American Graffiti

The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It WON’T Be Like!”: Part 3

American Graffiti

This post is the third in a series. Each entry in the series will be building on information and commentary in the earlier entries. So it would be best to start reading with the Introduction to the series.

Before we go Back to the Future of the Wonderful World Tomorrow, I need to first take you Back to the Past to set the stage.


Although some of my readers may be too young to remember this classic 1973 movie, most will likely know some of the young actors who were in it… all of them not so young now. It was directed by George Lucas before he did Star Wars: A New Hope. It starred Ron Howard before he was Richie Cunningham in Happy Days on TV (1974); Harrison Ford in his first “real” film role with multiple spoken lines and a distinct personality (rather than the bit parts he’d had up until then), and several years before he became Han Solo (1977) and Indiana Jones (1981); Richard Dreyfuss before he was in Jaws (1975) or Close Encounters (1977); and Cindy Williams before she became Shirley on Laverne and Shirley (1976).

The tagline on the movie posters read, “Where Were You in ’62?”  I want to tweak that just a little and tell you Where I Was in ’63.

In 1963 I was cocooned in my own little narrow world in High School. In June I finished my Junior year, and in September I started my Senior year. I lived in the isolated small town of Traverse City in far Northern Michigan—so far northern that we had 4 ft.+ flag poles with little banners on the top that were affixed to the tops of fire hydrants, like the one in the pic below. That was so in the winter the fire department could find the hydrants below the snow drifts in an emergency.


Here’s a pic of the “snow removal site” for Traverse City in a recent year. Back in the 1960s snowfall was much heavier. I remember seeing the Main Street of downtown TC look like this, with the traffic driving through 8 foot or more high drifts that blocked the view of the sidewalks.


It had about 18,000 people at the time (it’s declined since then and has only about 15,000 now.) I’m not sure of the stats in 1963 on racial makeup, but I’m guessing they were even MORE constricted than now. Currently the city has 96% White and .65% African American. (That’s less than 100 people.) With a smattering of Hispanics and Native Americans…and .03% Pacific Islander. (I assume the latter means one person…)

Yes, in all my years of schooling there, from 4th grade through high school graduation, I never had any African American classmates. Because Traverse City High School was a consolidated school for the whole county, it was a relatively large, Class A, high school for such a small town–there were probably close to 1,500 students. ALL of them White. I heard rumors that in my Senior year a black family moved to town, and that a black girl was enrolled in our high school—but I never saw her. I don’t think this was specifically a “Sundown town” issue, with blacks deliberately kept from moving into the area for racist reasons. I think it was primarily a location issue. Although it was a popular recreational tourist destination located on a scenic bay, with swimming and fishing in the summer and skiing on the slopes of nearby hills in the winter, there was NO reason for ANYONE to move to Traverse City to live year around unless they already had family there or were transferred in their job by an employer to there. The job situation was abysmal. There were no major factories or any other major source of steady jobs, particularly for blue collar workers.

Even civil service jobs were extremely limited…my dad was a postman. He HATED being in Traverse City because of the cold and snow-bound winters. My family had moved there to be near my mother’s parents. Within two years they retired and moved to far Southern Michigan, but my dad had a very decent-paying job with good benefits with the Post Office by then. He understood it would be very foolish to give it up, so he was trapped. Postal employees could get “transfers” to other parts of the country with no problem from the Postal Service. The only problem was—you had to get someone in that other part to “switch places” with you. NO ONE wanted to switch to deliver mail in the Ice Box of the North! Dad had a rural route…you had to use your own vehicle to deliver the mail. He had a Jeep. Which regularly got stuck in the snowdrifts blocking mail boxes. I suppose it was almost as bad for those in town with a walking route—they often had to slog through unplowed sidewalks carrying a heavy bag o’ mail for miles a day! That stuff about “neither rain nor sleet nor snow” sounds good on paper. My dad got “kept from his appointed rounds” plenty of times by snow drifts, ones much bigger than those you see in this pic below.


Thus I would assume there was no particular “draw” for even black southerners who were moving to northern cities in large numbers to try to escape the Jim Crow south in that era. The waves of them would stop much farther south, in Detroit or Chicago and such places to try to put down new roots. Snow and cold is bad enough in those cities–why suffer through even more hundreds of miles farther north? 

And thus I grew up never seeing a black face in my personal space for 99% of the time. Only when traveling on vacation to Florida, through Alabama and Georgia for instance, might I spot some. And yet even that was usually at a distance, seeing them sitting on front porches of shabby homes along the pre-Interstate highways. It never dawned on me at the time that there never seemed to be any “black tourists” (or “colored” or Negro tourists, as they would likely have been called at the time) stopping at the same restaurants or motels we stopped at. Yes, sigh… I was that naïve and clueless and unobservant. And pitifully socially unaware.

The active Civil Rights movement had been going for more than a decade by 1963, kicked into higher gear with the Supreme Court Brown v. (Topeka, Kansas) Board of Education decision in 1954 that declared segregation of schools to be unconstitutional.


But of course that decision had not been implemented…or obeyed…in most of the Deep South even a decade later. In spite of numerous protests. But they were protests that never reached my brain. This wasn’t the days of the Internet like now, when I don’t have to go “looking for news” at all. It is fed to me minute by minute in a Google News Feed on my computer, news from all over the nation and world on every topic major and minor, 24 hours a day. I just click a tab at the top of my screen to check the latest whenever I’m in the mood, and can skim headlines almost instantly to see if any topic catches my attention. No, back in the 1950s when I was in grade school and 60s when I was in High School, you got news once a day in a newspaper, or once a week in Time magazine, and once an evening on the evening Network  news casts, such as Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC, or Walter Cronkite on CBS.



And you had to make an honest effort to seek it out, and take an extended time to read or watch…not knowing what might be “up next.”

Oh, as a school student there was the Weekly Reader when you were in grade school. Passed out to you during Social Studies class on Fridays. But the “news” in the 1950s Weekly Reader never included anything truly scary or unpleasant. The only incident I ever remember that included my recognition of a story in the little newsrag was the day in fall 1951 that I came home to my (rabidly Democratic) family and announced, “I Like Ike.” My first grade Weekly Reader that week had included a short little story about the upcoming election written in Dick and Jane prose, no doubt, and no doubt (enthusiastically) explained that famous WW2 general Dwight D Eisenhower was running for president. It probably included a photo of an I Like Ike campaign button.


 Yes, I don’t doubt the Weekly Reader that week had a pic of the button, and under it the article that said something like, “See Ike run. Run, Ike, run.”

I am 100% certain that the second grade Weekly Reader passed out to me the week the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v Board of Education would NOT have included a story about segregation/integration. Throughout the 1950s there might have been a tiny bit about the Korean War, and no doubt a lot about Alaska and Hawaii becoming states, along with sports news and science tidbits. Especially about the Space Race once Sputnik hit the skies. Such as this 1958 edition story about the space race.


There’s a sad footnote to history regarding Iven Kincheloe, the would-be astronaut introduced to the children on this March 1958 cover. He died just three months later on July 26. From his Wiki entry:

In the mid-1950s, Kincheloe joined the Bell X-2 program and on September 7, 1956, flew at more than 2,000 mph and to a height of 126,200 feet, the first flight ever above 100 000 feet. For this he was nicknamed “America’s No. 1 Spaceman”. The X-2 program was halted just three weeks later after a fatal crash resulted in the death of Mel Apt in a flight in which Apt became the first person to exceed Mach 3. Three years later, Kincheloe was selected as one of the first three pilots in the next rocket-powered aircraft program, the X-15, and would have been part of the Man In Space Soonest project. He was killed in the crash of an F-104A at Edwards AFB, and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. He was only 30 years old.

But such tragedies in the Space Race didn’t deter their enthusiastic coverage of it. Including this hilarious canned astronaut on a 1960 cover:


(See more examples of Space Race era Weekly Reader covers at this link. )

But I can’t imagine that they included anything so “controversial” in America as serious, in-depth coverage of the Civil Rights movement.

The Senior Scholastics passed out to me in the 1960s in History or Civics classes carried a bit meatier news. As I remember, there was quite a bit about the Cold War and the Space Race. And eventually some info about the Vietnam War. And I googled just now and found that, indeed, they DID cover the integration matter in the magazine in the 1960s, including this article about a protest over segregation in New Orleans titled “Integration Strife” from November 30, 1960.

The article ends with this comment about the state of integration six years after the Supreme Court ruling: “All told, Southern School News reports, only about six per cent of the 3,000,000 or so Negroes enrolled in the South’s public schools are now attending classes with whites.”

I see now after researching what was in my Senior Scholastics of that time period regarding Civil Rights that, to my shame, it obviously all went right over my head…or “rolled off my back.” I’m sure I read the articles, as I was a very conscientious student and would have wanted to make sure I could answer any questions put to me by my teacher about the week’s issue. But I have no independent memory of feeling upset or disturbed by what was going on so far away from my own little home town, even though it was in the United States.  It seemed to have made no more impact on my social consciousness than info about something happening in China would have made.

As I look back on my youth I can only remember being pretty much oblivious to “world conditions” or various crises that didn’t affect me directly. For first through third grade I lived in the much bigger metropolitan city of Dayton, Ohio. This was at the height of the Cold War and Arms Race. Yet I don’t remember any anxiety about it—probably because we never had the “Duck and Cover” under-your-desk exercises in school that were quite common at the time.


Nor do I remember seeing the ominous Duck and Cover instructional films that described what could happen to you in a nuclear blast, and admonished you to find cover wherever you are if a bomb blast occurs and you are not at school.


Although the Air Raid sirens were tested every Saturday at noon, I didn’t connect that with anything truly scary. After all, we didn’t have Air Raid drills like some areas, where whole communities practiced filing down into Air Raid shelters, like this crowd in 1952.


Actually, this is a little surprising, since Dayton was the location of the Wright Patterson Air Force base, which would likely have been considered a major Soviet target. (A target probably not just because WPAFB was the headquarters for the famous “Blue Book” operation that investigated reports of UFOs in the 1950s and 60s!)

Nor did anyone I knew have a bomb shelter.
shelterIt was also the height of the Red Scare, but that didn’t touch me either. I look back now and remember coming home for lunch and seeing my mother glued to the Army/McCarthy hearings on TV when I was in second grade. I know now that the whole affair destroyed many lives and careers and was a national disgrace. But at the time I had no clue what a “hearing” was, who McCarthy was, and what he had to do with the Army. My mom might as well have been watching Queen for a Day for all I knew of the significance of what she was viewing.

And as for the Civil Rights issues … there were no black children at my school, no black children in the stores where we shopped, not even any black children in the textbooks I read at school. No, Dick and Jane and Sally didn’t have to worry about keeping any “colored” children away from their drinking fountain!


There were no black children on my TV either. Not in the Peanut Gallery of the Howdy Doody show…


…nor in any of the family sitcoms …


I never saw any “racism” exhibited in my little world…because I never saw any other races.

In fourth grade we moved to Traverse City, where there were no “racial issues,” and where I was even much more isolated from any “Ground Zero” concerns. I continued to have no “Cold War” concerns…until that day in October 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis led President John F Kennedy to address the nation on TV…

kennedy address 1962

…with these ominous words:

It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.

I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our two nations. I call upon him further to abandon this course of world domination, and to join in an historic effort to end the perilous arms race and to transform the history of man. He has an opportunity now to move the world back from the abyss of destruction—by returning to his government’s own words that it had no need to station missiles outside its own territory, and withdrawing these weapons from Cuba—by refraining from any action which will widen or deepen the present crisis–and then by participating in a search for peaceful and permanent solutions.

President John Kennedy, Television Address to the Nation regarding the “Cuban Missile Crisis,” Monday, October 22, 1962

THAT got my attention. “…the Abyss of Destruction” seemed pretty strong words to my sixteen year old ears! I can still remember where I was sitting in the living room at the time, still remember what our small portable TV screen looked like as I sat mesmerized by Kennedy’s ominous words. I was scared that day. And well I should have been, as you can see by the pic of these missiles set to be blasted off from a Florida beach to Cuba in 1962 .

missiles florida beach 1962

BUT…Khrushchev backed down, the missiles on both sides were dismantled, and everything went back to normal within weeks. And I went back to my normal state, oblivious to all but those things that directly affected…or interested…me.

And thus by 1963 what was significant to me was not the Cold War, not the beginning rumbles of the Vietnam war protests, or the cacophony of the Civil Rights protests, or anything else going on in the country that was truly “newsworthy.” I didn’t read the Traverse City Record Eagle paper, except for the comic strip pages and Ann Lander’s advice column. I seldom watched the nightly news, I didn’t read Time magazine… just perused the nice pictures in Look and Life, and read a cheery article or two in the Saturday Evening Post.

What I cared about in 1963 was anticipating the next school dance, checking the TV Guide for my favorite programs…


…reading a new SciFi paperback by Ray Bradbury, studying for the SAT, or visiting the record store to pick out a new 45.

1963 was JUST before the British Musical Invasion. I Want To Hold Your Hand, the Beatles first big hit over here, wasn’t released until December 1963. Within months, in early 1964, they would appear on the Ed Sullivan show and forever change American musical tastes.


beatles sullivan

But all that was months away as I started my Senior year in High School.

Up until December ’63 there were many other styles of music to pick from. I was personally big on Peter, Paul, and Mary, so at one point that year I bought the 45 of their latest hit, Blowin’ In the Wind.


If you have nostalgia for that one yourself, you might have a look at this live performance from back then.

In my wilder moments, I liked surfin’ music, especially the lush but driving sounds of the Beach Boys, who released Surfin’ USA in 1963.


You can see them in a live performance back then too.

I didn’t really care for “Girl Groups,” but many other teens sure did, and they were still big in 1963 too, such as this hit by the Angels:


Check it out:

Novelty songs were still really big too! The first 45 record I ever bought, in 1958 when I was just 11, was the utterly silly Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley. And five years later utterly silly stuff was still popular. The biggest silly hit in 1963 was likely this gem by stand-up comedian, impressionist, and folk singer Alan Sherman.


Here he is back then on the Perry Como Show, October 3, 1963.

As an aside, strangely enough, Sherman has found a following fifty years later.

The 1960s are not remembered as a time when fat men in crew cuts made hit records, but in that decade’s opening years, the overweight and close-cropped Sherman enjoyed a run worthy of a teen idol. From “Sarah Jackman” in October 1962 to his “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” mega-hit of August 1963 (the spelling was changed to “Fadduh” for the 1964 follow-up song and for a musical), Sherman recorded three albums that sold millions and made him a national sensation. “My Son, the Folk Singer,” “My Son, the Celebrity” and “My Son, the Nut” all went gold, and “Hello Muddah” won a Grammy. For a year, Sherman was a superstar.

That fame is curious enough, but it gets curiouser. After almost 50 years, Sherman’s popularity is still intact. Collector’s Choice Music has just reissued all eight of the albums Sherman recorded for Warner Bros. Records between 1962 and 1967. It is the latest example of an established trend. The same records were included in the 2005 Rhino Records boxed set, “My Son, The Box,” and before that there were six greatest-hits albums and the off-Broadway musical “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!”

And for Country Music fans, 1963 was the year Johnny Cash’s mega-hit Ring of Fire was at the top of the charts.


I wasn’t much into Country, but I did like this particular song. Check out this almost fresh-faced young Johnny, barely 30 years old, belt it out live in 1963:

Yes, my quite shallow personal world in 1963 gave me absolutely no context for thinking through the serious issues of the era. And thus it gave me no help in understanding what happened next.

For of course “everything changed” at the end of 1963. I could no longer shut the world out. The President of the United States was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963.

kennedy headline

If you are old enough to remember that day, “Where were YOU in ’63?” … on November 22 that year, about 1 PM when the official announcement of his death was made over the newswires.  I was in Orchestra class, probably tuning up my violin. Another teacher came in and went up to our orchestra leader and whispered in his ear. He very OBVIOUSLY was so startled that at first he thought that she was “joking” (although it would have been a sick joke…) When it was plain that she was not, he turned and made the announcement to us. Soon more details came over the loudspeaker from the Main Office, and students were sent home.

I didn’t know how to emotionally process the information. Like many young people (as well as many of all ages) in the country, I was enamored of the dashing young president (at least compared to Ike!) and his pretty and elegant wife with her pillbox hats and stylish clothes, shown here at his inauguration in 1961.


And their cute kids, making the Presidency seem like such a “homey” thing for a change, rather than a role for just stuffy, dry, ancient old men.


They truly did represent a “Camelot” of sorts for the American 20th century. (And yes, the reality behind the scenes was such that this was just as much an illusion as the mythical Camelot.)

At a loss what to think when I first heard the news, I don’t remember discussing the assassination with either friends or my parents. I just left school, went straight home, and turned inward. On Saturday several local churches opened their doors for people who wanted to come and pray. I wasn’t a particularly religious person, nor given to spontaneous prayer. But it was a dark, drizzly, cold day, and I couldn’t stand just sitting around the house thinking, so I went to a big church downtown, slipped in and sat down in an empty pew, and thought. I can’t remember now what I thought, but I’m pretty sure I was just mostly numb. Then I went back home, and mostly stayed glued to the TV watching events unfold, and listening to eulogies and commentary by men like Walter Cronkite.

At 12:21 PM the next day, Sunday, November 24, I was sitting in the family living room, glued to the TV again watching the news surrounding the assassination. And there, on the same TV where I watched all the popular shows of the season that year like Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, and the Andy Griffith Show, and Bonanza, and the Beverly Hillbillies—I watched a man murdered on a live news feed from Dallas! Oswald was declared dead less than an hour after this photo was taken.

oswald death

You can see one of the Network news videos below.

My cocoon was ripped open at that point. It was one thing to watch a “newsreel” at the movie theater before the main movie, even one showing the impersonal death of groups of people in a battle. A newsreel was sterilized history, something that happened “in the past” somewhere half-way around the world, even if “the past” was only weeks ago. Suddenly I realized television could pipe the immediate, totally unexpected, intimate horror of death–the death of a single person, whose face I could see contort at the moment the bullet went in!–right into my living room. No,  I could no longer feel that there was “my world” and then that “other” world of a mass of nameless, faceless crowds far away. I could no longer shield myself from current events and social concerns.

Something else, seemingly unrelated to my changing perspective but actually intimately connected to it, happened within a month of Kennedy’s assassination.

The December 14 edition of the Saturday Evening Post hit the newsstands, with a cover portrait of JFK done by Norman Rockwell. The Post was quickly publishing a Memorial Issue honoring JFK. Rockwell had painted the portrait in 1960 and it had been published on the Post cover back then as part of its presidential election coverage. It was brought out of storage for this special memorial edition.


The significance of this is…it was the very last Post cover that Rockwell ever painted. His first cover painting for the magazine had been published in 1916.


After almost fifty years doing artwork for the publication, he had painted a total of 323 original covers for them.

My family subscribed to the Post throughout most of my childhood and teen years, so I’d seen many of these paintings myself. And over the years I also saw many “collections” of his paintings in books. I always loved his cheerful, nostalgic look at America, Americana, and American children and young people!





I didn’t realize what a big switch he made in his career at the time in 1963. I only learned about it recently in doing research on the Net. I discovered that he stopped all work for Post in December 1963, and shifted to Look magazine instead. He had been working on a major painting for them in the latter part of 1963, and it was published as a two-page spread in the January 14, 1964 edition of Look. It was an illustration to go with the special theme of the issue, “How We Live” that explored life across America in the early 1960s.

Rockwell titled it “The Problem We All Face.”

I have decided to re-title it…

Rockwell’s American Graffiti


The next entry examines the background of this famous painting…and how it ties in with the theme of this blog series. Click below to read

Ruby’s Shoes 

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