Keep Watching the Skies

Photo from UFO sighting in Riverside, California, November 23, 1951. Photograph via National Archives, Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force (Air Staff).

By Dave Price

In 1947, just three years after the start of the Baby Boom Era, reports of flying saucers over United States caused a wave of UFO hysteria to sweep the country. Fascination with these supposed ships from outer space prompted a series of alien invasion movies such as The Thing from Another Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers.

Those reports also sparked a federal investigation to try to determine the origin of the unidentified flying objects.

For more than 20 years, the U.S. Air Force analyzed all reported UFO sitings to determine if they posed any danger or security threats. They called the investigation, launched in 1952, Project Blue Book.

However, after 17 years years of investigation, the Air Force announced the termination of Project Blue Book on December 19, 1969. Of the 12,618 UFO sightings reported between 1947 and 1969, 701 remained “unidentified”. The Air Force investigators determined that the overwhelmingly majority of the sightings were the result of mass hysteria, delusion, or intentional fabrication. Many of the reports were simply the misidentification of known objects such as planes or weather balloons.

But the conclusion of the investigation 50 years did little to stop the American fascination with the possibility of visitations from strange beings from other planets. And not all Americans then, or now, were convinced by the government’s findings.

Domestic unrest during the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War peace protest had spurred growing distrust of the American government, especially on the part of Baby Boomers.

Aware this skepticism, the Air Force declassified Project Blue Book and transferred all its investigative records to the National Archives here in Washington, DC., which was itself a city with several UFO sightings in 1952.

As this comic book sensationalizing the sightings over Washington, DC, in 1952 shows, not all Americans were convinced by the government’s conclusions. Image via National Archives, Records of Headquarters US Air Force (Air Staff).

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the termination of Project Blue Book and Americans’ still ongoing fascination and curiosity about UFO’s, the Archives is staging a small exhibit at the East Rotunda Gallery in their DC institution. The displayed documents and selected photographswill be on display through January 8, 2020.

Wistfully Wishing for a Christmas Wish Book of Holidays Past

By Dave Price ( this article first appeared in Booming Encore)

Like so many magical stories of childhood, this one begins with a most familiar phrase…

Once upon a time (say about 1950 to 1980 or so), Baby Boomers all over North America rushed to their mailboxes in late August or early September, hoping to find the Sears Christmas Catalog – or simply The Wish Book as it eventually came to be called – waiting for them.

The annual catalog was filled with pages and pages of toys, games, sporting items, scientific instruments, books, bicycles, and bright, shiny wagons guaranteed to thrill youngsters who looked at its pages.

Whenever they had free time, children of all ages would rush to their favorite sitting spots and, with excited eyes, spend hours perusing the big book in hopes of finding the gifts from Santa and family that would make for a perfect Christmas.

The catalogs were so popular that even today siblings in their sixties recall arguing over who would get to read the books first.

Actually, the widely popular Wish Book was just one of a series of catalogs that Sears published, beginning with the initial non-holiday one mailed to potential buyers in 1894.

The first Christmas catalog arrived in homes in 1933. Featured items in that book included the then-popular Miss Pigtails doll, Lionel electric train sets, a Mickey Mouse watch, and even live singing canaries.

The cover of 1933 offered illustrations displaying some of the featured items found in the 87-page catalog. The next year Sears started the tradition of putting warm, colorful Christmas scenes on the cover and a holiday icon was born.

As its popularity soared, the catalog continued to grow, reaching its maximum size of 605 pages in 1968, four years after the last of the Baby Boomers were born.

Interestingly, while almost everyone nostalgically remembers the catalog as filled with nothing but toys, that isn’t true. The initial 1933 book offered 62 pages of gifts for adults and only 25 pages of toys. In 1968, there were 380 pages for adults and 225 devoted to youngsters.

By 1943, the catalogs were being heralded as “a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living.”

That message proved prophetic. 

Today, producers of Hollywood movies and Broadway shows frequently refer to old catalogs for styles of a specific period, while cultural historians use them to examine life in days long gone.

However, as is the case with so many things of the past, the Christmas Wish Book fell victim to changing times, specifically modern trends in retailing and technology. The company decided to halt producing the large catalogs for Americans in 1993.

Now obviously, youngsters today are just as excited about the holidays as their counterparts of the past. So what do they do? Instead of spreading the big-book catalogs on their laps, they now grab their computers or portable electronic devices to track down toy listings online.

Of course, what technology takes away in one form, it often saves in another.

For example, very few of us still have our favorite Sears catalogs from the past. But in 2006, two catalog preservation enthusiasts came up with the idea of WishbookWeb.com, and since that time have been scanning and posting holiday catalogs online, allowing nostalgic viewers to relive their childhood Christmas dreams.

A word of warning, however. If you are a Baby Boomer who decides to trigger some Christmas memories by visiting that site, beware.

The internets’ Ghosts of Christmas Past are strong and you just might find yourself drawn into the burgeoning world of collecting toys, games, and other items from the 50s to the 80s you once had or always wanted to possess.

For some, it might be returning to that Barbie collection you so recklessly gave away when you moved into your first apartment. For others, it might be classic Matchbox or Hot Wheel cars, colorful Hula hoops, or even original Mr. Potato Head sets (where you would still have to use actual potatoes).

As for me, I was once hooked on Marx playsets. I believed that between Santa, my parents, and my allowance, I had at one time or another possessed every set Marx ever produced. The Blue and the Grey. Roman gladiators. The Wild West. The Alamo. World War II. I had them all.

But in the course of researching this article, I found two obscure ones I never had.

Of course, that discovery left me with a big Christmas problem. How could I get those two sets 50 years later?

I don’t think I have enough time to write Santa, mail my letter to the North Pole, and have the jolly fellow construct and deliver the two sets by Christmas Eve.

So does anyone out there know if Santa has a personal email address or a secret Skype number?

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy (12.7.19)

Each Saturday, Talking ‘Bout My Generation posts links to articles of interest to Baby Boomers which appeared in various news sources earlier in the week.

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy 12.1.19

Each Saturday, Talking ‘Bout My Generation posts links to articles of interest to Baby Boomers which appeared in various news sources earlier in the week.

Beatles Tunes Power Pepperland

By Dave Price

1967 was a year filled with psychedelic sights and mind-expanding sounds. 

On London’s Carnaby Street, fashion boutiques were offering hip, wild, colorful clothing for with-it British men and women. Meanwhile, young Americans from San Francisco to New York City were letting their hair grow long, while simultaneously tuning in and turning on to marijuana, LSD, and the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and the Vanilla Fudge. And reflective of all that was swirling around them, the Beatles produced their pot and acid-drenched masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

To say that the album was revolutionary in its time is understatement. But earlier this month, the Mark Morris Dance Group proved that more than 50 years later, there still is innovation to be found in the musical masterpiece.

For three sold-out nights at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, the New York City-based dance company, directed by noted ballet and opera choreographer Mark Morris, presented the group’s reworking of Sgt. Pepper’s titled Pepperland, a stunning visual dance performance set to six much-altered Beatles songs and seven original pieces composed by pianist Ethan Iverson. 

Here is a summation of the one-hour performance from score notes by Iverson, who led the seven-member live pit band which included a single vocalist, two keyboardists, a trumpeter, a trombonist, a percussionist, and, most interestingly, a theramin player. (For those not familiar with the theramin, and many in the performance hall were not, the one-of-a-kind electronic instrument is a single oscillator with two metal rods used to change pitch and amplitude controlled by a single performer using hand gestures above the rods):

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

  • The original album ended with an unprecedented effect, a very long chord. Fifty years later, perhaps a similar chord is a good place to begin …

Magna Carta

  • A formal invocation of personalities from the LP cover

With a Little Help from My Friends

  • When Ringo sang it, he was on top of the world. Our version is more vulnerable.

Adagio

  • In an age of Tinder, a Lonely Heart advertisement might seem hopelessly quaint. But everyone has always needed to find a match.

When I’m Sixty-Four

  • In between 6 and 4 is 5. All three counts (to the bar are heard) are heard beneath the music-hall scuffle.

Allegro

  • A single offhand line from “Sgt. Pepper” germinates into a full-fledged sonata.

Within You Without You

  • George Harrison’s sincere study of Indian music aligns easily with another Harrison interested in bringing the East to the West: the great composer Lou Harrison, one of Mark Morris’s most significant collaborators. The hippie-era sentiment of the lyric remains startlingly fresh and relevant today.

Scherzo

  • Glenn Gould said he preferred Petula Clark to the Beatles. Apparently, Gould, Clark, and a chord progression from “Sgt. Pepper” all seemed to have inspired this mod number.

Wilbur Scoville

  • The first thing we hear on the LP is a blues guitar lick, here transformed into a real blues for the horns to blow on. Wilbur Scoville invented the scale to measure hot sauce: The original Sgt. Pepper?

Cadenza

  • After seeing Bach’s Brandenburg on the telly, Paul McCartney came into the studio and told George Martin to add piccolo trumpet to “Penny Lane”. Indeed, detailed references to European classical music are one reason so many Beatles’ songs still stump the average cover band.

Penny Lane

  • Not on “Sgt. Pepper,” but nonetheless originally planned to be, and, of course, especially relevant to the city of Liverpool.

A Day in the Life

  • Theremin nocturne, vocal descant, apotheosis.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

  • Another unprecedented effect on the original LP was a reprise of the first theme, which is part of why it is called the first concept album. Our later vantage point enables us to project into the next decade, the ‘70s, and conjure a disco ball. Thank you, Beatles. Thank you, Sgt. Pepper.