Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome: 12/24/62 - 12/30/62

1962 was a turbulent year in so many ways—the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Sino-Indian War, the tail end of a recession—but it was nevertheless a year filled with hope. West Rome was a particularly positive place to be in 1962: it was growing faster than any other part of Rome, and it seemed that all the promise of the future was centered in this side of town. West Rome High entered its fifth year in the fall of 1962, which meant that the school had existed longer than any of its students had been in high school... certain proof that the sense of newness had given way to an established reality. The area was growing so quickly that West End Elementary had to be constructed nearby to supply another feeder school for West Rome's ever-expanding population. Some of us who had attended Elm Street would soon be redistricted to West End... and some of us would actually spend some of our elementary school years attending classes on the West Rome campus, since the rapid growth forced Rome City Schools to use some of the classrooms on the south end of the school (where West Rome Junior High was located) for overflow elementary classes.

And 1962 closed out on a small city that could offer almost everything its residents could hope for: numerous employers hiring everyone from laborers to skilled craftsmen to technicians and engineers, a growing economy, a full selection of shopping that made it possible for families to find everything they needed in Rome without ever having to go out of town, an array of educational opportunities that included both Berry and Shorter as well as Coosa Valley Tech (Floyd Junior College was still a few years away), vigorous new home construction... it's no wonder that 1962 was such a year of optimism.

Luther H. Hodges, President Kennedy's Secretary of Commerce, was busy over the holiday week, pushing for a tax cut in 1962. Secretary Hodges was hoping to convince both Democrats and Republicans to vote in favor of the tax cut--and apparently he was quite persuasive, because that cut passed and the economy boomed, just as he and President Kennedy said it would.

The Nina, an exact replica of one of the ships in Christopher Columbus' fleet, reached the Bahamas on its voyage to the "New World" on Christmas Day. (Remember how excited our teachers were about this historic re-enactment? I still recall Mrs. Cook at Elm Street Elementary talking about it…)

Rome's crime spree continued as a gun-toting bandit robbed a local fruit stand operator at gunpoint, taking $437 in cash (and that's a LOT of fruit!). The neatly-dressed bandit had a shiny new car AND a shiny new revolver. Then, on December 30th, burglars took down the door to Duke Tire Company on DeSoto Avenue, tore open the safe, stole $1042--but thoughtfully put the door back up and repaired the hinges before leaving.

Rome's Chamber of Commerce began a concerted push for regular airline service for Russell Field, hoping it would benefit the city and the county. As we know, their efforts were largely unsuccessful except for a few small feeder flights

Main Elementary School burned down on December 27th, forcing the relocation of students to other schools in the area. It's hard to believe that 1962 was a year when Rome still had segregated schools; it would be several more years before Rome City Schools would be fully desegregated.

Sears had a big after-Christmas sale that led off with "a shoe sale so big we've moved to the toy shop," with all shoes priced from $3.97 to $7.97. White sheets were on sale for $1.47 each (but they only carried twin and full sized sheets; the move to queen-sized mattresses was just beginning in this part of the country in the 1960s, and the queen-sized sheet wouldn't become a part of most department stores' regular stock for a few more years), and a state-of-the art completely frostless refrigerator was marked down to $247.00.

Looking ahead to New Year's, Kroger ran a special on hog jowls at 19¢ a pound, black eyed peas at 9¢ a pound, and smoked ham at 59¢ a pound. Turnip greens were 9¢ a pound at Big Apple. Potatoes were 29¢ for a ten-pound bag at Piggly Wiggly. And at A&P, the relatively unknown avocado was the subject of a major marketing push; not only was it sold at a price of 2/29¢, but any purchase came with a recipe book that told buyers what to do with the avocado after they got it home!

If  you wanted hog jowl, black eyed peas, and collard greens but didn't feel like cooking, McCullough's Restaurant on Martha Berry Highway at the Underpass was the place to go: they offered a meal of all three for only $1 per person through New Year's Day.

West Rome's girls basketball team lost to Johnson 51-47 in the opening round of the third annual Dave Spring Invitational Girls Basketball Tournament. Other than that one game, our Chieftain athletes had the week off.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day brought showings of White Christmas at the DeSoto Theater; Gay Purree at the First Avenue; and That Touch of Mink at the West Rome Drive-In. The day after Christmas saw The War Lover with Steve McQueen and Robert Wagner open at the DeSoto, while the First Avenue ran Splendor in the Grass and Parrick, with the warning that "these pictures are adult drama! Children would not like or understand this type of picture!"  Apparently they had second thoughts, because those films ran only one day; West Side Story opened on December 27th. The weekend saw the opening of Debbie Reynolds' The Second Time Around at the DeSoto and Walk on the Wild Side at the West Rome Drive-In.

And so 1962 came to a quiet close in Rome as we welcomed in 1963--a year that began with so many dreams and expectations but was destined to end in sorrow...

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