During my lifetime, I’ve been invited to the White House for dinner with the president, dated an actual princess from a real country, walked across the Rio Grande to swim in the hot springs of Mexico, lived through two earthquakes and driven through more tornadoes than I can remember.
Hardly anything surprises me these days, but that wasn’t the case in August 1998. None of those things had happened yet, and I was still open to unexpected wonderment.
As I stood just inside the entrance to the Fair Pavilion, I watched as "Silver Tongue" Dick Bland lifted Raymond Cooper, still covered in dirt and hoof prints, from the Pavilion floor. In spite of my youth, I realized something substantial had just taken place.
In one brief moment, Raymond Cooper, adored by many and loathed by others, was transformed from near superhero status to mere flesh and bones. His quick thinking to insinuate blame upon his opponent and the elite media might have placated his most ardent supporters, but for others it was an eye-opening experience.
Could it be Raymond Cooper was not the intellectual giant many of us had assumed? Was Iris Long right all along? Had Cooper created his own reality and manipulated his listeners into believing things that weren’t true?
It’s amazing how many things can go through a young man’s mind at a moment like this. I wanted to get back to Mary Ann and our sheep, as FFA judging was only hours away, but I couldn’t help but think something important had just happened. Like most others in the Pavilion, I stood stupefied for what seemed like hours but was probably only seconds.
By dinner time, most everyone in the Valley was discussing what has been referred to as "the great pig panic."
As one might expect, Raymond was more than a little flustered as he attempted to fill the remaining two hours of "Renderings with Raymond." The afternoon was supposed to have been a celebration of Cooper’s many accomplishments but instead became a muddled attempt to explain what had just taken place.
Mayor Bland, manning his own campaign booth less than 50 feet away, told his supporters the episode reminded him of a story in the Bible when Jesus cast a demon into a herd of pigs, who then stampeded to their own deaths.
"I am a simple man, not a theologian," Bland told those gathered, "so I am not suggesting that Raymond Cooper has any affiliation with demonic forces."
Then, after a pause, he added, "I would suggest, however, that discussion might best be held in conjunction with your family and clergyman."
No wonder they called him "Silver Tongue."
None of us had ever seen Raymond so discombobulated. For the next two hours, most of his show was comprised of his most ardent supporters sharing their theories concerning the stampede.
Earl Goodman reported seeing a mysterious figure in what appeared to be a "Stick with Bland" t-shirt near the gate holding the pigs just before the attack. Elbert Lee Jones said it was common knowledge that pig farmers were big fans of Bland.
In bed that evening, I thought about the FFA judging that afternoon. I thought of how pretty Mary Ann Tinkersley looked in her Round House overalls. And I wondered, just wondered, if those pigs – demon-possessed or not – might have ruined Raymond Cooper’s plan to be our next mayor.
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