Palisades Park

If you were looking for the 7-14 year old demographic for advertising purposes in the 1960’s, all you needed to do was place an ad in a DC comic book.

The items I saw advertised there were bewildering in their numbers. And they are also firmly lodged in my now forty-seven year old memory banks. Today’s piece is about a place that was too magical for me to imagine as a child (and, sadly, a place I never actually visited): Palisades Park in New Jersey.

How great was this place? SUPERMAN HIMSELF endorsed it! He even offered you a free ticket to go visit it for yourself!

There were many advantages to growing up in Small Town America. There was no need to lock the house. The neighbors would keep an eye on things for you. You could walk to school, or anywhere else in town your young legs could take you, with no fear (or even any concept) of the possibility of violent crime. And you knew every single family who lived on your street, and many others in the area as well.

But we had to sit and read about magical places like Palisades Park in New Jersey with no hope of ever going there ourselves.

1967 newspaper ad for Palisades Park

Palisades Park was born in 1898. Its original incarnation was as a trolley park. Are you as confused by that term as I was? Well, to clarify things, here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

In the United States, trolley parks, which started in the 19th century, were picnic and recreation areas at the ends of streetcar lines, created by the streetcar companies to give people a reason to use their services on weekends. These parks consisted of picnic groves and pavilions, and often held events such as dances, concerts, and fireworks. Many eventually added features such as carousels, ferris wheels, and other rides. However, with the increasing number of automobiles in use, trolley parks gradually declined and some disappeared. Others survived and developed into amusement parks.

And Palisades Park was perhaps the most shining example of the latter in the country, at least in the 1960’s.

Sitting on a mere 38 acres, this piece of real estate was visited by untold millions of delighted customers from its birth to its closing in 1971. Home to some of the most magnificent roller coasters ever created, these included several versions of the Cyclone (one, being built prior to 1920, was so frightening that it was demolished due to low usage), the Lake Placid Bobsleds, the Jetstar, the Wildcat, and the giant wooden coaster that was pictured in the comic book ads.

Palisades had lots of other stuff going on, too. It was the home of the Little Miss America contest, the largest saltwater pool in the world, and loads of barkers at games designed to separate your quarters from your pocket.

When I was researching this article, I found this site full of the memories of those who visited the wonderful piece of heaven on earth. It’s a bittersweet read, for, alas, the park is no more.

Hugely successful until its closing day, it was a victim of its prime location. It turns out that Palisades Park, like so many of the drive-in movies we grew up with, sat on some primo real estate. When rezoning allowed condominium development, Palisades was sold in 1971 to a company which chopped up the immortal rides, sold them a piece at a time, and bulldozed everything down for multifamily dwellings.

And, BTW, they DON’T advertise in DC comic books.

OK, readers, I want to see comments from you who were fortunate enough to take Superman up on his invitation to pay a visit to Palisades Park.

Naptime in Kindergarten

When we were kids, kindergarten was an option, not a requirement. And if our parents opted for it, it cost them cash.

At least that’s the way it was in Oklahoma. That’s how I ended up going to Mrs. Adams’ big yellow rock house every day.

My mom, a schoolteacher, was familiar with Mrs. Adams and her teaching program. She was using something relatively new at the time: phonics. Mom saw the value of learning how to spell, read, and pronounce phonetically. The public schools had not yet committed to the teaching method. But mom had.

I don’t remember too much about kindergarten except for a few things. One was that Mrs. Adams was a fan of cooked cabbage. It wasn’t unusual for the fetid stench of cooked cabbage to foul the air of that big yellow house in the afternoons.

Another thing I remember was naptime.

We would eat lunch (thankfully, she never fed US cooked cabbage!), then spread out our thin cotton mats and crash. At first, a few of us protested, but resistance was futile. Mrs. Adams’ word was law in the big yellow house.

After a while, naptime was welcomed, rather than resisted. And, 42 years later, may I say that it still is.

I don’t know how we slept so well on those flimsy mats on that hard wooden floor. But sleep well we did. Then, we woke up, ready to attack stuff like phonics.

60’s phonics flash cards

What I remember about that kindergarten class is that practically every one of us learned how to read. We also learned how to recognize tricky combinations of letters like ph = f, sch = sk, etc. We all, with no exceptions that I recall, entered first grade as full-fledged readers.

I remember that it was pretty dramatic in my case. I recall Mrs. Adams going over the basics of phonetic reading, and I picked up the ball and ran. When I got home that day, I was delighted to read out of a Bible story book whose pictures I had always enjoyed, but whose words were, to that point, a mystery. I remember the thrilled look on mom’s face as I read to her out of it.

Of course, this made first grade a tad boring for Mrs. Adams’ graduates. “See Dick, see Jane” just didn’t cut it when you were used to pronouncing words like Jeremiah and Solomon. So, some of us were given more advanced reading material.

There has been a growing movement to cut naptimes from kindergarten. This has caused no little controversy with medical experts who say that 3-5 year old kids need more sleep that older ones. I’m inclined to agree.

The local public school kindergartens also spurn teaching phonics. However, my daughter, who was home-schooled her first two years, did learn it through a tutor that we hired. Like me, she was reading at an advanced level at age five. My son went to conventional kindergarten at the elementary school. He did learn phonics a little later, and caught up quickly.

Some enlightened employers have also seen the benefit of a brief afternoon nap greatly enhancing employee productivity. While I’m happy with my employer of twenty years, I’m sad to say that they aren’t among that group. But I think Mrs. Adams was on to something with those compulsory naps after lunch.

I just wish I could get that smell of cooked cabbage out of my mind.

Moving Day

Los Angelenos moving in, 1953

I was a fortunate kid. I spent the first eight years of my life living in the same home. In kid years, that’s about four entire lifetimes.

But just before I turned nine, we packed everything up and moved seventy miles away.

It might as well have been seven thousand.

My parents had lived in our modest Miami, Oklahoma home since the early 1950’s. Dad had a yearning to move out to the country. So in 1968, he sold his truck garage and our house and bought a 250 acre farm in southwest Missouri.

We went from comfortable small-town life, where a milkman would bring us fresh dairy products two mornings a week, to living three miles up a rough dirt road without a telephone.

Now, mind you, I’m not complaining. I had 250 beautiful acres to run around on. Perhaps 150 were in thick woods. There were also caves, a creek, and I even had a horse to ride all over the spread.

And it was great. But after a few months, I started missing my little house in my little neighborhood. I also missed my friends.

It was a strange experience, to be sure, packing up everything that we owned and loading it all into boxes. This was stuff that had been in place literally since I could remember. And now it was being removed from the places where it had long sat and packed.

Uhaul, early 60’s

It also seemed strange that I would be saying goodbye to the only home that I had ever known. The yard where I had spent countless afternoons playing baseball, football, tag, army, and even golf with my dad. His eight-iron (which I am proud to still own) would fit nicely under my right arm as I took mighty cuts at Titleists that were really in little danger of ever being contacted.

Incidentally, my golf game hasn’t improved much over that even today. 😉

But that June morning, we packed up the makeshift beds we had slept on the night before, and the house was empty. As we pulled out of the driveway for the last time, home now lay ahead of us.

It was all very strange to a kid.

When the homesickness reached critical mass, perhaps six months after the move, we went back to Miami for a visit.

To say I was shocked was an understatement.

They had changed nice straight Main Street to some sort of obstacle course! Planters and other concrete structures were in place that forced dad to weave in and out in our 1965 Chevy pickup.

At least my best buddy, Van Rucker, hadn’t changed. He was the same, as were most of the rest of the old neighborhood gang.

Strangely, by the end of the day, I was missing our Missouri place.

I moved again within a couple of years, then one more time a couple of years after that. Each move was stressful, exciting, arduous, and strange.

But the first move we made was by far the most significant of the bunch. There no stranger feeling than leaving the only home you’ve ever known.

“It Has a POOL!”

Postcard from the Anchor Inn, Branson, Missouri, late 50’s

We traveled a lot when I was a kid. We took all-day trips to Iowa and central Texas from northeast Oklahoma every year to visit my two sets of grandparents. Those trips didn’t involve motel stays, but we stayed in a myriad of them on other, less time-intensive treks.

My dad was old-school Norwegian stock from Minnesota. That meant dollars didn’t fly out of his wallet. He looked for the best value for the buck. And, quite often, that meant staying in a clean motel with no place for a kid to swim.

But, not too rarely, he would splurge an extra five bucks a night and give me the ultimate thrill: staying in a motel that HAD A POOL!

I have been able to relate very closely to my father’s quandaries as I have reached middle age. For instance, the idea of getting a good cheap motel that looked squeaky clean as opposed to a more expensive chain franchise that came complete with a pool for the kids was always very tempting. But then I would remember the unbridled joy that I would exude when dad would pull into a motel parking lot that had within its expanse a gorgeous, blue, sparkling-in-the-sunlight swimming pool.

Another way I can relate to dad is in not giving a whit whether a motel has a pool or not. Out of the last 100 hotel/motels I’ve stayed in that had pools (in other words, that had been built since 1980), I actually swam in perhaps five of them. I was too tired from traveling to consider suiting up and jumping in.

But kids who have been sleeping in the back seat all day long are another matter. And when my kids were small, that meant dragging my tired bones down to the pool to watch them.

That’s okay. It was easy work.

In my childhood, I became quite adept at turning flips and such from motel diving boards. I was a natural swimmer, so the eight-foot-depths were no sweat to me.

Nowadays, of course, we live in litigious times that insist that pools be idiot-proof. That means the shallow concrete reservoirs are suitable for little else but floating around upon on an air mattress.

But we Boomer kids can remember when our fathers’ pulling into a motel parking lot that also housed a pool meant that we were in for an unbridled afternoon full of joy jumping off a board and eventually getting ourselves as tired as our traveled-out parents.

Holiday Inns

Ah, life on the road circa 1967. Where would we spend the night? Would dad pull an all-nighter and get us somewhere early in the morning? That was known to happen. Or would we stay at a nice, clean, cheap, joyless motel without a pool?

Or, would dad, feeling flush after a particularly profitable week fixing diesel trucks in his garage, spring for the ultimate experience in lodging? That would, of course, be the Holiday Inn!

Once in a while he did take the splurging plunge, and it was a moment of ecstasy for this kid when he did.

After all, Holiday Inns not only had pools, they were huge, fancy, illuminated, gorgeous pools!

And that wasn’t all. Most of them had very nice restaurants, as well. No greasy spoon experiences when we stayed at the motel with the big, friendly green sign outside!

And we kids weren’t the only ones who were thrilled. Our moms greatly enjoyed the occasional positive change in the overnight stay experience.

Holiday Inn got its start in Memphis, Tennessee in 1952. That was the year that Kemmons Wilson opened the first one. His idea was that American travelers needed standardized, clean, predictable, family-friendly, and readily accessible places to stay. The architect that he hired to design the building jokingly suggested that he call it Holiday Inn, after a Bing Crosby-Fred Astaire movie that had been released ten years earlier.

Wilson thought that was a splendid idea.

His idea was radical for the times. Wilson had recently traveled to Washington, DC, and was disappointed by the quality of the various motor courts that he stayed at. He envisioned a chain of 400+ Holiday Inns, each one as nice to stay overnight in as any other. So his first motel was built with the idea that it would be far from the last.

Within six years, there were 50 Holiday Inns. Ten years later, in 1968, there were a thousand. In 1972, Wilson appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and the count was up to 1,400.

By then, Holiday Inns had become a part of folklore. On his 1971 album Madman Across the Water, Elton John featured one of my favorite songs, Holiday Inn. It’s a good-natured poke at the chain, which was one of his commonest places to crash on long road tours early in his career.

One of the things that Holiday Inns had going for them was a far-ahead-of-its-time reservation system known as Holidex. Many years before the internet, you could reserve your next night’s stay at another Holiday Inn several hundred miles away. And you knew that it would be just as nice as the one that you had stayed in the night before. Holiday Inn also boasted that they had no “No Vacancy” signs. If they were booked up, they would help you find another room somewhere else, which was also a pretty radical new idea in customer service.

By the late 70’s, some of the original Holiday Inns had begun showing their age. I remember staying in one in Oklahoma City about 1979 (the year that Wilson retired) that was in pretty poor shape, as far as worn-out carpets, stains, and dated decorating were concerned. The chain could have foundered at that point, but it showed that there was still life left in the name.

The corporate entities that took over from Wilson changed the look of the venerable signs that had long stood outside the motels. They also laid down the law as to the condition of any affiliate that would continue to carry the name. Interestingly, there are a few examples of Holiday Inn’s original signs that had been repainted by the motel’s owners who chose to end the affiliation..

There continue to be about 1,400 Holiday Inns worldwide, and a staggering 1,700 Holiday Inn Expresses. So even though the familiar green signs are gone, the pleasure of staying at a nice, comfortable, clean Holiday Inn is still with us.

Growing Up in Tornado Alley

Miami, Oklahoma was located just beyond the eastern end of Tornado Alley, as defined here. The little burgh had a history of tornado touchdowns, even though they were more rare there than any typical Kansas community.

But the possibility of a tornado destroying our house was terrifying to me. And while I miss many, many things about the 60’s, one thing I don’t miss is the state of tornado forecasting that we had back then.

Miami had tornado sirens that would put me into panic mode when they filled the air with their mournful wails. In the first grade, I would even get tearful during well-publicized noontime tests. And I wasn’t the only kid in class to do so, either.

It wasn’t until the ripe old age of 45 that I actually experienced my first tornado, an F-3 that thankfully passed just over my house, yet still causing $3,000 in damages. I’m happy to say that my irrational fear is long gone, replaced by a fascination with the phenomenon. My wife had to call me in from the front yard to get in the closet a minute or so before the funnel cloud passed over.

TV radar image from 1965

One of the big reasons that the fear passed, besides growing older, of course, is the vastly improved state of radar tracking of tornadoes. When I hear a warning siren go off, I simply meander over to a radio and turn on the local AM affiliate that has appointed itself Watcher of the Weather and find out exactly where the tornado is and where it’s heading. Most of the time, we simply listen as it safely passes miles away.

But in the 60’s, a tornado warning siren meant, to me, impending doom. It meant that a massive funnel big enough to swallow the entire town was likely bearing down on me, and no amount of consoling by my parents could change that.

The local TV stations would show grainy radar images that further scared the daylights out of me. The radar showed black and white blotches that were meant to represent storm systems and likely funnel cloud locations, but they were pretty limited in actual information provided.

It was about this time that the word began spreading that turning your TV to channel two would warn you of a tornado in the immediate area. The idea was that you tuned to channel 13 (the highest setting on VHF) and darken your screen to nearly black. Then, tune to channel 2 (the lowest setting) and see if the screen turns white. If it does, head for cover!

School tornado drill

Did it work? Here’s what the NOAA experts had to say about it:

The idea was that tornadic thunderstorms were very active lightning producers. However, the method had (has) several shortcomings. Not all tornadic storms produce large amounts of lightning. TV’s are not all equally sensitive, and in fact some are made to filter out lightning signals. If you are connected to cable, it won’t work. The bottom line is that the method provide completely unreliable in actual field tests. Did it work sometimes? Yes, but most of the time it did not — it either indicated a tornadic storm when none occurred, or it did not indicate the presence of such a storm when in fact one was nearby. In meteorological terms, its success score was too low and its false alarm rate too high to be of use.

But with the state of 1960’s weather forecasting, it was about as effective as Earl Ludlum (our local weatherman).

Doppler radar made some quantum leaps in the late 70’s, and severe weather forecasting became much more accurate. That eased the stress levels of many Tornado Alley dwellers, especially scared little kids. That, plus the fact that storm cells could be seen in colors that varied according to intensity (since we all had color TV’s by then), gave us all a much clearer picture of where tornadic activity was in relation to our location.

But we kids of the 60’s who grew up in tornado-prone areas can recall a time when sirens would fill us with fear and loathing, much as news of the latest gasoline price hikes do today. 😉

Fallout Shelters

That sign to the left used to be a regular sight when I was a kid. It signified that the building that sported it was certified as a safe place to be in the event of nuclear fallout.

I don’t remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I know that there were quite a few people that I knew who were convinced that, even though we dodged that particular bullet, that nuclear was inevitable sooner or later.

It was easy to believe. NATO and the eastern blocs were cranking out ridiculous numbers of atomic weapons. Test detonations were being performed several times a year. The news would report atomic clouds drifting over the western parts of the country after a Russian test.

It was scary for a kid.

I don’t remember any of our neighbors in Miami, Oklahoma with bomb shelters. On the other hand, this little town, located in tornado alley, DID have numerous basements that the owners no doubt also thought about as refuges against air-borne fallout.

I used to cringe when the Emergency Broadcast System would perform their frequent tests over the television. That sound it made was the same one you heard in fictional movies and TV shows when it would be announced that nukes had been launched, run for your shelters!

The Day After was the ultimate look at life after a nuclear war. It wasn’t shown until 1983, when the Iron Curtain was getting close to collapsing. But it did show the futility of hiding in a shelter and coming out to a destroyed society. The survivors were the unlucky ones.

Today, fallout shelter signs are rarely seen, and the few that survive frequently date back to the 60’s. I don’t miss them.

Expo 67

American pavilion at Expo 67

About 1998 or so, we took a trip to Orlando. I figure every kid ought to see Disney World at least once in their lives, even if it nearly bankrupts the parents. Anyhoo, we went to the Epcot Center one sunny day, and I had a distinct deja vu feeling about the place. Eventually, as we strolled from “country” to “country,” it dawned on me: the feelings I was experiencing were very much like those I had lived through many years earlier as I went through Expo 67 in Montreal.

World’s Fairs used to be a big deal, they certainly still were while we Boomer kids were growing up. In 1967, Montreal hosted a spectacular that was the talk of the planet, officially known as the 1967 International and Universal Exposition. I’m not sure which parent was the most gung-ho to go, I would suspect it was my schoolteacher mom, but dad was all for it, too, perhaps because the conservative ex-Minnesotan would have the opportunity to visit friends and family on the way up to Canada.

So one June day, we piled into the car, my two parents, my reluctant seventeen-year-old brother, and my own eager seven-year-old self.

When we eventually made it to Montreal, I was captivated by the foreignness of the place. Let’s face it, going to the capital of the French province is almost like taking a trip to Europe. The signs everywhere were in French, and the city was the most crowded, busiest, craziest place I’d ever seen.

I remember being in a massive traffic jam, the first I’d ever experienced. There was a road sign stating that the speed limit was 50 MPH (I’m pretty sure it was still MPH in those days). The whole family thought that was hilarious as we crawled along.

Inside the American pavilion, an Apollo space capsule. The capsule hadn’t yet gone into space, but the tragedy of Apollo 1 had just happened the previous January

I also remember that we stayed in some sort of boarding house in lieu of a hotel. It was either a bargain, or simply no hotels were available in the tourist-packed town, as it was the only time we ever did so. The bathroom was in the hall, shared by a number of individuals. That added even more strangeness to being in a very foreign city.

We spent two, maybe three days at the actual Expo, I can’t remember for sure. My parents shot lots of pics with a Kodak Instamatic, but very sadly, they have disappeared. One I particularly recall was depicting a marquee proclaiming that Simon and Garfunkel would be appearing live onstage, along with Tim Rose. The sign, of course, had both “and” and “et.” My older brother finally had something to get excited about, but the concert cost extra, and my thrifty father refused to let him go, putting him back into a funk that lasted the rest of the trip.

We visited many pavilions, and saw many wondrous sights. But my normally acute memory doesn’t recall that many of them, except the huge geodesic dome that housed the American presentation.

I remember gazing up in wonder as we walked into the structure, seeing the sun entering through thousands of little windows which formed a monstrous sphere. The dome style was the design of world famous architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and they were seen in all sorts of places during the 60’s. It’s still popular, and every time I see one, I think of that American pavilion.

I recall that everything was quite futuristic. Two particular predictions were echoed there, just like they were at nearly every other forward-looking presentation: flying cars, and picture phones.

Overview of Expo 67

“Where’s my flying car?” is a common gag today, when those visions of the future are re-examined, but the whole picture phone concept has gotten turned upside down.

The futurists never saw the internet coming. True, they correctly predicted that computers would be a huge part of 21st-century life, but the downfall of POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) was never seen. Between cheap or free Voice Over IP and unlimited cell phone plans, the wired telephone is fast going the way of the wing vent window.

Of course, if you like, you can do video chatting, but most of us prefer good old conversation sans video imagery.

The rest of the world put up some amazing displays at Expo 67 too, of course. The Canadian pavilion was very prominent, as it should have been, and while I don’t remember if we visited all of them, I know for sure we hit that one.

I remember going to the pavilion dedicated to Canadian Indians as well. The presentations there were controversial for the depiction of the white man as a persecutor of the aboriginals, but I’d been hearing that for a long time. I guess the WWII generation found something distasteful about that, their children, however, were fully aware via history lessons in school that there was nothing honorable about the exploitation of North America by European explorers and their followers. That was already being taught by second grade in the 60’s.

Eventually, mom and dad decided that we’d seen enough. We spent some time at the Lachine Canal, which I remember vividly. I’d never seen a canal before, the filling and emptying of the locks was fascinating for a kid to watch.

We went home through the eastern states, where I was treated to seeing Niagara Falls and the Great Smokey Mountains. When we finally arrived in Miami, Oklahoma, my brain was full of wonderful memories of strange places, none stranger than the city of Montreal itself.

OK, Boomers, your turn. How many of you were at Expo 67 with me, walking around with your parents and marveling at the sights of a World’s Fair, back when the title still carried meaning?

The Ups and Downs of Downtowns

My own depiction of downtown Miami, Oklahoma, 1955

The communities that we live in have been evolving since time immemorial. No facet of American culture has undergone more transformations than the downtown business district.

Every town with more than a couple hundred residents has one. And the odds are that it has seen its share of ups and downs over the years. And I’m not just talking Boomer years, either.

In the area where I grew up, there was a boom in the formation and growth of communities about the turn of the 20th century. In Oklahoma, many of these were given the names of Indian tribes that had been forcefully relocated there during the Trail of Tears era. In Arkansas, where I currently reside, communities are often named after railroad executives, who were often responsible for their formation at key points along the routes.

Stroll along the downtown sidewalks of these communities, and you will likely see durable old buildings dating from this era, from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s.

Downtown Miami, Oklahoma, 1964

Those buildings have probably seen much in the way of both glory and ignominy.

When we grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, downtowns were on the rebound. They started off strong, but when the Great Depression hit, many of the businesses that had originally inhabited the buildings dropped out of sight. Many downtown structures were unoccupied while the country ‘s economy convulsed.

However, the economy eventually woke up and began roaring during WWII, and once again downtown buildings became inhabited by thriving businesses. After the war, prosperity was in the air, and every downtown was filled with shoppes run by returned vets who were doing a brisk business.

Many a downtown of this era sported a business or two selling the Next Great Invention, television. A big store window might feature several powered-up models, and it was a popular place for the less fortunate who could not yet afford one to enjoy the hypnotic effects of the one-eyed monster.

Then there were the dime stores. We all fondly remember the downtowns of our youth containing at least one Woolworths, or TG&Y, or Kress, or Ben Franklin.

There would also be banks, a hardware store, a shoe store, and a single-screen movie theater.

Downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas, renovated and rejuvenated

Thus ended the sweet 60’s. The next two decades would lead us to believe that the downtown business district was dead.

Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows, and vacant stores
Seems like nobody ever wants to go down there no more

In 1984’s My Hometown, Bruce Springsteen summed up downtown’s plight in that era. The 70’s were brutal on the economy. Things were turning around in the 80’s, but the effect had not yet reached downtown, and many of us remember the thriving Main Streets of our youth had become depressing places, indeed. Family-owned dime stores, hardware stores, and shoe stores were being attacked on all fronts by suburban shopping malls, massive retail chains, and tight dollars.

But our venerable downtowns showed that they still had life left in them.

Today, many communities proudly tout their “historical districts.” The downtown buildings that we knew and loved have new tenants. Upscale coffee shops, restaurants, and clothiers are often found in formerly run-down buildings that have been the beneficiaries of downtown renewal projects.

Of course, not every community has been able to afford to resurrect their downtowns. But enough have that we Boomer kids can smile with satisfaction that not every up-and-down story has to end down.

Dime Stores

Ad from my own Miami, Oklahoma Woolworth’s

Know how to make a six year-old kid light up in 1966? Ask him if he would like to go to the Dime Store!

Dime Stores sprang up across the country in the early twentieth century. By Baby Boomer time, every town with at least a thousand inhabitants had at least one. We had a Woolworth’s in my home town. Other brands included Kress, Ben Franklin, and TG&Y.

They frequently featured lunch counters. Our store in Miami, Oklahoma did. In fact, a major kickoff of the Civil Rights movement took place at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960 at Greensboro, North Carolina. A piece of that counter is in the Smithsonian.

I have fond memories of cherry shakes at that store I grew up with. But the best part was the TOYS!

There were long divided compartments filled with plastic Japanese-made delights that would make a kid’s head spin. Toy soldiers, miniature cars, play guns, balls, tops, whistles, airplanes, boats, and more were stocked in those magical shelves. They were just the right height for a kid to browse through them too.

Mom would often let me pick one out. It usually cost a dime. My collection of plastic treasures would thus grow incrementally. And being plastic, they are probably still in pristine condition buried in various landfills, awaiting future archaeologists to discover and speculate over.

The store even had a unique aroma, a mixture of cooking food, mothballs, old wood (it was in an ancient downtown building), and tennis shoe soles. I remember getting my first genuine pair of P.F. Flyers at that store.

Around 1951, a man opened a Ben Franklin up in Bentonville, Arkansas. His name was Sam Walton.

He went on to bigger things, and took most of the Dime Store chains with him.