Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Toys and Memories

The author in his Roy Roger sweatshirt and Soupy Sales socks waiting by the traditional cedar tree for Santa and the family gathering to begin in 1960

J. Mark Lowe
Robertson County Historical Society
(previously published in the Robertson County Times)
My Dad purchased a movie camera on Christmas Eve of 1963 and we have a wonderful record of the people and gatherings of many holidays thereafter. Although everyone’s home movies look the same, it is hard to capture the true essence of those family gatherings.
In an effort to understand more about the childhood holidays and memories in Robertson County, I decided to listen to several friends discuss their most memorable holiday seasons.
Connie Head Lowe started asking friends on Facebook about their favorite Christmas toy and memory. Connie’s was Mr. Potato Head. It came with body parts but no body. You used a real potato. She remembered, “No telling how many potatoes we used, I bet mama and daddy were glad they had a good crop that year. Mama kept the apples and oranges in the hall were it was cool so they would keep longer, I can still smell the aroma it smelled like Christmas.”
The holiday season is filled with memories. Fragrances of cinnamon, gingerbread, and oranges fill the air. The smells and sounds of our memories connect us to our past and often to the enjoyment of special times of the year.
Edna Sloan Cooksey shared that her favorite Christmas toy was a 36" bride doll I received when I was six years old that I still have in the cedar chest. My doll is in great shape but one shoe broke but I think it can be fixed I just never bother to get her out and do it.
Dolls were definitely a favorite among this crowd. Dawn Foust Tinsley remembered receiving a Chrissy baby doll when she was five years old. Her hair was either short or you could pull it to make it long. Connie Head Lowe also got a large doll. Connie was six years old and her doll’s name was Cathy. Pam Head Champion, Connie’s sister, said she also got a doll about 1957. Pam’s doll had black hair and was named was Susie.
Cindy Farmer and Faye Hobgood Head both remembered their Thumbelina dolls. Faye said “I tried to take my Thumbelina apart to see how it worked. I thought my Mom was going to shoot me!” Cindy replied that she just wore her Thumbelina doll out.
Martha Walker shared her memories. “I think I still have every doll I ever got, and the clothes Momma made for them. But I remember when I got my "little red spinning wheel", I thought that was the neatest thing.” Martha said the only thing she ever made was a belt that was long enough for her Momma to wear. Martha also remembered a potholder weaving loom she received one Christmas. She added, “I thought I was going to get rich off [those potholders] selling them for a quarter a potholder, or five for a dollar.” Martha still has that loom.
My sister, Beverly Pyle, remembers a record player she received. It was one of those portable box types where the top fastened. She added, “I think the reason I loved it so much was that I always loved music.” Her Uncle, Hank Brosche, was a disc jockey in Bowling Green and gave her a bunch of 45 rpm records. All of Bev’s friends would come over and listen to music.
Colleen Bogenholm, who grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, remembered that every Christmas Eve, she and her sisters would always get a new pair of pajamas. Because they were so close in age, they almost always got the same presents, just different colors, etc. Colleen added, “Although our parents were not wealthy, we never knew it. My sisters and I remember such wonderful Holiday times. The one toy I remember was a doll I received when I was about five or six. These dolls did nothing, but their eyes did open and close. Their limbs did not bend.” Colleen said that later she and her sisters would take shoeboxes and make cars, so their dolls could travel around the country. They had such wonderful imaginations. Colleen’s daughter, Sara, and her friend, Jennifer Hatcher, both recalled playing with their Barbies. Sara remembered one that was really fancy with a big gold dress. She loved dressing up the dolls and she remembered receiving a really big Barbie doll house that she kept forever.
I remember gathering around the tree with my family as a child. Although the decorations on the tree changed through the years, the laughter, great food and fellowship were always present. Our home was always filled with friends and family. The gifts under the tree were not usually expensive, but every gift was important. Someone always commented about the blessings we had all received that year. Being the fifth child, I certainly heard many stories of earlier Christmas memories from my siblings.
Occasionally, my parents would load us in the family Oldsmobile and drive to town. Yes, we referred to Springfield as “town.” I remember visiting Santa at Ben Franklin’s 5 & 10 on Main Street. For some reason, I honestly told him I had not been good that year, and he gave me a lesser reward for my visit. I never made that mistake again. The next year I visited with Santa at Gamble’s Hardware on 5th Ave. My eye was on a bright red wagon. Santa came through that year.
Over the years, we visited Santa in many places in the county, and our requested gifts varied. Like many in America, we learned about the “wish book” from Sears, Roebuck & Co. or Montgomery Ward. We always loved our trips to town before Christmas. I remember sitting in the car at the Kroger (on 7th Ave.) watching the neon rocking chair at Garvin Furniture on Main St.. Springfield was lit up with the glow of Christmas lights and people were walking the streets “window shopping” after the stores had closed.
Old family movies and photographs cannot hold the smell of Christmas, but they can stir those memories that make our Holidays a special time. Family gatherings during this holiday are as varied as the individuals involved, but somehow, we have developed our own special family tradition – Traditions based on the memories of our youth.

Monday, December 6, 2010

More Television Memories

Evidently I struck a chord with our discussion of television in Middle Tennessee. I appreciate hearing from folks who remember vividly their first televisions. The majority of folks could remember their first color TV set and could describe the programs they viewed. Without exception their favorite programs broadcast in color were on Sunday. Wonderful World of Disney and Bonanza topped the list.
Bonanza ran on NBC from September 12, 1959 to January 16, 1973. The Cartwright’s Ponderosa came into our homes and we adopted the name “Ponderosa” to refer to a family’s farm or homeplace. Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) and his sons, Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker) and Little Joe (Michael Landon) were discussed throughout the area.
One storekeeper remembers that the demand for cowboy hats like Little Joe’s were demanded by youngsters in Robertson county. Many of my friends had the chaps, vest and hat to become a real Ponderosa cowboy. The number of children born with the names Adam, Joseph, Michael, Ben and Eric increased dramatically in the years, 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1963. Eric Cartwright was better known as ‘Hoss.’
Television series certainly shaped discussion and provided cultural lessons. Cheyenne Bodie, Bronco Layne, and Sugarfoot all taught the lesson that good overcomes evil. Cheyenne was a western television series of 108 black-and-white episodes broadcast on ABC from 1955 to 1963. The show was the first hour-long western and was filmed by Warner Brothers. Other Westerns mentioned by callers were the Mavericks, Have Gun Will Travel (Palladin), and Gunsmoke.
Some one remembered the stockade gates (looked like a Fort) over on Highway 41A where Cheyenne or another TV show did some filming. I was unable to gather information about this site, but would love to hear the story if you have information.

I even got a comment from my sister who says she remember watching Captain Midnight, whose show was sponsored by Ovaltine. Captain Midnight was an adventure series that followed the adventures of pilot Captain Midnight and his Secret Squadron. The series featured 39 black and white episodes. Much like the Little Orphan Annie radio episodes, Captain Midnight offered a decoder and secret messages as part of each show. I also learned Little Miss Brenda Lee was born Brenda Mae Tarpley on December 11, 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended Maplewood High School in Nashville, Tennessee.

I certainly remember the “Big Show,” a movie that came on every weekday afternoon on Channel 5. One of the reasons for the delay in television broadcasting in Middle Tennessee was the Korean War. The issuance of television broadcast licenses was frozen because of the war.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Television Comes to Town

Bill Jay and Captain Bob Lobertini

Brenda Lee visits Romper Room

The Map of the famous Bonanza - Sunday night television

Bob Overton hosted the Five O'Clock Hop

(As published in the Robertson County Times - August 2009
J. Mark Lowe
Robertson County Historical Society
In a January 1937 edition of the Robertson County Times, an article predicted that Television would be a reality by next Christmas [1938]. I suddenly realized television has been present for most post-WW2 babies and wondered how this medium has changed our perception of the world.
Here’s the article reprinted from the Times taken from The Progressive Farmer magazine.
Television by Christmas of 1937 is now the prediction. Of course many engineers around the world are working at the problems of television. If we do have television by next Christmas, it is largely due to the genius of an Idaho farm lad – Philo T. Farnsworth.
Philo Taylor Farnsworth was born in 1906 in southwestern Utah, in a log cabin built by his grandfather, a follower of the Mormon leader, Brigham Young. As a young boy, Farnsworth loved to read Popular Science magazine and science books. By the time he entered high school in Rigby, Idaho, he had already converted most of the family's household appliances to electrical power.
Farnsworth was particularly interested in molecular theory and motors, as well as then novel devices like the Bell telephone, the Edison gramophone, and, later, the Nipkow-disc television. In 1922, Farnsworth sketched out for his Chemistry teacher his idea for an "image dissector" vacuum tube that could revolutionize television.
Neither Farnsworth's teacher nor anyone else around him had ever heard of the "television," which in the 1920s meant a device that mechanically scanned an image through a spinning disc with holes cut in it, then projected a tiny, unstable reproduction of what was being scanned on a screen. Farnsworth imagined instead a vacuum tube that could reproduce images electronically, by shooting a beam of electrons, line by line, against a light-sensitive screen.
Living on a farm 50 miles from a railroad, by the time he was 12 years old, he was chief engineer on his father’s farm. He developed a home lighting plant, hay-hoisting equipment and converted a handpowered washing machine into an electrically operated one. He even winded the armature for his electric motor.
Farnsworth dreamed of television without moving parts when he was thirteen; a year later, still in high school, he invented some of the basic parts of electronic television.
At age 19 in 1926, he completed his models and blueprints, applying for patents on his television device. In 1927, he received his first patent, on an entire television system – not just one part – and Donald K. Lippincott, the radio engineer, called him one of the ten greatest mathematical wizards of the day. Since that time, he has been busy building his system. An experimental broadcasting station has been completed in Philadelphia and test are now being conducted on an extensive scale. It seems likely that the image will be 8 by 10 inches in size with a home receiver becoming available for $200 to $300.

Television did not become a reality in 1937. It was two more years before limited broadcasts would begin in the U.S. Television came to Robertson county in 1950. WSM, Nashville’s first AM radio station in 1925 and FM radio station in 1941 became the first television broadcaster. It was estimated there were 10,000 television set in all of Middle Tennessee in 1950. The first program included Jack DeWitt, Ott Devine, David Cobb and Dottie Dillard. WSIX-TV began broadcasting in 1953, and WLAC-TV joined the air in 1954. Most Robertson county folks depended upon radio stations for local news and weather reports, along with the daily newspapers from Nashville and local weekly papers. With the advent of television, early morning news and weather reports became popular. Eddie Hill, hosted a news and variety show, called Country Junction. This program featured local talent, with current farm prices and basic weather forecasts. WSM added the Waking Crew, the Noon Show and regular news programming with Jud Collins.
WSIX introduced us to live studio wrestling, Youth on Parade, and Shock Theatre.
When asked about the first TV shows he watched, my brother, Wayne, remembered watching the Howdy Doody Show with Buffalo Bob Smith, Clarabell the Clown and Chief Thunderthud. He also mentioned the Lone Ranger and Romper Room, but they never called his name through the Magic Mirror. Romper Room changed teachers over the years, but stuck with some of the same songs, games, and sayings – like Do Bee. My sister, Beverly, and her friends watched American Bandstand in the afternoon, and a Nashville show, called 5 o’clock Hop hosted by Dave Overton. Little Miss Brenda Lee was a regular guest on that show.
The cartoon shows continued to be the primary entertainment of younger viewers. I remember Captain Bill Jay and Captain Bob Lobertini both hosting Popeye and other cartoons. Other folks mentioned Bozo the clown, Captain Countdown, Cap’n Crook’s Crew, and the Happy Town Gang. Boyce Hawkins, remembered as a weather man, played Grandpa Moses on the Happy Town Gang which played the Three Stooges comedies. The great westerns like Roy Rogers, My Friend Flicka, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Bonzana, and Maverick were the favorites of young and old alike.
My Mom and some of her friends watched Jack LaLanne and Slimnastics, with Bob Lobertini and Jackie Bell. These exercise program introduced the Glamour Stretcher and regular daily exercise routines. I remember these grown ladies rolling on the floor doing the bicycle and hip rolls. One of my Dad’s favorite programs was Woods ‘n Waters hosted by Bill Jay and Bill Clay. I remember we made a special trip down 8th Ave in Nashville to visit Bill Clay’s Sporting Goods store in Melrose Place.
Today with the addition of cable and satellite programming, recording devices and movie rentals, it is not uncommon for homes to have a television in every room of the house. My how times change, I still remember when WLAC – Channel 5 became the first Nashville station to go to a 24-hour format. We sat up all night just to see it happen. I wonder what Philo T. Farnsworth would think today about his invention.
Sources: Nashville Broadcasting, Dorman; Popular Science – Nov 1940; RC Times 1937.
J. Mark Lowe
J. Mark Lowe Reviews
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