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

Last time: To commemorate the 250th year of the Cambridge Patent (1761-2011), we continued this new series of the history of the Cambridge area by recalling the spring and summer months of 1961.

September found the Indians back on the gridiron defending their 5-2 record of 1960, as Hurricane Carla slammed the Texas coast with 175 mile winds. The Class of ’64 "celebrated" with "The Hurricane Hop" in the gym (what were we thinking?!) Fall reading assignments in English classes included Catcher In the Rye and Atlas Shrugged as students were becoming more socially conscious and proactive (before the word was invented), but that didn’t diminish the popularity of insipid sitcoms like "Car 54, Where Are You?" and "The Real McCoys."

By early October, the Yanks had grabbed the AL Flag but Mantle faded with an injury and 54 homers while Maris hit his 61st – but in 162 games, so he was given an asterisk while Babe Ruth still stood at 60 in 154. Nikita Khrushchev visited the UN because, as Jack Paar, host of "The Tonight Show", quipped, he thought the World Series between the Reds and Yanks was a political forum. But on a more serious note, and in fine form, the Soviet Premier banged his shoe on his podium and raged "We will bury you!", not militarily as supposed, but economically was his intent (so how’d that turn out?!) Trees turned to amber and crimson in what was one of the last years of the long-standing Cambridge tradition of burning leaves in the gutter. Ah, that sweet, intoxicating smell of incense wafting up through the air … and bringing acid rain downwind to the folks in Vermont. The Yankees took the Cincy Reds in five for their first Series Ring since ’58, while the 1961 Football Indians finished 4-3. "Romeo and Juliet", with switchblades and Saturday night specials, aka "West Side Story", made its film debut and propelled the careers of Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno. On the 29th, the US performed nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site, on the 30th the Soviet Union tested a 58 megaton hydrogen bomb, and the next night was Halloween in Cambridge.

In November, India’s Premier Nehru arrived in NYC and within a few years we were all wearing his jackets. Producers Albert Broccoli – nephew of the agronomist who gave us the vegetable a century prior; "You can look it up", as Casey Stengel said – and Harry Saltzman announced a new film character who preferred his drinks shaken, not stirred: Scotsman Sean Connery became Englishman James Bond, 007. Ernie Davis out of Syracuse U was the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy; Maris won the AL MVP for the second year in a row; and Ford took the year’s only Cy Young (a few years before being awarded to both leagues.) Just before Thanksgiving, the Class of ’62 seniors led the latest Orange and Black cage team out onto the court. The American Football League, in its second season, televised late Sunday afternoon games to the frozen Northeast from the West Coast: NY Titans (Jets) at the Raiders, the Boston Patriots at the Chargers.

By December, when the Village crews were stringing up the Holiday lights again along Main Street, Kennedy was providing US Army helicopters and crews to South Vietnam, and on the 12th Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 600 protesters were arrested in Albany … GA, not NY. Jimmy Dean’s "Big Bad John" became the first C&W tune to grab a Gold Record, while Joey Dee and his Starliters (at the Peppermint Lounge on 45th Street in Manhattan) lent their beat and keyboard to the "Peppermint Twist", following the cue of Chubby Checker. The Beach Boys held their first-ever concert at year’s end, and Mary Ann McMorris of the CCS Class of ’62 was the Queen of the Senior Ball, "Whisper of Winter." The year ended with a thud for Yankee Stadium fans as the Packers blanked the Giants of YA Tittle and Frank Gifford 37-0 in the NFL Championship. And the Marshall Plan expired at midnight New Year’s Eve after distributing more than $12B to rebuild Europe after WWII


If you remember none of this until you heard or read about it later, maybe it’s because you were actually born in 1961. The first music you recall, when you were three or four, was "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and its flipside "I Saw Her Standing There" by the Fab Four. Then you were told about distant rice paddies and heroism – if you were lucky, but likely it was skewed by the new "American" press and a self-important, sometimes seditious Hollywood. But you were, and are today, in good company with your fellow 50-years-olds: 1) the great NFL QB class of Boomer Esiason, Dan Marino and Steve Young; 2) pop screen types like Meg Ryan and Michael J. Fox; 3) your babysitter Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of "SpongeBob SquarePants"; 4) bazillionaire CEOs like John Compton of PepsiCo and Chicago Mercantile’s Craig Donohue (now, don’t we feel inadequate?); and at least one sovereign world leader, President … Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan.

Before we close this 50-year peek back at Cambridge and our "American Graffiti" year of 1961, let’s return for a moment to January, to three days before JFK was sworn in. President Eisenhower gave his farewell address and coined the term "military-industrial complex". He cautioned the nation from drifting too far from its democratic principles and mission of peace in the world, of becoming too entrenched in academic and corporate weapons R&D. "For every old blackboard, there are now hundreds of electronic computers." (1961!) He further noted that in all wars up to Korea, nations could, in time of peril, quickly beat plowshares into swords, then with victory readily return to tilling the soil. But apparently no more, given that we were 15 years into a cold war (which lasted 40.) By ‘61, though, the arms race had become too technologically and economically complex for easy extraction, too politically and socially so.

Ike, however, tempered his fears by wisely acknowledging the latest and continuing threat: "We face a hostile ideology – global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method." The risk that year, of course, was Global Communism; too bad he didn’t live to see the fall of the Wall in 1989, engineered by his patriotic successors, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan and George Bush the elder. While modern Communism still throttles basic human rights, so too does the latest hostility, "global, ruthless, insidious". And indeed atheistic, certainly to the ideals of a loving and generous deity, the God of Ike’s America, then as now. This we know because, like every US President who preceded him, Dwight D. Eisenhower invoked the Almighty for guidance and thanksgiving (and not by rattling sabers, or cell phones, to slaughter): "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency." (George Washington, First Inaugural Address, New York City; April 30, 1789.)

Likewise this can be said of the citizens of the Cambridge Patent, who gather Sundays (and other days) in the dozen or so churches and temples about the District: "Where two or three are gathered together in His name He will be there in their midst, and there is love."

Next time: Chapter IV: 100 years ago – 1911, The Modern World

Sources include: Cambridge Central School yearbooks; The Washington County Post (discontinued); Gleanings (New Skete Monastery, 1977-1981); Raymond family archives.

Tom Raymond may be reached at: