A few years ago, I spent a fun afternoon at the Believe it or Not Museum in midtown Manhattan (234 W. 42nd St.).
You say you’re too busy to go there?
Hey, don’t worry. Here’s my list of wild and crazy things that actually existed here in Wyoming Valley decades ago. Believe them or …
1) In the 1950s, you could stock your kitchen with merchandise that came in boxes of detergent. One company’s product might have dishes or glasses. Another would offer colorful towels. The idea, of course, was to make you loyal to one brand on wash day.
2) You could ride in the back seat of even the smallest car without being a contortionist. Auto manufacturers advertised “leg room” as an important feature. As an added benefit, your car might be painted in a creative two-tone scheme and could even have little side window vents to direct a nice breeze onto the passengers.
3) If you went to the movies, the typical feature film was only about 90 minutes long. The remaining half hour was taken up by a newsreel, a cartoon, a comedy short (maybe “The Three Stooges”), a singalong and previews. Snacks cost no more than 10 cents.
4) While waiting for a prescription to be filled at the pharmacy, you could wander over to the in-store soda fountain for a soft drink, a banana split or even a tuna salad sandwich. More people probably knew the neighborhood “soda jerk” than the white-coated fellow 20 feet away filling bottles of evil-tasting pills.
5) You could travel from Hazleton or Wilkes-Barre to Scranton and back on a really neat electric railway known as the Laurel Line. These cars were smooth and quiet and got you to work or to the in-laws’ house without the dreaded sign flashing “construction ahead.”
6) If you couldn’t decide between the latest LP records by Perry Como or Tommy Dorsey, you’d take them into a little soundproof booth right there in the store, put on headphones and play a bit of each one.
7) Bought a few more things than you’d planned at the grocery store? Hey, no problem! Ask the clerk for delivery. An hour or two later, a kid would arrive at your house with a coaster wagon bearing your order. That was called “service.”
8) A visit to the doctor meant going to the neighborhood physician’s home, perhaps in the evening, where there’d be a tiny waiting room and an office built right into the house. The doctor, wearing a natty suit, would sit behind a big desk, listen to your symptoms and then, with a kindly nod, write a prescription or hand you some medication.
9) The lottery didn’t exist. So, if you had some change at the store, you might invest in a little 10-cent practical joke to astonish your friends. Among my favorites were tins of cigarette loads and the plastic ice cube with a fly in it. Oh, what fun!
10) If you were a high school kid, you’d spend a huge amount of time dancing: weekend school dances, neighborhood dance clubs, downtown dance halls and summer dance pavilions. There’d also be living room dance parties with portable record players.
Don’t feel astonished, folks. All of this once existed. Come to think of it, maybe everyday life has been stranger than the toad with three eyes or the guy who grows a 30-foot beard while seeking enlightenment.
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]