Twenty five years ago this Tuesday, rescuers hoisted Baby Jessica out of the Midland water well where she had been trapped for more than two days. While the baby-in-crisis story is a staple of cable news today, the Baby Jessica case marked CNN’s first major foray into the genre.
Lisa Belkin’s 1995 New York Times Magazine story describes how the nascent cable news network flung itself into round-the-clock coverage:
Millions watched Jessica McClure, and they saw events as they happened. During the last minutes of her rescue, 3.1 million households were tuned to CNN alone. Those millions of people felt they were there. In a way, they were there. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is worth many times that, and a live moving picture makes an emotional connection that goes deeper than logic and lasts well beyond the actual event. “Everybody in America became godfathers and godmothers of Jessica while this was going on,” Ronald Reagan told Jessica’s parents, Chip and Reba (Cissy) McClure, in a telephone call shortly after the rescue. He placed the call from Nancy Reagan’s hospital room, where she had just told she had breast cancer. She refused to leave her room for her biopsy, she told Chip and Cissy, “until I watched her come up.”
This was before correspondents reported live from the enemy capital while American bombs were falling. Before Saddam Hussein held a surreal press conference with a few of the hundreds of Americans he was holding hostage. Before the nation watched, riveted but powerless, as Los Angeles was looted and burned. Before O. J. Simpson took a slow ride in a white Bronco, and before everyone close to his case had an agent and a book contract. This was uncharted territory just a short time ago.
Jessica McClure is now a 26-year-old mother of two and lives just two miles from the well. A flurry of news stories emerged last year when she turned 25 and was given access to a $800,000 trust fund, donations from strangers to cover her medical expenses. The Midland stay-at-home mom doesn’t grant many interviews, but last year she sat down with the Dallas Morning News ’s Scott K. Parks to talk about her life:
“I’ve got the life I want,” she told The Dallas Morning News during an exclusive interview. “I’ve always wanted to be a mom and have a man who loves me.” …
Jessica, her husband and their two small children recently greeted a visitor at their comfortable 1,700-square-foot, red-brick home in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Midland. Simon, 4, and Sheyenne, 18 months, played in the driveway as their parents chatted about the normalcy of their family-centered lives.
Jessica graduated from Greenwood High School in 2005 and two years later married her husband, Danny Morales. “I thought he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen in my life,” Jessica recalled of their first meeting. But not everything is rosy: her husband, Parks notes, has served time in federal prison for drug smuggling. “One of the reasons God put me here is to help Danny see there is a better life out there … to help save him and give him a better reality. He’s come a very long way,” Jessica told Parks.
Jessica also revealed she doesn’t remember the accident:
Jessica said she has no memory of what happened to her in 1987. She tells an interesting story about how she finally learned that she had become a celebrity as a toddler.
“I think I was 5 or 6 years old and was watching this television show called 911 with my stepmother,” she said. “Well, up pops my story and video of the rescue. I was touched by the little girl being hurt, and I think I started crying.
“Then my stepmother said something like, ‘Honey, don’t you know that you are that little girl?’ I was stunned. I remember locking myself in my dad’s bathroom and I would not come out.”
Want to relive the rescue? The Midland Reporter-Telegram ’s Audrie Palmer tracked down a paramedic, doctor, volunteer, and firefighter involved with the rescue efforts for a piece for the paper. The Dallas Morning News and the Daily Mail each have more photos of Jessica.