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Posts Tagged ‘1968’

The pandemic drums are beating again.

As I type this (just after Thanksgiving), I’ve been seeing more and more media reports of increased concern about Asian flu. (Exhibit A: The staid New York Times, on Nov. 17, reporting “Bird Flu is Spreading in Asia, Experts (Quietly) Warn.“)

Last time a pandemic threatened the world, which would have been around 2009 or so, my place of employment prepared a mammoth contingency plan. My copy’s been sitting in a file cabinet ever since; I guess I oughta dust it off and see what it says. (It will also be good to have handy so I can throw it at the first person who exclaims, “We need to make a contingency plan!”)

Anyhow, we had a pandemic almost 50 years ago, right around this time of year. So we’ll pack up our tea and tissues and head there this week.

cazenovia

The Cazenovia, N.Y., Republican goes for the seasonal spin, December 25, 1968. Front page made available by nyhistoricnewspapers.org.

According to Wikipedia, the Hong Kong flu of 1968-9 began causing trouble in the Far East in July 1968. It came to America in September — brought home by returning Vietnam War veterans — but did not spread widely until December, when it became front-page news.

An archived U.S. government site says the Hong Kong flu killed about 34,000 people in the U.S. between September 1968 and March 1969. For context, that’s 10 times higher than the U.S. death toll from the 2009 flu pandemic, but only about half as many deaths as the 1957 Asian flu pandemic.

(Of course, all of these events are dwarfed by the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic, which killed 500,000 to 675,000 people in the U.S., including one or two of my great-grandparents and doubtless others on the family tree.)

For most people who got it, the Hong Kong flu produced three or four days of discomfort, with high fever, chest tightness, general body aches and fatigue.

In most places, the flu affected society in relatively small ways. The Cazenovia news article shown above (that’s in the Syracuse area, by the way) noted that school absenteeism had risen to 17 percent, and holiday mail in town had seen minor delays because eight Post Office employees had been off work at the same time.

Other areas seem to have sounded the alarm more loudly. The Massena, N.Y., Observer of Dec. 19, 1968 (that’s in the far northern part of the state, on the Canadian border), quoted the American Red Cross as calling it “a disaster situation.”

Officials in New York City estimated one in every 16 New Yorkers had had the flu in the prior two weeks, with 300,000 of them currently at “the most critical stage” of the illness. School absentee rates of 30 percent were reported in the Pittsburgh area.

(Perhaps the highest-profile flu victim: Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who was resting in Phoenix. Reports of flu are also frequent in sports reports from late 1968 — victims included Bill Russell, Dave Bing, and 20 members of the Minnesota Vikings — though it’s not specific whether these were cases of Hong Kong flu or just regular ol’ grippe.)

People over 65 were at the highest risk of dying from the disease. No surprise, then, that my 82-year-old great-grandmother was the first one at 1107 Hope Street to get a Hong Kong flu shot. (Everyone had already gotten regular flu shots in early November.)

She took the pencil into her own hand to document it:

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December 13, 1968.

Although some news reports at the time said flu vaccine was reserved for the elderly, my grandparents (in their mid-50s) and my aunt (college-age) also managed to arrange Hong Kong flu shots that holiday season.

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December 16, 1968. My grandma, Corine…

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December 17, 1968. My grandpa, Bill (a.k.a. WHB) …

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December 23, 1968. And my aunt, Elaine.

The stuff must have worked, as my grandpa’s calendars through March 1969 give no indication of anyone being sick.

Will we do so well again this year, or in the year to come? We can hope, anyway.

If not, I’ve got this big contingency plan I can read while I’m flat on my back…

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A couple of days ago I went with my son on his first formal college tour.

More tours are planned for this coming summer, including several in New England. I look forward to the chance to fill the trunk of my car with Narragansett Bohemian Pilsner — er, I mean, accompany the kid as he gathers information to help him make the biggest decision of his young life.

During Friday’s college tour, we saw just about the entire campus, with one significant exception: We didn’t go inside the dorms.

Perhaps they were left off the agenda because of the security hassles involved in bringing 30 strangers inside the building.

Or maybe it was because, well, kids are still living in ’em.

(You can never be entirely sure what you’ll encounter if you lead a gaggle of guests into an occupied dorm. At the very least, you might run into some kid who’s been up for 36 hours, cranked up on Mountain Dew and advanced physics, giving it his best Raoul Duke. Not a great vision for a tourload of kids and parents just in from Altoona.)

My grandpa never got the chance to go to college himself. Never drank Mountain Dew either, so far as I know. But he worked to send both of his kids off to college.

And this week’s calendar entry finds him in a college dorm.

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April 28, 1968. Yanks split a doubleheader with Detroit; the Mets beat Cincinnati. Neither team troubles the leaders in their respective leagues.

Not far southwest of Stamford, a major American university was being torn by student revolt on Sunday, April 28.

My grandparents, and maybe even my great-grandma, were headed in the opposite direction, though.

They were headed to the campus of what was then Southern Connecticut State College in New Haven for a student event at Wilkinson Hall, the college dorm where my Aunt Elaine lived as an undergraduate.

This was not their only trip there. A previous Hope Street blog post makes passing mention of their going to Wilkinson Hall in May 1966 to see “Wilkinson Follies,” a dorm talent show fondly remembered by my aunt.

My aunt was involved in the ’67 Wilkinson Follies, too, earning her a brief mention in the Naugatuck Daily News newspaper. (The content is intentionally jumbled here, so’s to make you pay for a clear view, but you can make out what you need to in the article text box at the bottom of the page.)

I wonder if my grandpa got a chance to actually go up into the six-story building during any of his visits, and if so, what he thought of his glimpses of college life. Maybe there were posters, and music pouring out through half-open doors, and maybe even a shaggy-haired guy visitor here or there.

(I wonder what I’ll think the first time I go into my son’s dorm. It won’t be quite so much an excursion into alien territory as it would have been for someone my grandfather’s age in 1968 — I think — but it will remind me how old I am.)

Wilkinson Hall is still there, as it happens, retrofitted for the 21st century with microfridges, cable TV hookups and wireless Internet. Freshmen and sophomores live there now, and presumably, prospective members of the school’s Class of 2022 will soon be pouring in for summer visits.

You can also “tour” a standard double room such as those found in Wilkinson online; they don’t look any too large, but what dorm room does?

An online search for the phrase “Wilkinson Follies” suggests the dorm variety show may be an extinct tradition. Somehow I find that easy to believe: I imagine today’s college dorms are full of kids who are either staring at their cell phones or listening to music through earbuds.

I guess I’ll find out whether that’s true soon enough, when circumstances require me to make my own excursions into alien territory.

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We’ll go back and write about a calendar entry like we used to. Why not?

Too much of nothing, the poet says, can make a man ill at ease.

But not this time of year.

November 30, 1968. (Yeah, I know, this could be the 30th day of any month. But, trust me. It's Nov. 30, 1968.)

November 30, 1968.

Yeah, I know, the picture above could be the 30th day of any month on my grandpa’s calendars. Anyway, trust me. It’s the calendar space representing the last day of November, 1968.

And, most importantly, it’s unmarked.

See, the Thanksgiving holiday is usually divided into two halves.

One part is the whirlwind we all celebrate, and that we all reminisce about after it’s over. This part is cumulatively composed of those overloaded periods we spend packing, driving, flying, reuniting, catching up, cooking and eating.

The other part is the complete opposite.

It’s the time we spend taking post-prandial naps with our mouths open … the time we spend (e)motionless in front of a screen staring at football (unless we are Detroit Lions fans, and even they’re numb by now) … the time when, meeting and greeting finished, family members scatter to different rooms and pursue their own entertainment.

We do not celebrate those amber-stuck hours of stillness quite so much as we celebrate the turkey and the togetherness. But they are an integral part of Thanksgiving as well, a cool autumnal counterweight to the hours of warmth and glee.

There are not that many times between the third week of November and the end of the year when we get to completely switch off. Indeed, the whole idea of “switching off” feels foreign to the season when we hang lights and decorate trees. Life is supposed to shine, all the time.

It’s not really that way, of course. We need that downtime. And the Thanksgiving break is an ideal place to find it.

Other calendar entries show that my grandpa’s Thanksgiving in 1968 was just as busy as everyone else’s. My parents, married less than a year-and-a-half, came back to Stamford to visit. So did my Aunt Elaine, still in college at the time.

My grandparents even made punch, a most uncharacteristic touch. I have no idea what was in it, though I expect it was not boozy (or not heavily so).

Nov. 27-28, 1968.

Nov. 27-28, 1968.

I’m sure Thursday, Nov. 28, was filled with turkey, stuffing, freshly baked dinner rolls, pie and all the other traditional fixings.

But by Saturday, Nov. 30, there was … just nothing. Nothing particular to do, no tasks to accomplish, no appointments to keep, no church service to attend.

Just time to throw off the yoke and put up the feet.

Sleep late, maybe. Dawdle an extra twenty minutes over the paper, even though there’s no news in it. Have a smoke. Step out into the barren yard. Get kissed by the wind for a few minutes. Go back in again. Put on a sweater. Take a nap.

This kind of time is not wasted. Now that we have smartphones that allow work and the world to dog us wherever we go, it might be more important than ever.

I subscribe thoroughly to its worth, and I’m already looking forward to drinking a bunch of wine and hoisting a test pattern for at least a couple of hours over Thanksgiving break.

Join me, won’t you?

(Not literally. You’ll have to find another room.)

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Seems like I’ve written a lot about hot weather on this blog — the blisterbitchers, and the lack of air conditioning, and the end-of-summer bursts of heat, and slow sizzling afternoons at the beach.

Not sure why that is. Maybe it reflects some deep-seated personal preference for summer over winter.

Or maybe southern Connecticut just tends to get hotter than colder, so I’ve had more calendar entries to choose from on the warm end of the scale.

Now that it’s winter enough for everyone, it seems like we’re due for an entry with some really savage cold, lest my readers get to thinking Fairfield County is some sort of tropical paradise.

Set the controls to … well, not the heart of the sun, exactly. Set ’em for January 1968.

Lyndon Johnson is president. The Beatles, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, and Jay and the Techniques (of Allentown, Pennsylvania) are on the radio.

And most of the United States is as cold as a whore’s goodbye.

January 8-11, 1968.

January 8-11, 1968.

We’ll choose the morning of January 9, and let the Associated Press tell the story (as reproduced on Page One of the Plattsburgh, N.Y., Press-Republican):

– Temperatures below freezing are clocked in 47 of the 48 contiguous states.

– Freezing rain, drizzle and sleet tie up roads from New Mexico to Oklahoma. Some parts of New Mexico — New Mexico! — receive six fresh inches of snow atop five already on the ground.

– A record low of 13 degrees is reported in Dallas.

– “Numerous deaths” are attributed to the weather; one assumes they were still being counted. (By Thursday afternoon, authorities would quantify the cold-related deaths at 82, with at least another 18 to 20 still under investigation.)

– Up to 10 inches of fresh snow fall in parts of the Northeast.

– A hotel fire in Philadelphia forces 350 elderly men and women, some naked, into the streets in 10-degree weather. Remarkably, none are killed in the fire, though 39 people are hospitalized.

(That’s just Page One. On Page Two we read about firefighters in Schenectady, N.Y., fighting two major downtown blazes in seven-below-zero cold, and a nationwide outbreak of Asian flu that’s killed 192 people in the Northeast alone.)

And that wasn’t the end of the cold. It kept going and going, all week long.

On Friday, Jan. 12, the New York Times reported that New Yorkers had endured seven straight days of below-freezing temperatures, with three of the days setting record lows.

The Automobile Club of New York reported receiving 23,000 phone calls since Monday the 8th from drivers unable to start their cars. Con Ed reported record demand for electricity, steam and natural gas. Commuter railways suffered major weather-related delays. And a ship just in from the North Atlantic turned around and left New York for Baltimore, hoping its winches and other equipment would thaw out enough there to allow for the unloading of cargo.

Speaking of Lyndon Johnson, as we were a while ago, the cold of January 1968 forced itself into his routine as well.

Cut to about 4:05 into the monthly film of Johnson’s activities produced by the U.S. government, and you’ll see footage of kids in fake fur-trimmed winter jackets, bopping up and down in the cold. You’ll also see adults wearing that sure-is-cold rictus grin that grown-ups get when they have to stand outside at official events in the wintertime.

The scene could pass for Albany, or at least Philadelphia.

And then you hear the voiceover: “On the 7th of January, some very chilly citizens of San Antonio gathered at Randolph Air Force Base.”

LBJ missed the very worst of the weather because he spent the first half of the month at his “Texas White House,” hosting Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and working on his State of the Union speech.

My grandparents, stuck in Connecticut not far outside New York City, didn’t have that good fortune.

I would like to say they kept moving and muddled through. But I see the canceled doctor’s appointment on the calendar, and I conclude that this cold snap was bad enough to force even the most stoic to the sidelines.

(I’m not sure I can blame cold-related befuddlement for my grandpa recording his doctor’s appointment at 12:30 a.m., rather than 12:30 p.m. He did that on other calendar entries. It seems to have been a repeated quirk of his, like buying lottery tickets.)

I also notice that my grandfather didn’t embellish extreme cold like he did extreme heat. There are no creative expressions for cold days — no “blisterbitchers” or “dingdongers.” Just extra-thick, extra-emphatic numbers with what look like long, trailing fingers of ice.

Maybe, for all his protestations about uncomfortably hot weather, he preferred that extreme to the other.

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Christmases past have brought the best out of me, but this year finds me with less to offer. The muse and I are splitsville, I think, and I get by mostly on offspeed stuff.

My great-grandma had something special to offer around this time of year. Her offering, unlike mine, depended less on inspiration and more on discipline and experience.

A taste of it now might be nice.

December 20, 1968.

December 20 and 21, 1968.

Stollen, just in case somebody out there doesn’t know, is a traditional German holiday fruitcake, commonly but not exclusively associated with the city of Dresden.

In addition to dried fruit and zest, it can also contain marzipan. My great-grandma had a longstanding fondness for marzipan. (I wonder if she learned to love marzipan because of stollen, or if she learned to love stollen because of marzipan.)

Like all fruitcakes, stollen is not the sexiest food in the world. If anything, it verges a bit on the frumpy. Which made it an ideal Christmastime treat for the humble, rooted folks at 1107 Hope Street.

I would love to share my great-grandma’s stollen recipe. Alas, I don’t have it, and as far as I know it’s not in the family archives.

So, in keeping with the somewhat faded and understated mood this holiday, here’s a secondhand re-gift of someone else’s stollen recipe. It’s from “The Joy of Cooking,” which everyone in the world ought to have on their shelves anyway.

I don’t honestly think anyone’s going to make stollen just ’cause they read about it here. If you do, good luck. If you don’t, I hope you enjoy whatever traditional holiday dish you choose to put on the table.

Merry Christmas.

Stollen, or Christmas Loaf

Have ready:
6 to 8 cups all-purpose flour

Combine and let stand 3 to 5 minutes:
1 1/2 cups water or milk at 105 to 115 degrees
2 packages active dry yeast

Add 1 cup of hte flour. Cover this sponge and let it rest in a warm place until light and foamy, about 1 hour. Sprinkle a little of the sifted flour over:
1/2 lb. raisins
1/2 lb. chopped blanched almonds
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped candied fruit)

Beat until soft:
1 1/2 cups butter

Add gradually and blend until light and creamy:
3/4 sifted sugar

Beat in, one at a time:
3 eggs

Add:
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp grated lemon rind

Add the sponge and enough flour to knead the dough until smooth and elastic.
Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.
Toss it onto a floured board. Knead in the fruit and nuts.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
Roll each into an 8-by-15-inch oval.
Fold in half lengthwise and place loaves on greased baking sheets.
Brush tops with melted butter.
Let loaves rise, covered, until they again almost double in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes until done.

(The book suggests using a milk or lemon glaze; the stollen of my memory is invariably topped with confectioners’ sugar.)

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