Official Newspaper of Eddy County since 1883

Archival Anecdotes: Living histories

This is my fifth article in a 6-part series on the post-war boom. The idea for this series emerged in an effort to highlight the artifacts of this era housed at the Eddy County Museum. As I continued to search through the collections at the museum, one thing became glaring. Items and photographs of the 1950s and 60s are poorly represented. This isn’t a bad thing per se, it just is. The Eddy County Museum was founded in 1965, but that doesn’t mean its founders were interested in collecting modern artifacts of that day like Tupperware or colored televisions.

The founders were focused on documenting the lives of their parents and grandparents in an effort to preserve the culture of North Dakota’s early settlers. These are the artifacts I have become used to working with: clogs, rommegrot beaters, wedding dresses, and cabinet card photos. A century-old artifact is far easier than a modern one to prepare for public presentation. It exists out of living memory. Sure, folks might remember the sewing machine that their grandmother used, but do they know the cultural history, significance, and impact of these artifacts?

Writing histories that remain in living memory requires a different kind of approach altogether, and I was beginning to find this to be a challenge. The other night I was racking my brain for inspiration for this installment of Archival Anecdotes. Early the next morning, I woke up with an idea so brilliant that I had to turn on the light and begin writing. Before daylight, I had outlined an article that explored the cultural experiences that defined the lives of young baby boomers.

My idea included utilizing dial yearbooks from the classes of the mid 1960s and late 1970s. I was so confident that these resources existed in our museum that I kept writing and put off making the quick trip into the museum. You can imagine how disappointed I was to find that our yearbook collection lacked the years for which I had the most interest.

Perhaps that is for the best. How could I possibly utilize an objective lens if I were to open a Dial yearbook and see the names and high school pictures of neighbors, colleagues, area professionals and community leaders?

I decided these were exactly the people I needed to hear from if I am to grasp the post-war experience. These are the people who can fill in the gaps and provide a context for museum staff to one day develop rich and informative displays. Without your input, future museum professional won’t have personalized stories to inform their understanding of this era.

Twentieth century anthropologist Leslie White built his theories about cultural growth upon notion: the more technology a culture develops, the faster the culture will change. I think there might be some truth in it. It is important to point out, much of White’s work was completed in the 1930s, and therefore could not have predicted the ways that film (and later digital technologies) would give longevity to popular culture.

The original toys of the bay boomer childhood remain beloved classics to many generations: Mr. Potato Head, Barbie, G.I. Joe, Play-doh, Frisbees, Matchbox Cars, Paint by Numbers, Tonka Trucks and more.

This was the first generation to have experienced the magic of technicolor used in Walt Disney films. Disney used color in both live action films and original animated masterpieces. Despite recent reboots, I’m hopeful that plenty of parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents still enjoy the animated joy of Cinderella, Jungle Book, Sleeping Beauty, and Lady and the Tramp with the youngsters in their life.

One is never too young to appreciate the classics. Among the familiar toys and films were shining stars. Cultural icons such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe took hold, leading to shared experiences across the nation.

I wrote the above summary not to tell current readers what I think I know about their life experiences. I wrote it to jog memories and bring stories to the surface. I wrote it in hopes it might inspire readers to curate their own history for generations to come.

Eddy County Museum is now accepting written submissions about life during the post-war boom. Do you have memories of Eddy County in the 1950s and 60s? Did you live somewhere else and relocate to Eddy County? How did you spend your childhood? What was school like? What were your favorite musical tunes or color films? What did it mean to be a teenager? What were the local highlights when it came to fun and entertainment? What issues were you concerned about at this time? What did you imagine the future would look like?

Stories can be submitted by email to [email protected] or by mail to Eddy County Historical Society, P.O. Box 135, New Rockford, N.D. 58356.

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