Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
Twenty years ago this morning, Americans woke to the news that sometime the night before, Diana, Princess of Wales sustained life-threatening injuries as a result of a high-speed automobile accident in a tunnel in Paris. Her companion, Dodi Fayed, was dead. She died hours later. It was later confirmed the accident occurred because the driver, who it was confirmed was intoxicated, attempted to evade pursuing paparazzi.
The only one survivor of the crash was Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones. He sustained disfiguring injuries to his face, and underwent several reconstruction surgeries.
The worldwide outpouring of grief was staggering, with token gifts and flowers brought and left outside Kensington Palace for months afterwards. The Great Bend Tribune carried Associated Press stories throughout the week with headlines like, A Nation’s Pain; World mourns loss of ‘People’s Princess’; Diana’s death sends global shockwaves; and Drunk driver adds to Diana sadness. Elton John re-wrote his song “Candle in the Wind” in tribute to the princess, and the funeral procession, which happened a week later on Sept. 6, was televised around the world. As the shock began to wear away, conspiracy theories abounded, and weren’t put to rest until a decade later when a British jury ruled Diana’s and Fayed’s deaths “unlawful killings” rather than murders.
Tribune writers weigh in
Tribune columnist Marge Harrington happened to be in England that week, and filed a report about the death of Princess Diana.
She was staying in Milborne Port, Somerset.
“Shock permeated this tiny picturesque village in the west of England as news spread rapidly through the radio and television media, followed by disgust at the actions of the paparazzi, freelance international photographers who jumped all over the car from their motorcycles, shooting gruesome pictures of the princess who did not immediately die at the crash site.
“Some of the paparazzi ran away before the Paris police could catch them. The seven who were caught have now been charged with manslaughter.
“Now the attention of those in the home in which I am visiting and the area in general has been focused on the fact...that the driver was criminally drunk. Most people I have spoken to feel it was a blessing the driver was killed, fearing that had he lived, he would have had to face extreme punishment by both the French and British authorities.
“A 14-year-old great -niece of mine, Alexandra McCallum, reacted to the recent tragedy.
“It is really sad,” she said. “Many people hadn’t been nice to her when she was alive. She was a very nice person, but nothing went right for her.”
Tribune Managing Editor Daren Watkins editorialized, Paying respects; Diana finally gets just dues in death.
“In her life, she was a tabloid queen. In her death, she finally received the respect a princess deserves. Princess Diana rose from the ashes of what has become of the royal family to evolve into one of the world’s foremost ambassadors of goodwill,” he wrote. He went on to recap the events of her life and leading up to her death, and the calls from celebrities for a reexamination of right-to-privacy laws.
“It isn’t they are upset with the press, but the rabid paparazzi. It’s good they were able to discern the difference. True, celebrities have as much right to a private life as any other citizen. But altering the rules for the paparazzi photographers isn’t going to change anything. Had Diana survived the crash, her recovery would have been a complete circus. Nothing is sacred to these people.”
He predicted it wouldn’t be long before the tabloids “will get back to the junk they perpetrate upon society,” but, he noted, “They won’t have Diana to kick around anymore.”
Later in the week, Editor Chuck Smith weighed in too. He editorialized that in addition to the paparazzi, the mainstream media and consumers were guilty of the princess’s death too.
“...the intention is the same: to tease and fascinate the darker side of human nature with the debauchery and failures that affect those who are richer and more exciting than we are. The famous get rich off it. The media makes a lot of money. And we eat it up. Ain’t nobody clean.”
These Tribune employees are no longer with us. Harrington and Smith have passed away, and Watkins has moved out of the state. Still, they’ve left behind their words and good memories among some of our long-time employees.
Remember the Marigold festival
And while the world mourned, it wasn’t all tears and gnashing of teeth. In Great Bend, Labor Day weekend was approaching, and the city was gearing up for the a full slate of events. There would be the Marigold Festival, The Rainbow’s End Arts and Crafts Fair, and the Barton County Historical Society Pioneer Day and 125th Ball. On top of that, the Pride of Great Bend lion exhibit would have its grand opening on Saturday.
The Rainbow’s End was considered one of the larger art and craft shows offered in this part of the state. And why not. There was plenty to draw people to the area, even those not interested in arts and crafts. The Marigold Festival featured carnival rides for kids, the Firefighter Olympics and more.
At the Barton County Historical Society Museum, Tribune editor Chuck Smith managed to catch a photo of director Bev Komarek fluffing dresses displayed on mannequins. The gowns offered examples of appropriate attire for the Ball to be held at Lafayette Park Saturday evening.
A giant tent would stretch across Lakin Street, a dinner would be served to the sounds of live music, and then a historic grand march would start at 8 p.m. A professional dance leader would lead attendees through other historical dances during the evening.
So, there are probably some readers who wonder about Lafayette Park. That is what the park surrounding the Barton County Courthouse is named. In 1997, that is how the Tribune referred to it when reporting on events happening there. Over time, the name has evolved. It’s occasionally called Courthouse Square, and more recently, Jack Kilby Square. It can certainly be confusing, and there is ongoing commentary among Tribune writers about what to call the park, depending on context. But, as far as we can confirm, it is still officially named Lafayette Square.