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Miami Herald's Weird History

It was a genial gathering. No punches thrown. No heavy drinking. Much gray hair.

Hundreds of past and present Herald reporters, editors, and other folks gathered at last week's goodbye gala to 1 Herald Plaza. In May, the paper is moving its operations to Doral. There were speeches by former executives. A wall signed by hundreds was titled "The Best Thing About One Herald Plaza Memories." Hundreds of folks even stood on a balcony and toasted downtown Miami.

Former Tropic magazine staff writer Meg Laughlin called it an "Irish wake" for the bayfront building that will be abandoned this summer. But the event was annoyingly bereft of the scandal, creativity, and lunacy that for decades made the paper a magnet for Pulitzer Prizes and voodoo curses alike.

"A lot of weird things have happened here," said 30-year-veteran Charles Rabin. "Forever and ever, it has been a center of controversy."

So we decided to cut through all the insipid revelry and compile a timeline of the anecdotes that didn't make the many newspaper stories and blog items about the newspaper's history.

March 23, 1963 — One Herald Plaza opened 24 years after John S. Knight bought the newspaper. He hired his brother James, who would become publisher and then chairman of Knight-Ridder Inc. James, according to the 1988 book Knight, was a brawler who beat up a pressman during labor strife that inspired Northern pickets to carry signs saying "Stay Away from Miami, Florida — Scab City of the USA."

1972 — Dan Christensen, editor of the present-day investigative blog Broward Bulldog, started his journalism career in the early 1970s as a Herald copy boy. He fetched coffee for stars like Gene Miller and Edna Buchanan. One day, Christensen had an awkward encounter with Valerie Perrine, an actress who played Montana Wildhack in the silver-screen adaptation of Slaughterhouse Five. "Something came off the wires that I had to get down to the floor below," he recollects. "As I am running down the stairs, I bump into Perrine, and my hands were right up on her breasts. I may have said 'Oops' and literally kept going. That was the only time I copped a feel on an actress."

Mid-1980s — Tom Fiedler spent 34 years at the paper, finally leaving in 2007. A year later, he became dean of the college of communication at Boston University. He recalled the time Publisher Dick Capen, who held the post from 1982 to 1991, decided every reporter in the building would have to take a drug test. "Nice guy, but very rigid and strict," Fiedler says. "Everybody was going to do a urine sample." Well, the morning after Capen's edict went out, the publisher showed up to the newsroom. "Someone had filled up glass vials with a yellow liquid substance and put them on top of a long row of file cabinets to greet the publisher," Fiedler says. "That was the newsroom's way of telling him to back off."

February 18, 1994 — How about this little gem from Miami New Times describing an incident some called "Chickengate"?

"The memo, posted around 1 Herald Plaza, read as follows: 'For the last several days a rumor has circulated regarding an alleged incident involving hygiene and the Herald cafeteria. Jacqui Marshall [of human resources], her staff, and I have investigated the rumor. We've talked to people from the Herald, El Nuevo Herald, and Total Food Service. We can find nothing whatsoever to confirm it. The Herald and Total Food Service insist upon a high standard of hygiene in the cafeteria and perform audits to ensure it.' The note was signed by Herald General Manager Joe Natoli. Though you'd never know it from Natoli's cryptic prose, the alleged 'hygiene problem' involved rampant rumors that an on-duty cafeteria worker had been caught fornicating with a dead chicken. A second version of the story had the employee perfecting his own recipe for jerked chicken by masturbating over two birds. While management has quelled the controversy by denying the tale, sources at the paper insist the accused worker has not been seen since the rumors began."

Mid-1990s — El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Manny Garcia, one of the key reporters on the paper's 1999 and 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigations, remembers one of the dicier moments in the newsroom. A female colleague was being stalked by a city hall gadfly. "I look over to her desk and the guy was standing over her, looking at her with this puppy-dog-I-love-you look," Garcia says. "Four or five us jump over desks to get to the guy. He took off."

January 5, 2000 — In an editorial, the wise men and women of the editorial board wrote: "Redevelop the eastern coast rather than continue the march of development west." "So how come the newspaper is moving to Doral when we spent all that time editorializing in favor of urban fill and Eastward Ho?" asked one reporter at the gathering.

2001 — Jeff Kleinman, the Herald's present-day editor who began as an intern in 1985, says the biggest scare he was involved in was an incident around the time of 9/11. "All of a sudden, people started coughing and eyes were tearing up," he says. "We couldn't breathe. I'm like, 'Oh my goodness, are we under attack?' " Turns out someone in the photo department was attempting to take time-lapse pictures of a stream of pepper spray. "Basically Macing all of us in the newsroom," Kleinman explains. "It crippled us for a couple of hours until we figured out what was going on."

July 27, 2005 — Ex-Miami City Commissioner Arthur Teele, facing state and federal indictments on public corruption charges, calmly walked into the Herald's lobby and shot himself in the head.

January 19, 2006 — Robert Annable, a Brevard County mental-health counselor, scaled the radio tower behind 1 Herald Plaza demanding the U.S. government release information about his brother, who has been missing for four decades. The then-62-year-old spent more than four hours perched 60 feet up the tower before climbing down.

November 24, 2006 — Former El Nuevo Herald cartoonist Jose Varela entered the building wearing camouflage fatigues and armed with what appeared to be a submachine gun. The newsroom was evacuated, and a Miami Police SWAT team responded. After trashing the office of then-El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Humberto Castello, Varela surrendered peacefully. His gun turned out to be a toy.

2011 — Two years ago, the paper's owner, McClatchy Co., sold 1 Herald Plaza, along with some surrounding land, to Malaysian megacasino resort builder Genting Group for a cool $236 million. Genting's most recent plans show that 1 Herald Plaza will be replaced with three condo towers and a luxury hotel. "[Knight-Ridder CEO] Alvah Chapman campaigned hard against gambling. Now we just helped to bring it back," said one reporter. "How come nobody's talking about that?"

May 26, 2012 — One Herald Plaza security cameras caught Miami Zombie Rudy Eugene's gruesome attack on homeless drifter Ronald Poppo in what became Miami's most viral story of 2012.

March 2013 — There's been a flood of people leaving the newspaper lately, most of whom haven't been replaced: an investigative editor, the guy who covered Jackson Hospital, and an education reporter are among them. Scott Hiaasen, genius reporter and son of famed columnist Carl Hiaasen, is off to clerk for a judge. "I haven't gotten a raise in ten years," he says.

May 2013 — Miami's major daily newspaper will pack up for swanky state-of-the-art digs in Doral.

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Francisco Alvarado and Chuck Strouse

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