Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Archive for the ‘Pop Culture’ Category

“Rock-‘n-Roll is Here to Stay”

Waxing Nostalgia: Teen Dance Scene 1964

For some time I have thought about dancing again as I’ve missed my ice skating dance routines ever since my hip replacement. Reflections about dancing brought me back to the time when my girlfriends and I went to the teen mixers at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Springfield, a suburb just outside of Philadelphia. I couldn’t find any references to the dances on the web, but in the mid-1960s, Holy Cross was the place to be on a Saturday night.

Most of the teens who attended the dances came from the working class communities in the adjacent neighborhoods, and most were Catholic, of course. We attended the public school so it was a bit of a leap to attend a dance outside of our school where we wouldn’t know anyone. Some of our friend’s parents didn’t like the idea of their daughters going to a Catholic dance, but somehow we convinced them it would be ok. Secretly, we always thought that Catholic boys were “fast” but not necessarily that was bad, just we had to be aware. I can’t remember that myth ever playing out. We were somewhat protected in our suburban bubble. My sister remembers her shocked reaction when she saw smoking going on around the corner of the church.

Scan 2

The Church kept a strict dress code. Boys had to wear coats and ties and for girls, skirts or dresses. We would spend all day getting ready: washing our hair in the morning and using those humongous plastic rollers so that our hair would have puff rather than curl. We would sit under a hair dryer bonnet for hours. More daring girls would wear heavy eye makeup and challenge the limits on how short their skirts could be. It was a fine line, and the authorities would send you home, if you crossed it. Looking back, I believe the dress code established a certain decorum, even if we complained at the time.

We would join long lines outside the gym to pay our 75 cents to get in, passing by the three or four priests that lined up near the entrance. Everybody danced on the crowded floor; we didn’t have to worry about being a wall flower. When dancing, the boys would cut in front of us, nudging each other out-of-the-way. We had bragging rights depending on the number of boys that would cut in. The temperature in the room would rise through the night, but the boys still had to keep their jackets on.

Versions of the Bristol Stomp provided the basic dance steps, and dancers would hit the wooden floor with a collective stomp on the beat. That unison had to be a genre of tribal dancing, and while we danced with a partner, it was really a group dance–and that made it exciting!

The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol,
When they do the Bristol Stomp. Whoa-oh.
Really somethin’ when the joint is jumpin’,
Ah-ah-ah, ah. When they do the Bristol Stomp.

Kal Mann & Dave Appell

After every dance number, we would escape back to our girl pods and share our analysis. “Wow, that was a cute guy you were dancing with.” “He asked for my number!” “Look, he’s wearing a Beatle jacket.” “Did you see that split?”  Boys were considered hot if they did a split; and if a guy had a Beatle haircut, he racked up more status points.

The DJ usually played Doo-Wop music for the slow dances: See the Pyramids Across the Nile, In the Still of the Night, Till Then, You Belong to Me. I remember melting every time the songs played.

Back to the Future: Learning to Dance all Over Again

I looked around the web to find a local dance studio that might offer a few lessons in rock just so I could get dancing again. Ironically, not far from Holy Cross Church, I came across Don’s Dance World, and he was setting up a small adult class in jitterbug. When the class started, what was strange was learning steps to what I just kinda did without thinking when I was a teen. Now, I had to think about it! Don had us repeat the steps many times, switching partners often. He also recited little mantras to help remember the steps:

Sweet ta heart ta back-step
Guy a-turn-a back-step
Girl a-turn-a back-step

Many thanks to Joan, Mike, Robyn, John and Don for their part in the video. At some level, I channeled back to those steamy nights at Holy Cross.

Rock and roll will always be.
I dig it to the end.
It’ll go down in history,
Just you watch, my friend.
Rock and roll will always be.
It’ll go down in history.

David White

Mystique of the Ole Fashioned General Store

My attempt at a replica.

The old-fashioned general store has always been intriguing to me. As a child, one of my favorite shopping places was a building called “the Casino,” a large round wooden structure in Cape May, New Jersey. Every summer I looked forward to traveling to Cape May to just walk through the isles of the Casino to glance at the imports lining the shelves from around the world. I especially liked the little colorful cloth dolls holding baskets and brooms. The store offered a wide selection of  souvenirs, including metal buckets and shovels for playing in the sand.

Store Door

W.H. Snowden General Merchandise – Currituck, North Carolina

Today a few general stores remain in operation. The aesthetic appeal begins right at the front door with a lightweight screen door, allowing fresh air into the space. Frequently merchandise spills out from the building, decorated with moldings even if the paint is peeling. Creaky wood floors and long wooden counters represent typical interiors. Wooden shelves and bins built into the walls extend from the floor to ceiling.

While general stores hold an abundance of merchandise, I don’t believe this is about conspicuous consumption, as an overwhelming number of goods are essential to the home and farm with elements of industry and efficiency . . . potato peelers, bolts of cloth, coffee grinders, iron skillets and lanterns.


Mitchell Hardware, New Burn, North Carolina

In the 19th and early 20th centuries general stores were central to small town communities. Selling everything from groceries, hardware items, shoes, pots and pans and other necessities, the store often anchored other small businesses that would line the town’s main street. That town center provided a community-oriented amenities such as sidewalks, parks and theaters. Within a short walk, shoppers could stop in at the library, bank and post office. Upon entering the store, the proprietor, sporting a long white apron, would stand behind a wooden counter and would greet you. Storekeepers had to keep informed on the pulse of the community so that they could order the right materials. Neighbors would meet up at the store and share news as they shopped. Many stores keep a pot belly stove going, and customers played bottle cap checkers near the warmth of the stove.

The Peck Basket General Store
Moyock, North Carolina

The store owner maximized the floor utilizing boxes and barrels to support merchandise. Generally, the proprietor purchased in bulk quantities. Then he would weigh the purchases on a large scale. Few items were pre-packaged, but canned goods occupied much of the grocery shelf space. Speciality items could be ordered, such as furniture, farm equipment and sewing machines. Deliveries arrived by horse-drawn wagon and later by train.


Bins for nails; no pre-packaging
Mitchell Hardware, New Burn, North Carolina

Something from my childhood must have endeared me to the general store that still resonates with me today. Viewing little pieces of this former way of life, is tantalizing enough to make me wonder about what has been lost.

Post Ofice

Often times General Stores housed the Post Office.

Do the consequences of losing the small-town general store move beyond aesthetics?


How do our shopping experiences around malls, big-box and strip stores compare with the country store of yore?  Today massive shiny lettering in bold colors shouts the store’s name. These industrial style buildings sit at the back of expansive concrete parking lots without hardly a tree or blade of grass in sight. Bland building facades are identical to every other strip mall. Steel doors, cavernous spaces, utilitarian shelving and harsh lighting all contribute to the lack of aesthetic appeal and warmth. With their stark interiors, they are but warehouses for merchandise.

Big-box retailers have reaped economic benefits from their bland design that demands little in aesthetic investment, and consumers may have found these businesses offer the best prices. But what have we lost in the conversion to bear-bones consumerism?  Some claim that these retailers boost city revenues, but have we sacrified small businesses at the altar of increased tax revenue and cheaper prices? Small business owners, often members of the community, support local enterprises and charities. Huge corporations have no loyalty to any one town or city.  Some research shows that it doesn’t always play out that this increased tax revenue brings in development.

How does the big-box store influence our social relationships? Do you run into your neighbors at the box store? Is there a place to stop and converse with friends? Does anyone smile at you?  Wal-Mart has even phased out the paid greeter, not that a paid employee saying “hi” necessarily made any difference. According to an article in Jezebel,

Because big box store are so anonymous and huge, there’s a sense that no one is watching. Social bonds are strongest when people feel like they’re being closely watched, so if the opposite is true, it might make people feel like they could do whatever they like without consequence.

As weird as this might sound, these big-box stores coincide with hate groups, according to a study conduced by faculty at Penn State and other universities. The number of Wal-Mart stores in an area correlated with the number of hate groups in that same area and more statistically significant than other factors, such as unemployment and crime.

What runs side by side of hate group? Gun sales. Approximately a third of all Wal-Mart store sell fire arms, including the “modern sporting rifles” or the type of semiautomatic rifle used in the killing of 26 adults and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Wal-Mart is the largest seller of firearms in the US. The Christian Science Monitor features an excellent article on the subject.

My original intention of writing this blog post was to describe the pleasing aesthetics of the old-fashioned country store. Analyzing the larger picture of what the demise of country store has meant for America reveals how their absence uncovers much more than just a change in aesthetics.

Checkers anyone?

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Lone Ranger and Tonto: A Nostalgic View and Modern Critique

Growing Up with the Wild West while Living in the Philly Suburbs

Vintage-TV “Return to the thrilling days of yesteryear”

Everything we knew about the West we learned from Hollywood’s recreation of the American frontier on television, and we thoroughly absorbed the historical misinformation of the people and culture of that time. By the late 1950s, over thirty westerns, such as Gunsmoke, Have Gun will Travel, Wagon Train, Sugarfoot and Maverick, blazed across the screen. The melodies of the theme songs still replay in my memories. Years later, we learned that what we thought was real about the West was, in fact, myth. As children, we certainly didn’t recognize stereotyping, and we were pretty much oblivious to standardized characters and plot predictability. In looking back, I still reflect with a certain amount of nostalgia just because the television western was a part of my childhood experience.

The Lone Ranger  became one of our favorite programs. The TV series began in 1949, and new episodes continued through 1957. I remember watching the introductory episode in reruns many times, which unfolded the story of Tonto finding the injured Texas lawman and his transformation into the Lone Ranger. I was not alone in this infatuation, as almost every child in America knew who Kemosobe was. The Lone Ranger and Tonto stood as heroic figures in the lawless frontier. Later I would learn that Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto, resented that he had to speak in a scripted pigeon. As a child, I thought of Tonto as an equal partner with the Lone Ranger, which is surprising given that the Lone Ranger possessed all the hero accoutrements: mask, silver bullets, white hat and horse. To me Tonto acted as a trustworthy and resourceful partner with the Lone Ranger.

Cowboys 2 Hands Up!

Westerns influenced our childhood games and apparel. The boys in our neighborhood played with toy cap guns. Several regularly wore their cap pistols in holsters and donned cowboy hats. I didn’t like cap guns because my fingers usually got pinched when the hammer mechanism sprung closed to make the “pop” sound. While the boys aimed their guns at each other in mock battles, for us girls, the guns were merely a fashion accessory, part of our cowgirl outfits. I’ve seen many pictures of our friends and relatives from that era, and not many escaped without being photographed in cowboy-girl attire. Our Sally Star dolls even came with holsters and guns, but we never played “shoot outs” with them.

How did I interpret the gun violence on television as a child? Well, I don’t remember either relatives or teachers offering any analysis of the programs or discussions of Western history or violence. Adults purchased the cowboy attire and the toy guns, so I think we assumed these had some legitimacy. At least on the Lone Ranger show, most of the villains never seemed worse for wear for being shot; Hollywood sanitized the effects of gun wounds with an arm in a sling as the typical portrayal of an injury. I think even as a child I realized that TV westerns were pretend–just like our plastic guns.

PICT0001 Gun is just part of the outfit.

Retrospective: Forty Years Later

The Good

Revisiting some of the episodes offered insight into a comparison of what I remembered from my childhood and the real program content. Now the benefit of scholarly historical analysis uncovers the stereotypical Hollywood interpretation of the Old West and portrayal of Native Americans. In his essay, “I hated Tonto then and I hate him now,” Sherman Alexie writes his views from a Native American perspective about his complicated relationship with Indians in the media.

Upon viewing some of the episodes, what immediately struck me was the Lone Ranger’s diction and demeanor. Clayton Moore, the actor who played the Lone Ranger, practiced duplicating the radio voice of the Lone Ranger; his enunciation was impeccable but sometimes comical. “How-dy” came off as a pronouncement rather than a greeting. However, it seemed easy to forgive that overly formal manner as contrasted with so much the gruff and coarse discourse we get today on television; the Lone Ranger was refreshingly polite and well mannered. The program had several other redeeming qualities.  This conversation in the first episode revealed an essential tenant of Long Ranger stories: he never shoots to kill but rather only to disarm his opponent, as painlessly as possible.

Tonto: Here gun to kill bad men.
LR: I’m not going to do any killing.
Tonto: You not defend yourself?
LR: I’ll shoot if I have to, but I’ll shoot to wound, not to kill. If a man must die, it is up to the law to decide that not the person behind the six-shooter.
Tonto: That right, Kemosabe.

The Lone Ranger decides to use only silver bullets as a reminder that life is precious. Along those lines, the Lone Ranger usually comes up with a thoughtful plan for dealing with the outlaws. He cautions against rash actions and his plans include deliberately reducing violence.

During the series, few story characters trusted the Lone Ranger, because he wore a mask, or Tonto, just because he was an Indian. The Lone Ranger said, “You’ll have to trust me.” That trust contrasted with some of those characters who held respectable positions but who were not always trustworthy, whether doctors, judges or sheriffs. I’m not sure this is the result of watching the program, but I usually don’t ascribe trust to those in power just because of their position or status.


The Bad

The Lone Ranger stories could be characterized as light entertainment that often relied on clichés, such as manifest destiny, the 19th century belief widely held by Americans that the United States, destined to expand across the continent, would bring democracy and rule of law to the world.  Manifest destiny rationalized violence, justifiable because of always being on the “right” side; the gun then became a primary symbol of moral violence. Unfortunately, the Lone Ranger was just another vigilante. Shooting to maim was legitimated because neither the legal process nor morality could prevent the violence. The superhero guaranteed and assured the audience that the outlaw will meet his deserved demise. Rather than the legal process, however, violence became the solution to the criminal problem.

And the Ugly

While representations of violence in the media offer many complexities not easily understood, my theory is that children take on the beliefs of their parents, who are the mediating factors and why it is difficult to arrive at an overreaching theory on how the media influences each child.  I wrote about this issue in this post. It seems that generations of  young people have accepted the mandate to solve conflicts through defensive gun violence and ignore the concept of the rule of law and reason in their justification of  violence. If parents promote vengeance philosophy or celebrate power through weapons, the impact of the media reinforces these views. Although I don’t recall my parents offering any commentary about the westerns, they held firm beliefs against fighting and aggression, which I believe was the greatest influence on my thinking about gun violence. Most of what I watched on television years ago held little sway over my views today. Right there is one of my main arguments against possession of guns: how is justice served if the shooter is the jury, judge and executioner? I guess that’s where the Lone Ranger and I would agree.


Little Orphan Annie, the Poem Rewritten for the Political Climate Today

Mary Alice Smith, Riley’s inspiration for the poem. Wikipedia

In an earlier post, I described our family’s celebration of Halloween and how my Mother, who was born in Scotland, followed the Celtic Halloween traditions. Our grade school classes also had Halloween celebrations–everyone would dress in costumes and parade around the school grounds, followed by parties in the classrooms. Homeroom mothers would serve cider with orange and chocolate cupcakes.

One year my Mother came up with an idea that I should dress up as “Little Orphan Annie” – not the comic book character, but from the poem by James Whitcomb Riley. Riley based his poem on a real person, Alice Smith, who became orphaned when her father died in the Civil War. Allie, as she was known, came to live with the Riley family, and she would tell stories to the younger children after finishing chores at the end of the day.

For my orphan Annie costume, I wore a dress with an apron and black stockings and carried a dust cloth and broom. I memorized the poem for a classroom presentation; Mom coached me on the proper inflection at the end of each stanza, “and the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!”  On looking back on the poem, I recalled these lines . . .

and cherish them that loves ya, and dry the orphans tears
and help the poor and needy ones that cluster all about,
or the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!!!

In thinking about those words in the poem, I became inspired to rewrite the poem for today’s current political climate just before the 2012 election.

Over the past few months, I have received forwarded emails, not about a particular political issue or articulated argument advocating one position or another, but rather content that focused on rumors and lies with obvious prejudicial biases. In rewriting the poem, I included the lines above, written over a hundred years ago, as they apply today as well.

I guess if I could give a dedication to someone, it would be to those folks forwarding those emails.

The Ghost of Little Orphan Annie on Election Eve

The ghost of orphan Annie has somethin’ strong to say,
Things you might’ve heard before but may have brushed away.
About payin’ those taxes, is that so very bad?
Or are ya worryin’ and fretin’ and makin’ yourself so sad?
For all the roads an’ bridges, schools, an’ parks an’ like
Just let them go to dust?  Well, that would be a fright.
If you’ re complainin’ then finishin’ with a shout
The goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!

There’s ways to pull together as Americans will do
But a bake sale to cure a kid with cancer, mumps or flu?
Or how about a doctor for the child ill next door?
Or are ya a listenin’ to that politician’s unrelenting roar.
Now payin’ fair share, that’s not a scary scheme.
Those with more wealth could help, or so it would seem.
So let’s all pitch in together, please, don’t be a lout
Or  the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!!

Are ya balkin’ to give to causes that benefit us all?
Or is money is better spent for merchants at the mall?
With the social security Grandma can live her own
Rather than in your basement without a telephone.
And those that will follow you, fond an’ dear,
Take care of them, please, an’ dry the orphan’s tear
An’ help the poor an’ needy ones that cluster all about,
Or the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!!!

So who are the goblins, do they hide in the night?
They’re just right in front of ya, in your plain sight!
They tell ya that science is not on your side.
They tell ya not to worry, take your car for ride.
They point to your working pal as stealing your dough.
When its unregulated Wall Street that’s really the foe.
They make up a story so you’ll hate those abroad,
Those many poor souls, also victims of fraud.
Think: is it your anger what this is all about?
Then the goblins have got ya, ya didn’t watch out!!!!


Steampunk & the TV Beauty and the Beast

Steampunk: What is That?

From Wikipedia

For those unfamiliar, steampunk combines elements of science fiction and fantasy overlaying elements of the Victorian era and industrialization, especially the influence of steam power. Steampunk literature features futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them. Fictional machinery that H. G. Wells or Jules Verne invented for their novels are models for steampunk. The steampunk genre presents a romantic idealization of the 19th century and an escape from modern realities. Steampunk culture values a more formal approach to manners and dress. So how does the punk fit into this retro-genteel world?  Punk loosely references the cyberpunk style with anti-establishment sentiments. Various sub-cultures of punk have evolved since the late 1960s, but it seems the common thread of non-conformity weaves through most of  followers’ ideology.

Steampunk fashion models after the imagery created in the genre’s literature. Victorian attire provides the basic starting place, and the clothing can mimic outfits of an explorer, officer, scientist, gazetteer or just something any one of Dickens’ characters might have worn. Suits and vests and military coats are favorite apparel items associated with the steampunk culture.

Steampunk enthusiasts modeling outfits

Especially note the gentleman’s hat, for this is where Victorian meets the technology. The hat, which is electrified, tells time! One of the most delightful aspects of steampunk is that wearer and the viewer both experience enjoyment over the inventions. Steampunk fashion undergoes constant change as fans naturally incorporate diversity in style, making each outfit unique.

Below are several examples of steampunk elements in wedding attire.

Jewelry mimics mechanization, and pieces feature chains, clocks, gears, keys or propellers. Sometimes, semi-precious stones are set in the piece. Steampunk jewelry has a salvaged look avoiding bright metals or colors. Copper, bronze, silver or brass better reflect an antique appearance.

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Steampunk culture encourages everyone to find their own interpretation and invention. This philosophy holds for creating all sorts of inventions as accessories or props, which may or may not actually work. This is one aspects of steampunk where I find comfort:

Anyone who enjoys going against the authority and standards of society is going to enjoy the clothing that this type of society loves. There are no rules or guidelines whatsoever.

Claiming to be the greatest steampunk festival in the world, Yesterday’s TomorrowsSteampunk World’s Fair was held in Somerset, New Jersey, in May 2011. A lovely assortment of costumed people filled the rooms, and stores displayed everything from electrified gadgets to elegant jewelry. CBS News did a short piece on the Fair, and about 20 seconds into the video a report interviews a certain young woman above about her “supportive” apparel.

Beauty and the Beast: The Television Series ~ Link to Steampunk?

Before I ever hear the word steampunk, back in 1987 a new television series appeared on the scene that had all the elements of steampunk, Beauty and the Beast, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. The clothing, setting and the intersection of fantasy with reality all connect the program to the steampunk genre. In this telling of the tale, New York City sets the stage for the drama with Catherine, the beauty, residing “where the wealthy and powerful rule” and the Beast living below the subways in a tunnel community.

Many elements of the program offer evidence of the link to steampunk. The Beast’s clothing could best be described as Victorian–he did wear a cape, after all. Sometimes his outfits included a large metal or leather belt, a break from the straight Victorian look. His home in the tunnel world consisted of arched chambers of cinder blocks and cement, and pipes lined the walls. These stark industrial scenes contrasted with his room, lite by Tiffany-style lights and candles with books piled high, and where a huge semi-circular stained glass window served as a backdrop. Bronzed statues, old-world globes, and even a huge time piece contributed to the room’s ambiance. As Catherine leaves the tunnels the first time she experiences this new world, Vincent takes her hand as she jumps over a crevice filled with steam rising from below. In the first episode, “Once Upon a Time in New York City,” Vincent reads to Catherine from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, a popular 18th century novel.

And just like a theme in a Dickens’ story, Beauty and the Beast juxtaposes two social classes, as Vincent explains,

We’re below the city, below the subways.  There is a whole world of tunnels and chambers that most people don’t even know exists.  There are no maps to where we are.  It’s a forgotten place.  But it’s warm and it’s safe, and we have all the room we need.  So we live here and we try to live as well as we can, and we try to take care of each other.

Vincent cares for Catherine, who is left for dead after thugs attack her. After her stay in the tunnels, Catherine transforms from a wealthy socialite and corporate lawyer to a position of assistant district attorney where she believes she can help people.

Fantasy Transforms into a Small Piece of Reality

Steampunk as a genre is fantasy that has an effect on reality through fashion and culture. In the same way the fans of Beauty and the Beast transformed fantasy into reality. Although the program lasted for only a few seasons, the devoted fan following grew and remains the legacy of the program today.  One of the projects the fans undertook was to sponsor a bench in Central Park near what was supposedly was one of the entrances that Vincent used to the tunnel world. I have a certificate from the Central Park Commission thanking me for my contribution.  I made a pilgrimage there to find the bench.  The inscription reads:

“Even the greatest darkness is nothing,
so long as we share the light.”
Beauty and the Beast (TV)  1987-1990
Dedicated by its devoted fans.

WFLogo2014Every year the fan community holds a cyber “Winterfest” that can be found here. Fans have created web sites, art, literature and hundreds of videos on YouTube.

The creators of the show must have had some sense of the magic that could be created by a time-space warp: folks living in another era right beneath the feet the power mongels. The audience enjoys the prolonged romantic courtship of Catherine and Vincent that allows the heroine to pursue her own goals and ambitions without the constraint of a social relationship and its complications in the modern world. Vincent guides both Catherine and the viewer through a labyrinthine of chambers and tunnels, away from the impersonal and greedy world to a community that offers companionship, warmth, and comfort in the form of a subterranean sanctuary with a bit of Victorian flare.

So whether it be finding an accessory from the Victorian age or watching favorite episodes of B&B, I’ve enjoyed the trip as a passenger on that steampunk train.

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