Jim Jones Administers the Grape Kool-Aid (November 18, 1978)

Jim_jones I was in my senior year at Penn State during the fall of 1978 and had just come home for term break on Nov. 18.  That evening our TV watching was interrupted by a news bulletin reporting that California congressman Leo Ryan and eight others (including an NBC cameraman and two newspaper reporters) were gunned down at an airstrip in the small South American nation of Guyana.  They were there on a fact-finding mission to investigate a cult known as the People's Temple whose members were mostly from California.



Jonestown_massacreAs bad as this news was an even grislier story unfolded the next day as the residents of Jonestown, the settlement Ryan was visiting, participated in a mass suicide ordered by their paranoid leader Jim Jones.  Although some had been shot most died after drinking a grape-flavored drink laced with cyanide.  The number of dead was truly staggering.  As the week went on the numbers rose steadily, 100 at first, then 250, 500 all the way up to a staggering final toll of 913.  Understandably, this tragedy cast a pall over the Thanksgiving holiday. (A number of books have been written about this event including Raven: The Untold Story of the Reverend Jim Jones & His People.)


One legacy of this tragedy is the phrase "drinking the grape Kool-Aid", which was coined to suggest that someone was brainwashed.  

Americans Taken Hostage In Iran (November 4, 1979)

Iranian_revolution_1979A new pope, the Village People and the 3-Mile Island meltdown all upended the world order in 1979.  But the year's biggest news story was the revolution in Iran, which had major implications for the U.S. since the revolutionaries considered us its greatest enemy (the "great Satan") because of our support of the Shah during his 27 years in power.  To retaliate they instituted an oil embargo, worsening America's already floundering economy.  Their enmity towards us worsened in late October when president Carter allowed the Shah to enter the U.S. to receive cancer treatment.  


American_hostages_iranHowever, the year was a momentous one for me as I graduated college (Penn State) and joined the workforce, hired at New York ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves where I worked in its media department.  Seven months after beginning my job a furious mob broke into the U.S. embassy in Tehran (in response to the Shah coming to the U.S.) and took 54 American employees and diplomats hostage. 


TIMEMagazine_HostageCrisisEndsI was anxious over this turn of events because there was talk that the U.S. might reinstate the draft and go to war.  (And less than two months after the hostages were taken the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.)  However, after a number of months that possibility seemed to have passed, even if it took more than a year before the hostages were released (444 days, to be exact, with their release occurring the day of Ronald Reagan's inauguration in January 1981).


Ben_affleck_argoAll of my feelings of anxiety from this grim time in U.S. history came flooding back in 2012 when I went to see Ben Affleck's new movie, Argo, about six Americans who managed to escape the U.S. embassy in Tehran when it was overtaken.  The film perfectly captures the pervading sense of despair, impotence and anger felt in America at that time.  





Marveling at History Through the Covers of TIME Magazine

Newsstand2When I was growing up magazines were always found in our house.  We had subscriptions to Time, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, Look, Money and Consumer Reports.  Thrown into the mix were subscriptions my older sister had to Cosmo, People and Rolling Stone.  And I had my own subcriptions to Jack & Jill (when I was in grade school), Weatherwise and Baseball Digest.  And I've always been drawn to magazine covers. During my sophomore and junior years at Penn State I stapled covers from various magazines to the ceiling of my dorm room to give it a unique look.  (I still collect covers that catch my eye and I've amassed a nice collection.)


Until this decade, when newsweeklies began struggling mightily for relevance due to the draw of the Internet, there was a certain cachet attached to appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine (however, unlike Rolling Stone, a song was never written about it).  Since it began publishing in March 1923 approximately 4,600 covers have been published.  I recently surveyed these covers and was mesmerized by the wonderful review of US and world history they provided.  




In Times's first few decades covers were relatively uninspired B/W portraits but they slowly evolved and became more eye-catching, incorporating a mix of styles, e.g., photographs, collages or illustrations.  (Covers of the past decade feature noticeably more white space.)  Some were created by well-known artists of the day such as Andy Warhol (first cover, below), Peter Max (middle cover) and Robert Rauschenberg.  Many covers around Christmastime had a religious theme depicted by beautiful paintings.  Covers can be purchased through Time's website; those featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Bernstein or Jackie Kennedy, for example, are great conversation pieces and make great wall decorations.






As the 1950s progressed cover subjects began to touch upon societal trends and issues.  Many were topics that would have never been discussed in polite company in the first 40 years of Time's existence, e.g., homosexuality, date rape, domestic violence, herpes.  Surprisingly, some social issues of current concern, e.g,. suburban sprawl, salt intake, women's changing roles, obesity, were featured as cover stories 15-25 years ago.






Of course "anyone who was anybody" in the fields of politics, culture and entertainment, religion and sports graced the covers over the years.  However, some personalities slipped through the cracks.  For instance, Judy Garland, Truman Capote, Hank Aaron and Coco Chanel are some of the "movers and shakers" of their time not to get a cover.  And it wasn't until 30 years after his death that Babe Ruth appeared on the cover. (Determining those who haven't been on the cover can be a great parlor game.)




A number of handsome coffee table books are also available including 75 Years of TIME Magazine Cover Portraits and TIME: The Illustrated History of the World's Most Influential Magazine.  In closing, here are a handful of other classic covers:





Time_magazine_ ojsimpson






Superstar Pope Makes First Visit to U.S. (October 1-6, 1979)

Pope_with_prez The world was wild about Pope John Paul II.  Less than a year into his papacy he made a triumphant visit to his Polish homeland in June and a few months later the U.S. got its turn when he spent the first week of October 1979 in the Northeast visiting Boston, New York, Philadelphia and D.C. (he was the first pope to visit the White House).  During his visit to New York I managed to see him twice. 


Mys first sighting was during lunchtime on Tuesday, October 2 as I waited with three co-workers (the "3-M's": Marina, Maria & Marian) at the corner of First Ave./49th St.  We saw him drive past after he left the U.N., which was a short walk from our office on 3rd Ave./50th St. (ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves). 


Pope_lifemag I saw him again the following morning and this time it was pure happenstance.  I was walking to work in a downpour when he came riding past in his "popemobile" down 5th Ave. on his way to Madison Square Garden after saying mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral (see video clip below).  Not a bad way to start the day I must say!  And it seemed that the good feeling generated by JP-II's visit extended to much of the nation (or, at least, among Roman Catholics) but the euphoria would last for just a month because on November 4 the U.S. embassy in Tehran was overtaken and 52 of its American staff were taken hostage.  This turn of events, combined with tough economic times (e.g., double-digit inflation), created a national malaise that would be instrumental in bringing down Jimmy Carter's presidency. 




Two Popes Die Within Weeks of Each Other (August 6 & September 28, 1978)




The summer of 1978 was my last living in my hometown of McKees Rocks (a suburb of Pittsburgh).  This particular weekend in early August was a fun one as my older brother was visiting from New Jersey.  On Friday evening he, my sister Linda, her friend Ilene and I went to see a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show; the next day we saw Animal House, which had recently opened. 


Then on Sunday afternoon (8/6) Darrell and I went on a long bike ride that took us all the way out to Pittsburgh's airport along winding & hilly roads as well as some risky time peddling on the shoulder of the Parkway West.  All told, it was perhaps a 25-mile round trip.  When we got back home we heard the news of Pope Paul VI's death.  He was 80 and had been pope for 15 years. 


Less than two months later I was back in school, my senior year at Penn State.  As I was getting ready for my Friday morning classes (Bowling followed by Broadcast Communications 325) I heard a news report that the new pope, John Paul I, had died the night before (9/28) from a heart attack.  He had been pope for just one month and was only 62 years old.  I told the news to friends at breakfast and they thought I was joking. 




10 years later I was dating a religion reporter for Time Magazine and he told me that it was widely rumored that John Paul (known as "the smiling pope") was a victim of foul play because 1) his liberal leanings clashed with those of the conservative Vatican hierarchy and 2) he was about to begin an investigation into financial misdeeds at the Vatican Bank.  The book In God's Name: An Investigation Into the Murder of Pope John Paul I provides further insight into the matter.


By coincidence, the day of John Paul's death was one day after the anniversary of the death of Pope Urban VII, the pope with the briefest papal reign - 13 days.  And following John Paul's brief time on the papal throne John Paul II would have one of the longest reigns - nearly 27 years. 




The Six-Day War: Israel Vanquishes Its Enemies (June 5-10, 1967)

Flag_of_israel The residents of McKees Rocks, the factory town I grew up in just outside of Pittsburgh, were a mix of Poles, Slovaks, Italians and Germans, and predominately Roman Catholic.  Jews were few and far between.  However, the Six-Day War in the Middle East in June 1967 struck a chord with my family because my teenage sister, Linda, had an Israeli pen pal.  Her name was Meirah; she lived in a village somewhere between Haifa and Tel Aviv and was a soldier in the Israeli army.  When war broke out it put a human face on the conflict for us.   


I was 10 at the time and the idea of female soldiers was a novel concept (as it probably was for most of pre-feminist America).  Linda developed a crush on Israeli general, and war hero, Moshe Dayan (and also took a liking to a Jewish classmate of hers, Sanford, who was valedictorian of her 1968 senior class).  Because of the ties my sister had with Meirah I developed a strong affinity for Israel.  (20 years later I'd have an Israeli boyfriend who drove a tank in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.)


Moshe dayan six day war 


In the eyes of this 10-year old the conflict seemed fairly black and white: Egypt, Syria and Jordan planned to attack Israel which struck first, prevailed and gained new territory - which its enemies then demanded back.  Even a child on the playground would find this demand laughable.


Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem


Also on the minds of my family at this time was the well-being of my Aunt Lillian who had been hospitalized.  Shortly after the war ended she died suddenly on June 13 - the first time I experienced the death of a relative.  On that sweltering day my parents picked me up from school at lunchtime and once home told me the news of her death.  It was a shock since she was set to be released from the hospital the next day.  She was only in her mid-50s at the time of her death. 


Linda and Meirah exchanged 25 letters over a three-year period (thru the end of 1969) and she has all of them as well as souvenirs and small gifts she received.  I've wondered how much she could get on Ebay for the special commemorative edition of the magazine Bamahane, a Hebrew-language weekly of the Israeli Defense Force that Meirah sent her after the war concluded.


(To learn more about this war, the book Six Days of War: June 1967 War & the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, sets the landscape for the conflict and discusses the geo-political implications that still reverberate today.)


Book about six-days war