Times Past: Stories, both familiar and foreign, from 1953

  • Bryant Avery, formerly of Charlemont, recently discovered an Oct. 31, 1953 edition of the Greenfield Recorder, then called the Greenfield Recorder-Gazette, in a wooden travel chest. Contributed photo/Bryant Avery


Friday, June 01, 2018

A testy time of political recrimination and anxiety in the United States ...
A sticky standoff on the Korean peninsula ...

A fight at a football game, with 25 people arrested ...

A public vote, this time in Gill, to fund a new school ...

Today’s news, right?

No. The date is October 31, 1953, as reported in the Greenfield Recorder, then called the Greenfield Recorder-Gazette.

Last month, I returned to my birthplace in Charlemont to visit family. One day we were poking around four old wooden travel chests owned by my ancestors, including one belonging to my great-grandfather who died in 1945 at the age of 85.

A second chest held Amherst College chemistry notes and history tests hand-written by my father in 1938. He got some A’s, one C.

I think I’ll try answering the test questions about Robespierre, the Thirty Years’ War and “the principal regions of slavic development,” and compare my knowledge to dad’s. I don’t expect to fare well.

But it was a graying 1953 newspaper lining the bottom of a third chest that most caught my attention.

The size was startling. It measured 16-by-22.5 inches, compared to a 2018 Greenfield Recorder’s 12-by-21.5-inch size. Open it up and it stretches nearly a yard wide.

In 1953, there were 20 news reports on the front page alone, five of them heavily tinged with the political red-baiting of McCarthyism (named for Sen. Joe McCarthy).

The Greenfield Recorder-Gazette clearly wanted its readers to know that it was steadfastly in the anti-communist camp. The main headline on Page 1, for example, assured us “Korean Prisoners Refuse To Go Back To Communist Rule.”

American ambassador Arthur Dean in Panmunjom was said to be offering flexible new terms to “the Reds.” Representing 15 Korean War allies, including the South Korean government, he added he was not depressed by the lack of headway in an attempt to end the war on the peninsula.

Today, 65 years later, North and South Korea are still officially at war, and 28,500 U.S. troops remain stationed in South Korea.

As with all international conflicts, the war also came home to Franklin County in 1953.

A Sunderland Master Sgt. named Michael Magelinski was awarded the nation’s second highest medal, the Distinguished Service Cross, during a maneuver in waist-deep snow. Back in the U.S. and living at Fort Devens, Magelinski had recently married Delia Grybko of South Deerfield.

There were several news reports, one long editorial, one full-page and two half-page ads all about a nasty competition between two unions vying to represent the workers of Greenfield Tap and Die Corporation. It’s a bafflingly arcane contest to a 2018 reader. Suffice it to say both parties claimed to be the true anti-Communists, implying the other side might be too pinkish for words.

The stories also invoked comments by Senator John F. Kennedy and Senator Leverett Saltonstall.

Then and now, though, the Greenfield Recorder was primarily a local newspaper. It boasted 12,459 subscribers (including my family, by the way).

There was a report on an upcoming football game at Vets Field, two stories about boxing, half-a-dozen listings of indoor bowling results, and a call-out for volunteers to tidy up the Franklin County Boat Club at the Connecticut River dock.

Elementary school football also got a suitably alliterative headline: “Greenie Gridsters Outscore T.F. Grammar, 21-6.” The Greenfield quarterback was Lou Bush Jr., but the rushing hero of the day was a lad named Ozdarski who scored twice.

Yes, in some ways, life was different in 1953, and in others it sounds very familiar.

The Tobacco Co-op was to meet on Monday.

The United Church Women of Greenfield and Franklin County planned an all-day program with the theme “Building Lasting Peace.”

Wayne Pecor of Charlemont was fined $20 for speeding, rolling his car and crashing into a utility pole on Route 2. He also suffered “a deep laceration on the top of his head.”

He was likely going 55 mph, police testified, and glass from the car windshield was imbedded in the pole nine feet off the ground.

In Greenfield real estate, the Hennessey bowling alley of 25 School St. was bought by two men named Maniatty and Powlovich.

Mr. and Mrs. Fred Warren of Ashfield celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. In 1953, the dear little woman was nameless, except as Mrs. Fred.

Sometimes no news was news in 1953 Greenfield; a headline said it was a “Quiet Week for Firemen,” who were called out only twice in six days.

The Grange Circle elected officers, headed by incumbent Elsie Matthews. The Kiwanis Club of Orange did the same thing, with Delbert Witty elected president.

The Ashfield Parent-Teacher Association announced plans to hold a “slave auction” in which members will offer (unnamed but presumably innocent) “services” to the highest bidders.

In Turners Falls, about 200 youths aged three to 12 paraded in the annual Shag Rag event put on by the Veterans of Foreign Wars post and featuring the high school band.

Frederick Shulda resigned as town assessor, a Montague post he had held since 1936. He explained that his day job was taking him out of town too often to do the assessment tasks adequately.

And finally, on Halloween, Montague police “reported an extremely quiet night ... with nary a report of vandalism.” A small mercy, no doubt.

Bryant Avery grew up in Charlemont and occasionally wrote for the Greenfield Recorder in the 1970s. He moved to Alberta in 1981, where he worked for the Edmonton Journal. He is now retired and lives in British Columbia.