Gadfly Online. Diary-Overnight in Terre Haute.


A JOURNAL (continued)

Monday, June 11th

12:15 am
Back on the Norris property, more neighbors have gathered. One tells us that McVeigh’s final meal was two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream, which strikes me as funny. Suddenly, this man who is a monster to many is once again a man—a man with a simple, sweet-toothed craving and no concern about the fat content. They probably won't admit it, but I’m sure there are many who felt a twinge of envy at the thought of his liberating sense of self as he ate that fattening ice cream with impunity.

Tom has loaned us his binoculars, which we are using to watch the perimeter of the prison and see the police and Bureau of Prisons officials getting ready for the influx of protesters. A rumor goes around that the police are looking for a red Camaro with Ohio plates, because there are radicals in it. Outside agitators, as the saying goes. This was never defined specifically. A few more locals come by with video cameras, including a guy in his early 30s, with very long black hair and a baseball cap that reads, "White Trash." He and his two daughters are watching the police and don’t seem very interested in being there. The younger one, perhaps six years old, is demanding more ice cream.

12:45 am
More protesters arrive by bus, and they are all young. Apparently, some have left, after short turnaround times, for reasons unknown. I am told there was an anti-death penalty march from a church all the way down Route 63 while we were eating dinner. The protests themselves are contrived, due to the formalities required at the outset. Which means that Terre Haute has become–in the last few hours–the last place you'd expect to experience a spontaneous outburst of any kind. Tom tells us about the last execution to take place in Terre Haute, around the turn of the 20th century. Before it could be done, a vigilante went into the cell, dragged the rapist out and hanged him from a bridge over the Wabash.

1 am
New York Post writer and former A Current Affair personality Steve Dunleavy is talking to a girl who shrieks when she recognizes him as a celebrity and has someone take their picture. This moment encapsulates a lot of what we are seeing here: the media are the story. They are running out of people to interview. According to many news outlets, 1500 press passes have been issued. It must be 5:1 journalist to non-journalist.

2:23 am
A little community has developed at the Norris property. Tom has opened up his home to those who need to use the restroom or make a phone call or two. About 15 people or so are sitting around in the front yard, looking out at the floodlights that illuminate the prison and the protest area. Cars continue to go by, but the fact remains that there are only a few dozen protesters, nowhere near the hundreds we had expected. Every fifteen minutes or so, a tour bus with a police escort arrives to let protesters off and make their way into an area designated by makeshift barriers of orange plastic fences. From our vantagepoint, it looks rather like an internment or refugee camp. The media is not able to have any contact with the protesters, nor is one side able to converse with the other, as they are a far distance from one another.

Deborah has gone to sleep in her car, and I promise to wake her if anything interesting happens. She manages to sleep through the commotion of a nearby car being sniffed by a K-9 unit, then towed. I begin reading a book and listening to Tom and others talk about it all, with the floodlights of the prison before us.

4:05 am
I take a quick nap on a hard wooden rocking bench. I am awakened by constant conversation. The sun is coming up as one of Tom’s relatives makes some coffee for us and begins to plan the breakfast menu. I wake Deborah up and, walking back to Tom’s, notice how the prison is like an ersatz country club, with golf carts racing around.

6 am
I’ve come to realize that, really, there is no story here—at least, compared to what I had anticipated. Timothy McVeigh has one, and his pending death brings together many evocative issues. But that isn’t the sense here. It feels almost like an exercise. The media needs a big protest, some sort of newsworthiness to justify their cause.

6:10 am
Big drops of rain fall for a few minutes, though there were no clouds. I’m told there was a thunderstorm on May 16th, (the date of his original scheduled execution) that was so strong that it even damaged some of the media’s equipment, and wrecked some trucks. I’ve not had this confirmed.

6:52 am
There are now a great many protesters, but it is a vigil, really, as they observe 168 minutes of silence, one for each victim of the bombing. More cars go by. The sun is starting to shine big. All of us gathered at Tom Norris’s place stand outside his porch, watching the tiny black-and-white TV so that we can see what is happening a quarter mile away. The minutes advance, and soon it is seven, then seven passes, and it is a few minutes after that.

7:14 am
People are shuffling their feet and realize the full weight of all this really happening here in the town. I am surrounded by people of all ages, all walks of life. Stoners, Bikers, Goth, punk, etc. There is very little glee, all told; maybe one or two people half-jokingly reveled in McVeigh’s death. The rest of the people are mild-mannered, almost somber; it brings to mind the moments after New Year’s Eve.

I’ve come all the way down to Terre Haute, to stand in front of the prison and it ends with a bunch of strangers with our backs to it, crowded around a four-inch, black-and-white television like it was a Philco and we were waiting for a Roosevelt Fireside Chat.

7:30 am
It’s all very matter-of-fact. The generator for the food truck and the TV is powered down, and people begin to amble away. I thank my new friends for their hospitality and brief companionship and get in my car as the press conference continues away from us. I follow the rag-tag parade making its way out of town. McVeigh is dead and Terre Haute will try to get on with its life.

Email Grant at grant@gadfly.orgrg