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Columns

May 14, 2012

Oneonta residents had diversions aplenty in the spring of 1952

It is always good to keep up with current events. However, it is starting to become an unwritten requirement to seek some diversions from staying up to date on news, as for some it can become overwhelming or depressing.

These days we're bombarded with news of war in Afghanistan, an increasingly tense presidential election, a bad economy or hydrofracking, for example.

The same tension was around in May 1952, such as the Korean War, the first hydrogen bomb being tested, Sen. Joseph McCarthy's constant accusations of people being Communists, and the Eisenhower vs. Stevenson presidential race was warming up.

True to both generations of those who follow news closely, it's just nice to seek temporary diversion. Around our area, there were diversions aplenty in May 1952.

These days a $20 bill can barely get you out of a grocery store with essential items. In 1952, it was quite a different story, as far as purchasing power.

"Somewhat annoyed, Charles J. Lawler, Jr. of 11½ Pearl St., has returned from Yankee Stadium where he almost witnessed a baseball game," The Oneonta Star reported Saturday, May 10.

"You know how it is at a game," he explained. "You get keyed up and you got to have a dog to relax you."

Lawler went in search of a hot dog, but no matter which concession stand he went to, no one had change for a $20 bill.

"You'd think in a city of eight million people you could get change for a twenty, wouldn't you?" asked Mr. Lawler. He never did get his hot dog, but if that was the only game he attended in 1952, it was part of a historic season, as the Yankees were World Series champions that year.

In Neahwa Park it was reported Friday, May 16, that the skate pond is "to blossom out as swan lake and also a fish hatchery for stocking the upper reservoir."

An unnamed man had offered a pair of swans worth $125 if the Oneonta Parks Board would accept responsibility for their care. The board did, and said they'd take the swans as soon as they could drain the pond and build a swan island in the middle of what we know today as Hodges Pond.

As for the fish hatchery, the fish would be moved after some time from the park pond to what is Wilber Lake on upper East Street. The fish would eat algae at both places, ridding the park pond of algae overgrowths and then for creating better tasting water in the upper reservoir, the city's water supply.

Thursday, May 15, was Women's Day at Bresee's Oneonta Dept. Store. Being the busiest shopping day of the week, as tradition had it, the store attracted shoppers -- both male and female -- to see 35 male employees, donned in female attire.

As described by the Star, "Flouncing coyly through the store, they gave forth with a surprisingly large vocabulary, consisting primarily of 'mah dear' and 'chahming a'm surah.' All this in a falsetto tone, reminiscent of grating cheese."

If you were looking to serve potatoes with your meals, you were out of luck in May 1952.

"The potato famine, whether real or manipulated, has reached the black market stage in Oneonta," it was reported May 23, "and has otherwise departed so far from the seasonal normal as to be generally described by merchants as 'just plain screwy.'"

Suspicion was strongly held among grocers that a large commission corporation, taking advantage of smaller plantings and huge Army purchases for food in the Korean War, had cornered the new potato market.

The Office of Price Stabilization, the federal agency whose task was to control prices during the Korean War, was making arrests in upstate cities for those charging exorbitant prices for potatoes, old or new. The OPS encouraged Oneonta housewives to help stop the price gouging by giving them a call to report on the suspicious practice.

If you ever come across a bronze medal inscribed, "I Beat Ben Hogan," it was from a worldwide golf challenge May 31, 1952. Ben Hogan was a great professional golfer of the time and had challenged all golfers to an 18-hole match. Hogan played solo at a course in Dallas that day, while more than 250,000 took the challenge at their home golf courses.

A total of 47 took the challenge at the Oneonta Country Club. Three members of the club, Joe Vavra of Schenevus, Ralph Mannona and Harold Senkel, both of Sherburne, beat Hogan's score of a par 71, with 69, 70 and 70, respectively. Caleb Brackett of Oneonta tied Hogan.

The $1 entry fee to the Hogan challenge was donated to the USO and the National Golf Fund.

This weekend, a return to some hard news of May 1937.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

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