Hello septuplets and Mars rocks; farewell dimestores, Princess Diana and Beavis
By Christopher Sullivan, Associated Press
The McCaughey septuplets. Louise Woodward. JonBenet Ramsey. Even the two young sons Princess Diana left behind.
All were at the center of debates about children -- how we raise, care for, even conceive them -- that ignited again and again in 1997. Over the past 12 months, the nation sometimes seemed like a big, querulous neighborhood, where everybody else's kids were everybody's business.
Americans from President Clinton on down sent good wishes to Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey when the Iowa couple's family grew by seven. Gifts ranged from diapers to college tuition.
But medical ethicists saw abuse of fertility drugs and criticized ``litters of babies.'' Naysaying also mixed with the cheers greeting the announcement of the oldest known new mother -- a 63-year-old who used hormone therapy.
The year-long investigation of 6-year-old JonBenet's murder left plenty of time for talk-show second-guessing about the case -- and about her world of child beauty contests. ``Are there mothers that are nuts? Absolutely,'' acknowledged one pageant organizer.
A transatlantic shouting match broke out when Woodward, an English au pair, was convicted in the death of a tot from a wealthy Boston-area family. Some Britons accused the physician-parents of neglect. In reply, a family friend urged critics to ``take a cold look'' at how they raise their own kids.
Even the most privileged children in the world seemed vulnerable. Throngs wept for two princes, bravely walking behind the cortege of their mother, Diana, adorned with a card marked ``Mummy.''
Tabloid editors, vilified for hounding the princess, promised to spare her sons, at least for now. Ordinary mourners embraced the boys like family. ``I only hope that William and Harry have a good life and aren't too sheltered,'' said Sheila Munro-Moss of Seattle at one memorial event.
If Diana's passing provided a tragic crescendo, here and abroad, the passing year also had its background music:
The U.S. economy stayed buoyant, with unemployment down and stocks up. Washington kept busy tracking campaign funds and tallying sleepovers in the Lincoln bedroom. Tobacco companies coughed up $368 billion to settle smoking suits.
The world paused delightedly to watch, live from Mars, a little robot rolling in the red dirt. And paused grimly to hear Timothy McVeigh sentenced to death for the Oklahoma City bombing.
Americans watched Tiger Woods' mastery, Ellen DeGeneres' coming out, Newt Gingrich's survival in a coup attempt. And witnessed Mike Tyson bite an ear, cosmonauts right the Mir, dimestore shoppers fight a tear.
In July, Woolworth's announced it would close its 400 remaining five-and-dime stores nationwide, outflanked by big discounters and abandoned by shoppers preferring suburban malls. For 118 years, the stores sold everything from pet turtles to grilled cheese sandwiches.
``Every week I hear from someone who said they grew up in this place and their grandma brought them here,'' said Ohio store manager Byron Rider. ``It's home to many.''
Other eras ended in 1997 with deaths of Jimmy Stewart, ``the last of the great leading men;'' of James Michener, as ``America's storyteller;'' of Red Skelton, the clown with the trademark ``God bless,'' and Beavis and Butt-Head, MTV's cartoon delinquents with the trademark ``heh heh'' snickers.
In 1997, in search of private answers, Americans took many public paths.
Hoping to shed their ``earthly containers'' and meet a passing comet, 39 members of a group known as Heaven's Gate consumed a fatal combination of alcohol and phenobarbitol, draped themselves with purple shrouds in their mansion near San Diego, and died.
Black women braved chilly rain for a Million Woman March in Philadelphia, a call for solidarity and progress on human rights. Christian men filled the mall in Washington, hugging, praying and reminding each other they were now Promise Keepers.
Promising what? ``Responsibility,'' said the group's founder, Bill McCartney. ``The reason we see a downward spiral in morality in this nation is because the men of God have not stood together.''
Billionaires need to stand together, too, Ted Turner said.
The media tycoon announced a $1 billion donation to the United Nations and challenged others to do more. He singled out Microsoft's Bill Gates, who headed Forbes magazine's 400 richest list again in 1997 with an estimated income of $400 million -- a week.
The year's natural disasters included Arkansas tornadoes that killed 25 and brought President Clinton back to locales of his boyhood that had been laid waste.
In the upper Midwest, residents fought the rising Red River and lost, over and over. After a flood touched off an inferno that burned the heart of Grand Forks, N.D., the undaunted local newspaper, the Herald, set up a makeshift office and published anyway. Its headline: ``Come hell and high water.''
Was El Nino to blame? That question started being asked after climatologists noted that the Pacific warming phenomenon was big this year.
What began as an explanation for meteorological irregularities soon became a catch-all for anything unexpected, from politics to sports. How else, someone asked, could you explain the expansion Florida Marlins winning the 1997 World Series?
``I wouldn't be surprised,'' said Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., ``if people start trying to get out of their parking tickets by blaming El Nino.''