That, quite frankly, was an understatement. I set out to reconstruct an event that had literally shut down Mankato one afternoon that year. I thought I'd work on it a couple of days, and it would make a nice little lookback and offer some fodder for conversations among friends who had lived through it.
I put a little blurb on Facebook and Twitter, asking folks to call me if they were there on May 9, 1972, when thousands of students had occupied Highway 169 and a couple of bridges in Mankato. Didn't hear much except for an MSU professor and Vietnam veteran who asked we not dredge up a day that he felt highlighted disrespectful behavior. (I attempted to get a hold of him for his viewpoint, but was unable to.)
Then I decided at the last minute on Monday to put a blurb in Tuesday's paper asking the same question. The power of print is alive and well, folks. I was completely unprepared for the response the next day. Every five minutes my phone was ringing from folks as far away as California offering their memories. Ex-police officers were calling, numerous former students, even reporters who had covered the events at the time. It seemed everyone who saw that blurb was moved to talk about it again. There were also some who called to tell me that I should be leaving the past in the past.
It was clear that by simply bringing up May 9, 1972, I had struck a nerve. Forty years ago seemed like yesterday for some of them. And even though the day was eight years before I was even born, I did my best to bring their memories alive on the page.
As a couple of my colleagues in the newsroom have been quick to point out: I'm not reinventing the wheel here. The story's been told. But that doesn't make it unworthy of being revisited, reminding people of an important day in Mankato's history and offering fresh sources and fresh voices whose stories of that day and that time have yet to be told.
I devoted my entire week at work on this story, and I'm proud of how it turned out and of being able to share it with all of you. I was happy, just for personal reasons, to get to hear the stories that I was told this week. They're great stories, and I hope you will think so, too.
Whatever your viewpoints on Vietnam and the protest-era, I hope you'll pick up Sunday's paper and read about Mankato State President James Nickerson, Mankato Police Chief Charles Alexander, officer Steve Davis (in the thick of it all, as he said), Vietnam veterans coming home from war, MSU professors who participated in sit-ins, community members stuck in traffic, just trying to get home and eat pork chops. I talked to all of them and more, and their stories do not disappoint.
Be sure to also check out the multi-media component. Ron Affolter took Super 8 video footage of the protests, and it was so cool to see 1970s-era students, with long hair and bell-bottoms, and to see what Front Street looked like back then. We'll have all 13 minutes of footage on our website. And we'll have a taped interview with Mankato State alums Mark Halverson and Scott Hagebak talking about their memories of the protests, coupled with numerous Free Press file photos and those submitted by Donald Jay Olson that have never been circulated.
I'm excited. I hope you enjoy it.