Back Then – December 2008

Eighth in the MM series on life sixty years ago

 In the year of the Artichoke Queen
by Larry Chabot

1948: unknown starlet Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen of Castroville (California), the highlight of her career so far. Because that festival still is an annual event, we wonder whether anyone there remembers Marilyn and her sad life after fame overwhelmed her.
We lost Babe Ruth that year, but gained Jerry “Leave It To Beaver” Mathers, who’s now sixty. If you had $1.99 in your purse, it was enough for a pair of shoes at Vertin’s in Marquette. Postage stamps were only three cents; they’re fourteen times that now. And cigarettes were wonderful— almost a health food—so they said.
Across the world, Mahatma Gandhi—founder of modern India and known above all for his nonviolence—fell to an assassin’s bullet while walking in a garden. The nation of Israel came into being, stirring neighborhood animosities that exist to this day. For those rejecting the idea of creationism, the Big Bang Theory was introduced to explain how the universe came to be.
Margaret Sanger founded the Planned Parenthood Federation in 1948, President Truman ordered an end to racial segregation in the armed forces, and then shocked almost everyone except himself by winning reelection to the presidency when polls predicted Thomas E. Dewey was a shoo-in. The first tape recorder was sold, Columbia Records brought out the 33 1/3 long-playing record (able to hold an entire album) and the pap smear test was introduced.
A special postage stamp honoring Gold Star Mothers (those who lost sons or daughters in World War II) sold seventy-seven million copies. Life expectancy at birth for the average American increased to sixty-seven years (it’s now seventy-six). Hamlet was chosen as movie of the year, with acting Oscars going to Laurence Olivier, who played the lead in Hamlet, and Jane Wyman (then married to Ronald Reagan) for Johnny Belinda. The Associated Press selection for Woman-of-the-Year was a former dime-store clerk named Margaret Chase Smith, who became the first woman elected to the United States Senate.
Closer to home, Michigan’s top stories by a vote of the media included these:
• G. Mennen Williams’ upset of incumbent Kim Sigler to win the first of his six terms as governor. He would later be commonly known as “Soapy” because of his family’s toiletries business. His first inauguration was broadcast over WDMJ-Marquette, WSOO-Sault Ste. Marie, and WMIQ-Iron Mountain through a new state radio network.
• The failed attempt to assassinate United AutoWorkers president Walter Reuther.
• Introduction of a cost-of-living raise in the autoworkers contract with General Motors.
• The Michigan Wolverines voted team of the year in college football.
In those days before sensitivity training, headlines pulled no punches. Startling samples from some 1948 Mining Journals: “…Kills Himself With Revolver”; “..Hangs Self In Cabin”; “…Kills Self With Shotgun,” with the name often in the headline and the deceased’s address in the body of the story. Motorists picked up for drunk driving were identified in news stories prior to their arraignment, and their subsequent court results often made news.
Although the country was no longer tied up in a foreign war (Korea was two years away), a military draft was in effect. In late 1948, forty-five Marquette County men were called for preinduction physicals, and more were summoned before year-end. The American Legion sponsored a Remember Pearl Harbor parade through downtown Marquette on December 7, the seventh anniversary of the Japanese attack that drew America into World War II.
American dead from that war who were buried in overseas cemeteries before being brought back at the request of their families, continued to arrive in the United States on the so-called “funeral ships.” Over four weeks’ time in December, 10,885 war dead returned from the Pacific and European Theaters. Coming home were twenty-nine local boys from one end of the U.P. to the other: six from Sault Ste. Marie, four from Escanaba, three from Iron Mountain and Ironwood, two from Negaunee and St. Ignace, and one each from Iron River, Kingsford, Manistique, Menominee, Munising, Newberry, Shingleton, Vulcan and Watersmeet. Most were reburied in their hometowns, with special military funerals conducted by local vets. Businesses in Negaunee made it a continuing practice to close their doors during these funerals.
Although moose began arriving on Isle Royale from Canada back in 1905, the first wolves crossed the ice in 1948. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held for a new Veterans Administration Hospital in Iron Mountain. Sawyer Airport at Sands location started passenger service to Escanaba and Detroit—no more long drives downstate with waits for ferries at the Straits of Mackinac.
Then as now, Upper Michigan was a travel destination, although promotion was more low-key. Among recent artifacts peddled on eBay was a Viewmaster reel of Upper Michigan scenes in 1948. Bidding closed November 15, but was extended when no bids were made on the $2.49 opening posting.
The Marquette Chamber of Commerce cheered the lifting of a ban on outdoor Christmas lighting. The city eased its ruling so as to allow Christmas trees and other holiday decorations from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. during the two weeks ending on New Year’s Day. Residents were asked to be “moderate” in their lighting in view of the “still critical” power shortage at the local power plant until a new diesel generator could be installed and put into operation in January.
The Chamber had been griping steadily about state highway regulations that banned stringing of colored lights across a state highway (Washington and Front streets in Marquette were considered state roads). This barred the hanging of lights across the two downtown thoroughfares, and limited Christmas decorations to wreaths stuck on lampposts. Chamber secretary-manager Doug Nash, Sr., noted that “other communities in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas put strings of lights across state highways and nothing is said or done about it.”
Movie actress Betty Grable came out four-square for smoking: “My smoke is Chesterfield,” she said in a Mining Journal ad boosting her new movie. “They’re milder.” But in the same issue, Camels claimed to be even milder. And Philip Morris boldly boasted that you get “No more hangover” with their brand. What a quandary for smokers trying to pick the healthiest brand.
Old Gold, however, made no health claims, even congratulating the Journal of the American Medical Association for cracking down on “cure claims” being made by some manufacturers. Old Gold claimed to have been saying “for a long, long time” that “A good cigarette is a treat…not a treatment. And there’s no place in a cigarette ad for medical mumbo-jumbo.” We’re not sure what this meant, but it seemed to insinuate that smokes, while not harmful, aren’t a medical cure, either. Who knew?
As an offshoot of the smoking dilemma, the state conservation department determined that the majority of the Upper Peninsula’s 507 forest fires that year were caused by careless smokers. In another woods-related statistic, ten Michigan hunters died during the deer season, with three in the U.P. (one was a sixteen-year-old from Champion). U.P. highway deaths totaled seventy-nine for the year, with Marquette and Delta Counties leading the way with fourteen and thirteen, respectively. Nationwide, nearly 32,000 lost their lives. December tragedies in the area included four deaths in a Republic rest home fire, and three children dying in a home fire in Harvey.
In addition to Babe Ruth, other 1948 departed were aviation pioneer Orville Wright, World War I hero General John J. Pershing and World War II Japanese prime minister Tojo (who was hanged for war crimes). Also hanged was Holocaust monster Maria Mandel, but we got Barbara Mandrell and her sweet music among the births. As Italian composer Emmano Wolfe-Ferrari lay dying, newsman Wolf Blitzer came into the world. As death took Arizona Governor Sidney Osborn, entertainer Ozzy Osbourne arrived.
In the years since 1948, new Americans far outnumbered deaths. In the intervening sixty years, the U.S. population doubled. The Upper Peninsula, however, increased only three percent in that time.
Future celebrities lying in cribs that year were politician Al Gore, soap star Anthony Geary, singer Olivia Newton-John, England’s Prince Charles, comedian Billy Crystal, hockey superstar Bobby Orr, exercise guru Richard Simmons and long-time Michigan governor John Engler.
—Larry Chabot

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