Saturday, June 27, 2015

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 6/28/1965 to 7/4/1965

Rome's economy was doing so well this week in 1965 that the Rome City Commission voted to give all city employees a 5% raise effective July 1st. The city also began the first steps to annex the General Electric Co. plan and property into the city, which would boost city tax coffers (including the school tax, which would mean more money for West Rome High School and all other city schools).

West Rome's very own Lucille Smiderski was the director of Project Head Start, which was first launched in Rome in the summer of 1965. She said that the program had gotten off to a wonderful start in its first year. About 225 children were participating in the program, which was being conducted at six schools in the area, including Elm Street. Mrs. Smiderski said that children were "learning to be responsible and to learn through play," adding that she was "very pleased by how well the children were getting along with each other." She said that she hoped the program's success would lead to its eventual expansion into a year-long program.

Meanwhile, Rome City Schools began training English teachers to teach "new English" using what they were calling "transformational-generative grammar." The gobbledygook that the city presented to describe the new approach included the statement that "it taught us to generate the structure of the sentence the way a chemist generates a solution by adding required ingredients... encouraging us to begin with broad generalizations and work up to specific ideas." It would stress "kernels and transforms" over nouns and verbs, and would teach the value of dialect to give students more social mobility. And much to the dismay of brilliant teachers like Miss Kitty Alford, diagramming was to be entirely dropped from he curriculum. Alas, school officials always have been all too hasty to jump on every jargon-filled idea that comes across their desks... *sigh*

The state began adding color photos to driver's licenses this week in 1965; until this time, all driver's license photos had been black and white. According to one license official, the color photo process was taking a bit longer because people were primping more for the photos (because of course, everyone has always confused their driver's license photo with a professional portrait...). Because of the extra cost of color photography, the license fees increased to $2.50 for a 2-year license and $5.50 for a five-year license--an increase of 50¢ per license.

Federal officials threatened to cut off federal funding for Floyd Hospital, saying that the hospital was failing to comply with anti-discrimination provisions of federal law. The hospital said that no operations would be curtailed as a result of the funding cutbacks, but they were also setting up meetings with federal officials to address the complaint that had been filed by the local NAACP and try to avoid the loss of funding.

Johnny Reb Food Store opened at 2209 Shorter Avenue this week in 1965. The grand opening celebration includes free cases of Coke to the first 75 customers, free balloons and bubble gum for kids, and a drawing for a free $50 gift certificate. (Yes, in 1965 a food store called Johnny Reb, using the stars and bars in its advertising, wasn't at all controversial.)

Of course, the approaching Fourth of July holiday led to the usual admonitions about the use of fireworks, including the notice that both the city and county police would be issuing citations for anyone observed using anything other than sparklers over the holiday.

Piggly Wiggly had Lay's twin packs of potato chips for 49¢ each, Sunshine cookies for 33¢ a bag, and Swift premium hot dogs for 39¢ a pound. Kroger had watermelons for 49¢ each, ground beef for 39¢ a pound, and a 24-ounce bottle of Hunt's ketchup for 29¢. Big Apple had spare ribs for 37¢ a pound, tomatoes for 15¢ a pound, and Irvindale ice cream for 49¢ a half-gallon. A&P had chicken breast quarters for 35¢ a pound, cantaloupes for 33¢ each, and a case of Coca-Cola or Tab for 99¢ plus deposit. Couch's had ground chuck for 59¢ a pound, a pint of Blue Plate mayonnaise for 25¢, and a case of Double Cola for 69¢ plus deposit.

The cinematic week began with The Yellow Rolls Royce (with Ingrid Bergman, Rex Harrison, & George C. Scott) at the DeSoto, I'll Take Sweden (with Bob Hope & Tuesday Weld) at the First Avenue, and a double feature of The Man Who Could Cheat Death (with Christopher Lee) and Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (with Christopher Lee & Peter Cushing) at the West Rome Drive-In. The midweek switch out brought  Von Ryan's Express (with Frank Sinatra & Trevor Howard) to the DeSoto, The Family Jewels (with Jerry Lewis) to the First Avenue, and a double feature of Tarzan the Magnificent (with Gordon Scott as Tarzan and Jock Mahoney as the bad guy) and Tarzan's Three Challenges (with Jock Mahoney as Tarzan--he got a promotion!) at the West Rome Drive-In.

The Rolling Stones took the number one spot this week in 1965 with their hit single "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Other top ten hits included "I Can't Help Myself" by the Four Tops (#2); "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds (#3); "Wonderful World" by Herman's Hermits (#4); "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs (#5); "Yes, I'm Ready" by Barbara Mason (#6); "Seventh Son" by Johnny Rivers (#7); "Cara Mia" by Jay & the Americans (#8); "You Turn Me On" by Ian Whitcomb (#9); and "What the World Needs Now Is Love" by Jackie DeShannon (#10).

The Beatles hodgepodge album release Beatles VI took the number one spot this week in 1965, breaking Mary Poppins' months-long hold on the number one position.

The biggest new release album this week in 1965 was There Is Only One Roy Orbison by..., well, I'll be you can guess who. Alas, Orbison no longer had the chart power that he once had, and this album itself failed to break the top forty albums, while the only single, "Ride Away," made it no higher than #25 in the US charts.

Reed Richards and Sue Storm got married this week in 1965 in the pages of Fantastic Four Annual #3, a guest-star-laden extravaganza of a tale that made it clear that comic book fans had no problems with married superheroes. My favorite part of the comic? The brief cameo by creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who are stopped at the door when they attempt to attend the wedding.

This was also the week that Jules Feiffer's amazing Great Comic Book Heroes was released. For those of us who had been intrigued by the glimpses into the Golden Age that DC's Earth-2 stories had offered, a book of commentary on the Golden Age was fascinating--but it was the heaping helping of Golden Age reprints featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, the Spirit, Green Lantern, the Flash, Hawkman and many others that made it a must-have. I added the book to my wish list that summer, but wouldn't get my very own copy until Christmas, when my parents gave the me the copy that still sits in a position of honor on my bookshelf today.

And there was one other book with which I have a personal connection: Charlie Chan #1 from Dell Comics. You see, Charlie Chan was created by a distant relative of mine, Earl Derr Biggers--and he and I actually share the same birthday, although separated by many decades. (Even more surprising, Earl Derr Biggers and I both had major heart attacks at almost exactly the same age to the day... but Earl didn't fare as well as I did, succumbing to his heart attack soon thereafter. Years later, when I finally got a copy of one of Earl Derr Biggers Charlie Chan novels autographed by the author, I was taken aback to see that his handwriting almost precisely mirrored my father's, even down the the same distinctive flourish on the B and the double-g's in Biggers.)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 6/21/1965 to 6/27/1965

Coosa Valley Tech was only a couple of years old, but the school was meeting with such overwhelming success that the Floyd County Board of Education and the State Department of Education jointly announced plans for a $750,000.00 expansion of the school, adding 22,000 more square feet of classrooms and labs. Many Chieftains went on to get post-secondary education and job training at CVT, of course—and it remains a vital part of the community today.

Speaking of construction, work began on the new Industrial Arts Shop for West Rome High School. It's amazing to relize that, back then, an entire wing of a building could be built in eight weeks and ready for use by the time the next school term began. Nowadays they wouldn't even finish the site preparation in eight weeks!

Superior Court Judge Robert Scoggins spoke out regarding Rome's rapidly increasing juvenile delinquency problem. He said that the number of cases in the first five months of 1965 was almost twice the level of 1964, with destructive vandalism being the most common problem. The most serious case involved manslaughter, Judge Scoggins said, and the minor was set to be tried as an adult for that crime. He urged parents to keep closer watch on their children during the summer to try to cut down on the problem.

The economic numbers for April were finally tallied, and it turned out that Rome saw a 26% increase in department store sales over the same period in 1964, making Rome the fastest growing area in the state in that category. Furniture sales remained steady year-over-year in Rome, even though they dropped 4% across the state.

Eastern Airlines announced plans to resume daily airline service from Atlanta to Rome, continuing on to Nashville, as well as return flights from Rome to Atlanta. The flights had been put on hold in 1964, but Eastern said that demand seemed sufficient to resume the flights starting later in the summer.

Piggly Wiggly had chuck roast for 39¢ a pound, pole beans for 19¢ a pound, and watermelons for 69¢ each. Big Apple had round steak for 79¢ a pound, Van Camp Pork and Beans for 20¢ a can, and Starkist tuna for 39¢ a can. Kroger had t-bone steak for $1.09 a pound, Libby's Vienna sausage for 20¢ a can, and eggs for 33¢ a dozen. A&P had shrimp for 89¢ a pound, Jif peanut butter for 47¢ a jar, and Eight O'Clock coffee for 65¢ a pound. Couch's had pork chops for 59¢ a pound, five pounds of Domino sugar for 29¢, and fresh tomatoes for 9¢ a pound.

The cinematic week began with In Harm's Way (with John Wayne & Kirk Douglas) at the DeSoto, A High Wind In Jamaica (with Anthony Quinn) at the First Avenue, and a double feature of Beach Blanket Bingo (with Annette Funicello) and Susan Slade (with Troy Donahue) at the West Rome Drive-In. The midweek switch out saw In Harm's Way continue at the DeSoto and the Beach Blanket Bingo/Susan Slade double feature hang on at the West Rome Drive-In,, while I'll Take Sweden (with Bob Hope & Tuesday Weld) came to the First Avenue. Apparently, Romans didn't go to the movies very much during the summer in the 1960s...

The Four Tops took number one this week in 1965 with "I Can't Help Myself." Other top ten hits included "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones (#2); "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds (#3); "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs (#4); "Wonderful World" by Herman's Hermits (#5); "For Your Love" by the Yardbirds (#6); "Seventh Son" by Johnny Rivers (#7, appropriately enough!); "Crying in the Chapel" by Elvis Presley (#8); "Yes I'm Ready" by Barbara Mason (#9); and "What the World Needs Now Is Love" by Jack DeShannon (#10).

The big album release this week in 1965 as the Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man, which showcased the talents of Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke. The album's twelve tracks included four covers of Bob Dylan songs, including the title song, which had been released as a single ahead of the album and was firmly ensconced in the top ten by the time the album made it to the Record Shop, Redford's, Sears, and the other places where Romans bought their albums.

DC's (and editor Julius Schwartz's) interest in reintroducing the Golden Age heroes into the DC line continued in Brave & Bold #61 as Starman and the Black Canary starred in their own adventure, courtesy of Gardner Fox & Murphy Anderson.  For readers who weren't quite sure who these Earth-2 characters were, DC added one-page origin text features for each of the heroes. For those like me who were fascinated with heroes whose early tales dated back to the time when my parents were my age, a new story starring these characters was a wonderful treat... and even the eleven-year-old me recognized the beauty of artist Murphy Anderson's fine linework!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thanks, Mrs. Harwell

This morning, I received word that Emma Conn Harwell had died on Sunday, June 14th, at the age of 91.

Mrs. Harwell probably never remembered me, because she had so many loyal customers who cherished Conn's, the Shorter Avenue store that she and her family ran from the time I moved to Rome until the store was destroyed in a fire (I don't know when the store first opened; the earliest Rome phone book I have is 1953, and it contains an ad for "Shorter Avenue Super Market—J.W. Conn, proprietor," so Conn's was a part of West Rome long before there was a West Rome High School). Was there anyone who lived in West Rome at that time who didn't consider Conn's a vital part of the community, a retail landmark?

Conn's was important to me because it had the best selection of comic books in West Rome. When most stores had one spinner rack, Conn's had two, and they were both filled with new release comics. If you couldn't find a comic anywhere else, Conn's was the place to go. The racks were located deep in the shop, so any trip to Conn's in search of comics took me past the shelves of snacks and candies and groceries.

And the bakery.

Never in my decades on this earth have I known a bakery like Conn's. Cakes, cookies, fritters, cupcakes--they had it all. But Conn's bakery was legendary for two things: doughnuts and brownies.

Krispy Kreme may be praised nowadays as the number one shop for  soft, rich, sweet, robustly flavored doughnuts with just the right touch of icing--but that's only because Conn's bakery is no longer competing with them. Those doughnuts were melt-in-your-mouth soft, without the least touch of the breadiness that passes for doughnuts at so many shops today. The icing hardened to a lightly crystalline glazing that melted slightly at fingertip temperature, leaving just the right touch of sweet stickiness when you picked one up. It was the best doughnut ever.

If there was anything that could compete with them, it was Conn's brownies. They were dense and chocolatey and rich, but not heavy or gummy. the fudge icing on the top added an intense chocolate creaminess to each bite. If you like chocolate, you would have loved Conn's brownies. If you don't like chocolate... well, it's obvious that you weren't lucky enough to have tasted Conn's brownies.

Conn's was the last of the true neighborhood family-owned groceries. The staff at Conn's may not have known my name, but they recognized my face--not a surprise, considering how often I was in there!--and treated me like a welcome guest. Sometimes, they'd even throw an extra doughnut or brownie in the bag when I made  a purchase, just because that's how nice they were. And if a was a penny or two short for my comics purchase, Mrs. Harwell would tell me to bring it in the next time. And I did, because she had shown trust in a kid to do the right thing and I didn't want to let her down.

And my parents loved to go there. Dad would talk sports with people in Conn's almost every time he went there--and sooner or late, the conversation would always turn to West Rome High School. It was a comfortable, inviting store that encouraged people to talk... a place where you felt welcome.

Conn's was just a few hundred yards east of the office of Dr. Cromartie, my family dentist. Showing the sort of bad judgment that only a child could make, I would end any trip to the dentist--whether for a routine cleaning or a filling--with a walk to Conn's, where I would reward myself with a brownie or a doughnut... or both. Even if one side of mouth was numb from Novocaine, I could enjoy the taste on the other side of my mouth!...

Long after Susan and I were married and I had moved away from Rome, we would stop by Conn's when we visited my parents. And when I saw the news that the store had burned down, I felt like a vital part of my youth had been destroyed with it. I loved the store, thanks to the people who put their hearts into making it more than just a place where you bought things.

I know the family of Mrs. Harwell are mourning her loss now, but I hope they can find some solace in the knowledge that she made West Rome a better place for all of us who lived there. Thanks, Mrs. Harwell!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 6/14/1965 to 6/20/1965

 Summertime, and the living was easy... and apparently not very newsworthy! With school out for the summer, there were no high-school sporting events, no meetings, no clubs, no school events—in short, the summer of 1965 was the sort of long, hot, langorous summer that we remember so fondly now. The first half of the week was soggy, with heavy rain every day through Wednesday, but it began to slack off by Thursday and by Friday we were back to typical Georgia heat and humidity... but somehow, it didn't see as bad when I was only 11 years old, even though we only had air conditioning in the family living room, so I had to rely on a box fan to cool off in my bedroom. Of course, most of us grew up planning for hot summers rather than isolating ourselves from them, so we didn't think that much about it.

How many times did the Rome and Floyd County school systems talk about merging into one system? The subject came up yet again this week in 1965, with county leaders and state education officials stressing how much more efficient and cost-effective a single system would be. Rome officials expressed interest if the financial requirements could be worked out (but we all know that they never were resolved, just as they remained unresolved during prior discussions, so the systems continue to this day as two separate systems).

It's baaaack!...  The proposed Floyd Junior College, apparently killed back in 1963, returned from the dead this week in 1965 as the State Board of Regents  said that Rome was one of three areas given high priority in plans for a new junior college. Rome had been a serious contender for a junior college two years earlier, but had been eliminated from contention at the last minute.

An unnamed state official told Rome and Floyd County that their desegregation plans were expected to be approved by the first week of July, and that school systems should begin making registration schedules around those proposed plans. The city's plan called for grades 1, 2, 3, 7, 9, and 12 to be desegregated beginning in the 1965-1966 school year.

The decline of interest in train travel reached Rome as Southern Railway announced a reduction of train service from Rome to Macon. Where there had previously been two trains per day to Macon, the railway was cutting that to one train per day--a train that would continue on to Jacksonville, Florida-- due to insufficient ridership.

Atlanta Gas Light began pushing natural gas air conditioning again this week in 1965, promoting its cost-effectiveness (almost 30% lower to operate than electric air conditioning)--and to sweeten the deal, they were offering low monthly payments over a three-year period with no interest. Not sure what happened to natural gas air conditioning... we hardly ever hear of it today, but every article from the time makes it sound like a superior system.

The savings stamp craze was in full bloom in 1965, and even appliance stores were getting into the game. Floyd Outlaw Furniture and Appliances was offering 8000 Gold Bond stamps to anyone who bought a Maytag washer for the low price of $269.95 (yes, that's over $2000 today, adjusted for inflation!).

Piggly Wiggly had Luzianne instant coffee for 59¢ a jar, Lady Alice ice milk for 19¢ a half-gallon, and eggs for 39¢ a dozen. Big Apple had sirloin steak for 79¢ a pound, Happy Valley ice cream for 49¢ a half-gallon, and watermelons for 79¢ each. Kroger had chicken breast for 49¢ a pound, Maxwell House coffee for 69¢ a pound, and lemons for 27¢ a dozen. A&P had round steak for 79¢ a pound, Allgood bacon for 59¢ a pound, and lettuce for 25¢ a head. Couch's had Swift's smoked picnic ham for 29¢ a pound, Coca-Cola or Tab for 99¢ a case plus deposit, and Blue Plate mayonnaise for 49¢ a quart.

The cinematic week began with Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion at the DeSoto, Up from the Beach (with Cliff Robertson & Red Buttons) at the First Avenue, and a double feature of Fanny Hill (with such big name stars as Leticia Roman & Ulli Lommel) and The Millionaires (with Sophia Loren & Peter Sellers) at the West Rome Drive-In. The midweek switch out brought another lion to the theater in the film Fluffy (starring Tony Randall, Shirley Jones, and Fluffy the Lion), while the DeSoto kept Clarence around for an extra week and the West Rome Drive-In offered a double feature of Dr. No and From Russia With Love, the first two James Bond films.

The Byrds took the top spot this week in 1965 with their cover version of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." Other top ten hits included "I Can't Help Myself" by the Four Tops (#2); "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs (#3); "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones (#4); "Wonderful World" by Herman's Hermits (#5); "Crying in the Chapel" by Elvis Presley (#6); "For Your Love" by the Yardbirds (#7); "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" by Patti Page (#8); "Help Me Rhonda" by the Beach Boys (#9); and "Seventh Son" by Johnny Rivers (#10).

The big album release for the week was Beatles VI, a Capitol Records offering made especially for the US market. While most of the tracks on this album were either leftovers from UK albums or singles, two tracks were moved  from the upcoming Help album to this offering ("You Like Me Too Much" and "Tell ME What You See"), and two more were songs recorded by the Beatles especially for the US market ("Bad Boy" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy"). This was actually their seventh album for Capitol if you count the double-record set The Beatles Story (although that album was mostly biography and history, with only brief snippets of music).

The Justice League was missing in action in their own comic this week in 1965--but the Justice Society stepped in to take their place in Justice League of America #37's "Earth Without a Justice League." This was the beginning issue of the third JLA storyline featuring the  the Golden Age versions of the Flash, the Atom, Green Lantern, and Hawkman, along with Doctor Fate, Mr. Terrific, and Johnny Thunder. The meeting of the two super teams had become a can't-miss annual event for comic book readers like me who wanted to learn more about these superheroes who fought crime in the years before we were  born.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 6/7/1965 to 6/13/1965

In hopes of rerouting I-75 on a path closer to Rome, the City Commission named June 11th as "Interstate 75 Day" in Rome, hoping to drum up public support for the city's preferred "western route" plan that would bring I-75 to the west of Cartersville, where it would intersect with US411 about  fifteen miles east of Rome. (We know now that in spite of Rome's efforts, the western plan never took hold, and I-75 ended up to the  east of Cartersville with no direct access to Rome).  s

West Rome's Mrs. Lucille Smiderski headed up a Project Head Start personnel training session at Georgia Tech that began this week in 1965. The training session was designed to present teachers with useful techniques to help pre-school children who would be attending Rome's "Head Start" classes over the summer.

The Rome City School system said that the state had allocated $212,000 in school construction funds to the Rome system. When added to the school bond issue that passed in May, this would provide enough funding to complete Rome's $1.2 million building program.

Floyd officials warned high school students that "lovers' lane" parking trysts could be dangerous, warning amorous teens that there had been reports of robberies, rapes, and vandalism associated with isolated parking for romantic  interludes. "Not only do the young people run the risk of tarnishing their reputations, but they also place themselves in a potentially dangerous situation," Floyd County Police chief Von Brock said. "A boy and girl can never tell who or what is lurking behind nearby bushes or trees. Many times lovers' lanes are prime hunting grounds for deviates." (Apparently the 1965 method of deterring bouts of romantic parking was to conjure up plot lines of bad horror/slasher films! And yet I never once read a followup story of a tragic bloodbath at a remote lovers' lane in Rome, nor were their any Rome manhunts for teen-stalking serial killers, as far as I can remember...)

Southern Bell announced the addition of fifty more operators for the Rome area, adding $150,000 to Rome's annual payroll (were operators really paid only $3000 a year in 1965?). The increase in operators was necessitated by Rome's rapid growth, and by the fact that many homes were adding second phone lines for high-school-age children.

Piggly Wiggly had Plymouth ice cream for 49¢ a half-gallon, Miracle Whip for 59¢ a quart, and hen turkeys for 39¢ a pound. Big Apple had spare ribs for 33¢ a pound, Bailey's Supreme coffee for 59¢ a pound, and a two-pound bag of frozen french fries for 29¢. Kroger had smoked hams for 39¢ a pound, corn for a nickel an ear, and apples for 13¢ a pound. A&P had ground beef for 39¢ a pound, blueberries for 39¢ a pint, and large watermelons for 99¢ each. Couch's had lamb roast for 33¢ a pound, fresh okra for 19¢ a pound, and Van Camp pork & beans for 7¢ a can.

The cinematic week began with Tickle Me (with Elvis Presley) at the DeSoto Theater; a double feature of The World of Abbott & Costello and The Sword of Ali Baba at the First Avenue (apparently, once school was out for the summer, the powers that be figured that people would go see pretty much anything); and Return to Peyton Place at the West Rome Drive-In. The midweek switch out brought Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion to the DeSoto; Mister Moses (with Robert Mitchum & Carroll Baker) to the First Avenue; and a double feature of Go Go Mania (with Matt Monro, The Animals, and a brief appearance by The Beatles) and Parrish (with Troy Donahue) to the West Rome Drive-In.

The Four Tops took number one this week in 1965 with "I Can't Help Myself." Other top ten hits included "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds (#2); "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs (#3); "Crying in the Chapel" by Elvis Presley (#4); "Back in My Arms Again" by the Supremes (#5); "Wonderful World" by Herman's Hermits (#6); "Help Me Rhonda" by the Beach Boys (#7); "Engine Engine #9" by Roger Miller (#8); "For Your Love" by the Yardbirds (#9); and "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" by Patti Page (#10). 

The two big album releases for the week were The Angry Young Them by Them (featuring lead singer Van Morrison) and For Your Love by the Yardbirds (featuring lead guitarists Eric Clapton on most tracks and Jeff Beck on three songs. For most of us, this was our first exposure to Eric Clapton... but it certainly wouldn't be our last!