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On November 30, 1964, “the most notorious liar in the country” came to speak at Stamford High School, and my aunt was among 2,000 to 2,500 people who came out to hear him.

From the sound of it, she found him pretty believable, and still does.

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November 30, 1964. The Yankees take outfielder Leon “Duke” Carmel from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft, the first direct transaction between the two teams.

There’s not much I need to say to introduce you to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (The “most notorious liar” smear was issued not long before this date by J. Edgar Hoover, who needs no introduction either.)

Instead, I’ll set the scene by noting where King was on Nov. 30, 1964.

At 35, he’d just become the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and was scheduled to go to Stockholm in about two weeks to formally receive it. (A film clip of his Nobel acceptance speech can be seen here, for anyone wanting an idea of what King looked and sounded like around the time he came to Stamford.)

In December 1964, King also began to join civil rights protestors in Selma, Alabama, culminating in the famous marches of March 1965.

Still in the future were King’s involvement in housing-related protests in Chicago; his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War; and his support for striking black public works employees in Memphis, which immediately preceded his assassination in April 1968.

As of late November 1964, King was also the author of four books, with his most recent, Why We Can’t Wait, being published in July of that year.

And — in an honor that was most certainly noticed at 1107 Hope St. — King had begun 1964 by being named Time magazine’s Man of the Year.

Two excellent retrospective stories by the Stamford Advocate fill in some of the specific historical blanks from Nov. 30, 1964.

King’s Stamford appearance was arranged by religious groups as a fundraiser for his Southern Christian Leadership Conference. When the high school auditorium filled with people, an overflow area was set up in the gym.

Before the event, King held a press conference at the city’s Jewish Center. This is the most likely source of a brief United Press International piece that ran on page 44 of the New York Times the following day, indicating that King intended to ask for a meeting with Hoover to discuss their disagreements. (Hoover had called King a liar after King claimed that FBI agents did not intervene on behalf of Southern civil rights demonstrators because the agents were themselves Southerners.)

A bomb threat was called in before the speech, and protesters standing in frigid temperatures outside the school branded King a Communist. But neither one stopped the event.

King’s speech was filmed by John Maher, a high school student from nearby Darien. Unfortunately, while copies of the film were circulated in Darien schools and also offered to King, no copy is known to survive.

The Advocate’s retrospective story does not capture King’s speech extensively either — simply indicating that he spoke on topics of civil rights, inequality and segregation.

“There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society where a segment of that society feels they have no stake in that society,” King is quoted as saying. “I am firmly convinced that if democracy is to live, then segregation must die.”

My aunt does not remember much in the way of specific phrases. But her other memories are still strong. So we’ll let her tell the story for a while:

Yes, I remember seeing Martin Luther King Jr.! It is one of those memories that is seared into one’s mind. I went with our MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). I think I had seen a poster that MLK was going to speak at Stamford High School. Because I was interested in Civil Rights, as was our Minister, the info was passed on to the MYF. A small group of us decided to attend.

What a life changing event! I have heard others say that MLK spoke in poetry, and he really did! I quickly started scrawling down some of his poetic speech on the program I had of the event there. Somewhere in my closet, I still have the program.

Anyway, he spoke in a booming voice and looked 10 feet tall, so when he walked out in the aisle by me, I was surprised to see that he was actually shorter than I had thought.

Anyway, back to the stage upon which he stood to speak: he was surrounded by a close circle of black men in hats with arms folded. I wondered why this was, and later realized they were there to protect him. I believe one of those young thin men was Jesse Jackson.

(Editor’s note: Most online sources suggest that the not-yet-Rev. Jesse entered King’s orbit around the time of the Selma protests. If Jackson was in Stamford with King, that would have been at the very start of their connection. My aunt also remembers King leading the Stamford audience in a chant of “I Am Somebody,” a phrase that later became associated with Jackson but was used in multiple speeches by King.)

MLK was a minister, so there was a collection of the sort that is taken in church. I gave all of the money I had on me (probably not much) because I was so inspired. (Me again: A pile of collection baskets is visible in the photo that accompanies the Advocate story about King’s speech being filmed.)

Most of the audience was black, so our small mostly white MYF group was a minority–something that was new to me at the time, and the black people only looked at us curiously for a short minute.

I believe this experience helped to shape my career. I attended Southern Connecticut State College because they had a program in education for urban youth, and I student taught in the New Haven inner-city schools. I was student teaching at one of those schools when MLK was assassinated. Everyone was devastated. We all were instructed to go home that day, because the situation could become dangerous. After that time, the tone of the inner city neighborhoods changed from hopeful to angry. However, I did go on to get my MSSS (Masters Degree in the Science of Social Service) from Boston University.

At the time I made the decision to attend the MLK event, I had no idea that he would become so famous, or have such influence on myself and the world!

 

 

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My dad was a semi-pro musician during his high school and college years (and after), and this activity shows up regularly on the early years of my grandpa’s monthly calendars.

I’ve written before about my dad putting phantom “jobs” on the calendar as a way to claim the family’s only car on a weekend night.

Lest anyone think he was just a schemer, we’ll go in the other direction this week, and write about one long-ago late-summer Saturday when he worked his arse off.

(As much as playing music for money can be considered working, that is.)

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August 22, 1964. Yanks split a doubleheader; Mets lose.

Just to set the scene: At the time of this calendar entry, my dad is 21 and a few weeks away from heading off to his senior year of college at RPI.

He’s got his own car by this point — the infamous Shrimp Boat. And he needs it to fulfill this busy agenda:

-First comes an 11 a.m. wedding at North Stamford Congregational Church  (now North Stamford Community Church), where my dad was a substitute summer organist during the summers of 1962 through ’64. Three summers later, my parents would be married there.

-Next up is a wedding from 1-5 p.m. in Fairfield, about 18 miles up the coast from Stamford. While the first job of the day would have involved church organ, my dad is fairly sure he played tenor sax for this one. I’m guessing he was playing the reception, not the wedding itself.

(The timing between an 11 a.m. gig and a 1 p.m. gig seems awfully tight. My dad was apparently counting on the Shrimp Boat, and everybody else, not to break down on I-95.)

-Finally, my dad drove about 10 miles back down the coast for a 6-10 p.m. gig, again on tenor sax, at Chatham Oaks, a long-established banquet facility and catering hall in Norwalk. No doubt a beer or two kept the tunes flowing.

“Joe” on the calendar was local bandleader Joe Denicola; you’ve met him and his bandmates (including the immortal Shaves the Drummer) in this space before.

My dad was not in the habit of packing his days so tightly, and in fact was surprised when I told him about this calendar entry:

I thought I remembered the only triple-header I ever did, which was in 1962 and started at Springdale Methodist Church with their fair. But apparently I did it again in 1964.

This was pretty tightly scheduled; playing two 4-hour gigs plus a wedding service within 11 hours with maybe 25-30 miles between each gig is no mean feat!  And if it was really 8 hours on tenor sax, wow …  I can’t do 20 minutes now.  Ah, to be young!

As you can imagine, my dad was well-rewarded for his long day:

I think a safe number is between $75 and $100 total.  I remember a number of $25/gig.  Organ for wedding service might well have brought a little more.  But gas was 25 cents/gallon, cigarettes were 25 cents/pack, and a 6-pack of the Schaefer or Rheingold was around $1!  This was a good day’s work for a 21-year-old, make no mistake about it!  Minimum wage was around $1.25/hour.  I think I was making $1.40 – $1.50/hour at Parker Instruments that summer, so it’s a given that I brought home more that day than I had for the whole previous 40-hour work week.

Some of the other specific details of the gigs — like the exact event being celebrated from 6 to 10 — are lost to history.

Still, the calendar tells the story of a footloose young man with a song in his heart and a willingness to travel.

Or something like that.

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These calendar entries of my grandfather’s aren’t just windows into what was.

From time to time, they’re glimpses into what wasn’t — things that could have become part of the family history, but didn’t in the end.

We’ve looked at the Rambler he didn’t buy, the retirement village he didn’t move into, and the lottery ticket that didn’t make him a millionaire. (More than one of those, actually.)

We’ve got another one of those entries this week featuring an institution that could have been part of the Blumenau family warp and weave, but didn’t make the cut.

Join us in the old Ford, then, on another steaming hot New England summer day. We’re going to visit a college:

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July 17 and 18, 1964. Yanks split two. Mets lose two, the latter in sickening fashion. The 4 Seasons are at Number One, but the Beatles have a hot new one on its way up. Rod’s skin is still around today, with Rod in it, so the tests of the 17th must have come out OK.

Google Maps today shows the University of New Hampshire at three hours and fifty minutes away from Stamford, even with an accident in Hartford and a battalion of work crews blocking the way. Either the highways of 1964 weren’t what they are today, or similar long-ago impediments got in my grandpa’s way.

This was my aunt’s trip, so I’ll turn to her to lay out the basic information:

Yes, I visited the University of New Hampshire in the summer of 1964. I was interested in the education program there, so Drawing Boy, your grandma, and a friend who was also interested in the school took a ride there to check it out. I recall the campus was beautiful!

My friend wound up going to UNH and the New England setting was great for her skiing enthusiasm. I chose Southern Connecticut State because I was looking for more urban education programs.

I couldn’t tell you if it was the best choice, but it was the right choice at the time! As I have said previously, college choice was not the huge deal then that it is now!

(As the parent of a soon-to-be high school senior, I can attest that college choice is indeed a huge deal now, and will only get huger between now and next March or so. Maybe I am making too much of it.)

What did my aunt miss by not going to UNH from 1965-69? Let’s see:
– A mob of 2,000 students pelted 20 pacifists with eggs.
– Sargent Shriver spoke on campus, telling students: “There is only one war and we are all in it. It is the same war in Watts as it is in Vietnam. … The war for human dignity and human rights is going on everywhere.”
– Also speaking at UNH: Labor leader Walter Reuther; U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse; poet Stephen Spender; political theorist Hannah Arendt; and socially active priest Father James Groppi.
– Performers on campus included the Shirelles, cellist Janos Starker, and the Juilliard String Quartet.
– The hockey team was pretty good; the football team won some and lost some.
– The Public Service Company of New Hampshire announced plans to build one of New England’s first nuclear power plants in Newington, about seven miles from Durham. (The plan was shelved, then resuscitated in the early ’70s farther down the coast in Seabrook. It became the site of extensive anti-nuclear protests.)
– People attending UNH during that time included Carlton Fisk; future New Hampshire Gov. Steve Merrill; actor Michael Ontkean, who played on the hockey team; college football coach George O’Leary; and television producer Marcy Carsey.

(Some of the above info comes from Wiki, while other tidbits come from back issues of the Granite, the UNH yearbook, helpfully digitized by the university library. The rant that opens the 1967 yearbook, in particular, is a hoot — though it probably hits home to the members of the Class of ’67.)

After graduating from Southern Connecticut State, my aunt went to grad school at Boston University. I eventually chose to go to BU as well.

Since that visit in July of 1964, the closest the University of New Hampshire has come to being part of the Blumenau family story has been to serve as the target of boos and jeers at the BU hockey games I attended long ago.

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I’m scheduled to go back to New England in a few weeks for — yup — a couple of college visits. UNH is not on the agenda, so it looks like another generation of Blumenaus is passing up whatever charms it has to offer.

As I tour the various campuses, I’ll be wondering in the back of my mind which one becomes part of the family’s life, and which ones will end up as a footnote many years from now.

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It’s that time of year when high school kids wrap up a lot of the year’s business. Calendars are full of AP exams; proms; musicals; championships in various athletic and intellectual competitions; and like that.

This week we return to an end-of-year ritual that, while relatively new at the time, might have felt to its participants awfully like old news:

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May 8, 1964. The Mets win. So do the Yankees, beating a young, unknown, but strong-armed and healthy Cleveland Indians pitcher named Tommy John.

My dad apparently won the Masters this week, because he got a green jacket delivered to him … but that’s not the subject of this post.

The weather was remarkable, and not just in Stamford. Tornadoes damaged Midway Airport in Chicago and killed 12 people in Michigan. But that’s not what we’re focused on this week either.

No, my aunt’s writing at the top of this week’s calendar entry is what we’re interested in. I don’t know if she was participating in the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” or just wanted to go to support friends, but it was prominent enough on her social agenda to mark on the family calendar.

(I would guess that she was just watching the show, because if she were participating, the whole family would have gone to support her, and then my grandpa would have marked it on the calendar. But I’m just spitballing with that.)

“Bye Bye Birdie,” for those unfamiliar with the plot, is based loosely on the induction of Elvis Presley into the Army in the 1950s.

In the musical, flamboyant young rock singer Conrad Birdie gives “one last kiss” as a publicity stunt to a randomly selected all-American girl on The Ed Sullivan Show just before being inducted. This event precipitates all manner of chaos into the lives of Birdie’s manager; the girl; her boyfriend and family; and others.

This pop-culture confection, introduced on Broadway in 1960 with Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera in lead roles, was a Tony Award-winning sensation. A movie adaptation starring Ann-Margret hit paydirt too, becoming the most popular movie in America for four weeks in April and May of 1963.

But something happened between May of ’63 and May of ’64. Specifically, a little something called the Beatles.

John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in the U.S. in January and February of 1964, and in no time at all, they owned American charts and minds.

During the week this musical was staged — presumably at Stamford’s old Rippowam High School — New York City’s WABC (“W-A-Beatle-C”) listed three Beatles tunes in its top 20. Just a month before, the Fab Four had attained the legendary feat of holding down the top five spots on Billboard’s national chart in the same week.

Elvis, in contrast, had simmered down considerably since his release from the Army in 1960. He’d starred in forgettable movies like Fun in Acapulco and It Happened At The World’s Fair, and he’d released a series of toothless (if sometimes successful) singles that lacked the rebellious punch of old.

That makes me wonder if “Bye Bye Birdie” had a bit of a faded feeling about it to its teenage participants in May 1964.

Wiggling hips? Sneering? A U.S. Army draft notice? Maybe your older sister got worked up about such quaintnesses. The real heartthrob action on every teen’s mind in May ’64 spoke with working-class English accents and bore no obligation to Lyndon Johnson’s Army. (Nor the Queen’s, either.)

As it turned out, time would be merciful to both “Bye Bye Birdie” and Elvis.

Less than two weeks after the Stamford performance of “Bye Bye Birdie,” the once and future King proved he wasn’t washed up by releasing Viva Las Vegas, the vibrant and energetic high point of his post-Army film career. (In a mild irony, the female lead who brought out his best performance was Ann-Margret.)

And, despite the eventual fading of Elvis, “Bye Bye Birdie” managed to survive through the years as a staple of the teenage musical repertoire. The young thespians of Rippowam — it’s a middle school now — put on an age-appropriate version of “Bye Bye Birdie” as their spring musical just a year ago. Elvis’ induction into the Army is ancient history now, but apparently, the tunes are timeless.

I’m not sure any of that could be predicted in the specific window of time we’re visiting this week, though.

I wonder if the folks who’d written “Bye Bye Birdie” were looking out upon a Beatle-obsessed nation and thinking, “Well, it was a fun ride while it lasted.”

And, I’m imagining an auditorium full of teens sitting through the fictionalized story of Elvis … then stepping out into the still-humid night, starting up their cars, rolling down the windows, and singing along to the radio with a single voice:

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

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This past week marked the 62nd anniversary of the first issue of Sports Illustrated — the magazine that became must-read fare for American sports fans, despite being ridiculed by Time Inc. highbrows who called it names like Jockstrap and Sweat Socks.

My grandfather the Time Inc. employee, perhaps attuned to the great possibilities ahead, saved not only that first issue from August 1954 …

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Wes Westrum of the Giants, catching, was the Giants’ manager at the time of SI’s 20th anniversary in August 1974. Eddie Mathews of the Braves, at bat, managed the Braves in 1972-74 but didn’t quite make it to the anniversary: He was fired in late July.

… but also the first of several pre-production mockups, or “dummies,” from the previous December.

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Not a swimsuit in sight.

The SI saga is interesting enough … but really, an enterprise as entrenched and successful as SI doesn’t need me to tell its story.

Instead, we’ll look at a note from my grandfather’s personal journal, which documents a different, less successful Henry Luce magazine venture … one that my grandpa never bothered saving souvenir copies of.

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This journal entry was clearly revisited and revised several times; I’m assigning it a date of 1964, for reasons that will become apparent.

I’d heard of Time Inc.’s Big Four publications – Time, Life, Fortune and SI — three of which continue to publish today.

I wasn’t familiar with Architectural Forum, but its name made it easy enough to imagine — a specialized trade journal. (The New York Times’ obit of Luce said he bought Architectural Forum in 1932 because he was interested in the field.)

But what was House & Home? Was it a lifestyle and decorating magazine, of the sort that are a dime a dozen on today’s magazine racks? Did Henry Luce pioneer a publication America wasn’t ready for, but has since come to crave?

The answer turned out to be … no.

Various sources, including the obit linked above, indicate that House & Home was spun out of Architectural Forum in 1952. The new title was aimed at the building trade, not at home decorators. It targeted the booming residential construction market, while the older title continued to focus on commercial construction.

Time announced the new magazine’s arrival in January 1952 with a characteristically backwards-written blurb: “To more than 100,000 subscribers this week went a brand-new magazine : HOUSE & HOME, ‘for those who plan, build, buy, sell or finance new houses.’ “

And 10 years later, a full-page ad in Luce’s Life magazine touted House & Home as “the management magazine of America’s biggest industry,” full of house plans, construction products and methods, financing information, and other dope that would help professionals “design, build, finance, supply and sell houses that won’t be obsolescent before the first owner moves in.

(The cover of one issue, from April 1955, can be seen here.)

It actually sounds like an old issue of House & Home might be an interesting read, the way insider snapshots from the past sometimes are.

And, given all the houses that got built in America during those years, one would think such a magazine would thrive.

But it didn’t. Or, at least, it didn’t do well enough to be worth keeping around in the Time empire.

According to Luce’s obit, House & Home was sold to McGraw-Hill in 1964, the same year Architectural Forum was folded.

(The two decisions were apparently made separately — see how my grandpa reduced the number of Time titles from six, to five, to four.)

The name House & Home is still being used today, but the focus on the building trade was abandoned somewhere along the line. The current publication is very much in the mass-market home design tips-and-tricks bag, with a sideline in celebrity headlines like “Can You Believe A Jonas Brother Built This Jersey Home?”

Given the power of Henry Luce’s publishing empire back in the ’50s and ’60s, I wonder if Time Inc. could have created or defined the kind of home magazine America eats up today.

I’m sure ladies’ magazines over the decades have offered plenty of decorating tips, and Time would not have been the first publisher to enter the genre.

Still, since Luce and Co. dominated the newsmagazine and sports magazine fields, one imagines they could have owned home design and lifestyle as well, with a little bit of vision. All those new suburban homes could have been ripe targets for a well-pitched publication.

On the other hand, given the internal resistance to Sports Illustrated, imagining Time Inc. entering the home-design field might be farcical.

A company that scoffed at the idea of a magazine with Y.A. Tittle on the cover would probably have laughed itself hoarse at a cover piece on “Redecorating Your Farmhouse Colonial.”

So, who knows. Opportunities that seem evident in the rearview mirror are not always evident at the time.

Just ask the Time bigwigs who probably went to their graves thinking of Sports Illustrated as “Sweat Socks.”

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