“The Fall of ‘55”
What Happened in Boise?
In late 1955 and early 1956, the people of Boise, Idaho were led to believe that something evil was going on in their city. In October, 1955, on Halloween, three men were arrested by the police on having had sex with teenaged boys. Those investigating the matter emphatically insisted that these arrests were just the beginning and that, in actuality, hundreds of boys were suffering from sexual abuse that was brought about by a child sex ring. When it was later proven that there was no sex ring, many felt that the investigation had been little more than a witch hunt but 16 men had bee charged with the crime nevertheless. Many other lives were ruined by implication and many men fled to avoid implication. National attention was focused on the whole business and the scars are still in Boise today.
The whole affair started when a local probation officer suddenly had the idea that one or more men in Boise were procuring teen boys for sexual contact. He was not taken seriously and was even demoted by the powers that were. He persisted and “The Idaho Statesman”, the major newspaper in Idaho began a sensational campaign to both dramatize and exaggerate the story. As rumors grew, stories circulated that the sex ring involved many young boys
The 16 men were ultimately acquitted after they challenged the charge but many other men went to prison. Many left town, some have never returned—including the most popular ma in town. A son of a city councilman was exposed as one of the boys who had participated and he ended up living West Point in disgrace and killing himself a year later.
We all know that the stereotype of the gay pedophile does not hold true—we are NOT predators on the young and that predation is not a cause of homosexuality. What happened in Boise would not happen today—we know better; we have matured in attitudes toward homosexuality.
Even though there is a great deal to dislike about this movie—the monotony, the stereotyping and the self consciousness, there is an equal amount to like. The interviews are very well done and the story is poignant and well told. Here is a wonderful example of historic journalism which shows us clearly that we must remember our past mistakes so that we will not make them again. The way the director uses old newspapers, historic records and photographs makes us feel as if we are part of the film and also allows us to draw our own conclusions. Both sides are equally presented and we can now place the whole matter into perspective. We muddle all over what was right and what was wrong and we are certain that the price that some of the people paid for the folly was way too high.
The people of Boise tried to end homosexuality there and they discovered it could not be done. Everyone learned a very hard lesson and Seth Randal in his documentary has a great deal to show us. Randal, unfortunately, did not look at the social contest of Boise and this is a flaw in the film. Nevertheless, this is an important film for all of us to see. It shows us an America that many of us do not want to recognize but it shows us an America that was and in some places still is.