when students at New Milford, Connecticut’s Schaghticoke Middle School could get into deep trouble for dyeing their hair pink.

Headline: “Student Suspended for Bright Pink Hair.” OK, you’re right. It’s 2022 and students still get suspended for dyeing their hair pink. But this 1994 AP story is curious because of the pioneering nature of the 4th grade student’s defiance and the consequences she faced.

It’s “unnatural and distracting,” school authorities claimed; “They are stopping our creativity,” another student complained. The pink-haired student was suspended and allowed back “only in a class for troubled students.” The story quotes the suspended student’s mother: “That class is for kids who bring guns to school … She is just an average kid who experimented with her hair.”

If you ever drive through New Milford, you may want to check out the Pink and Blue Salon off Route 1.

U.S. HISPANIC POPULATION FORECAST

We know that the U.S. Bureau of the Census conducts a population count every 10 years; the Constitution mandates it. Preliminary results are published the following year. The Bureau also offers periodic updated estimates and forecasts of population change.

As a student of Latinos in the U.S., I am interested in demographic statistics about the nation’s Hispanic population. That is why the following 1986 AP story caught my attention and I found it curious.

Headline: “Hispanic Population in the U.S. to Exceed 36M by 2020.” A Bureau of the Census spokesperson interviewed for the story forecasted that the Hispanic population would more than double from 17.3 million in 1986 to 36.5 million in 2020. That turned out to be a gross underestimate. The 2020 census revealed a Hispanic population of 62.1 million, 25.6 million more than forecasted in 1986.

Out of curiosity, I searched more recent census projections and found one from 2018 prognosticating a growth from 56.1 (2020 estimate) to 94.7 million in 2060. That’s the year when I am supposed to turn 100 years old, and according to life span projection tables, I will have already seen my life flash before my eyes.

But if you ever want to see your life flash before your eyes, you do not need to wait for the Big Adios. Visit the Library of Congress and spend some time reading through old newspapers. Easier yet, visit https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.

Readers can reach Luis Martinez-Fernandez at LMF_Column@yahoo.com.

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