Wow! You are CRAZY old!
February 21, 2010 10:22 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to attach some historical perspective to my age in order to impress/scare my grandchildren. 1950: So far I've got 'Civil War vets still alive.....'

I can look up events and such, but I like biographical connections. (My mother met Abraham Lincoln's son sort of thing). Is there a quick stop where I can find historically cool and connected people who were alive when I was alive? Give some of your own scary examples just so I can say 'I know a guy who saw _____ in a parade!'
posted by Pennyblack to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Wikipedia offers pages of people who died in each year (see this year here). You could cobble something together from there.
posted by proj at 10:31 AM on February 21, 2010

I met a man from Illinois when I was a child who was (if I recall correctly) the last living Civil War vet in Illinois, or something- all I remember was thinking that people couldn't possibly get that old. (He was 104 or something at the time: I was 4 or 5.)

One of my grandfather's uncles fought in the Spanish American War, and saw (or heard, it's not quite clear) the Maine blow up in Havana harbor.
posted by pjern at 11:00 AM on February 21, 2010

Perhaps tangential, but you night want to do something like Timeline Twins, which, as a certified Old Guy, I found very sobering.
posted by dzot at 11:04 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could you tell them about where you were when JFK was shot, or when a man landed on the moon? My parents remember what they were doing when they heard about the Challenger explosion, and I (barely) remember 9/11. If I were your grandkids, I'd be much more interested in hearing about what connection you had to an event, and not what random strangers did.
posted by pecknpah at 11:05 AM on February 21, 2010

How about tying things to historic events that would have happened contemporaneously? For instance, my wife's grandfather watched the launching of the Titanic's hull from the shipyard in which he worked (he didn't actually work on the Titanic itself, though). One year later, he's reading in the morning papers that the damn thing is under the Atlantic...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:11 AM on February 21, 2010

You could look at a list of inventions so you can say you're older than diet soda/white out/hula hoop/bar code scanners/etc.
posted by lilac girl at 11:19 AM on February 21, 2010

Do I understand that you were born in 1950? Why, you're just a youngster. Here are a few things that might provide perspective, although not necessarily of a purely historical nature:

When you were born, there were fewer than five self-service elevators in the U.S. There were no commercial jet flights anywhere. There was no such thing as a pocket calculator, let alone a home computer. The only computers that existed had less computing power than your cell phone, but they took up a room that was larger than your living room and had to be cooled by an air conditioner larger than the one that cools your house. The smallest portable music device was a portable radio that ran on batteries that lasted about an hour and that weighed about four pounds. It had vacuum tubes because the transistor didn't exist. Nobody had a microwave oven. Barbi wouldn't be invented until you were nine years old, although the Frisbee would go to market when you were seven. The year you were born also saw the invention of frozen pizza and the disposable diaper, make of that what you will.
posted by Old Geezer at 11:21 AM on February 21, 2010 [9 favorites]

You could show them this clip from I've Got a Secret, filmed in 1956, of the last living witness of Lincoln's assassination. Not only does it have the personal aspect, but they can see what television was like 54 years ago.
posted by Bromius at 12:03 PM on February 21, 2010

In 1950, Helvetica, the most ubiquitous style of Latin alphabet lettering in the world, did not yet exist.

Ford didn't offer seat belts as an option until 1955.
posted by zjacreman at 12:11 PM on February 21, 2010

As a boy, my grandfather, born in 1879, shook the hand of a man, in 1884, who shook George Washington's hand, when he, as a boy, met Washington, accompanying his father on a trip to New York, in 1796, near the end of Washington's second term. So I am able to tell my grand kids, when I shake their hand:

"You are shaking the hand of a man, who shook the hand of a man, who shook the hand of a man, who shook George Washington's hand." I always thought that should deeply impress them, as it did, when my grandfather told me the story, but no.

What impresses them is that I remember when there were no satellites, when all telephones had rotary dials and were attached to walls by a wire, and there was generally only 1 telephone in each house, and that many telephones were connected on systems with 5 or 7 other families on the same "party line," so that you frequently interrupted other people's phone calls, by trying to make one of your own, but that you could and did eavesdrop on other people, at least for a little bit, to see if line was indeed clear for your call. They flatly don't believe I grew up before answering machines or voice mail were readily available, in a time when it was common, that people still took handwritten messages for one another.

They giggle when I say there was a time when all airliners had propellers, when Cuba wasn't Communist, when cars didn't have seatbelts (or air bags, disc brakes, or 6 and 8 way power seats) and when all cars still had vent windows. They're hugely sympathetic that when I watched TV as a kid, it was only black and white, and that I only generally had a choice of 3 channels of programming, and many shows were sponsored by cigarette companies, who sometimes hired doctors to recommend that people smoke a particular brand of cigarettes. They wondered how millions of people could all stop what they were doing, every week at a given time, to watch Jackie Gleason, and shake their heads in disbelief when I tell them that yes, that's what you had to do, to see a good TV program, in the days before the VCR/Tivo/Internet. They're even more amazed that I remember a time when there were no personal computers, or credit or debit cards, or ATM machines, and when no American kitchen had a microwave oven.

But they're really flabbergasted when I pull out some of my oldest personalized checks, which don't have the magnetic ink OCR account numbers printed on them, because when I had that account, every check written in America was still cleared by hand, and the typical personal savings instrument was the passbook savings account (I've tried to explain the sanctity of the hand stamped and recorded passbook, but it's been a futile endeavor). They're pushed to incredulity that when I was boy, it generally cost less to send a 50 word telegram from NYC to LA, than to make a 10 minute long distance telephone call over that distance, and that you could send a postcard the same route for $0.02 (thus giving rise to the phrase "and that's my 2 cents worth.")
posted by paulsc at 12:19 PM on February 21, 2010 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Bromius: That clip is amazing. It is incredible to think that it would be possible, in a direct father-son line, for great grandfather, grandfather, father and son to go from Washington to Obama. Or, is my math off?
posted by Pennyblack at 12:23 PM on February 21, 2010

Response by poster: Also Bromius: If someone working for that TV show in 1956 brought their 6 year old to meet the man who witnessed Lincoln's murder, that child (who would be only my age) could actually remember meeting a man who saw President Lincoln get shot. Wow.
posted by Pennyblack at 12:31 PM on February 21, 2010

Well, assuming you had a very long-lived family, it would be possible if every child was born rather late in a father's life. Say, 1780-1870, 1830-1920, 1880-1970, 1930-today. Certainly not impossible.

And yes, it's pretty incredible, isn't it? I'm sort of in a similar position---I worked for a man whose father worked closely with Freud, and whom Freud actually dandled on his knee. Granted Freud only died about 70 years ago, but even so!
posted by Bromius at 12:57 PM on February 21, 2010

Maybe try watching some movies or shows with your grandkids that take place in distinct periods of American history with characters who could have been your contemporaries.

For example, based on this list of actors born in 1950, you could have been school-mates with:
  • MacGyver
  • The Ghostbusters
  • "Beaver" from Leave it to Beaver
  • Etc

posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:58 PM on February 21, 2010

This may be too much of a downer, but I was always in awe at the bad things that were still happening when my parents were born. You could talk about segregation, the lack of women's rights, apartheid, etc. If there were Civil War veterans alive in 1950, people who had been enslaved might have been too.

I so want to shake paulsc's hand now.
posted by sallybrown at 1:43 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

You were alive at the same time as Einstein, Stalin, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Auguste Lumière, who was partially responsible for the first films ever made, was still around too.

The year you were born, computers looked like this.

(I love this question.)
posted by neroli at 1:49 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I remember being mind-blown by the statistic that there were a countable number of WWW pages when Bill Clinton took office (like 30?) and by the time he left, well, it was the everyday fabric of life.

In 1950 there were only 48 states. And of course you remember the moon landing, but they may be even more impressed by the idea that we sent man to the moon with considerably less computing power than the average "dumb phone" today (or even than the average annoying kids' toy!).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:51 PM on February 21, 2010

When my mother was born, women did not have the right to vote. (19th Amendment was ratified in July 1920.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 2:00 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Any relatives come through Ellis Island? That's always a good story.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 2:51 PM on February 21, 2010

It's always amazing to me that in 2010, the NASA space shuttle uses a computer designed in 1991.
posted by rabbitsnake at 4:16 PM on February 21, 2010

Just the Civil War vets being alive in 1950 is enough to floor me...
posted by mnemonic at 4:19 PM on February 21, 2010

What happened in my birth year chronicles just that, contrasted with the events/commonplace things of today.
posted by namewithoutwords at 4:32 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just the Civil War vets being alive in 1950 is enough to floor me...

How about 1956?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:38 PM on February 21, 2010

This thread reminds me of my favorite illustration of how young this country is: Civil War veterans sitting around watching TV sitcoms. Blows my mind that this almost certainly happened sometime in the 1950s.

President John Tyler? Tenth president, took office in 1841? Two of his grandsons are still alive.

Tell your grandkids about littering. It freaks out my kids that people used to just roll down the car window and toss out garbage.

U.S. colleges placed quotas on the number of Jews they would admit until as late as the 1960s. Yale was one of the last to end the practice in 1966.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:56 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might find something useful in Wikipedia's List of last occurrences.
posted by various at 5:15 PM on February 21, 2010

Pennyblack, do you have memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

I think it would be pretty daunting to hear about living thru a time when it seemed quite possible that a large portion of the human race would cease to exist in the space of just a few hours. Even outside of that one event, during the 50's and 60's and even beyond, there was always a simmering just below the surface, deep seated dread that we would manage to annihilate ourselves. "Duck and Cover", bomb shelters, etc. The many TV shows, movies and books that dealt with nuclear end of the world scenarios.

Currently, in the US, many of us live with the sad thought that our country is in decline. While depressing, this can't possibly compare to living with the gnawing fear of worldwide nuclear armegeddon that many of us still remember well.

Yes, these things could still happen, but this fear has receded into the background for most of us, and that seem well worth celebrating.
posted by marsha56 at 5:16 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

In 1950 there were only 48 states.

Hah. That's right. Heck, the star pattern on the flag changed!

I recall seeing the movie Patton for the first time in the 1980s, and when George C. Scott walks on camera in front of that giant flag, I recall thinking, "What's wrong with the stars...?" Because the film used the correct flag from the film's time period.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:52 PM on February 21, 2010

Response by poster: Marsha56: I have vivid memories of those cold war crisis days. One morning a rumor spread that the Russians were going to attack just as we walked to school. When the church clock struck 8:00 AM, dozens of us who were in the common hid under the park benches. The police and teachers had to come and talk us out.
I also completely remember Nov. 22, 1963. When I first learned that the president had been shot, I was afraid that somehow my mother had done it. She often said 'If I ever run into one of those Kennedy sons of bitches, I'll shoot him'. Good times! Eleanor Roosevelt died the same year, if I recall.
posted by Pennyblack at 6:16 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Here's another ridiculous question: If that Civil War Vet (who died in 1956) married a 20 year old a year or so before he died (Ick, I know) would she be eligible for his Civil War pension? If so, how much would it be? I do know that women did marry older men for their pensions, especially during the depression. She (the hypothetical widow) would only be 74 now. And, a Civil War widow.
posted by Pennyblack at 6:28 PM on February 21, 2010

I was once able to simultaneously delight and depress my father by pointing out that on the very day he was born in 1949 the university I was currently attending had voted to keep on barring black people from enrolling. How far we've come!

I'm going to chime in as well that "where were you when?" questions are always impressive, especially if these kids have reached a point in their schooling where they'll actually have some perspective on things like the Kennedy and King assassinations or the Cuban Missile crisis. I never get sick of making my folks tell me where they were when X happened.

And at the ripe old age of 27 I am official Feeling Old that there are people Posting on the Internet about "barely remembering" 9/11/01.

Neat question! Oh, and here's something: my mom was born in 1950 and was never, not once, allowed to wear pants to school. Dresses and skirts exclusively until she graduated in '69. I think the class of '70 at her school was the first in which girls were allowed to wear pants. Crazy!
posted by Neofelis at 7:07 PM on February 21, 2010

Pennyblack - in fact something like that did happen.
posted by bigmusic at 7:52 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Pennyblack, do you have memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis?"

I'm, obviously, not Pennyblack, but in 1962, my father was a Petty Officer, Second Class, in the Naval Air Reserve, and we, his family, were stationed with him, at the former (since closed in 1993, and re-dedicated as a Fleet Support facility) NAS Millington, TN. In those days, the Blue Angels still made an annual stop in Millington, which they no longer do, and I got to stand, proudly, on those special days, near the Flight Operations office, with my Dad (dressed in his smart dress blues and black shoes) and my younger brother, when those boyhood aviation heros stepped out smartly to their blue planes, and saluted, and smiled, while my big, tall Dad flipped them back a smart salute, and while I then got to watch those "Naval aviation officers," as they took to the skies, as I so wanted to, with them.

But in that late October of 1962, 2 months or so after the Blue Angels came and went, my Dad started coming home, in his usual work-a-day dungarees, with a worried face, and sent us to our rooms, where we could still hear he and our Mother talking in low, but urgent voices. We lived, in those days, with most other military enlisted families, on base, in trailers we owned, and parked on government trailer park lots, at nominal rent, and with subsidized utilities. Not the sort of thing that we, even as school kids, thought good shelter against nuclear weapons, as we soon came to understand them.

Because those of us Navy kids, living on that base in 1962, and being bussed into Millington, TN public schools, on gray Navy school buses, with armed Marine "guards," were learning, in school, not only to "duck and cover," but how to get to school basement facilities, like the boiler room, and how to identify Civil Defense stores, like barreled water, and dry pack food, from their markings, that were, suddenly, pretty plentiful in all those basement rooms. And it was, if you had a protractor and a map of the southern U.S., that went down as far as Cuba, no joke. It was pretty clear, from the news reports, from the faces of our teachers, from what our parents didn't want to discuss in front of us, from what we were suddenly being taught about basements and Civil Defense stores, and nuclear fall out, in public school, that Millington was a possible primary target, within the expected range of the intermediate range Soviet missiles we were hearing about, even to 12, 13, and 14 year old ears.

And I remember, in those days of greater and greater tension, that my Mom's involvement in Navy Wives Club became an issue. In a weird turn, my Mom, an enlisted man's wife, had, through her commitments of time, and her personality, become Secretary of the Navy Wives Club, in Millington, in 1961. And that made her a continuing "touchstone" for most enlisted men's wives and families on that base, and even for many junior officer's wives and families. So there was a sense, as even I understood it at the time, that she was expected to provide "leadership by example" in the face of a serious national emergency, for all those Navy wives and families that knew her. On that base, in those dark days, by Federal intervention, we suddenly had a private phone line, on our same old "party line" phone number, and my Mom was spending hours, every day, on the phone, trying to answer questions and squelch scuttlebutt. It was, she said, her "duty," just like my father had his "duty," and it was our "duty," as Navy kids, to behave better than usual, and to give her the time she needed to answer all her phone calls, and to feed us, late, on scrambled eggs and toast, or beans and franks, when her days grew long.

One night, in late October, our Dad didn't come home from his "work" or "duty" on the Northside of the Millington base. In those days "Northside" of the base, was divided by the 4 lane "Navy Road" from the "Southside" of the base, where "Northside" housed all the critical military flight facilities. "Southside" contained the enlisted barracks, the Navy school buildings, the officer's quarter homes, the enlisted housing and temporary housing sites, and the various Enlisted Men's Clubs, PX facilities, along with the office and administration facilities for the 7 separate Fleet training commands that called that base home, in those days, and each of whom posted there a rear Admiral in command, or better, as well as the social infrastructure that we used, daily, in our lives as Naval dependents. The fact that our Dad wasn't coming home on a particular duty night, in itself, wasn't entirely unusual, as, at that time, Dad still had to, occasionally, pull "duty" on night watches, in the avionics support group. Mom explained to us kids, however, that this was a little different, that he was "on alert," and that he'd asked her to take us kids to our grandparents in Nebraska. So, she asked us all to be good, and help her pack, and load our 1958 Oldsmobile Super 88 Fiesta wagon. And we did, as much as we could, me and my brother, although our younger sister mostly sat and blubbered, and asked when her Daddy would be coming home.

But some time in the early morning of October 20th, as I remember it, we were finally, as a family, packed, and in the dark, as Mom could stand to do it, we headed for the Southside main gate, and the road North, to Nebraska. But we found ourselves in a slow crawl of other Navy families, leaving, one by one, in the night, on agreement with their family member still serving. My Mom began crying, and putting her head down on the steering wheel, and it became my office, from her usual passenger side front seat, to say to her when it seemed time, again and again, to move our car in the long line of tail lights moving slowly toward that Southside Main gate. And when, eventually, we got to Southside Main Gate, some 19 year old Marine PFC, in his unaccustomed stiff dress blues, with his white parade gloves on, saluted each vehicle leaving the base, in a small display of national pride we'd never seen before, or ever after.

So we drove, together, as a partial family, north, through Cape Giradeau, on the old highway, and into central Missouri, as far as my Mother could drive without sleep. I remember waking with the sunrise coming through our windshield, and us driving several more hours North, through Jefferson City, to Marshall, MO, where our grandparents met us, on previous urgent call from our Mother.

And we three children, and our grandparents, turned and headed to Nebraska, from Marshall, while my Mother, alone, despite all our and grand parents pleadings, turned and headed South, again, alone, herself, to Millington.

For she wouldn't have left our father, beyond the worst need, come Hell or high water.

So, the three of us kids spent the rest of October, and some of November 1962, in central Nebraska, wondering what we could have done to keep our Mother with us. And, finally, after the best Thanksgiving of my life, when once again, we were all together, safe, in Nebraska at my maternal grand parents' home, my father on leave and my mother, happily, with him in that '58 Olds wagon, my parents and me and my siblings drove home, to Millington, with some confidence, and a greater respect for one another, than ever we had had, before.

So, 50+ years on, those of you who haven't had to think much about mushroom clouds rising from your towns, can smile or laugh at our innocence, and tears, if you like. Those were, whatever you think in these modern times, some of the darkest days humanity ever lived, and for those whose hearts beat, sometimes frantically, through each moment of them, it is a time we can never forget, or fully describe.
posted by paulsc at 8:02 PM on February 21, 2010 [7 favorites]

A friend of mine asked an elderly friend of his who she thought the best president of her life time had been. She said "Roosevelt", which seemed surprising, since she was a hard core Republican. He voiced his surprise and she replied, "oh no, Teddy".
posted by Jahaza at 8:10 PM on February 21, 2010

I mean, I remember 9/11, but it didn't hit me as some kind of momentous occasion that could change the course of world history. It just seemed sad.

More events:

A brief history of terrible cars? I like hearing about the Edsel. I also love hearing about how cars didn't have seatbelts or airbags.

You could tell your kids about the New Coke debacle during the 1980s.

I guess, if you wanted to, you could talk about Roe v. Wade or the gay pride movement, or how HIV/AIDS became a pandemic. Those could all be pretty touchy issues, though I like hearing about them from people who were actually alive at the time.
posted by pecknpah at 11:01 PM on February 21, 2010

I remember being mind-blown by the statistic that there were a countable number of WWW pages when Bill Clinton took office (like 30?) and by the time he left, well, it was the everyday fabric of life.

The anecdote that always surprises me is that when the Clinton administration adopted email the building wasn't wired for it. So if you sent email to the White House in the early-to-mid 90s it was retrieved in another building, downloaded onto floppy disk, and then physically mailed to the White House. If you wanted someone to write you back you had to include a postal address because they wouldn't return email.
posted by lilac girl at 7:52 PM on February 22, 2010

paulsc, thank you for that wrenching and vivid story. Thank you.
posted by kristi at 9:06 AM on February 24, 2010

« Older What do these printer settings do?   |   Where can I buy my used Tanith Lee books in New... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.