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September 16, 1957 – Emma Gatewood Walks on the “Wild” Side

Emma Gatewood on the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Emma Gatewood on the Appalachian Trail.

Before there was Cheryl Strayed, there was Emma Gatewood.

On September 16, 1957, Ohio native Emma Gatewood, aged 69, arrived at the 5,270-foot peak of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the 2,050-mile-long Appalachian Trail. Back on April 27, “Grandma” Gatewood had started out from Mount Oglethorpe, Georgia – at the trail’s southern end – equipped with a handsewn denim bag of hiking supplies and a determination to repeat her record-setting trek of 1955. Two years earlier, over the course of five months, Emma had become the first woman to solo thru-hike (travel from start to finish without interruption) the scenic Appalachian Trail.

Grandma Gatewood and Cheryl Strayed – recent thru-hiker of the western-states Pacific Coast Trail and author of the best-selling memoir Wild – had something in common. They were both on a quest. Both took somewhat radical risks to complete their journeys. Both found something on the trail that changed their lives.

Emma Gatewood was born Emma Rowena Caldwell on a farm in Gallia County, Ohio, one of 15 siblings. She did her share of chores, including hoeing, planting, worming tobacco, milking, washing, and cooking. When persuasive P.C. Gatewood insisted on marriage, she consented and went on to birth her own farming family of 11 children. P.C. was not the husband young Emma had hoped for. They had a stormy relationship, witnessed by the children, in which P.C. physically abused Emma.

Sometime in the early 1950s, her family grown and gone, Emma read an article in National Geographic about Earl V. Shaffer, the first man to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Emma found this an irresistible challenge. She, a woman, could do that, too! And – in spite of her bad knees, bunions, false teeth, and feeling blind without her glasses – she did.

An abortive but instructive attempt in 1954 was followed by her successful traverse in the summer of 1955. Emma enjoyed meeting residents along the way from Georgia to Maine, often hiking out for food, temporary shelter, and the finer things like a shower and bug spray. She traveled light, carrying no more than 15 pounds of trail basics stuffed in a bag thrown over her shoulder. Emma tried to avoid predators like bears and rattlesnakes, and pesky critters like mice, black flies, mosquitos, and reporters. She was constitutionally no-nonsense and tended to believe that people could do a whole lot more than they thought. “The hardest part of hiking the Appalachian Trail,” like so many other challenges in life, she told her son Nelson, “was simply making up your mind to do it.” If Emma had worn a button, it might have read, “No Pantywaists!”

Acclaim came Emma’s way during and after her 1955 adventure. She appeared on NBC’s “Today” with Dave Garroway, “The Art Linkletter Show,” and Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life.” Reporters for countless newspapers and magazines dogged her steps and lauded her achievements. What led her to the 1957 repeat? The quiet trail, nature, the sense of a spiritual connection beckoned. “The petty entanglements of life are brushed aside like cobwebs,” Emma wrote in her trail journal. Plus, no woman had ever done it twice!

Cheryl Strayed went “wild” on the PCT in an attempt to recover from her mother’s death. Stuck in protracted grief, she found herself unable to move on in life. She was young, had many years ahead of her, and needed to find a new normal. Emma Gatewood walked into AT history as a woman of age and maturity, after her immediate responsibilities to her family were over. The limitations of an abusive husband and small children to raise, and the cultural expectations imposed on women of her generation may have sat too heavily and fit too closely on her small but sturdy frame. When she could set them aside, she did, and set out to discover in the most basic sense what she was capable of.

How capable was she? After her AT thru-hikes in 1955 and 1957, Emma walked 2000 miles of the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Portland, Oregon (my birthplace!) in 95 days during the Trail’s centennial year celebration in 1959. She attempted a third AT passage in 1960, but heavy-weather damage to the trail diverted her course through other trails in Pennsylvania, New York  Massachusetts, Vermont, and Canada. She climbed several peaks in the Adirondack Range, and successfully completed a third traverse of the AT in 1964. She was personally instrumental in creating several sections of Ohio’s treasured Buckeye Trail.

Emma died in 1973, but her memory lives on as an inspiration to all that, in the words of (fellow Mount Katahdin-climber) Henry David Thoreau, “If one advances confidently in the direction of [her] dreams, and endeavors to live the life which [she] has imagined, [she] will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Fox Searchlight Pictures brought Cheryl Strayed’s Wild to the big screen, starring Reese Witherspoon, om 2014. Trail Magic: The Emma Gatewood Story, a documentary of Emma Gatewood’s life created by FilmAffects and WGTE/PBS Toledo, was released in 2015 and nominated for an Emmy in 2017. Bette Lou Higgins and Kelly Boyer Sagert of Eden Valley Enterprises were instrumental in bringing Grandma Gatewood her moment in digital-celluloid history.

Image Credit: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

September 14, 1957 – Cuban President Fulgencio Batista Faces Internal Opposition

Batista’s army executes a rebel.

On September 14, 1957, the New York Times reported that Cuban President Fulgencio Batista had recently suppressed a revolt in the town of Cienfuegos in which officers and personnel of his own Navy had taken sides with Fidel Castro against his regime.  The previous day, Batista had announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection the following June (he was constitutionally forbidden to succeed himself) but that the suspension of civil liberties would be renewed for another 45 days.

The Cienfuegos revolt, crushed by Army tanks and aircraft, had been instigated by no more than 100 men, Batista claimed, including “a few dissident, illicit men in the Navy”.  According to the Times article there were three sources of opposition to Batista: Fidel Castro’s M-26-7 movement; adherents of former President Carlos Prio Socarras, who was deposed by Batista in 1952; and a group of Opposition parties.

On this day, the Times reported that the island “was an armed camp”.  Citizens were fearful of a breakdown of authority resulting in a state of chaos; merchants were losing business, tourism was down, businesses wanted to close but were not being permitted to do so by the government.  Soldiers patrolled the streets, rounding up opposition figures, and the jails were full of people accused of revolutionary activities.  Citizens had little faith in Batista’s government, but also little confidence that change could be achieved through peaceful means at the ballot box.  The Times concluded that “despite the bloody revolt, the terrorism and other efforts of the Opposition to force President Batista out of office, he will undoubtedly continue to control the island as long as his Army, the most powerful branch of the armed forces, remains loyal to him.”

Image Credit: Imagno – Museo de la Revolucion, La Habana, Cuba

September 12, 1957 – [Subliminal] Messages

Popcorn and Coca-Cola. [1957 Time Capsule].

On September 12, 1957 [1957 Time Capsule], market researcher James Vicary revealed at a press conference in New York City that 45,699 movie-going guinea pigs [1957 Time Capsule] had been recently exposed to what sounded suspiciously to alarmed Americans like thought control.  The Wall Street Journal reported the following on Vicary’s presentation about his new subliminal [1957 Time Capsule] projection technology:

“This story may sound as though a flying saucer [1957 Time Capsule] is lurking behind the scenes, but you can rest assured that all characters in this drama are real.  The tale begins some months ago when several closed-mouthed men walked into a New Jersey motion picture house [1957 Time Capsule] and fitted a strange mechanism to the film projector.  Over the next six weeks, as 45,699 unsuspecting movie goers watched Hollywood’s newest epics [1957 Time Capsule],  a strange thing reportedly occurred.  Out of the blue, it is claimed, patrons started deserting their seats and crowding in the lobby.  Sales of Coca-Cola [1957 Time Capsule] reportedly rose 18.1% and popcorn purchases zoomed 57.7% over the theater’s usual sales.  These claims – and the explanation of this purported phenomenon – were made at a press conference yesterday afternoon [1957 Time Capsule] by executives of a new firm called Subliminal Projection Co., Inc.  The movie patrons had been subjected to ‘invisible advertising’ that by-passed their conscious [1957 Time Capsule] and assertedly struck deep into their sub-conscious.  The trick was accomplished by flashing commercials past the viewers’ eyes so rapidly [1957 Time Capsule] that viewers were unaware they had seen them.  The ads, which were flashed every five seconds or so, simply urged the audience to eat popcorn [1957 Time Capsule] and drink Coca-Cola, and they were projected during the theater’s regular movie program.”

Vicary claimed that subliminal advertising [1957 Time Capsule] would revolutionize the advertising industry – which was moving rapidly to take advantage [1957 Time Capsule] of the growing popularity of television – by promoting products directly to the drives, needs [1957 Time Capsule] and desires of the unconscious mind.  The cool, rational processes of conscious recognition and evaluation [1957 Time Capsule] would be disabled.  The public was worried: were they about to become [1957 Time Capsule] the victims of brainwashing?

Image Credit: Faux Food Diner

Mid-Century Modern – Vogue Magazine’s September Issue

Suzy Parker in Vogue Magazine, September 1957. Photo source: Vogue

Suzy Parker in Vogue Magazine, September 1957.

The September 1957 issue of Vogue Magazine was probably not the iconic behemoth that currently arrives at the newsstand with a thud each fall to profile and advertise the season’s couture. But the Conde Nast bible of style, then under the editorial directorship of Jessica Daves, had much to do with guiding the taste and flair of 1950s closets. With mid-century modern bringing back a neo-50s vibe, this editorial image of Suzy Parker from September, 1957 feels right at home with the trends of today (possibly minus the green fuzzy hat).

Texan redhead Suzy Parker was one of the first very-supermodels. In addition to her editorial work for fashion magazines, Parker frequently appeared in advertisements for cosmetics and other consumer products. She was the first model to earn over $100,000 per year. Suzy was also one of the first in a long line of fashion models who made the crossover to movies. Two films released in 1957 slated Suzy for small roles: Kiss Them for Me, with Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield; and Funny Face, with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Fashion photography legends Richard Avedon, Horst P. Horst, and Irving Penn were inspired by Parker and their images, in turn, inspired 1950s women to pursue elegance with a flash of Texas sizzle. John, Paul, George, and Ringo – raging adolescents in 1957 – collectively wrote and recorded a tribute to Suzy in 1969, which was included in the soundtrack of the 1970 documentary, Let it Be.

Image Credit: Vogue Magazine

Vintage 1957 – A Comedy Revolution

 

In the 1950s, stand-up comedy went through something of a revolution. In broad outline, comedy of the 1930s most often took the form of physical slapstick in the movies – think the Marx Brothers, Abbot & Costello, etc. In the 1940s, the rising popularity of radio broadcasts ushered in less physical and more verbal comedy. Bob Hope, Jack Benny, George Burns & Gracie Allen, and Henny Youngman all perfected the art of one-liners, story gags, and “groaners” (“I just flew in from St. Louis . . . and boy are my arms tired!” or “Take my wife . . . please!”).

Comedy in the 1950s turned topical. Journalist and author Gerald Nachman, who covered entertainment news for the New York Post, the Oakland Tribune, the New York Daily News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, shines a light on the shift in his 2009 book, Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s. Nachman provides detailed biographies of 26 comedians, including Woody Allen, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, and Steve Allen. Politics, sex, race relations, drugs, self-angst, pop media and celebrity, all were suddenly fair game for public airing, often in satirical or cynical ways.

How does comedy work? What makes us laugh?

Laughter can be cathartic. It can lighten our spirits in difficult times. The Great Depression and World War II of the 1930s and 1940s were dark times. People looked to comedy for relief from anxiety and despair.

But laughter also serves as a leveler. It can burst bubbles and open eyes, providing a wake-up call for others or for ourselves. It can be a subtle instrument or sharp weapon against complacency, pretension, self-absorption, mindless conformity, and attitudes of superiority and arrogance. It can slip in “under the radar” to powerfully say, “Take a look at yourself and your culture.”

The comedians of the 1950s – subtle or blunt – had new, sometimes uncomfortable things to say. And they were heard.

Image Credits: ABC Films; NBC Television; New York World-Telegram & Sun; Towpilot; Rollins & Joffe; Allan Warren; AP; Concord Jazz

August 22, 1957 – Two Americans Tried in Cuban Court

Who was Russell Masker?

On August 22, 1957, two American men were put on trial in Cuba for carrying unlicensed arms, resisting arrest, and attempting to join the resistance movement of Fidel Castro.  The proceedings were held in the Urgency Court in Santiago, created in the 1930s to try terrorists.  Russell F. Masker and Thomas M. Miller of Miami, Florida had been arrested on August 9th in the town of San Luis, about thirty miles from Santiago in Cuba’s southeastern Oriente Province, the locus of Castro’s M-26-7 activities.  Masker and Miller denied the charges, asserting they had come to Cuba as tourists, had carried no weapons and had not resisted arrest.  The New York Times reported that the Urgency Court could sentence the Americans to as much as five years in prison, with no guaranteed right of appeal.

Little is known about Russell Masker and Thomas Miller, either before or after their arrest and trial.  Russell Masker makes an intriguing appearance in a Cuban Secret Service (G-2 MINFAR) document dated January 12, 1961.  In a report to the secret service department chief, Commander Ramiro Valdes Menedez, about “yanki” (United States) mercenary camps in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Florida, the following statement appears on page 25:

“Last November 22, the ‘Diario de las Americas’ reported the death of North American Russell F. Masker, victim of a stray shot from Cuban Rolando Martinez Capaneria during military instruction in a camp located in ‘Cayo Sin Nombre’, thirty miles from Cayo Hueso [Key West].”

The American-led Bay of Pigs Invasion against the Castro regime took place in April of 1961.  Whose side was Masker on?

August 19, 1957 – Dr. David Simons Sets New Altitude Record

On August 19, 1957, Air Force physician and space flight researcher Dr. David Simons reached a record altitude of 102,000 feet (over 19 miles) above the earth in a telephone-booth-sized, air-conditioned capsule suspended from a helium balloon.  Dr. Simons had conducted earlier experiments with monkeys, mice, guinea pigs, and human volunteers to investigate reactions to weightlessness and the hazards of exposure to primary cosmic radiation.  But in August of 1957, as part of the Air Force’s Man High Project, it was Simons’ turn to experience the world from a vantage point beyond 99% of the earth’s atmosphere.  Life published an article about the historic flight, “A Journey No Man Had Taken,” during which Dr. Simons conducted  25 experiments armed with cameras, a 5-inch telescope, a tape recorder, a microphone taped to his chest, and photographic cosmic ray bombardment track plates taped to his arms and chest.  He observed the moon and Venus, aurora borealis and cloud formations.  He stated that his most important finding was that with the right equipment, humans could survive at the very edge of space.

Simons took off from a deep, open-pit iron mine in Crosby, Minnesota and landed, 32 hours and 10 minutes later, in a field in South Dakota.  In his Life article, Dr. Simons described seeing a “purplish-black” sky, etched with thin bands of blue.  Thin shells of dust “hovered over the Earth like a succession of halos.”  He later wrote a book, with Don A. Schanche, about his experiences, titled “Man High.”  A sign he posted on the inside of his capsule warned, “Have all the fun you want, but don’t jump up and down.”

In the days after the “high point” of his career, as his commanding officer Col. John Paul Stapp jokingly put it, Dr. David Simons was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.  He continued to conduct research, including studies on radio telemetry for in-flight medical monitoring.  After his retirement, he became fascinated with and researched pain and myofascial trigger points, co-authoring in 1983 a still-standard text on the subject.

Image Credit: Life magazine