A snapshot of life from 1958

Downsizing isn’t fun, but sometimes it’s necessary. I’m going through it now as I prepare to leave my home of almost four decades for one much smaller, but still nearby. However, sometimes the suffering is alleviated by an interesting discovery during the process, and — happily — this has happened to me!

While clearing out two large knit shawls, never needed in Dallas, from a drawer not opened for decades, I also pulled out its long-ago newspaper lining. Old, yellow and brittle, this four-page, front-section portion of the Chicago Daily News, dated Friday, Sept. 12, 1958, preserves a fascinating glimpse of life more than 60 years ago that I’d never have had without it!

The paper’s front page shows that its 76 pages sold for seven cents. Its headline reads: “Integration Ruling Today,” referencing the Supreme Court and Little Rock, Arkansas! 

Coincidence? I’m now looking forward to attending a National Federation of Press Women’s conference this-coming June (if COVID-19 allows) in Little Rock itself! There, a very special feature will be its keynote speaker: the now long-adult woman who was, ‘way back then, the young Black girl whose image in newspapers everywhere showed her alone, carrying her books as she walked slowly, resolutely, forward toward a school (but more accurately, toward a whole Southern culture) to enter and forever change America’s future, with a howling crowd clearly seen chasing behind her. I no longer wonder about “coincidences” such as my opportunity to hear and meet this pioneer in person: I truly feel they are all pre-ordained …

More from that old newspaper: Its few following pages offer a fascinating peek at our own “olden days” daily lives, and some of their costs so many years ago. A few examples: A standard-size gas stove, regularly priced at $119.95, was on sale for $69.88; a Maytag washing machine went for $179.95 — less for anyone who could offer a trade-in; a Hotpoint clothes dryer was only $94. A woman’s full-length tweed coat “with removable scarf” — such a happy addition for Chicago winters’ sometimes long but necessary walks on Michigan Avenue, across the street from a frozen lakefront! — went for $49.95 at an upscale clothing store, where a poplin (does anyone even know what that fabric is anymore?) raincoat was offered on sale for $8 during a one-day-only special. Carpet cleaning? You could do it at home yourself by purchasing a Bissell “Shampoo Master” for just $6.99 — reduced from its regular price of $14.95. 

Fascinating? Try this prophetic peek at the “someday” we now live in ourselves, headlined by a second page report from the paper’s Washington bureau chief: “Can’t Brush China Off; Disarm Study Hints It Might Someday Try to Rule the World.” This ran very near an article announcing the most important foreign events, both U.S. and worldwide, under the heading ”Khrushchev Wants Peace.” 

Short, snappy items filled what might have caused the grave error of leaving blank spaces on Page 1 as press time neared. But back then, there were always a few of those holes, and men who were real live printers (women were never printers, never even allowed in the shop itself!) could pull something previously set in lead type right off a nearby shelf, just the right size, ready and waiting to simply drop in. So to end this bygone-era tale, I’ll just quote one of those “fillers,” running that day under the headline Today’s Chuckle: “Sophistication is the art of admitting that the unexpected is just what you anticipated.” Too bad our America was not “sophisticated” enough to anticipate the most recent past: nothing we can chuckle about now…

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