April 18, 2014

“When they heard the screams, no one suspected the rooster,” Kelley Benham French wrote in the St. Petersburg Times in 2002. “Dechardonae Gaines, 2, was toddling down the sidewalk Monday lugging her Easy Bake Oven when she became the victim in one of the weirder animal attack cases police can recall.”

It’s one of my all-time favorite ledes and a refreshing read after the last few days of sharing bad ledes, which I requested and a lot of people shared. Luckily, the same thing happened with the good stuff. While pulling this post together on Thursday, we learned of the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Vox memorialized the writer with a look at the opening sentence of “100 Years of Solitude.” Like that one, some of these are a sentence. Some are a paragraph, even two or three. But in whatever form they take, good ledes are hard to forget.

Especially this next one.

Denise Zapata, senior editor at EdSource, sent it in.

One warm spring night in 2011, a young man named Travis Hughes stood on the back deck of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at Marshall University, in West Virginia, and was struck by what seemed to him—under the influence of powerful inebriants, not least among them the clear ether of youth itself—to be an excellent idea: he would shove a bottle rocket up his ass and blast it into the sweet night air. And perhaps it was an excellent idea. What was not an excellent idea, however, was to misjudge the relative tightness of a 20-year-old sphincter and the propulsive reliability of a 20-cent bottle rocket. What followed ignition was not the bright report of a successful blastoff, but the muffled thud of fire in the hole. — Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic

Jenna Fisher, with the Christian Science Monitor, shared three. Oddly, one is also about bottoms (sort of.)

It’s all around you, all the time. Tidily rolled up next to the toilet when you wake up in the morning, handed to you at the corner cafe with your morning coffee, all over your desk at work, and surrounding much of the food you buy at the grocery store before heading home. — Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor

Tom McNichol has fished a lot of strange things out of Boston’s Charles River. Among the most unexpected are a portable toilet, a recliner, and a dead body. — Jenna Fisher, Christian Science Monitor

It had been billed as a friendly exhibition game in basketball-crazy Beijing, between the Georgetown University Hoyas from Washington, D.C., and the Chinese Army’s Bayi Rockets. But after some blatantly biased Chinese refereeing and unashamedly aggressive play by Bayi, it ended in a bench-clearing brawl, with Chinese fans in the Olympic stadium throwing chairs and bottles of water at the Americans.

Some foreigners in the crowd that hot night in August were tempted to see the melee as nothing less than a metaphor for China’s role in the world today: contempt for the rules and fair play, crowned by a resort to brute strength in pursuit of narrow self-interest. — Peter Ford, The Christian Science Monitor

That reminds me of a good one from my editor here at Poynter.

Even before the Jell-O shot took flight, the battle between Dr. Glenn Stewart and the Independent Weekly of Lafayette, La., had been ugly. — Andrew Beaujon, Poynter

Here’s one by me in 2008 from the St. Louis Beacon.

The babies showed up on Craigslist at 1:26 p.m., May 6.

” …from glowing cheeks to the tips of ten tiny toes. Arms and legs have soft baby creases and folds. He has sparkling brown eyes and brown hair and the cutest little smile. She sleeps with open mouth. My ‘twins’ are yours for $60 firm cash price. Will meet within St. Charles County.” — Kristen Hare, St. Louis Beacon

Chuck Darrow sent this one of his from the Philadelphia Daily News, “(one of the few papers I’m sure would have let it get through!)”

As any fan of “Boardwalk Empire” knows, Atlantic City and sex have always gone hand in, um, hand. But never before has it figured so prominently in the beleaguered resort’s entertainment master plan. — Chuck Darrow, Philadelphia Daily News

Kate Martin sent in this one she wrote for The (Tacoma, Wash.) News Tribune. The story is about “a company that hosted beer festivals for charities but rarely passed on the profits,” she wrote.

The suds flowed freely from taps and thousands of people lined up to get a taste.

Tacoma charities thought they would make thousands of dollars for their causes through two beer festivals organized this year by a local company. But in the weeks and months that followed, the profits dissipated like foam on a warm Pilsner. — Kate Martin, The News Tribune

Miranda Miller shared a few of her own favorites, including this one, which ran in Cleveland Magazine in 2010.

When I was in 6th or 7th grade, my mom committed infanticide. — Miranda Miller, Cleveland Magazine

This one came from the Philadelphia Journal, wrote Andi Sporkin, now with Communications Association of American Publishers.

“Wish I could remember which newsroom colleague came up with it but it still makes me smile. It was a metro story about a taxi driver whose customer held him up and then shot him. The wounded cab driver drove himself to the hospital ER and lived.”

(Joe Smith) took a licking but kept on ticking.

Nicole Hensley, now with the New York Daily News, shared this one.

More than a dozen bars used to wet the whistles of Mullan steelworkers in the heyday of mining – now there is one. — Nicole Hensley, The Spokesman-Review

And here’s one from Sean O’Sullivan, with The (Wilmington, N.C.) News Journal.

The downfall of a cocaine kingpin and one-time enforcer for a violent Mexican drug cartel began at the bottom of a Pike Creek trash can. — Sean O’Sullivan, The News Journal

Abraham Hyatt, editor of Oakland Police Beat, had several favorites, including this one.

In a flash of fire, it became less a matter of space than of heaven. — Rick Bragg, The New York Times, 2003

One more, this one sent in by Bill Dunlap. “I know this is technically more than just a lede,” he wrote, “but I think it’s one of the best openings to an obit ever.”

It is long, but totally worth it.

When a police officer climbed through a rear bedroom window of a cream-colored duplex at 708 Columbus Parkway on Nov. 14, he found the body of a St. Louis legend.

Amy Charles had not been seen for several days. Friends from Tampa, Fla. — those who had known her in her heyday — had called and e-mailed repeatedly but got no response. They called the police, who found the door locked and no one to answer the knock.

As it turned out, Charles had died in her sleep. Nearby were medications for thyroid and heart problems. Officer William Comeford filed his report — death apparently from natural causes — and returned to business as usual.

He ignored the clues that this 83-year-old woman once had been famous. They could be found in the stacks of provocative photographs all about her quarters; three bedrooms stacked with boxes that made it impossible to walk through the rooms. Some contained the outfits she donned backstage and then discarded onstage to the cheers of hundreds each night.

Amy Charles was known in St. Louis as Evelyn “$50,000 treasure chest” West. Her chief claim to fame: her 39 1/2-inch bust that Lloyds of London insured for the $50K. She performed twice nightly in a striptease act at the Stardust Club on the old DeBaliviere Strip, just north of Forest Park and its Jefferson Memorial. In St. Louis in the ’50s and ’60s, her name was as familiar to male adolescents and young adults as that of Stan Musial, though, of course, the two inspired different forms of adulation. — John McGuire, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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