By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
Some things you never forget. I’d bet that everyone in Stevens Point who was around in the Sixties remembers where they were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. How could anyone forget?
Right now, some of you are saying to yourself: “Yup. I know exactly where I was”. It doesn’t even require much thought.
My memory of the infamous day is not pleasant. I was a sophomore in high school, and my eyes were glued to a tiny black and white television set in a room at St. Michael’s Hospital. A month earlier, I’d broken my leg just goofing around with my buddies in my living room at home. Dr. Reichardt had put my leg in traction and I couldn’t move an inch for about four months.
Luckily, my parents brought a small TV for me to watch. With one leg up in the air, I soon got hooked on soap operas.
On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, I was watching “As The World Turns”. At 12:40 PM, anchorman Walter Cronkite interrupted the show and said, “Here’s a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting”.
CBS then went back to the soap opera show. Briefly.
Then Cronkite, a totally respected newsman, came back on and said, “From Dallas, Texas, the flash is apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1 PM Central Standard Time”.
Prior to that, I was getting one or two visitors to my room each day. I still hate to think about it. Turns out my room had the only television on the entire floor. From that moment forward, my little room was like Grand Central Station.
Had I charged a buck for anyone to come into the room, I’d be a millionaire now. It was a steady stream of people, and my broken leg certainly wasn’t on anyone’s mind.
By the way, and I bet most people don’t know this, but Lee Harvey Oswald was never arrested for shooting JFK. He was arrested for fatally shooting a Dallas cop. Don’t really want to get into it, but it sure seemed like the authorities knew a lot about Oswald only a few hours after the assassination.
I was also watching TV from the same bed when Jack Ruby gunned down Oswald.
So where were you?
A few months later, another really big thing came on television. On Feb. 9, 1964, Ed Sullivan of “The Ed Sullivan Show” announced to a national TV audience, “Ladies and Gentlemen…the Beatles!”
Some 73 million viewers, a record at the time for U.S.television, tuned in to watch the boys from Liverpool, England. It was the beginning of the “British Invasion” in music. I watched from St. Mike’s as they sang “All My Lovin’” and “She Loves You”. A little later, they also performed “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. The Beatles took America by storm.
Do you remember where you were on that day?
Just for the record, Bill Haley and His Comets performed “Rock Around The Clock” on Ed’s show in 1955. I was probably outside playing marbles. It was the first performance of a rock and roll song on a national television program.
Geez, Stevens Point was sure different back in that era, and I sure miss those days. Stevens Point was so laid back and peaceful until something called Vietnam grabbed our attention. It was a fun time for kids. We were building forts, playing hide and seek, going to carnivals, spinning 45s on small record players, running around with peashooters, and all kinds of neat stuff. As a kid growing up in Wisconsin, I also discovered Hartland statues.
A company called Hartland Plastics in Hartland, Wisconsin came out with plastic western figurines in 1953. They made figurines of The Lone Ranger, Tonto, Roy Rogers, and Dale Evans. Then Hartland produced a figurine of Davy Crockett and his horse “Streak” (born on a tabletop in Tennessee…). There’s no way anyone remembers that Crockett’s horse was named “Streak”. No way, Jose.
Then in 1958, Frank Fulop, a Hartland supervisor, suggested they make a line of baseball figurines. Included in the first group were Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, and Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves and Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth of the Yankees. The figurines came in nifty boxes and sold very well at ballpark concession stands.
In 1960, Hartland added figurines of Ernie Banks, Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox, Don Drysdale, Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Roger Maris, Harmon Killebrew, Rocky Colavito, Duke Snider, and Dick Groat.
My parents bought me a Hank Aaron Hartland back then, which I lost over time. Still, remember when I went downtown to Toyland in Point hoping to buy one or two of the Milwaukee Braves. The figurines sold for $1.98.
I remember seeing that Toyland had a few Don Drysdale and Duke Snider Hartlands but I passed because they weren’t Milwaukee Braves. Dumber than a box of rocks! And like everything good, you think you can just get some later. Well, in 1963, Hartland Plastics was sold to Revlon Cosmetics Company, and there went the Hartlands. Lipstick was in and Harmon Killebrew was out.
Stevens Point was just so cool “back in the day”. Some locals probably recall that in 1973, prominent columnist Mike Royko of the Chicago Daily News rated the Point Brewery’s “Point Special” beer the top American beer in a taste test. That got a big play around town. For the record, I was kinda partial to the “Blue Bullets” myself.
And then there was the time when someone set up a huge water tank outside by the Stevens Point Journal. You paid $1 and the people gave you a cane pole and a kernel of corn and let you catch a trout. That was really fun. My buddy walked up to the guy with the poles and said, “I want the army corn”.
The guy said, “Huh”?
My pal told him, “Gimme a kernel”.
Peaceful times. Quiet times. Almost no drugs. Nobody locked their doors. You would help an old lady walk across the street. You would sit in front of the store and watch the cars go by. You could spend a whole day shopping downtown.
On Halloween, trick or treating was a blast. Back in the ’60s, the kids always went out gathering candy at dark. You could walk around the whole neighborhood and stay out until your bag was overflowing. You always made a haul. Geez, one lady a few blocks away gave out unopened bottles of Coca-Cola. That was a treasure. We would get our bottles, go back home, change into something else, and go back for another one. The lady would always laugh and give us another.
Yep, those were the days. The “Fonz” on TV. Eating the best chicken in the world by Pacelli’s Mrs. Ohlert. Watching DeLoyd “Sonny” Shuda taking newspapers off the press at the Point Journal. Sonny was the only guy who seemed to like it. Playing in the “Toilet Bowl” in freezing winter at Goerke.
And somewhere around that time at Pacelli, I learned that there are seven colors in a rainbow. Don’t bother. You’ll never get them.
But to me, the two things I’ll never forget were the JFK assassination and the Beatles coming to America.
What are your main memories?
Tim “Shoe” Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.