(Pictured: a classroom in the middle of the 1960s, very much like the ones at my first elementary school.)
August 31, 1965, is a Tuesday. In the Caribbean, Hurricane Betsy has been downgraded to a tropical storm. Tomorrow, she will begin to intensify again, eventually striking Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana. She will be the most destructive storm to hit the Louisiana coast to date and earn the nickname “Billion Dollar Betsy.” President Johnson signs a bill criminalizing the burning of draft cards. A truce is signed in the rebellion in the Dominican Republic. Forty-four American soldiers have died there, 27 in combat, since Johnson sent Marines to defend the government in April. The Watts riots are the cover story in Newsweek. The Atlanta Times, a newspaper launched in 1964 as the editorial voice for those opposed to the Civil Rights Movement, announces that it will cease publication. The financially troubled paper prepared two front pages for August 31: one with routine news if the paper found a new backer, and the other with the headline “Times suspends publication.” The paper will shut down for good next week. Johnson reports that 88 percent of school districts in southern and border states are preparing to comply with desegregation requirements in the Civil Rights Act of 1965. In Monroe, Wisconsin, it’s the first day of school. In today’s Peanuts strip, Sally asks Charlie Brown to defend her from a boy who knocked her down on the playground.
Following the retirement of Casey Stengel yesterday, Wes Westrum takes over as manager of the New York Mets. The Mets drop both ends of a doubleheader to the Houston Astros. Four other doubleheaders are played in the majors today. In one of them, the San Francisco Giants split with the Philadelphia Phillies. In the second game, Lew Burdette gets the win over Warren Spahn in a matchup of former Milwaukee Braves aces. The Braves, playing their final season in Milwaukee, beat the Cincinnati Reds 5-to-3 behind home runs by Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, and Gene Oliver.
Just off a two-night stand at the Hollywood Bowl, the Beatles play the Cow Palace in San Francisco. After the show, their limousine is mobbed by fans and its roof is crushed. The Rolling Stones play in New York City. Barbra Streisand records “He Touched Me,” from a forthcoming Broadway musical called Drat! The Cat!, which stars her husband, Elliott Gould. The show will run for only eight performances in October; the single will reach #53 on the Hot 100 in November, although the song will achieve greater fame in the 70s when it is used in a perfume commercial. At WOKY in Milwaukee, the Beatles’ single “Help,” backed with “I’m Down,” is at #1 for a second week. “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher holds at #2. Also on the chart: “California Girls” by the Beach Boys at #5, “Heart Full of Soul” by the Yardbirds at #9, the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” at #14, the Four Tops’ “It’s the Same Old Song” at #19, and “Do You Believe in Magic” by the Lovin’ Spoonful at #24.
Perspective From the Present: I confess that I do not know for certain whether Tuesday, August 31, was actually the first day of school in my hometown. (We always started the week before Labor Day, but not always on a Monday.) But whenever it was, this particular first day of school was my first day of kindergarten. The lone image I have of the day is peeking through the grate on the screen door as I hung on to the red-and-blue plastic “resting mat” we were required to take, and watching the bus pull into the driveway. Outside, the world was simmering in ways I could not comprehend, and this was my first tiny, protected step into it. A half-century later, there is much about the world I still can’t comprehend; for example, how 50 years can seem like both an immeasurably long time and no time at all.
(Pictured: Tony Orlando and Dawn. It was this or Nixon.)
Here’s a post from 2005 I found while digging in the archives of my first blog, The Daily Aneurysm. It’s been edited a bit.
On May 17, 1973, the Senate Watergate hearings began. I was in seventh grade that spring, already a news junkie, so if anybody in my school besides the teachers knew about Watergate, it was me. Our social studies teachers, Miss Alt and Miss Odell, made us watch the hearings in class. I am not sure how many students really understood what they meant—and I don’t remember how much I understood about the hearings, either. But I knew major news events when I saw them, so I was interested.
No matter what’s on the front page, above the fold, like the Watergate hearings, life goes on in countless other ways, with events that leave lighter footprints on time. . . .
(Pictured: This is not the tornado that struck my family’s farm 50 years ago today, although it looms that large in my memory.)
April 11, 1965 was Palm Sunday. Across the middle of the country, it’s the first warm spring day. In an old schoolhouse near his ranch in Texas, President Johnson signs the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s first law federally funding schools. Johnson, who had been a teacher himself as a young man, is joined for the ceremony by his first teacher. In today’s Peanuts strip, Charlie Brown battles the kite-eating tree. House Minority Leader Gerald Ford speaks at a dinner in Chicago and encourages support for the Israel Bonds Program. In his mostly lighthearted speech he compares Israel, “surrounded by a numerically larger and hostile army,” to the Congressional GOP, whom Ford says are similarly outnumbered by the Democrats. A gigantic tornado outbreak strikes the Midwest. Over approximately 11 hours, 47 tornadoes are reported from Iowa to Ohio. Storms in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio come with winds in excess of 200 MPH, and 271 people are killed. The most fatalities occur in Indiana, including 36 in and around Elkhart. Among the first communities to be hit is Monroe, Wisconsin, about 2:00 in the afternoon. The tornado carves a 27-mile path through Green, Rock, and Dane counties, destroying or damaging homes, businesses, and over 400 cars. Forty injuries are reported, but no fatalities. Winds in the Monroe tornado are estimated to have reached over 100 MPH.
A Texas entrepreneur announces the formation of the United States Football League, which will have six franchises in major cities. It is to begin play in the spring of 1966 with its championship game on Memorial Day, but the new professional league will never get off the ground. Conference finals continue in the National Basketball Association. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers take 3-2 leads in their respective series with wins today. In the National Hockey League, the Detroit Red Wings beat the Chicago Black Hawks 4-2 to take a 3-2 lead in their semifinal series. Marvin Panch wins the NASCAR Atlanta 500. Baseball’s regular season begins tomorrow; today the Chicago Cubs acquire pitcher Ted Abernathy from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for cash.
On TV tonight, ABC broadcasts Wagon Train and the sitcom Broadside, about a group of Navy WAVES assigned to a base in the South Pacific. Bonanza anchors NBC’s lineup. On CBS tonight, following Lassie and My Favorite Martian, Ed Sullivan welcomes Gerry and the Pacemakers (who are promoting their movie Ferry Cross the Mersey), Maurice Chevalier, and Soupy Sales among his guests. In London, the Beatles close the annual all-star concert presented by New Musical Express, which features the winners of the magazine’s annual popularity poll. It’s the third year the Beatles have appeared. Also on the bill: the Moody Blues, the Rolling Stones, Them, the Animals, the Kinks, and several other acts.
At WRIT in Milwaukee, several of the acts from the NME show are on the station’s latest survey. “I’m Telling You Now” by Freddie and the Dreamers is #1; “Game of Love” by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders moves to #2. The hottest record on the chart is “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” by Herman’s Hermits, moving from #20 to #3. (Herman’s version of “Silhouettes” makes another strong move, from #32 to 20.) Also new in the Top 10 are “Go Now” by the Moody Blues and “The Clapping Song” by Shirley Ellis. Also moving up: “Count Me In” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys (to #22 from #34).
Perspective From the Present: The National Weather Service in Kansas City and local weather bureaus knew about the ripe conditions for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, so at about 10:45AM, they issued a Severe Weather Forecast, which was standard operating procedure at the time. At 1:00, they updated it to say that “one or two tornadoes” might occur, but they identified a huge area of threat—essentially from Madison to Peoria and Cedar Rapids to Chicago, about 50,000 square miles. But by then, tornadoes were already hitting Iowa. (My family and I heard that updated forecast on a Rockford, Illinois, radio station in the car on the way back from our Sunday dinner.) Further alerts were issued as the storms moved across Illinois and Indiana, but the terminology wasn’t clear enough about the urgency of the situation, and as a result, many people were unaware just how dangerous the storms were. In the aftermath, the National Weather Service devised the tornado watch and tornado warning terminology that we use today.
My first baseball glove, which I would get when I started playing organized ball three or four years hence, was a Ted Abernathy autographed model.
I wrote here recently about the 50th anniversary of my hometown’s high school basketball team winning the state championship—an event I have no memory of. Three weeks after that, however, came the first event of my life on which I can hang a precise date and say yes, that I definitely remember. It will be 50 years tomorrow.
April 11, 1965, was Palm Sunday. We’d been to church and Sunday school, and it’s likely that we little kids were given palm fronds to wave in a procession intended to remind us of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. So the five-year-old me was likely holding one as we rode from Monroe to Monticello, a little town up the road, for a special Sunday dinner out. I was in the back seat of a strange car, for my parents’ 1957 Ford something-or-other was in the shop and they were driving a loaner. My brother, not quite three, was probably at large in the back seat just like I was: there were no child seats and often no seat belts in those days.
After dinner at the Casino, your basic Wisconsin supper club, with the relish tray that came to your table, the basket of individually wrapped breadsticks and crackers, and the inevitable fried chicken I would have ordered, we drove the 15 minutes or so back home. The radio was on, and as we pulled into the garage, we heard the announcer talk about the possibility of bad weather in the Rockford area. “Where’s Rockford?” I asked. “It’s about 50 miles away,” my mother said. Implicit in her tone: “Don’t worry.”
We went inside and my mother put my brother down for nap. I flicked on the TV, picked up a book, and sat down on the couch.
I am not sure how much time had passed when the TV suddenly snapped off. “Hey!” I said. I saw my father looking out of the kitchen window toward the west. “Head for the cellar!” he cried. My mother’s voice came from down the hall where the bedrooms were. “What?” My father again, more urgent this time: “Grab Danny and head for the cellar!” The four of us hurried down the basement steps, but before we reached the bottom, we heard a crash behind us. We went to the southwest corner and waited. I didn’t know what was happening, and I don’t remember what I heard.
We’d been down there maybe five minutes before Dad declared it was safe to go back up. The crash we had heard was a single window being blown in, but the house was relatively unscathed. However, the roof was partly off our barn, and a machine shed that sat a few feet from the house was destroyed. Up the road, our neighbor’s farm buildings were a pile of rubble and the roof was completely torn off their house.
Those few minutes are remembered in my hometown, and by my family, as the Palm Sunday Tornado. My father had seen the top of the cloud, and we assume the tornado had been on the ground at the neighbors’. He told me years later that as we huddled in the basement, he was sure our roof was going to go, or worse—but the tornado must have hopped back up in the air to pass over our farm before touching down again on the west side of Monroe, where it did extensive damage. (Fortunately, nobody died, at least not in my town.)
Like the electricity, the telephone was out, so my father would have gone to the other side of the farm, where his parents lived, to check on them. It wasn’t long before my maternal grandparents pulled into the driveway from their home 30 minutes away, having heard on the radio that a tornado had struck southwest of Monroe. They were worried when they were unable to get us on the phone.
That night, my father’s cows went unmilked for the only time in his 50-plus years as a dairy farmer. The next morning, he managed to re-jigger the vacuum-powered windshield wipers on his old farm truck to generate enough vacuum to power a single milking machine. That day, we were issued passes to display on our vehicles saying we had the right to be in the area. The idea was to keep gawkers away and discourage looting. Although there was some of the latter (people were seen taking cheese from a damaged factory after the storm on Sunday), the former was a greater problem. Despite appeals to stay away, gawkers clogged Monroe’s main highways and arterial streets on Easter weekend, and extra sheriff’s deputies had to be called in for traffic control.
The machine shed was rebuilt. The barn was re-roofed. Life eventually returned to normal. And now 50 years have passed since that very vivid day.
Coming tomorrow: what happened elsewhere on April 11, 1965.
(Pictured: It was a day of showdowns—LBJ vs. George Wallace, UCLA vs. Michigan, and Matt Dillon vs. a bad guy. Perhaps not a day in your life, but definitely in mine.)
March 20, 1965, is a Saturday. Ahmadou Ahidjo is reelected president of Cameroon. In the United States, President Johnson announces that he will call up units of the Alabama National Guard to supervise a third civil-rights march from Selma to Montgomery that is set to begin tomorrow. The first march two weeks ago turned violent when state troopers attacked marchers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. After making the announcement at the Texas White House, Johnson also discusses the situation in Vietnam and announces several federal appointments before taking questions from reporters. NASA continues preparations for tomorrow’s launch of Ranger 9, which will be the last of several probes sent to photograph the moon before intentionally being crashed into it. In today’s Peanuts strip, Lucy continues her weeklong battle against Linus’ security blanket. Inventor Leandro Malicay of Los Angeles files a patent application for a coconut shredding device. Fans of the the Chicago Cubs are mourning the death of play-by-play announcer Jack Quinlan, who died in a traffic accident last night in Arizona. He was 38, and had done Cubs games on radio since 1952. Actress Dorothy Malone of Peyton Place is on the cover of TV Guide.
Bonanza tops the primetime lineup on NBC tonight; CBS has episodes of Gilligan’s Island and Gunsmoke. In southern Wisconsin, regular programming on the local ABC affiliate is pre-empted by coverage of the state boys’ basketball tournament. Monroe completes an undefeated season by winning the championship 74-71 over Eau Claire Memorial. In Portland, Oregon, UCLA wins the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball championship over Michigan 91-80. It’s the second straight NCAA championship for UCLA. In the consolation game between losers of the national semifinals, Princeton beat Wichita State, 118-82. Princeton’s Bill Bradley is named the tournament’s most outstanding player. St. John’s defeats Villanova 55-51 to win the NIT.
Bob Dylan plays Buffalo, New York. The Motortown Revue, starring the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Miracles, and Stevie Wonder, begins its three-week tour of Europe at Astoria Hall in Finsbury Park, England. Judy Garland wraps up a week of appearances at the Fountainbleu Hotel in Miami. At WMCA in New York, B. Mitchel Reid does his last show before returning to KWFB in Los Angeles, from which he’d come two years before. “Stop! In the Name of Love” by the Supremes is #1 on the WMCA survey dated March 18; two other Motown songs are also in the Top 10: “Shotgun” by Junior Walker & the All-Stars at #7 and “My Girl” by the Temptations at #9. Three British Invasion stars are in the Top 10 also: the Beatles with “Eight Days a Week” at #3, Freddie and the Dreamers with “I’m Telling You Now” at #4, and Herman’s Hermits with “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” at #5. Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” and Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” are also in the WMCA Top 10.
Perspective From the Present: Although Monroe has won state boys’ and girls’ basketball championships in more recent times, the 1965 team retains a great hold on the imagination of the locals. It was a one-class tournament back then, which meant that Monroe, a town of about 8,000 then, was competing against much bigger schools. (Monroe’s win came in the middle of a stretch in which Milwaukee Lincoln, a school that no longer exists, won four championships in seven years; one of the other schools qualifying for the 1965 tournament was the suburban Milwaukee school Wauwatosa East, my wife’s alma mater.) Thousands of fans greeted the champs when they returned to town on Sunday riding aboard a fire truck. The caravan of cars that greeted them as they came down Highway 69 is fondly remembered around town. Although I have no memory of it, my family was in one of them. Years later, the team picture of the 1965 champions would look down on us in the high school cafeteria every day.
(Pictured: the Electric Light Orchestra takes a bow in February 1977.)
February 28, 1977, is a Monday. President Jimmy Carter is in the Oval Office by 7AM today; his agenda includes afternoon meetings with five Democratic governors in town for the National Governors’ Conference, and with Mr. and Mrs. John Denver. At a press briefing, Carter’s deputy press secretary Walter Wurfel is asked about Carter’s statement during his presidential campaign that he would make available “every piece of information this country has” about UFO sightings. Wurfel says Carter was referring only to information that wasn’t “defense sensitive.” Any sensitive information would remain secret. Carter has family time in the evening, including about an hour in the White House bowling alley with the First Lady, his son Jeff, and other guests. Future country star Jason Aldean is born; Jack Benny’s sidekick Eddie “Rochester” Anderson dies at age 71. Linda Ronstadt is on the cover of Time; the cover story about her has a distinctly sexist edge. Ralph Nader is on the cover of People. In today’s Peanuts strip, Snoopy and Woodstock converse.
Jack Albertson of Chico and the Man gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On Dinah!, Dinah Shore welcomes author Alex Haley and several members of the cast of Roots, which aired last month and became a cultural phenomenon. Merv Griffin welcomes country singer Mel Tillis, actor David Soul, and Ed McMahon. On CBS tonight, long-running hits The Jeffersons and Maude are sandwiched around two newer sitcoms, Busting Loose, starring Adam Arkin as a young man who’s just moved out of his parents’ house, and All’s Fair, starring Richard Crenna and Bernadette Peters as a conservative newspaper columnist and liberal photographer who fall in love despite their political and age differences.
Ray Charles plays the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles; during the show, a fan jumps on stage with a rope and tries to strangle him. Concert security subdues the man before Charles is injured. The concert continues without further incident and no police report is ever filed. In Toronto, Keith Richards is arrested for possession of heroin, cocaine, and drug paraphernalia. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play St. Louis. Genesis plays Buffalo, New York. The Electric Light Orchestra concludes a three-night stand at the Uptown Theater in Chicago. At WABC in New York City, George Michael is on the evening shift. On the station’s new Musicradio survey, officially out tomorrow, “Torn Between Two Lovers” by Mary Macgregor holds at #1 for a fourth week; “New Kid in Town” by the Eagles, which tops the Billboard Hot 100, holds at #2. The hottest song on the survey is Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” moving to #7 from #17. Also new in the Top 10: “Year of the Cat” by Al Stewart at #8. The survey lists the Top 10 albums but doesn’t number them; first on the list is the soundtrack from A Star Is Born. Also listed: Hotel California, Pink Floyd’s Animals, Songs in the Key of Life, Boston, Rumours, Year of the Cat, Night Moves, Wings Over America, and Jethro Tull’s Songs From the Wood.
Perspective From the Present: The album charts from the winter of 1977 remain astounding after all this time. One album not listed is one I wanted for quite a while and received for my birthday, probably during the weekend before: Olé ELO, a compilation by the Electric Light Orchestra. My girlfriend gave it to me under protest, saying that an album didn’t seem like a personal-enough gift. Although I don’t recall the details after all this time, she probably gave me other, more personal gifts that weekend as well.