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Between 1961 and 1975, the rate of violent crime in the United States tripled.
The property crime rate almost tripled.
And the homicide rate doubled.
Visit the online cover archive of Time magazine and search it for “crime.” You’ll find only five cover stories devoted to crime topics between 1923 and 1960. Between 1961 and 1975, there were 18, including trend stories like “Crime: Why and What To Do,” “The Urban Guerrillas” and “Cops v. Crime: Ready For A Hot Summer.” (As a Time-Life employee and longtime subscriber, my grandfather would have read all these issues.)
Doubtless, some people (the very young, the very aged and the very rich) passed unaffected through this period of turbulence.
Still, the upsurge in all types of major crime suggests that many Americans — voters, taxpayers, walkers of the straight and narrow — were affected in ways they had not previously experienced.
For every high-profile political assassination or race riot seared on the national memory, there were thousands of people who had their homes burgled or their pockets picked.
All of which brings us to a spring morning in 1971, and an unpleasant discovery on a Boston street:
The number of motor vehicle thefts in the state of Massachusetts rose from 14,215 to 91,563 in our 15-year period of choice.
In 1971, 56,709 vehicles were reported stolen.
And one of them, on the morning of April 16, was a green 1965 Ford registered to my grandfather.
My Aunt Elaine was going to grad school at Boston University at the time, and using the car to get to social work internships outside the city. She left her apartment one day to head out to an internship, and was surprised to find her car missing from its parking space.
Thankfully, the Blumenau family’s contribution to Seventies crime statistics turned out to be more opera bouffe than tragedy.
The Boston police, who initially told my aunt that many stolen cars were never found, called her back the next day to tell her they’d found it in a nearby neighborhood. The car was missing its windshield, but otherwise undamaged. While no one was ever charged, the assumption on all sides was that the Ford had been stolen for its windshield — probably by a “chop shop”-style repair operation — and then ditched.
The car was repaired … perhaps, my grandfather drily suggested, with the same windshield that had been taken from it in the first place.
My aunt went back to driving to her internships.
And a year or so later, she received — and accepted — a marriage proposal from my Uncle Steve in the same ’65 Ford. The car is long gone, but they’re still together.
(A few more family notes, before we leave this calendar entry behind. My grandfather’s attention to detail, even under stress, says something about him: Note how he specifically describes the car as “65 Ford Stolen” — as though he had multiple cars in Boston to differentiate between. The notation “Phoned Boston” is also redolent of a time when long-distance calls were rarer and more expensive than they are now.)
One summer, almost 25 years later, I parked a brand-new Plymouth in a dimly lit off-street parking lot on the Boston-Brookline border, every night for three months. Each morning I walked down Commonwealth Avenue hoping to find my car in one piece. And every morning, it was.
Whether that bespeaks a shift in social mores; more effective policing; or simply a lack of interest in the windshields of ’95 Plymouth Neons, I guess I’ll never know.