Special Reports

Birthdays Past

            Last year, I marked the birthday of the missing Ray Gricar.  If Mr. Gricar is alive and out there and is reading this, have a happy birthday.  It would be an extra special birthday, because it marks the beginning of “senior status,” in the United States.  October 9, 2010, is Mr. Gricar’s 65th birthday, the traditional retirement age.  Is he out there, someplace, to celebrate this extra special day?  I don’t know.

            Birthdays can be viewed in one of several ways.  First, you look at a birthday as marking another year closer to death; if you are pessimist, like me, that is what you do.  Second, they can be retrospective, looking back at a life.  I’ve looked back at the career of Mr. Gricar, noting a legacy of a fine district attorney, who served Centre County for about a quarter of a century. 

There is another way to look at birthdays; you can look how the world has changed since that birthday.  That is what I hope to do, with two specific birthdays.  First will be October 9, 2004; that is Mr. Gricar’s 59th birthday and the last known birthday for which he was alive.  Second will be October 9, 2005, the first birthday observed in Mr. Gricar’s absence and his 60th birthday.

October 9, 2004, was a Saturday, like October 9 of this year.  It was clear in State College until about 6:00 PM, when rain came until about 8:00 PM.  It was warn for October with a high of 71 and a low of 53.1  The number one song was Ciara "Goodies"2 on Billboard “Top 40” while on the country charts was "Days Go By" Keith Urban (I frankly can’t remember either song).3  The NASDAQ closed around 1920 the next business day4 and the price of gold closed that Friday around $420 per Troy ounce. 5 Inflation 3.19% that month and unemployment was 5.6%.6

            The real news was on the election.  President George W. Bush was running for reelection and had a 48% approval and 49% disapproval rate on Gallup.7  His numbers were improving.  The Second presidential debate, with Democratic Challenger John Kerry occurred the night before.  A week earlier, a debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards occurred at Mr. Gricar’s alma mater, Case Western Reserve. 8

There were 229 Republican members of the House and a bare majority of 51 Republican Senators in the Senate at the time.  In the major statewide races, Arlen Spector, having beaten back a strong primary challenge from Allentown Congressman Pat Toomey, was leading in his race against Philadelphia Area Congressman Joe Hoeffel.   Republican Tom Corbett faced off against Democrat Jim Eisenhower for the open Attorney General’s position. 

Earlier that year, in February, a guy named Mark E. Zuckerberg founded something then called “thefacebook,” for students at Harvard.  650 people signed up and he indicated that he expected another 250 to sign up by the next day.9  At the Democratic National Convention in August, an almost unknown Illinois State Senator, and candidate for US Senate, named Barack H. Obama delivered an outstanding speech (though ultimately not a supporter, it did prompt me to call a friend and say, “Turn on your television and you’ll see America’s first black president.”).

And, of course, it was Mr. Gricar’s 58th birthday.  He had announced his retirement in January. 

October 9, 2005, was a Sunday.  It was overcast in State College, but there was no rain.  It was also noticeably cooler, with a high of 57 and a low of 48; the frost was really on the pumpkin.1   Kanye West’s “Golddigger”10 was number one on Billboard’s top 40 while “Something to Be Proud Of”11 by Montgomery Gentry was number one on the county charts (and I remember the first).  The NASDAQ closed that Monday at about 2085.4  Gold inched up to $475 per Troy ounce.5  Inflation was up to 4.35% while unemployment had dropped to 5%.6

The Republicans had a very good year.  President Bush improved both his popular vote share and his electoral vote share in 2004.  His numbers, in the aftermath of Katrina, had declined and were at 45% approval and 50% disapproval.7  The slide would continue.

The Republicans increased their hold on the House of Representatives, gaining three seats for a total of 231, the second highest number since the end of World War II.  In the Senate, they held 55 seats, tied for the highest number since 1928.  Republican legislative waxed strong; Senator Obama, however, was elected. 

In Pennsylvania, Republican Senator Spector won re-election for the fifth time by a more than ten point margin.  Tom Corbett was elected Attorney General by about a 2% margin; the race so close that one wire service called it for Jim Eisenhower on election night.

This year, 2005, there were local races, especially the one for the district attorney.  Republican Michael T. Madeira defeated his primary opponent, Robert Bascom by a larger margin that Mr. Gricar did in 2001.  His general election opponent was Democrat J. Karen Arnold, who handily defeated a weak primary opponent.  Ms. Arnold may have been the strongest Democratic candidate that could be found in 2005, it was probably a race well stacked against her.  The Fraternal Order of Police unanimously supported Mr. Madeira, as did Mr. Corbett and to an extent, Mr. Gricar, before he disappeared; the county was still Republican.  Ultimately, Mr. Madeira was a very strong candidate, getting in a few weeks more than 54% of the vote; Ms. Arnold ran behind the Democratic Jury Commissioner nominee, Ruth Luse.

There were other stories.  Much of the political news was focusing on if the then favorite, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, would run for President in 2008.  In February and March, the country was focused on the Terri Schaivo case.  John Paul II died and Pope Benedict XVI was elected in April.  In late August, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, followed by the collapse of key levees surrounding the city, and horrific flooding.

Mr. Gricar’s birthday probably was not celebrated by family and friends, as he had been missing for nearly six months.  For much of those six months, the conventional wisdom was that his body was in the Susquehanna and that he had either committed suicide or was murdered, with suicide being the more likely explanation.

Look at all these changes.  Currently, the Republicans have 53 fewer seats in the House than in 2005.  Unemployment has almost double.  The price of gold has nearly tripled.  Democrat Arlen Spector lost his primary; Republican Pat Toomey seems poised to take the seat.  Tom Corbett had a much more impressive win for reelection in 2008 and will probably be the next governor of Pennsylvania.

Of the district attorney candidates, we all saw how weak they both were in 2009.  Ms. Arnold garnered less than 20% in her 2009 attempt to be the Democratic nominee for the position (and I thought she would break 20%).13  Mr. Madeira, who was eventually endorsed by Ms. Arnold,14 lost badly.  His vote share was actually more than 15 percentage points less of than his 2005 victory; he lost 85 of the 89 voting districts in Centre County, including his own.. 

Six years ago today, nobody outside of their close circle ever heard of Patty Fornicola, Stacy Parks Miller, Darrel Zaccagni, Matt Rickard, Tony Gricar, Pete Bosak or “J. J. in Phila,” all people now associated with the Gricar case.  Outside of Central Pennsylvania, there were only fleeting references to Mr. Gricar or Mr. Madeira.  If, on October 9, 2004, some would ask me who Ray Gricar was, I couldn’t answer.  If someone would have asked me who the District Attorney of Centre County was, I’d have to have looked it up.

This, the sixth birthday after Mr. Gricar disappeared, his 65th, marks a six year period of profound changes, in the United States, in Centre County, and one way or the other, in the life of Ray Gricar.  A lot of history has happened.

End Notes

1 http://www.wunderground.com/cgi-bin/findweather/getForecast?query=16801 (history section)

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodies_%28song%29

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Days_Go_By_%28Keith_Urban_song%29

4 http://data.cnbc.com/quotes/COMP/tab/2

5 http://www.kitco.com/charts/historicalgold.html

6 http://www.miseryindex.us/customindexoneyear.asp

7 http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/presidential-approval-tracker.htm

8  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2004

9 http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2004/2/9/hundreds-register-for-new-facebook-website/

10  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_Digger

11 http://www.billboard.com/#/charts/country-songs?chartDate=2005-10-08

13 http://www.co.centre.pa.us/elections/results/results.asp?FolderName=2005_municipal_election&FileName=2005_municipal_accumulated_results

13 http://www.co.centre.pa.us/elections/results/results.asp?FolderName=2009__municipal_primary_election&FileName=2009_municipal_primary_accumulated_results

14   http://www.centredaily.com/2009/10/30/1599082/losing-dem-candidates-back-madeira.html


E-mail J. J. in Phila at scorg@live.com