Without 24-hour TV news channels to create impressions of urgency, Sunday, May 7, 1978, must have seemed especially placid to the good citizens of southern Wisconsin as they lingered over Parade Magazine or the crossword puzzle in the Wisconsin State Journal.
The entire 227-page edition of that paper is available at the indispensable Newspaper Archive. On the front page and inside, there’s little of what we would call breaking news. There’s an article about the state spelling bee and the annual Mifflin Street Block Party, both held in Madison the previous day, but most of the first section is filled with feature stories, and the international news items on the inside pages deal with the aftermath of events on Friday, or they look forward to the coming week. It’s likely that the single biggest story on that Sunday was the result of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, in which Affirmed outdueled Alydar to win the race.
Events in the paper on that quiet Sunday still echo 34 years later. The Mifflin Street Block Party was held again this past Saturday, and it has remained controversial. Madison has attempted to shut it down in recent years without success. The 1978 article quoted Madison Mayor Paul Soglin as being supportive of the party. Today Soglin, mayor from 1973 to ’79, again from 1989 to ’97 and reelected last year, has been critical of the party. Few paid attention to the Kentucky Derby this past Saturday, but in 1978, Affirmed and Alydar captured the imagination of the whole country that spring, finishing one-two in each of the three Triple Crown races. Affirmed became the second straight winner of the Triple Crown after Seattle Slew in 1977, but there hasn’t been a winner since.
And on the subject of echoes, it happens that I have a pretty good idea how I spent that Sunday. Surely reading that paper was part of it, and I would have found time in the afternoon to watch the Chicago Cubs game against the San Francisco Giants from Wrigley Field. But I didn’t get up until very late.
I have written here before of events that spring with my on-again, off-again girlfriend. During one of our on-again periods that April, we planned to go to the prom together, but by prom week itself, we were off again. On Saturday the 6th, we shared a ride to Platteville for a campus visit—and on the way home that afternoon, we decided we were on again and we’d go to the prom that night after all. I hadn’t been able to cancel my tuxedo order in time, so I would have time to pick it up; she needed to finish the dress she was making.
When I arrived to pick her up, she was still working on the dress, so I cooled my heels for a while, making uncomfortable small talk with her parents while she worked. But once I saw her in it, the wait was worth it. I don’t remember much about the dance itself, except that the band was terrible and a lot of people left early, including us. We ended up back at her house, alone together into the wee hours of the morning.
And so I would not have made it to church with the family on Sunday, May 7, 1978. Perhaps I was able to read the paper at the kitchen table, alone in the house, if I could keep from being distracted by remembering the night before.
I would have turned on the radio that morning, and I might have heard “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel, a song we both liked. I might have heard something that sounded like the truth in “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again” by England Dan and John Ford Coley. It wasn’t the truth, however. “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas , however—that was closer.