Life then and now | Eastern North Carolina Now

Tom Campbell
    My Father's Day presents included two vintage issues of Life magazine, one from November 22, 1948, the other from November 29, 1963. My family, like many, subscribed to this weekly publication for many years ($6 for 52 weeks) and both issues brought back memories of the special way Life used pictures and stories to depict current happenings.

    In the November 1948 issue, the Life editors still had egg on their faces from incorrectly predicting that Harry Truman would lose the presidential election to Thomas Dewey. There were black and white photos showing Truman relaxing at the Winter White House in Key West, along with pictures and stories of thousands of immigrants flooding this nation following World War II, reports telling of the drastic drop in the price of corn due to record harvests, Russian tributes being paid Stalin on the 31st anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution and moving scenes from Arlington Cemetery, as fallen soldiers were returned from overseas for a hero's internment.

    Perhaps the most striking moments of this post world war era were the advertisements. Car ads featured Plymouth, touted as the auto most taxi drivers preferred; an Oldsmobile with hydra-matic transmissions; Ansco black and white film; a Thor automatic washer that not only washed, but spun dried your clothes in a single tub; Kaywoodie pipes, Pall Mall and Camel cigarettes, along with Ronson lighters; General Electric alarm clocks; and the all new Crosley and RCA black and white television sets, with big 12 inch screens.

    Fifteen years later the cover photo on the November 29, 1963 Life featured a picture of John F. Kennedy, killed the week before in Dallas. This collector's edition included a treasured montage of the moments before and after the assassination, memorials paid JFK, along with several pages of pictures and stories about the newly inaugurated 36th President, Lyndon Johnson. Historian and journalist Ted White went into great depth describing the racial revolution beginning to emerge in his story on "Negroes in the North."

    The ads were more sophisticated, highlighting the innovations and improvements of that era.

    The 1964 Plymouth was longer, sleeker and featured a 5 year, 50,000 mile warranty, as did the Cadillac that touted air conditioning. Chevrolet was promoting what it called "jet-smooth" riding comfort. Remington and Norelco boasted of their new cordless electric shavers and both Royal and Smith-Corona featured electric typewriters they claimed could type as many as 115 words a minute and could even travel with you. RCA took two full pages to promote many models of portable and console color TVs with much larger screens and Polaroid demonstrated a camera that produced instant picture memories. Illustrating the culture change, Maidenform boldly featured a characterization of a woman who "dreamed she painted the town red" in her new bra. New companies, new products and new lifestyles were clearly evident.

    Too often, those of us with high mileage on our personal odometers look back nostalgically in remembrances of days gone by, but this trip down memory lane reminded me there were troubles and many common threads. We still have racial unrest, immigration issues, threats from foreign entities and ever-present violence. America has much work remaining do in resolving pressing problems. Indeed, what is old is new again.

    Publisher's note: Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues airing Sundays at 11:00 am on WITN-TV. Contact Tom at NC Spin.
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