Chapter II: 50 Years Ago – 1961, Peace and Vigilance (Part 2, spring and summer)

Last time: To commemorate the 250th year of the Cambridge Patent (1761-2011), we introduced this new series of the history of the Cambridge area by opening up with the first couple of months of 1961.

On the first of March, 1961, President Kennedy signed the Peace Corps into law, giving college students and graduates a chance to give something back to the world (or dodge the draft.) The 1961 CCS boys’ basketball team slipped from last year’s Section Champs to 4th in the WCL at 13-5. Out of the Sectionals, they turned their attention to the NBA playoffs: The Celtics, with Bill Russell banging the boards and Bob Cousy feeding Tommy Heinsohn, beat Bob Pettit’s Hawks (then of St. Louis) to win the NBA Crown, an early year of their remarkable run through the 1960s. Students in Mr. Maurice O’Connor’s Latin classes, including sophomores in second-year Caesar, noted a three day stretch from the 15th – "Beware the Ides of March", to a couple of birthdays on the 16th, then St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th. All went well for "Okie’s" Irish sensibilities until some CCS Band members showed up in class wearing their bright ORANGE band jackets! And that month the US nuclear submarine Patrick Henry (SSBN599) arrived at the Scottish naval base at Holy Loch from South Carolina in a record undersea journey of 66 days, 22 hours. The risk of sub-sea launched nukes kept Moscow at bay … for the moment.

In early April, Adolf Eichmann, tracked down by the Mossad in Argentina, finally stood trial as a war criminal in Israel (he was executed in ‘62.) The Masters in Augusta was won by South African Gary Player, who carded a 280, and local duffers couldn’t wait to get out on the area’s links. The Stanley Cup – of the still "Original Six" NHL – was raised by Bobby Hull’s Chi-Town Blackhawks over Gordie Howe’s Motown Red Wings. And by mid-month, after hockey pucks stopped flying and fishing shacks were hauled to shore, the ice went out on Hedges and Lauderdale lakes. The CCS diamond and cinder runways and grassy pitches cleared of snow but wouldn’t firm up till May to allow the Indians and Salem to squeeze in the baseball game and the track-and-field meet to decide the Old Bucket (best of five including the football and two basketball games). Longtime successful mentor Coach Carson Fuller turned the hardball duties over to the new teachers including Mr. Dick Ross. Downstate and to the East, the locals’ two favorite ball teams – sentiments split down the middle in the village bars and at Vitello’s and Fitzpatrick’s barbershops – were pitching their respective Opening Day, at Yankee Stadium and at Fenway, and another decades-old run for the AL pennant. One team would continue to disappoint while the other met expectations yet again as, in fact, it soared to a historic year in ‘61. Ted Williams (WWII fighter pilot) and Stan Musial began play in the last campaigns of their storied careers, while Mickey Mantle was in mid-stride. ABC's "Wide World of Sports" made its debut with Jim McKay’s resonant, "Spanning the globe, to bring you the constant variety of sport – the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." 

Speaking of losses, as Ricky might tell Lucy, JFK had a lot of "‘splainin’ to do" over the botched Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, splashed over the pages of the city dailies, the Post-Star, the Times-Union and The New York Times. While New York State was born in rebellion, another was marked this month when Fairchild Semiconductor’s Robert Noyce patented the Integrated Circuit, a key component of the Information Revolution. Slide rules had given us rotary dial phones, AM and FM radio and television, the high tech of 1961. "Gunsmoke", "Bonanza" ("The following program is brought to you in ‘Living Color’ on NBC"), and the Western genre were the quick draws of the day. But if you just had to yak with your Cambridge neighbor over a NY Tel circuit you had only to dial four digits, as 6-7-7 wouldn’t be needed for a few more years. Women operators at plug-in switchboards were being replaced across the nation, including here, by the electro-mechanical switch-bar Central Office.

In May, as the maples greened and the crocuses and lilies popped up, Bud Williams passed the New York State Civil Service exam and became the new Village Superintendent of Public Works. JFK set a national goal of putting a man on the Moon before the end of decade – and bringing him back, which would have been a lower priority for the Russians. Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard Freedom 7, but jet planes hijacked to Cuba were commonplace and bomb shelters were the buzz. Memorial Day in Cambridge (once widely known as Decoration Day, for honoring gravesites) was greeted with the folks turning out for the annual parade and remembrances for the nation’s fallen heroes.

June arrived, and CCS Graduation, led by Class of 1961 President Jack Douglas, saw 48 seniors – not yet Baby Boomers, born in or around 1943 with the world still at war – take the stage to face an uncertain future. By mid-month the waters of the lakes five miles up Route 22 were just barely warm enough for the swim centers to open with their pavilions and roller rinks/dance floors, Nesbitt’s at Hedges and Parsley’s at Lauderdale. John Mounteer and Boom Boom Branigan from WPTR and WTRY spun the 45s at the Friday night Lake Dances, as a full moon in late June heightened teen hormones. By day, ski boats created wakes and on June 30th the myth of a bottomless Dead Pond was dispelled by a ‘58 CCS graduate (a returning US Navy Vet) in a home made kayak and a sounding line at no more than 180 feet, dead center. The new International Antarctic Treaty went into effect (although nobody asked the penguins for their input), and Iraq demanded its "province" Kuwait, which you still had to look up on a globe in 1961.

In July of 1776, 185 years prior down in steamy Philadelphia, the old parchment was actually delivered for signatures on the Second, but the big, bold strokes of John Hancock weren’t inked until two days later. In 1961 the citizens of Cambridge, as in every year since the Revolt ("Sire, the people are revolting!" "Yes, they certainly are!"), celebrated with typical patriotic fervor, Roman candles and pints of grog, on the Fourth of July. In grand American tradition, area marching bands and drum corps rolled out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, those days of soda and pretzels and beer.

The Yankees, with Mel Allen’s folksy voice behind the mike: "Well, hello there, everybody!", were in a dogfight with Detroit this day, splitting a doubleheader in The Bronx, with ace Whitey Ford beating Al Kaline and the Tigers in Game One and Frank Lary, the "Yankee Killer", stopping the Bombers in the nightcap. But the big talk of the day was the race between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, chasing Babe Ruth’s 1927 record of 60 dingers.


In the dog days of August, as construction began on the Berlin Wall in East Germany, Cambridge late-teens and twenty-somethings frequented the year-old Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs for French roast, Judy Collins, ban-the-bomb, bongos, and … bad poetry: "Uh, I call the following bit of angst, uh, "Yikes" (bongo, bongo, bongo) / Like… Save the tykes! (bongo, bongo, bongo) / Like… no more Third Reichs! (bongo, bongo, bongo) / Uh… no more Ikes! (bongo, bongo, bongo) / Like… let’s all ride bikes! (bongo, bongo, bongo) / Yikes!!! …Thank you … thank-you-very-much …."

Next time: Chapter III: 50 Years Ago – 1961, Peace and Vigilance (Part 3, autumn and year’s end).

Sources include: Gleanings (New Skete Monastery, 1977-1981); Cambridge Central School yearbooks; CCS Alumni Website (

Tom Raymond may be reached at:

                                                            Cell: 503-705-5534