Posts from the ‘History is Our Story’ Category
February 2, 2016
Is it too soon to look back at the Eighties? I don’t think so. It was an interesting time, a period of ups and downs and ins and outs through thick and thin. And we survived. How did you survive? Why not write about it?
- Off to a good start. Minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President on January 20, 1981, Iran released the fifty-two Americans who had been held hostage for 444 days.
- But there was a recession. With the Federal Reserve tightening money to curb inflation, which had peaked in April 1980 at 14.76%, the U.S. recession began in July 1981. Unemployment was 7.6%, rising to 9.7% before the recession ended the following year. Still, we made money. The Dow Jones Industrial average began the decade at 838.74 and ended at 2,753.20, coming out way ahead of Black Monday in 1987, when the market lost 22.6% of its value, falling 508 points to 1,738.74.
- Dirty little secrets always come out. The decade had its share of scandals. The Iran-Contra affair reeled the Reagan Administration. The Gary Hart/Donna Rice affair shook politics. The ban of Pete Rose from baseball hit the sports world hard. Milli Vanilli’s lip synching rocked music fans. Coca Cola kept secret its recipe for the syrup that is the basis for its soda, but deigned to change it to “the new taste in Coke.” It fell flat. Pepsi had its own calamity when Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi commercial.
- Moonwalk to the music. Of all the music videos we watched on MTV, and there were a lot of them from our favorite musicians, Michael Jackson moonwalking to “Billie Jean” from his Thriller album got into our heads. From the same album Jackson danced to “Beat It” and “Thriller.” The zombie sequence from the later has been reenacted from Times Square to Hollywood and Highland. We learned Jackson’s moves and recited his words, so we’d always be in step. While Frank Sinatra wore a hat with style, no one did more for a black fedora — or one white glove — than Michael Jackson.
- More stations, more of the time. We watched a lot of television in the Eighties, and not just MTV on cable. Dallas was the first of the primetime soap operas, spawning Knots Landing, Dynasty, and Falcon Crest – I watched them all. In the fall of 1980, the resolution of the Dallas cliffhanger that had ended the third season generated 83 million viewers, more than the number of voters in that year’s presidential election. Just about everyone wanted to know who shot J.R.
- Talk a little. Talk a lot. In 1987, the National Association of Broadcasters bestowed the Peabody Award on Johnny Carson in honor of his 25th anniversary hosting The Tonight Show. Joan Rivers, David Letterman, and Jay Leno were favored guest hosts, going on to their own late night talk shows. Meanwhile, Oprah Winfrey’s show went into national syndication in 1986 and soared in the ratings during daytime.
- Tennis, everyone? It didn’t matter if baseliners were playing serve-and-vollyers on hard court, clay court, or grass court. We loved rooting for our favorite tennis player of the decade, of which there were many greats of the game, as they came out swinging, taking on their rivals, wooing crowds, and becoming household names. Leading the men, there was Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Ivan Lendl. The women were just as popular and included Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and Steffi Graf. And then along came Monica Seles.
- Here come the brides. A lot of famous couples got married in the Eighties. Some of them are still together, including Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, and Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan. Others didn’t make it, such as Madonna and Sea Penn, Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. And then there was Prince Charles and Diane Spencer. An estimated global television audience of 750 million watched their 1981 fairytale wedding. Yet for sheer spectacle, nothing was more remarkable than the mass wedding conducted by the Reverend Rev Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church. The gathering of 2,075 couples, brides and grooms dressed in identical outfits at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1982, was a sight to behold. Moon matched the couples himself, often pairing differing races and nationalities, in his belief that all of humanity should be united. A church spokesman puts the divorce rate for the blessed at a mere 25%, which, if true, is better than the national average.
- Women first. The Eighties saw a number of firsts for women. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. Geraldine Ferraro, as Walter Mondale’s running mate, was the first woman on a national ticket. Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- The walls come crumbling down. “Tear down this wall,” President Reagan pronounced in 1987. And two years later the Berlin wall came down. Back at home, unemployment was at 5.3%, and inflation, too, had decreased dramatically, falling to 4.65%. And we cheered.
© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved
December 31, 2015
As we look forward to a new year, I thought it would be interesting to look back fifty years to 1966. There just might be something to include in a life or family history.
- Finished with the Fifties. 1966 was the last year for many of our favorite television shows, particularly those that started in the 1950s. These included: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952); The Donna Reed Show (1958); Perry Mason (1957); and, Rawhide (1959). The Dick Van Dyke Show, although it first aired in 1961, was finished, too.
- Justice is swift. Anyone who watches a lot of cop shows on television knows their Miranda rights derived from the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment: the right to remain silent and the right to consult with an attorney. The Supreme Court established the principle in June 1966 when it overturned the conviction of Ernesto Miranda, who had confessed to abducting and raping a young woman. Miranda was retried and convicted four months later.
- Viva Las Vegas. Just like an orgy in the glory days of ancient Rome, the opening party for Caesars Palace on August 5, 1966 cost $1 million and lasted three days. Over 1,800 invited guests consumed two tons of filet mignon, devoured 300 pounds of crabmeat, and quaffed 50,000 glasses of champagne. Attractive mini toga-attired waitresses greeted the attendees. “Welcome to Caesars,” they cooed. “I am your slave.” The public had never seen anything like Caesars, and they loved it. Caesars Palace is celebrating by throwing a year-long 50th birthday party.
- Short and sweet. Mary Quant, clothing designer and shop owner, made her skirts shorter and shorter through the Sixties. In 1966 when the hem reached the upper thigh, she named the trendy item” the miniskirt,” and it became the fashion of choice for young women everywhere. No doubt young men liked it, too.
- Mind-blowing. California was the first state to ban the manufacture and sale of LSD, and other states soon did the same. It became illegal throughout the country in 1968, and all scientific research on the drug was shut down.
- Float like a butterfly. Amidst growing anti-Vietnam protests throughout the country, heavyweight champion Mohammed Ali declared himself a conscientious objector. The following year he refused to be inducted into the armed forces, a federal offense, declaring, “No Viet Cong ever called me Nigger.” Found guilty of draft evasion, all fifty states denied him a boxing license and the Federal government stripped him of his passport. In 1971, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction, as the Appeals Board had given no reason to deny him an exemption as a conscientious objector.
- Sting like a bee. Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton created the Black Panthers as self-defense against police violence and the killing of blacks. Inspired by Malcolm X, who had been assassinated the year before, they adopted his slogan, “Freedom by any means necessary.” Focusing on militancy, the organization itself became associated with violence.
- Seems so far away. The Beatles had an interesting year. Protestors greeted them when they performed in Tokyo. When they declined a party invitation to the Presidential Palace in the Philippines, they unintentionally snubbed Imelda Marcos, the first lady, leaving them without police protection from angry crowds. In August, the group again toured the U.S., playing their last concert in San Francisco. Manager Brian Epstein had to walk back John Lennon’s statement that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, explaining that it was taken out of context, and Capitol Records pasted a more conventional cover for their album Yesterday and Today over a photograph depicting the band as butchers surrounded by decapitated baby dolls and pieces of meat. Still, their album Revolver is considered the best of the year, as calculated from its rankings in over 21,000 greatest album charts, and the band began recording its critically acclaimed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On a personal note, each grew a moustache while on hiatus pursuing individual interests. John Lennon also began wearing granny glasses, and he met Yoko Ono at a London gallery. (It’s not known whether the two events are related.)
- Hey, hey. It was a year of musical firsts. Janis Joplin gave her first live concert in San Francisco. Grace Slick first performed live with the Jefferson Airplane. Bob Dylan went electric. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention recorded Freak Out!, the group’s debut album, and the Monkees’ television show premiered.
- ‘Tis the season. On Christmas Eve, a New York television station aired a three-hour film of burning logs in a fireplace. Receiving surprisingly good ratings, “The Yule Log” became an annual tradition until 1989, although you can now watch it streaming on Netflix.
A lot happens in a year. Here’s wishing you a 2016 filled with many memorable and happy events.
© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved
June 21, 2015
The Association of Personal Historians, to which I belong, was formed twenty years ago. Its members are dedicated to helping preserve life stories, experiences, and memories. The organization will celebrate at its annual meeting this October in Sacramento. In honor of the occasion I thought I’d take a look at what else happened in 1995. It’s what I do.
In many ways, it was like any other year. Couples got married, divorced, and remarried. After a long, tumultuous, yet profitable, relationship, both Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold, who had divorced the previous year, took new spouses. People celebrated birthdays, graduated from school, and landed their first jobs. Many of us made money. In February the Dow Jones Industrial Average first climbed about 4,000. By the end of the year it was over 5,000. And eBay was a new way to shop.
For the first time we had easy access to the World Wide Web. Yahoo offered its search engine service. CompuServe, America Online, and Prodigy provided online dial-up systems. Netscape went public. And the FBI arrested Kevin Mitnick for hacking into some of the United States’ most secure computer systems.
Still, we felt protected and in control – until the Oklahoma City bombing. The blast, carried out by domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, killed 168 people, including nineteen children at a day-care center, and injured 680 others. Property damage was extensive, too. The following month President Clinton ordered the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to all vehicular traffic. It remains closed to this day.
We continued watching daytime soap operas. All My Children had its 25th anniversary, and As the World Turns broadcast its 10,000th episode. Yet many soaps were often preempted during the nine-month real-life, high-profile murder trial of OJ Simpson. More than 150 million people tuned in to watch when the verdict was announced. OJ was acquitted, and the lawyers became celebrities.
For entertainment we went to the movies and listened to music. At the 1995 Academy Awards, Forest Gump took the grand prize. At the 1995 Grammy Awards, Sheryl Crow was named Best New Artist and Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” was Song of the Year. We mourned the passing of illustrious icons, including Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, yet we kept on truckin’.
What were you doing twenty years ago? What events made a difference in your life? How have you changed? It’s something to write about.
© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved
November 26, 2014
Before 1880 over half the population of the United States lived on the farm, and, yes, life was difficult. People woke up at the crack of dawn and after sunset read by candlelight. It’s hard to believe, but there was no electricity, no refrigeration or air conditioning, no radio or television, no computers or cell phones.
For entertainment, well, there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment. There wasn’t much shopping, either, except at the general store. Even there merchandise was limited and practical, and the head of the family did most of the shopping, bartering butter, cheese, eggs, vegetables and other staples that the merchant would resell. Thank goodness, Sears and Roebuck came along when they did.
Richard Sears produced his first catalog in 1893. The following year he expanded his self-declared “Book of Bargains” from jewelry and watches to include sewing machines, sporting goods, musical instruments, saddles, firearms, buggies, bicycles, baby carriages, furniture, china, glassware, and clothing for the whole family. The 1895 edition consisted of 532 pages. In 1896 he published in the spring and fall and added specialty catalogs, which two years later included photographic goods and talking machines.
Early on Sears added color. Buggies were presented in red, green, brown, and black with gold or silver trim on buggies. In 1897, shoes were advertised in black, red and brown. In 1899 carpets, furniture, and china were shown in various shades.
Although Mr. Sears retired in 1908, the company he started has always kept up with the times. In 1909 Sears carried a motor buggy. This item was replaced in 1913 with a specialty catalog for automobiles. In subsequent decades it carried television sets, dishwashers, electronic garage door openers, and microwave ovens.
The Christmas catalog first appeared in 1933. Its 87 pages were filled with presents for the entire family. There were dolls and toy trains, fruitcakes and chocolates, and live singing canaries, the latter being an accompaniment for budding American Idol competitors, perhaps. The cover of the 1937 catalog showed a photo of a brother and sister with the quote, “See the things that Santa brought, More’n what we thought he ought. Things for Mom and Daddy, too, N we hope there’s some for you.” In 1968 it was renamed the “Wish Book.”
If you long for the good old days, let your fingers do the walking through the Wish Book. It’s been online since 1998. In 2010 Sears went mobile, so customers can access the catalog with their smartphones. Earlier this year the company added another convenience: if you buy online and choose to pick up your purchase, a store associate will bring your shopping cart out to you. You won’t even have to leave your car.
© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved
November 8, 2014
Sometimes advertisers get it right.
A current Subaru commercial, which I think is charming, taps into the feeling that comes when generations relate to each other.
A grandmother, son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter are on a family drive in the country. The grandmother, who has that aging hippie look about her, is intent on connecting with her granddaughter. She shows her her crystal collection. At a flower stand, where they are petting a cat, the granddaughter asks her, “Can you really talk to cats?” The grandmother nods and smiles.
When they reach their destination, a tree in the middle of a field, the grandmother says, “This is where I met your grandpa, Right under this tree.”
The little girl runs over and hugs the tree.
In the next frame, they’re all hugging the tree, then the grandmother has second thoughts: “Or was it that tree?” she wonders out loud.
The commercial closes with the tagline: Love. It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.
Love also makes a family, and knowing your family history gives you roots. You better understand who you are in the world. You know you belong to something bigger.
Quoting Tommy Lee Jones, he’s an actor, but he also went to Harvard: “There are things, points of view, uses of the language, habits of dress, ways of thought and believing that came to me from my grandparents and came to them from theirs. Things that are of good use in any situation, no matter what the future may hold.”
© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved
Illustration by: Malchev
September 19, 2014
In an interview with John Wilkens of the San Diego Union-Tribune, author David Laskin talks about his book The Family: A Journey Through the Heart of the Twentieth Century. As a historian he traced several branches of his family tree, through tragedy and triumph, from the Holocaust to the modern state of Israel. A third branch formed Maidenform Brands here in the U.S. Laskin’s comments about his undertaking are relevant to everyone with an interest in the lives of their ancestors. I quote some of them here.
Why he writes historical non-fiction:
“To me, it’s the most vivid and exciting and accessible doorway into the past. When you read, let’s say, a history of immigration to the U.S. through Ellis Island or an account of the settlement of Israel, you get the facts, you get the atmosphere, you get the economic basis. When you read about people’s lives and their struggles and their dreams and their heartbreak, you really live the past.”
What he learned about himself:
“I learned that I have a lot more in common with my family than I ever thought… It’s funny in some ways that I’ve done this book because I was never very family-minded growing up. I found many family occasions quite excruciating.”
“I feel in many ways I am carrying on some of the family traditions… writing, recording, keeping the written word, keeping the family annals going.”
Why he admires his ancestors:
“I think everybody says this who looks back at their immigrant ancestors or their pioneer ancestors or their war hero or war grunt ancestors – my God, the courage, the stamina, the ability to withstand hardship.”
How he hopes to inspire others:
“My dream is that when people close my book, the next thing they do is go on ancestry.com or familysearch.com and start looking for their own family stories. Beyond that, to plumb and to research and to analyze their family ties to history. To connect the dots for themselves.”
And if you’re a “mad, crazy researcher” like Laskin, “you can find out a lot.”
For more of David Laskin’s perspective, the complete interview is here.
For the book itself, described as beautifully written, densely textured, and at times heartbreaking, visit davidlaskin.com.