But when an 18-month old baby named Jessica McClure fell in a well 23 years ago last month, the equally young Cable News Network descended on Tanner St. in southwest Midland and stayed there. For 58 hours CNN provided live coverage of Midland’s efforts to rescue Baby Jessica.
James Roberts (pictured) was Midland Fire Chief at the time and one who remembers well the events of that tense period.
“You talk to CNN and they’ll tell you that’s the event that made them,” the retired chief said. “They celebrated that event for years and years because they really do feel that that was the birth of CNN. They were on the scene 24 hours a day and they were the only ones that were for awhile. They said that made CNN News.”
Roberts remembered one late night during the ordeal when he and then Police Chief Richard Czech were on a brief break, sitting on the bumper of one of Czech’s squad cars.
“You know how brilliant the stars over West Texas can be,” Roberts remembered. “We were sitting on the back of that police car and I said, ‘Dick, do you realize what we’re trying to do here? I mean, do you really realize?’ And he said, ‘Yeah we’re trying to get a little girl out of a well.’
Roberts shook his head.
“ ’No, no, just look at all this,’ ” Roberts said to Czech looking at the galaxy of stars overhead. “What makes you and I think we’re so damn good we can do something like this? We’re not even a little speck in this whole thing.’ But Dick was always positive. I was always the realist. Still am.”
Roberts said he frequently worried during the three-day event that his crew wouldn’t get to Jessica in time to save her. At the end of our conversation, though, Roberts reminded me again of just what makes Midland unique and why he knew that all would be OK with regard to that now famous baby in the well.
“Members of three different, prominent, longtime Midland families came to me during that time and said, ‘Chief, whatever you need, no matter the cost, it’s yours,' ” Roberts said. "I knew then that things were going to be all right. Midland is a special place.”