Those were the days: Old copy of Johnson City Press-Chronicle brings back memories

Gary B. Gray • Jul 11, 2013 at 9:44 AM

Amazing, isn’t it — how a few fragile and yellowed pages from a 50-year-old newspaper can shake your brain into a state of disbelief and ignite a tad of bitterness about the monster we call economy.

A copy of the Johnson City Press-Chronicle circa July 10, 1963, was delivered to the front desk Tuesday. The wrinkled pages, which were passed around the newsroom, caused quite a buzz and revealed first and foremost that life was much simpler in 1963.

The old “tombstone-style” layout, though extremely awkward by today’s styles and standards, fitted a dozen or more stories on a page. A heck of a lot of information. No frills. Bang, bang, bang — one story on top of another.

Simple? Most would say no.

The top story that day was “Union rejection blocks proposal by Kennedy,” as in John F. The president, who would be assassinated about four months later, had been trying to avert a railroad strike.

Adjacent to the Associated Press story with nationwide ramifications sits a photograph of a motorcycle with a primitive-looking helmet resting on the handle bars. The cutline below is about as local as it gets. It explains how the “crash helmet” prevented possible injuries to a 14-year-old youngster involved in an accident at the intersection of Unaka Avenue and Boone Street.

Meanwhile, the only other photos — black and white, of course — are of a heroic Irish setter named Rusty and a small girl with her arms wrapped around her father shortly after the pooch and his owner helped locate the missing child.

Did you know 95,000 people see your ad daily in the Press-Chronicle? Well, in 1963 they did. It was in the newspaper; it must be true.

Remember, this was an era in which gas was 29 cents per gallon. Bread cost 22 cents per loaf. A new house cost around $12,700 and the average yearly wage was about $5,800.

Simpler? Sure seems that way now. Though the mood expressed by some Johnson City Press reporters after looking at some of these prices was simply outrage.

Ah, the ads.

A three-bedroom brick home: $800 down on a $14,000 loan; apartments and duplexes for $40 a month; how about a 1959 Chrysler Saratoga hardtop — not “used,” not “pre-owned,” but “a one-owner local automobile” for $1,400?

The Shamrock — yes the same Shamrock on Buffalo Street — offered “Burger Beer” in 8-pack throw-away bottles for $1.60. You can’t get half a burger or half a beer for that price nowadays.

Burger Brewing Co., a once dominant Cincinnati brand, announced its closure in the 1970s.

“I vaguely remember those,” said Jack Cox, Shamrock owner. “They may not have lasted long, but several companies had them at the time.”

Now for Sterchi’s 1963 diamond jubilee 63-piece “Honeymoon Houseful.” That’s right — a 12-piece bedroom set, 12-piece “modern” sofa-bed group, and a 39-piece dinette ensemble. Folks, we’re talking about everything from pillows to table lamps to service for six here.

Today’s price? Forget about it. In 1963 — $399. Come on down.

Lest we get too nostalgic, this classic edition includes some items we see today in almost every newspaper and website: “15-month old girl drowns in bathtub,” “Former city youth’s slayer is convicted,” “Emergency appeal for type ‘O’ blood.”

On the lighter side — depending, of course, on who may have gotten the better of this deal — it was announced on the back page that Grand Ole Opry singer Don Gibson’s wife was granted a divorce in Knoxville. She received $500 a month alimony.

That was a lot of money in those days.

By the way, Barbara Bratcher Gibson accused her husband in divorce court of “cruelty and inhumane treatment.”

Ironically, his biggest hit was titled, “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

Now, about that economy ...

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