#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Newsworthy

The first time I heard about what happened, I was in the living room with my mom and a movie was on in which someone accidentally shot someone and killed them. I made a comment about how stupid that was, that someone with a gun would be more careful. And my mom said something like, “Don’t ever say anything like that in front of your dad.”

And then she told me.

My dad accidentally shot and killed his little sister.

I guess I might have heard a mention about Diana once or twice before. I’m really not sure. I also had a cousin, Diana, named after her, so as a small child, I might not have even known there was another Diana they were talking about.

My mom has always wondered, if she hadn't gone out west with her family, would Diana have lived.

My mom has always wondered, if she hadn’t gone out west with her family, would Diana have lived. (Pensacola News, 6/24/57)

It happened on June 23, 1944. My mom was out of town with her parents and siblings, and my dad had gone over to his parents’ home on Edison Drive.

It certainly wasn’t the last time someone was shot and killed in the Mayfair neighborhood. Since I started working in the news business, I’ve heard about everything from shots fired to people being shot and killed there. In the 1950s, though, it was still a new neighborhood. Their house was one of the first in the subdivision, built in 1955. I imagine it was quiet, except for the usual sounds of family life.

It was probably in the late ’70s or early ’80s that my mom told me my dad and his siblings were in the yard. Daddy had a gun and it went off, and Diana – 12 years old, the youngest girl in the family – was shot. And the warning, again, don’t bring up anything about this kind of thing in front of your dad.

My dad, William Hahn, died in 2007, and I never did bring it up to him. I wonder now what it was like for him to live with that. Questioned by deputies, going through the funeral service and burial. Did he think of her every September 3rd, on her birthday? Did the date, June 23rd, coming around every year bring back those memories.

Bill Hahn and possible cousin Bill Loper were both quoted in the same article.

Bill Hahn and possible cousin Bill Loper were both quoted in the same article. (Pensacola News Journal 11/24/1990)

When I first subscribed to newspapers.com, I started search the names of all my relatives, so of course, I got to my dad, and I really wasn’t thinking about that incident. One of the first things I found was an article about holiday shopping, from when my parents were running a crafts consignment store. (Interestingly, the person quoted right before him had the last name Loper, which was my dad’s great-grandmother’s maiden name. I imagine he’s a cousin, but I haven’t worked it out for sure.) I found my parents’ engagement notice and the notification that the wedding was postponed; their marriage announcement; and the time daddy got arrested for drunk driving.

Then I found the article about his sister’s death. They called her Nancy, which was her legal first name; like so many of us, she went by her middle name.

The other day, I asked my mom about it. She said her family was traveling. It was long before mobile phones and they probably didn’t haven’t hotel reservations; they just stopped when they were ready to rest. So, the state police located them to tell them what happened. They turned around and came home. She said daddy told her what happened once and they never talked it about it again.

I always remember it as daddy – who was the oldest – and his siblings (they ranged in age from seven to 21; I don’t know who was present) were playing around with a gun. Maybe mama said he was showing them the gun. Either way, it went off and the bullet hit his little sister.

The official story, reported in the newspaper, is a little different. A deputy told the newspaper that daddy “was inspecting a 22-calibur pistol in the back yard of the Edison Drive residence. [The deputy] said the hammer apparently slipped from William’s thumb just as the girl was passing in front of the weapon.”

Headline: Two Youngsters Killed in Area Gun Accidents (1957)An accidental shooting, especially involving a child, is always newsworthy. In this case, it wasn’t the only one in Escambia County, Florida, that day. The headline read, “Two Youngsters Killed in Area Gun Accidents.” The other child was a 14-year-old boy, killed while out hunting with two friends.

I wrote this post as part of Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” Challenge. The prompt was newsworthy. The criteria for making the newspaper has certainly changed over the years. I’ve found mentions of visits to a family member out of town, of graduations, retirements, military service. My grandmother’s letter to Santa was published in 1917. I was in the paper when I waited in line all night to see an “Indiana Jones” movie. My second cousin twice removed on my maternal grandmother’s side wrote for a newspaper and was later covered extensively as a lobbyist in Montgomery. It’s the terrible tragedies that seem to get the most ink, though, and they’re the stories – like this one – that can be the most difficult for families to think about and share.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
This entry was posted in Genealogy, My Life, Pensacola. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to #52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Newsworthy

  1. Barb LaFara says:

    Sad and tragic. You are right, these are the stories that families tend to not speak of and finding the account in the paper leaves so many questions unanswered. Thanks for sharing.

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