Posts Tagged ‘1963’

1963 was a pretty good year — dare one say, a high-water mark? — in the history of American beach culture.

The summer of ’63 has been pegged as the birth of the beach party movie trend, with the movie “Beach Party” leading the way.

The third of three Gidget movies was in theaters that summer too, and the third of six original Gidget novels could be found in bookstores.

On the radio, The Beach Boys were churning out Top Ten singles and albums, like the anthemic “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Surfer Girl” and “Be True To Your School.”

Lesser California acts had a pretty good summer too. In the week ending July 20, 1963, Jan and Dean’s “Surf City” (co-written by the ubiquitous Brian Wilson) became the first surf song to hit U.S. Number One.

In that sand- and sun-kissed summer, the Blumenau family of Hope Street was fortunate enough to have an ocean close to home. And while they weren’t surfin’, like Cal-i-for-ni-a, they enjoyed escaping the summer heat with a sedate, well-covered trip to the seaside.

This week we go with them to a semi-historic location that’s still around, and is probably packed as you read this:


July 3-4, 1963. Yanks win and stay in first; Mets lose and stay in last.

A town or two up the coast from Stamford is Sherwood Island State Park, in the town of Westport.

According to various sources, the park on Long Island Sound was Connecticut’s first state park, with the first land purchases beginning more than 100 years ago. You can swim, picnic, bird-watch and fish there.

You can also see the New York skyline from parts of the park, which only adds to its summery appeal.

Nothing makes a cold lemonade taste sweeter, or a breath of sea air feel more refreshing, than seeing the sweltering city a stone’s throw away and knowing you’re not stuck there in a fourth-floor walkup or a traffic jam.

(On a more somber note, local residents gathered at the park on 9/11 to watch the aftermath of the attacks, and the part of Sherwood Island that faces Manhattan is now home to a living memorial to those who lost their lives that day. Having noted that, we return to the beach-crazed Camelot summer of ’63.)

What did the Blumenaus of Hope Street do at Sherwood Island on July 3, 1963?

The family’s worldly-wise 20-year-old son smoked a cigar, for one thing …

Sherwood Island1

Sorry, Dad. Love ya, but I have no idea what the hell you’re doing in this pic.

… they ate marshmallows …

Sherwood Island3

My dad appears to be playing chubby bunny here.

… and, they ate 39-cent Wise potato chips.

Sherwood Island2

My dad and aunt wore their bathing suits, and no doubt they enjoyed the water. I’m guessing my grandfather didn’t feel like bringing his camera down to the seashore to get pix. Didn’t want to risk getting salt water in the works, most likely.

This was not the family’s first or only visit to Sherwood Island; the pic below was labeled “Probably Sherwood Island ’58” by my dad, and shows my grandpa in full beachside grilling mode.

Prob Sherwood Island 58

It’s fun being the paterfamilias sometimes. God forbid you cook your hot dogs directly over the coals, though.

I’m not near a beach this holiday weekend, but these pictures bring back the feeling of sand in sneakers, and the cries of birds, and the sweep of tides … without the hassle of finding a beachside parking spot. A pretty sweet deal, all in all.

Pardon me while I put on some Beach Boys …

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One of the most popular and enduring pop songs of the Seventies is now old enough to look in the mirror and sigh at its encroaching gray hairs.

This month marks 40 years since the Four Seasons — Sixties hitmakers in the midst of a surprising Seventies resurgence — released the single most people know by its subtitle: “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night).”

According to the song’s Wiki page, it was originally set in 1933 and was meant to recall the end of Prohibition.

But various parties involved with the song, including Frankie Valli, urged songwriters Bob Gaudio and Judy Parker to reconsider the lyric. And, instead of a meditation on the narrator’s first legal bender, the song turned into a warm recollection of a first romantic encounter.

(In 2015, the narrator is probably old enough to watch Viagra commercials more intently than he watches the football games that surround them.)

“December 1963” would hit Number One on the singles charts in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada early in 1976. And — buoyed by remixes, covers, party and wedding spins, and general nostalgia — it’s remained popular since.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the song, me. (No, this guy might hold that title.)

But, as a person who admires pop-music productions the way some people admire Renoirs, I have to concede that Frankie Valli and company built themselves quite a single.

This is also one of a group of pop hits (“Silly Love Songs” is another) that I can remember hearing on the radio in my parents’ big Plymouth Satellite during long holiday road trips to Stamford. So it has a pleasant childhood connection.

For Hope Street purposes, “December 1963” nicely spans the time period of my grandfather’s calendars: The ones still in storage start in January 1961 and end in December 1975, when the song came out.

I thought I’d look back at the calendar for December 1963 — or at least the portion of it I took pictures of — and see what the Blumenau family of Stamford, Connecticut, was up to during that fateful month.


Of course there’s nothing intimate or personal on the calendar that month. Just the usual errands — plumber’s appointments, trips to the dentist, appointments to babysit, times to unload unwanted household trash.

(I’ve never heard “junkie” as slang for “junkman” before. But it’s consistent with other New England slang I learned during my years near Boston — “statie” for state cop, “packie” for package store, “Eastie” and “Southie” for East and South Boston respectively. Nowadays, I’d like to think someone would recycle that water tank, but who knows.)


Of course there is a Christmas tree — an angular streamlined jobbie of the sort Charlie Brown might have seen on his famous errand two years later, yet not high-end enough to satisfy my aunt.


And then there’s this potpourri of seasonal action. A son comes home from college and sees the dentist; a materfamilias goes to the doctor; the daughter of the family makes a few bucks overseeing someone else’s brats on a Saturday night; the sun goes down pisser early on the shortest day of the year; and the weather is by turns cold and winter-sloppy.

(I am reminded that I have written before about that Dec. 21, 1963, calendar entry. Three years later, the pain of that week’s news from the other end of Fairfield County is still fresh … and we, as a country, have not moved perceptibly forward. My grandfather would shake his head in frustration, and so do I.)

The rest of December 1963 I didn’t bother to take pictures of, which suggests there was nothing of interest on the calendar. Just everyday action even more mundane than that I captured.

Wiki’s page for December 1963 suggests the month was generally quiet in terms of news items, as well. A few births that became noteworthy later (Brad Pitt, Donna Tartt, Sergey Bubka, Lars Ulrich) and the first Beatles singles in the U.S., but nothing that would have really stirred people at the time — especially compared to the events of the prior month.

So, while the narrator of the Four Seasons’ single might have had a memorable month, December 1963 was not otherwise noteworthy for most actual non-fictional Americans.

The Sixties would go on to get a whole lot more eventful … but that’s another story.

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We return to my grandpa’s journal of job-related facts and random trivia for another nugget.

I always enjoy finding some topic or trivia fact of my grandfather’s that interests me too.

The factoid about stacked Life magazines from my last post wasn’t really one of those; I don’t have a personal relationship with Life magazine.

I do have a personal relationship with music. I play it sometimes. I listen to it a lot. I like learning about the technical details of making it, and about the lightning flashes of creativity that also make it happen.

My grandpa was in the same place. So I imagine the tidbit at the heart of this post grabbed his brain in much the same way it grabbed mine, and inspired some of the same thoughts and questions:


Non-musical readers might wonder what the big deal is about the A note above middle C (as in, the middle of the piano keyboard). To them, it might seem like just one among the 88 notes on a standard piano.

That particular note has a special importance to musicians and those who build and tune instruments.

A at the frequency of 440 hertz has been endorsed (though not universally adopted — more on that later) as an international pitch standard for the tuning of instruments. It’s such a significant note, in fact, that it has its own Wikipedia entry.

Hundreds of years ago, there was no single tuning pitch, and the intonation of instruments could significantly vary even within the same city. The use of tuning forks did not help, as they were not all standardized at first.

There was also pressure over time to shift pitch upward. This favors stringed instruments (they sound “brighter” and more appealing at higher pitch) but challenges vocalists, who have to push to hit the notes.

Finally, movements arose in the 19th and 20th centuries to set a single consistent tuning pitch, known as “concert pitch.”

(The three preceding paragraphs are condensed from another Wiki entry on concert pitch, which fascinated me, and I think would have fascinated my grandfather if he’d had the chance to read it.)

# # # # #

This all might seem arcane; and indeed, it is possible to enjoy music without thinking much about concert pitch.

Rock bands, especially those without keyboard players, have long been known to tune to non-standard pitches, principally for the comfort of their singers.

My dad, the saxophonist-slash-engineer, points out that variations in concert pitch are more serious business to people who play wind instruments. A clarinetist in an orchestra that changes from 440 Hz to 442 might have to have his or her instrument altered, and a larger change might require the purchase of a new clarinet.

My dad adds: “Somehow a “sharper” sound is preferred by some folks.  If you get used to a sharper tuning, old tunings (like the baroque tunings which I suspect almost anyone can detect as significantly “flatter”) sound somehow more lugubrious and ponderous.”

So variation in concert pitch might be most noticeable to classical musicians who need to adjust to differing standards … and to classical fans who buy two recordings of their favorite piece by different orchestras, play them back-to-back, and notice a curious difference in pace and intonation.

To some classical listeners, concert pitch is more than a trivial interest: It can be a yardstick of whether a reissued recording is faithful to the original performance.

Check out this Stereophile magazine review from earlier this year, in which the reviewer retracts his earlier endorsement of a Cleveland Orchestra recording because the reissue is mastered to 445 Hz instead of 440 — rendering the recording faster and sharper than the real-life performance.

# # # # #

If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering whether you can hear any difference in standard pitches. Let’s find out, shall we?

Here’s an A above middle C at 440 Hz …

… at 432 Hz …

… at 442 Hz …

… and at 415 Hz.

If you have trouble hearing the difference — or just want to have some fun — try running two of the pitches at the same time. You should hear audible “beats” between the two pitches.

# # # # #

I’m not sure my grandpa knew the full, convoluted history of concert pitch.

If he had, he might not have been so struck by the Metropolitan Opera’s adoption of 442 Hz as a “new standard,” because he would have known that 440 Hz was by no means universal.

Although 440 Hz was endorsed as a U.S. standard in the late ’30s and an international standard in 1955, some major orchestras here and abroad continued to use concert pitches as high as 443 Hz — and still do.

Other sources argue for the use of 432 Hz, claiming it is more soothing and attuned to the spheres. (This post is long enough already so I’m not going any deeper into that, but you can Google it if you want.)

And those who play period instruments have adopted different concert pitches for different uses, which go as low as 415 Hz and as high as 470. (The low end of this range is the “baroque” tuning mentioned by my dad a couple hundred words ago.)

In August 1971, Time magazine — my grandpa’s former employer, and one of his favorite news sources — reported on the disagreement in an article titled “The Pitch Game.” I can’t read the whole thing without subscribing, but I’m sure it fascinated him, and I’m sure it reminded him of the nugget he’d written down in his notebook eight years earlier.

My dad suggests my grandpa took notice of the whole subject not because it affected his listening habits, but for other reasons:

I think he was generally interested in what he considered significant changes to standards in the world.  I think a pitch change might have been in the same ballpark as leaving the gold standard, replacing the voting machine, changing the size or makeup of a baseball, making a penny out of steel instead of copper (1943), these sorts of things.

# # # # #

 I found this subject interesting as well, 980 words ago.

But now I feel like cleaning out my brain with a little 4′ 33″. That doesn’t require adherence to any particular concert pitch.

Wonder if my grandpa ever heard of John Cage?

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“Hoping that our youth may be persuaded to love and imitate the virtues of the men whose great names they have been accustomed, from the cradle, to lisp with veneration, I have long coveted to set these virtues before them.”
– Mason Locke Weems

This week we find ourselves in the retrospectively sunny world of JFK’s New Frontier, face to face with one of America’s enduring myths.

When first I looked at the calendar entry for February 22, 1963 — nine months to the day before Dallas — I squinted at the dotted apparition in the center.

What in the fresh hell is that supposed to be? I thought, sipping my Ward 8. There’s no plant or tree that looks so vibrant and alive in February in Connecticut. February is too late for holly berries, and too early for apples. What IS that?

And then I remembered a certain American legend involving an axe, and a fruit tree, and an honest little boy who grew up to have a federal holiday proclaimed in his honor.

February 22, 1963. Axe and boy not shown.

February 22, 1963. Axe, boy and ham dinner not shown.

Mason Locke Weems, the author who gave the world the cherry-tree story, is known today — to those who remember him at all — for never letting the truth get in the way of a saleable bit of hagiography.

The snippet of “biography” that gave the world the cherry-tree story can be read at Weems’ Wiki page. Project Gutenberg, meanwhile, gives us the texts of Weems’ biographies of Francis Marion and Benjamin Franklin.

(The Franklin bio is titled, “The Life of Benjamin Franklin. With Many Choice Anecdotes and admirable sayings of this great man never before published by any of his biographers.” Reminds me of the remarkable, unprecedented access Clifford Irving had to Howard Hughes.)

Here’s a choice bit from page one of the Franklin biography; I’ll buy a cherry pie for anyone who can stand to read the whole book:

Some men carry letters of recommendation in their looks, and some in their names. ‘Tis the lot but of few to inherit both of these advantages. The hero of this work was one of that favoured number. As to his physiognomy, there was in it such an air of wisdom and philanthropy, and consequently such an expression of majesty and sweetness, as charms, even in the commonest pictures of him. And for his name, every one acquainted with the old English history, must know, that Franklin stands for what we now mean by “Gentleman,” or “clever fellow.”

I find it interesting how a scrap of fiction, apparently made up out of whole cloth as Weems dipped his quill, could become an entrenched bit of national lore known to every generation of Americans.

Nowadays, everyone knows the cherry-tree story isn’t true. (This is not a recent development; I’m sure my grandpa knew this in February 1963.)

But everyone knows the story anyway. Even in the skeptical 21st century, when warts-and-all is the rule and presidents have feet of clay, this antiquated, hopelessly sunny legend still goes around.

Just to verify that schoolkids today still hear the cherry legend, I went upstairs and asked my kids, aged 14 and 11. They hastened to tell me it wasn’t true — but they’d both heard it. (Neither of them could quite remember when and where, which suggests it was some time ago.)

No matter what you think of the relative virtues of truth and falsehood, the eternal resilience of the story is kind of charming.

America’s stock of shared lore is like a patchwork quilt — Paul Bunyan in red plaid over here, steel-drivin’ John Henry in stark gray and black there, Johnny Appleseed in russet dapple in the corner … and a little boy with a white-flowered cherry tree right in the middle, one of the oldest and best-stitched patches of all, as if affixed by some wizened, winsome national grandma.

Taking the cherry tree out of the quilt now would just about require unraveling the whole thing. And Americans, even in the darkest of times, have never bought into that idea.

So Mason Weems’ bald-faced lie will probably outlast us all … as it outlasted our fathers and grandfathers and great-great-great-grandfathers.

I wonder whether any legends of our current crop of presidents — or any truths, for that matter — will last as long.

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Step back with us, won’t you, to a time when your triumphs and problems were your neighbors’ business

… when a series of rattling spins and clicks provided a dramatic prologue to every conversation …

… and when a hero to all sons of western New York was making convoluted, enigmatic introductions like this one every week on network television.

(There is a classic Blumenau family story involving Rod Serling, and perhaps someday I will tell it; but not now. There will be time enough at last.)

This week 50 years ago, we find the youth of 1107 Hope Street celebrating a victory distinctly of its time and place:

Sept. 11, 1963.

Sept. 11, 1963. Whitey Ford and Alvin Jackson cruise to complete-game wins for New York’s baseball teams, who are, respectively, in first place by 13 games and in last by 39 1/2.

Ah, yes, the days when all phones were anchored on desks or walls — and if you wanted another one, you had to have Ma Bell’s minions come put it in. My dad remembers:

I do know that AT&T was a total monopoly when I was growing up, and they owned your phone and the wiring and all, and you rented it each month.  If you wanted two phones, you paid more and rented two phones.  And they could tell from some electrical measurement if you had doctored your system (added an illegal phone).

For many years, the only phone at 1107 Hope Street lived on my grandfather’s desk, in a niche on the first floor just outside the kitchen. There wasn’t much in the way of privacy.

My dad: I would wander across the street to Springdale Methodist Church to telephone girls to ask them out on dates because I didn’t want anyone to hear!

My aunt: Your grandfather and father once had a lot of fun making noise while I was attempting to talk to a male caller. I don’t recall nagging to get another phone, but I probably should have, if only for the privacy reason.

My aunt on the phone, circa 1958.

My aunt on the phone, circa 1958.

Of course, what the kids saw as a lack of privacy, the adults saw as an opportunity. My grandparents used to time my aunt’s phone calls with a kitchen timer and bell, to keep her from tying up the line for too long. (My aunt says she would tiptoe into the kitchen and turn the timer back to buy more time on the phone.)

Finally, in the fall of 1963, my grandparents agreed to end the phone wars and have a second phone (not a second line; just a second phone) installed on the second floor, in the hallway between the bedrooms and bathroom.

It wasn’t a concession to the kids, but a way to make their own lives easier.

My dad: Think about it: they were getting older, and at that time there was no voice recording, so if you didn’t make it downstairs in time, you missed the call and spent the next 3 hours wondering who called!  I think that’s all there was behind it.

My aunt: As your grandparents only splurged on items for practical reasons, I too believe the second phone was installed because your grandparents found it more difficult to sprint  down the stairs to answer the phone.

October 1980. There was a small cabinet in the hall between my great-grandma's and grandparents' bedrooms, with a phone on top. My great-grandma is marking her 94th birthday with a phone call to someone, sitting on a clothes hamper. The door behind her leads to my grandparents' bedroom, I believe.

I’ve used this pic before. Here’s my great-grandma using the upstairs phone on her 94th birthday in October 1980. The phone is almost certainly a Western Electric Model 500 — in black, as you can see.

I do not know whether my grandpa — a tinkerer and a curious sort — ever figured out how to dial one phone from the other, creating his own benign variation on the call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house scenario. It sounds like the kind of thing he would have taken advantage of to save himself a trip up or down the stairs.

I also do not know whether my grandfather ever owned an answering machine. I cannot for the life of me remember his ever having one.

(The one thing I do remember about my grandparents was that my grandma was deaf as a stone post, and her hearing aid used to whistle when she was on the phone, maybe ’cause she’d cranked it up high. I can still hear the sound.)

By the time my family left 1107 Hope, Ma Bell was no longer a monopoly, and the company’s hold on phone installation had been relaxed.

I don’t remember for sure, but I think my grandfolks’ subsequent home in the Rochester area might even have had *three* phones — one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom area and one in the basement.

I dunno if that’s true, though. Sounds awfully profligate for people who clung so strictly to a single phone for so many years.

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