Tim Weiner, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, got it right the year I arrived, 1988, when he thanked former editor Gene Roberts for running the place like some Zen university and not a frozen TV-dinner factory. The Inquirer had big ambitions, dispatching staffers across the globe to document a day in the life of AIDS – and then weaving what they’d found into the next day’s paper. But it didn’t take itself too seriously.
It’s where columnist Steve Lopez could hijack a gas-guzzling boondoggle called The Councilmobile and return it to its rightful owners: the taxpayers of Philadelphia. Or Tim Dwyer would advance a football game with the Atlanta Falcons by writing a single-paragraph, stream-of-consciousness rant, inspired by the epic rambles of coach Jerry Glanville.
What follows are some personal favorites, signature tales from not so long ago. There’s a story about the West Philadelphia neighborhood lost to Move, a portrait of a Center City grate fisherman, a reporter’s account of getting a hitman to confess his crime, a miraculous follow-up to a Kensington gas explosion, an obit from Northern Ireland with a convention-busting 95-word lede by the late Richard Ben Cramer that is still taught in textbooks.
AIDS: A day with a global killer (Oct. 22, 1987)
From Uganda to California, Paris, Brooklyn and Newark, teams of Inquirer reporters and photographers deployed around the world to record the impact of AIDS — the toll it takes on whole communities, its power to reshape social behavior, its resistance to every effort to control it. The epidemic was in year six, and the toll stood at 62,000 stricken, 35,000 dead.
‘There’s the foot! It’s moving!’ Boy found in rowhouse rubble (June 29, 1988)
As they carried the little boy away on a stretcher yesterday, there were applause and tears from the weary firefighter, and from many lips the same words: “A miracle.”
In his realm fall the coins that you drop (Oct. 15, 1992)
Passing the Bellevue, he grumbles. "Nothing along here. Rich people are the worst when it comes to money. They don’t drop it. "
A neighborhood no more (May 19, 1985)
For 24 hours, the residents of the Osage and Pine Street neighborhood watched helplessly, having been evacuated by police, as their homes and belongings became gnarled and melted in the flames and thick dark smoke. “Everything that we worked so hard for, that we built up over the years, it’s all gone.”
Tale of murder took years to unfold (May 7, 2000)
For months, he steered me down wrong paths, putting me on the trail of leads that went nowhere. ... But the false trails and the psychic eventually gave way to long conversations about how troubled Jenoff was over a secret he was holding. The story came slowly as we spent hours discussing the crime over weeks, months and then years.
They bury Bobby Sands, but not the years of hate (May 8, 1981)
It was the largest spectacle Belfast ever saw. There was no way to count the crowd that started as a file 10 abreast and a half-mile long, then grew with every passing block to a surging, spreading flood that washed up and broke, finally, amidst the drizzle-darkened stones of a rundown graveyard.
Welcome to Glanville, U.S.A. (Sept. 22, 1990)
“What kind of car you drive? Ever been on a Harley? Get those wingtip shoes out of my face. ... You can’t make a putty-putt into a trained killer. If you’re drowning, just take a big gulp and go under,” and more gems uttered by NFL coach Jerry Glanville over a three-day period in 1990.
-- Daniel Rubin, News Features Editor and faithful Inquirer since 1988