Mad Magazine proclaims 1961 to be the first upside down year.
I was nine years old and in Miss Cormac's third grade glass reading all about those crazy kids, Dick, Jane and Sally. My grandmother, who I called Dandy, spent a lot of time at our house this year.
This was a presidential inauguration year. Folks were running scared that a...Catholic...was to become president. Life as we had known it would be forever lost, the nuns from outer space would invade and we would be herded off to colonies under the iron rule of the Pope.
They were partially correct. Life as we knew it did indeed change. On the other hand, the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, had lost the 1960election. He won the election in 1968 and again in 1972.
We know what happened. Nixon lied about involvement with the Watergate Hotel break in to the Democratic offices. We know that sitting presidents have lied to the public in the past, but Nixon was the first to be caught in the act. He was forced to resign. Before Nixon the public had faith in it's leaders. After Nixon there was not only instense public distrust, but this also lead to media scrutiny.
However getting back to the topic at hand 1961, it was apparent in the 1960 presidential race we had the same candidates as we are offered now, a ferret versus a weasel.
Why do I say that considering President Kennedy was a very popular president and was remembered for only his virtues and good deeds for those of us that recall his tragic assassination in November of 1963. Perhaps the term ferret may seem objectionable. But as was later discovered, Kennedy was a womanizer and adulterer. His wealthy father had funded his election and enlisted the support of his mafia connections, especially in the state of Illinois in order assure a presidential victory for his son. There is some that believe that after Kennedy became President, his stand against organized crime was what did him in. We may never know.
Kennedy had visited Newport, Kentucky during his campaign and visited Cote Brilliante Elementary School and shook hands with a little red-haired girl that would become my wife.
So the Kennedy family entered the White House and became the first celebrity president.
Men quit wearing hats, since Kennedy never wore one.
Everyone liked Mrs. Kennedy. Women wanted to be her. Men thought she was a hottie. Women started wearing pill box hats, since that's what Jackie wore. The first lady had started a fashion trend. In one of the most viewed TV shows of the year, Mrs. Kennedy took the public on a televised tour of the White House. Of course this was in black and white, since no one owned color TV's in 1961.
- 1961 was the year that President Kennedy sent 18000 Military Advisors to South Viet Nam.
- Fidel Castro declares Cuba, a nation that is only 90 miles from the border of the USA, to be a Communist nation and learns that fist shaking is an effective public speaking technique.
- Barbie gets a boyfriend when the Mattel Toy company creates Ken.
- The Secretary General of the UN, Dag Hamerskjold is killed in an airplane crash this year.
- The United Nations General Assembly elects a new Secretary General with the world's shortest first name. U Thant. If you have forgotten or did not know, U was pronounced ooh.
- Neil Armstrong set a flight speed record in an experimental jet called the X-15.
- The Space-Race was all the talk of 1961. The Russians sent a doggie into space. America this year was sending a chimpanzee into space. The chimp's name was Ham. Yes, HAM IN SPACE, probably lead to the Muppet Show's drama, PIGS IN SPACE. Well it might of.
- Surprisingly to all of us, the Viet Nam War starts and America participates for a long drawn out process. How fortuitous of Kennedy to send those 18,000 Military Advisors just 6 months earlier this year.
- There was always talk on the news about The Iron Curtain. This was hard for a nine year old boy with a vivid imagination to understand this allegory. I thought that somewhere there existed this incredibly huge and rusty Iron Curtain.
- This was doubly hard for me to understand, since during August of 1961 the commies of East Berlin constructed an actual brick and barbed wire wall dubbed the Berlin Wall.
- Paris, which is said to be beautiful in the springtime but revolting the rest of the year, massacred it's citizens this year during a massive revolt called the Paris Massacre of 1961. 30,000 citizens aggressively protested against a curfew that was aimed at only the Allgerian population.
- Ernest Hemmingway commits suicide and leaving many, many six-toed cats behind.
- A Russian nuclear powered submarine crashes in the ocean and the reactor leaks. This is possibly the cause of a new breed of fish called Tialapia that becomes a big hit in restaurants 45 years later.
- Charlie Brown finally is able to fly a kite without the tree eating it, but still can't kick the football.
- Allen Shepard is the first man in space.
- This same year Gus Grisom becomes the second man in space.
- The American Civil Rights Movement which had already begun meets to form the Congress of Racial Equality.
- Out of this movement they make headlines later in the year when a bus carrying members called Freedom Riders is firebombed in Atlanta, Georgia.
- In the next few months the Freedom Riders are arrested for disturbing the peace in Jackson, Mississippi.
- Race riots break out in Alabama and the governor declares martial law.
- President Kennedy meets with Charles DeGaulle, the president of France and Nikita Khruschev, the president of Russia this year.
- Stalin's body is removed from the Lenin Mausoleum (perhaps there was a mix up).
- Roger Marris hits his 61st homerun beating Babe Ruth's record.
- Adolph Eichman is found guilty of crimes against humanity by an Israeli court.
- Kennedy sends in secret operatives that were former Cuban exciles to Cuba in a disasterous failed plot to overthrow the Castro government called The Bay of Pigs.
I vividly recall some of these events and some of them I remember, but did not understand at the time. My prime concern in 1961 was getting out of Miss Cormac's Red Bird reading group and moving up to the Blue Bird group, when was the clock going to say 2:30 so I could go home and watch TV or play with my friends, how come I had to do 3 pages of math homework, when was Daddy coming home tonight, would summer coming soon or would we be off tomorrow because of all the snow so I could sled ride on the gulf course.
I was glad that Dandy was staying at our house. I loved her.