Pastimes

September 17, 1957 – Kansas State Fairgrounds Hosts Sprint Car Races

Dale Reed, Heat #2 Winner

On September 17, 1957, the historic half-mile racetrack at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas, hosted six sprint car races contested by nineteen excited drivers and crew.  Five thousand fans were in attendance for three qualifying heats of seven laps, a fast car dash of four laps, a six-lap consolation race, and the featured final race of fifteen laps.  Drivers from nine states – Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, Florida, California, and Minnesota – gathered for the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) event.  Winners of the qualifying heats were Pete Folse of Tampa, Florida, Dale Reed of Wichita, Kansas, and Al “Cotton” Farmer of Ft. Worth, Texas.  Farmer also came in first in the fast car dash and featured final race; Johnny Pouelson of Gardena, California won the consolation event.

Sprint cars are small, powerful race cars with high power-to-weight ratios designed to run on short oval or circular tracks.  Sprint car racing began shortly after World War I, and by the ’50s some sprint cars racers were using larger flathead V8 Ford or Mercury engines, rather than the pre-World War II vintage 4-cylinders of the ’40s.  Featured race champion Farmer was driving a Les Vaughn Offy, #24.  Les Vaughn owned many frontrunning midget, sprint, and stock racecars from 1948 to 1960.  Young A.J. Foyt got his big break in an Offy, winning his first sprint car race in Minot, North Dakota in 1956.

Final-winning racer Al “Cotton” Farmer was 29 on this warm, sunny day in Hutchinson.  His nickname came from the full white head of hair he sported from boyhood until his death in 2004 in his hometown of Ft. Worth.  He was an automobile chemical salesman, active in local professional and charitable organizations throughout his life, the father of four and grandfather of ten.

Image Credit: L.A.Wood/”Big Car Thunder” by Bob Mays/Kansas Racing History website

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 13, 1957 – The Kalmikoffs Win in Buffalo

Dastardly Ivan and Karol at work.

On September 13, 1957, Ivan and Karol Kalmikoff defeated Vic Christy and Sammy Berg in a National Wrestling Alliance event at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York.  The Kalmikoffs tag team – a team of fictitious Soviet brothers consisting of Ivan (Edward Bruce, native son of Detroit, Michigan), and Karol (Karol Piwoworczyk, hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma) – were very successful in the mid-50s, having begun their sweaty grappling career in 1953 in Amarillo, Texas.  Two other “brothers” participated occasionally: Nikita (Nikita Mulkovich) and Stan or Igor (Eric Pomeroy).

Populated by wild characters with quirky gimmicks, partly athletic event but wholly staged entertainment, professional wrestling featured clearly defined heroes and villains who episodically portrayed the alternating triumph of the forces of good or evil in (and frequently out) of a canvas-floored ring.  What great fun – and how vicariously cathartic – to boo the Communist Red menace Kalmikoffs while the Cold War raged.

Television fueled the popularity of professional wrestling as each of the major networks broadcast the colorful, inexpensive-to-produce matches.  As a result, the ’50s became the “Golden Age” for the pseudo-sport.

Image Credit: Online World of Wrestling

September 3, 1957 – How Bobby Fischer Spent His Summer Vacation

Bobby Fischer in 1957

On September 3, 1957, 14-year-old chess prodigy Bobby Fischer woke up with a new championship title and an extra $125 dollars in his bank account.  Bobby started his summer by winning the United States Junior Chess Championship in July, then went on to defeat Arthur Bisguier  at the prestigious US Open Chess Championships in August.  On September 2nd, Fischer defeated James T. Sherwin in the seventh and final round of the New Jersey Open, played at the Independent Chess Club in East Orange, New Jersey.

The final game between Fischer and Sherwin, a King’s Indian Reversed variation, is well-known and studied in the rarefied air of international chess competition.  Annotated versions of the game can be found in several sources, the first one appearing in the October 1957 edition of Chess ReviewAnnotation is a kind of chess “code” that specifies all the moves of a game in order, including which piece was moved, where it was moved to, whether it captured another piece, and the  individual annotator’s editorial comments in the form of punctuation or other symbols (! – good move, !! – excellent move, ? – mistake, ?? – blunder, and ?! or !? – that was either brilliant, weird, or stupid, not everyone agrees).  Bill Wall of Palm Bay, Florida, retired Air Force officer, former NASA engineer, chess journalist and author of over 600 chess-related articles, considers the September 2nd Fischer-Sherwin game “number one in My 60 Memorable Games by Fischer.”

The son of a German biophysicist, Robert James Fischer was born in Switzerland and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and Brooklyn, New York.  He started picking up the game at age 6, and began formal training at the Brooklyn Chess club at age 8.  After winning his first US Junior championship in 1956, he never looked back.  He won every United States Chess Championship he entered, starting in 1957-1958, and in 1963-1964 won by a perfect 11-0 score, the only chess player ever to do so.  He achieved Grandmaster ranking at the youngest age to that date – 15 1/2 – and won a Cold-War “Match of the Century” against Boris Spassky in 1972 to become the World Chess Champion.  Publicity surrounding the televised championship and Bobby’s achievement spurred wide-spread interest among all ages in learning the game.  Membership in the United States Chess Federation skyrocketed.  Fischer’s career had been virtually unstoppable and his withdrawal from the chess scene shortly after the 21-game event against Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland, surprised the nation and chess players everywhere.  It would be twenty years before he re-emerged to play Spassky in “The Revenge Match of the Twentieth Century”.

Brilliant, enigmatic, vitriolically anti-Semitic and a Holocaust-denier, Bobby lived a nomadic, unsettled life as a fugitive from the American legal system in Hungary, the Philippines, Japan and Iceland before his death in 2008.  He has been called a “genius”, “mad”, a “mythologically-shrouded figure”, a “revolutionary”, a “legend in his own time”, and “the greatest player who ever lived.”

Image Credit: Sam Falk/New York Times

August 30, 1957 – The Labor Day Weekend Begins

1957 Corvette Travel Trailer with Fun Accessories.

On August 30, 1957, the Friday before Labor Day weekend, Americans young and old, big and small, got ready to celebrate the last official weekend of summer.  Whether it was to the beach or the pool, the mountains or the desert, the grandparents’ or the Grand Canyon, everyone worked together to pack the station wagon, the trailer, or the ice chest with everything needed to enjoy these final lazy days in the sun before school started and the routine of life kicked in.

Depending on where you were going, you might have packed fishing rods, tennis rackets, horseshoes, inner tubes, a ball and mit, or a new-fangled Frisbee.  Into the Plaid Kooler might have gone Oscar Meyer wieners, jello salad, three-bean salad, watermelon, grape Nehi, and iced tea.  The cupboards in trailers, the baskets and hampers, could have bulged with Del Monte catsup, French’s mustard, buns, Ritz crackers, Mix Trix (or Chex Mix), marshmallow bars, and butterscotch brownies.

Dads packed their portable grills and asbestos mits to do justice to the thick steaks and ribs buried in ice (don’t forget the Lawry’s Seasoned Salt!).  For breakfast, kids were already busy laying dibs on their favorite mini-boxes of Kellogg’s Variety Pack cereals.  Mom and Dad looked forward to eggs, bacon, and Chase & Sanborn coffee – lots of it – or Bisquick pancakes with Log Cabin syrup.

Don’t forget the aluminum folding chairs, kerosene lantern, and bug spray.  Tuck in beach towels and baby oil.  Grab the dog, lock the door, and hit the road!  Summer’s almost over and there’s no time to waste.

Image Credit: Tin Can Tourists

August 24, 1957 – The Game of Clue

Parker Brothers 1956 Edition of “Clue”

On August 24, 1957, families across America may have spent Saturday night gathered around the first floor of Mr. Boddy’s mansion playing one of their favorite board games, Clue.  Was it Miss Scarlet in the dining room with the knife?  Was it Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick?  Which character, room, and weapon cards were in that little black envelope?

Clue first got its start in 1944, when Birmingham, England solicitor’s clerk Anthony Pratt filed a patent for “Murder!” and offered it to Waddingtons, a British game company.  Waddingtons snapped up the murder mystery deduction game and trademarked it under the name “Cluedo“, a combination of the words “Clue” and “Ludo”.  The British public had been playing Ludo since it had come to England during the British Raj, around 1896.  Based on Pachisi (we know it as parcheesi), which originated in India in the 6th century, Ludo was a simple step board game in which players raced their tokens around a patterned board following the roll of dice.  Cluedo added fun mayhem and intrigue as players scurried from room to room of a mansion floor plan laid out on a playing board, trying to detect who had killed who, and where, and how.  Pratt’s patent was granted in 1947 and, after wartime shortages eased in 1949, Waddingtons released Cluedo simultaneously in Britain and in the United States, by license to Parker Brothers, who renamed it “Clue”.

Pratt’s original game was slightly different from the 1949 version.  Ten characters – one of whom would become the victim by random drawing –  would allow for eight players and nine total suspects.  Eleven mansion rooms were available for the dastardly deed, including a gun room and cellar.  The weapons cache went through the greatest overhaul.  Pratt came up with nine murderous household objects, six of which weren’t retained.  The world forever lost the chance to guess, “The axe?  The bomb?  The syringe?  The poison?  The shillelagh?  The fireplace poker?”  Pratt’s design also handled cardplay differently by distributing them in the rooms for players to retrieve, rather than dealing them out.  Players also had to land directly on a character using special tokens in order to accuse them, and the amount of tokens was limited.

Clue has gone through eight editions in America: six with Parker Brothers, and two with Hasbro, who purchased both Parker and Waddingtons in the early 1990s.  Changes over the years  mostly involved redesigns of the mansion and character artwork to reflect current style trends.  Many spin-off games and special editions have been produced.  Clue has inspired a movie, television game shows, a play and an Off-Broadway musical, books, puzzles, video games, and loads of branded merchandise.  Versions of Pratt’s “Murder” are sold around the world, including South America, China, and Japan.

I think it was Professor Plum, in the billiard room, with the lead pipe (nice and messy).

Image Credit: Parker Brothers/eBay

August 15, 1957 – Remembering the Virginia of Sagadahoc

On August 15, 1957, the United States Post Office issued a 3¢ stamp commemorating the 350th anniversary of the first sea-going ship built in the New World.  The Race to Space was on. Rockets, satellites, and ICBMs were in development, and next-generation fighter jets and remote control helicopters were setting records and making news.  But on this day, stamp collectors took note of another form of transportation – the 30-ton pinnace Virginia of Sagadahoc, built and completed by British settlers of the Popham (or Sagadahoc) Colony in 1607.

Popham Colony, near Phippsburg, Maine on the mouth of the Kennebec River, has a fascinating history.  Sagadahoc, the other name for the area, was the Native American name for the Kennebec.  Founded in August, 1607, only a few  months after the more successful and famous Jamestown Settlement in Virginia, Popham was named for George Popham, its leader and president.  With a charter granted by King James I, roughly 120 colonists ventured to the new continent to trade precious metals, spices, and furs, and build ships with wood from the extensive New World forests.  The colony experienced hunger, hostile relations with Native Americans, destruction by fire, and extreme cold during its first winter.  After a year, the colony disbanded when George Popham inherited his family’s estate in England.  The colonists remaining at that time returned home with  him.  The Virginia was one of the ships used by the colonists for that voyage.  She made another trip across the Atlantic in 1609 as part of a supply mission to Jamestown.  During that passage, she survived a massive three-day storm which may have been a hurricane.  The Popham colonists had built her well.

The exact location of Popham Colony was lost in the decades following its abandonment.  A map by “draughtsman” John Hunt of the colony, showing 18 buildings which may or may not have been completed, aided searchers who were able to discover the site in 1994.  Jeffrey Brain of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, headed up the excavation of the fairly undisturbed site, which has yielded invaluable artifacts and structural remains testifying to the early  history of our inventive and hard-working nation.

Image Credit: USPS