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Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Pages of the Past

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It’s time to get back into our time machine and see what was happening in Hernando County some eighty or so years ago.  Our first stop is October 21, 1938 as it appears on the pages of that day’s Brooksville Sun. The country was still recovering from the stock market crash of 1929 and in Europe ominous events were taking place. Hitler had just invaded a part of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland, thanks to the appeasement policies of Britain, France and Italy. The United States was not involved in the goings-on at that time. For residents of Masaryktown this news must have hit very hard. 

Roosevelt’s New Deal had created millions of jobs and enormous national debt, but at least many people were back to work after being unemployed as a result of the Depression. One of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It sent young unmarried men ages seventeen to twenty-eight out into the wilderness to build and maintain our national parks and work on other conservation projects. Many of these boys were from the city and probably didn’t know which end of an ax to hold, but the program provided a good income. Very often they were sent far from their home, a strange experience, I’m sure, for those who had never traveled outside their immediate area. Locally, some buildings constructed by the CCC still stand such as the Little Rock Cannery and the Spring Lake Community Center.

They received shelter, clothing, and food, plus a wage of $30 per month. That’s equivalent to over $590 in today’s money. They were required to send home $25 of their pay to their families – probably to keep them from wasting their money on wine, women and song. Not only were these boys being put to work, but they were also learning skills that they might be able to use when they returned home. An article in the October 21st edition related the impact of this program in Florida. 

Farm supplies and personal care products were on sale that week. I guess after putting in eight hours or more toiling in the hot October sun on your farm, you needed those personal care products, especially the Lifebuoy soap on sale at three bars for 19¢ guaranteed to be great for “B.O.” After you were cleaned up you might want to take a drive over to Hal Brannon’s store for a nice cold beer or soda!    

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We’re skipping ahead a decade or so to 1949 – October 20th and 21st, to be precise. Back in those days, cigarettes were still considered harmless, as evidenced by the ads in the paper stating that a thirty-day study by a leading throat specialist had shown “not one single case of throat irritation.” Yes, but I wonder how New York housewife Marna Stelling fared after twenty or so years of smoking Camels?   

The paper was filled with helpful household hints, sewing patterns you could order and humorous sayings. Who knew that transparent nail polish could be used as a temporary adhesive or that you could separate two glasses that are stuck together by dipping the outside glass in lukewarm water and filling the inside glass with cold water. How come I never learned practical stuff like that in physics class? Another handy hint I want to try is coating chicken or other foods with pancake flour and then frying the items. 

Corny humor was rampant in the paper. Here’s one I especially liked: An optometrist is fitting his patient with new glasses. He says, “Now, you’ll be able to read without straining your eyes.” The patient is doubtful and replies, “You mean I’ll be able to read without going to school?”   

Local folks had their choice of four movies to go and see at the Dixie Theater – romantic comedy, drama and two westerns – one in color and one in black and white. The black and white western featured singing cowboys and a horse that got star billing. You can’t beat a combination like that. In those days you could afford to go to two or three movies a week and even a box of popcorn wouldn’t break your budget. 

In 1949, not everyone had cars, but that wouldn’t stop you from visiting Aunt Martha out of state. For just $9.15 you could hop on a Trailways bus and be in Atlanta in less than six hours. No worries about traffic, the price of gasoline or your car breaking down enroute. 

The Hernando High School football team was racking up a string of victories that season. Led by Coach Varn they were looking forward to a sixth straight win when they were scheduled to play the Webster Bulldogs. 

Lewis Chorvat of Masaryktown was selling his newly-overhauled 1937 Chevy sedan for $335. A company in Milwaukee was advertising a kerosene range that boasted “finer, faster cooking with economy, cleanliness, beauty!” Yes, but what about the smell? I never knew there was such a thing as a kerosene-burning stove, other than the small ones for camping. It’s amazing what you learn by browsing through old newspapers!   

Maillis Grocery Store was a one-stop shop. The local housewives could pick up their detergent (Tide at 25¢ per package), a one-pound can of Hills Brothers Coffee for a mere 54¢, sweet potatoes for 21¢ a can, a ham for 55¢ per pound and to round out your meal – dessert (Jell-O, 3 packages for 25¢). Delsey toilet tissue was 29¢ for two rolls. Imagine if you had stocked up back then. And for a relaxing after-dinner smoke you could buy your cigarettes for only $1.85 per carton.  

Before we get stuck in 1949 we’d better move on to 1967 and see what was happening in Hernando County fifty-three years ago this week. 

Spring Hill was getting off the ground and Mackle Brothers was advertising near and far – from the local area to New York and as far away as England. They were offering 10,000 square foot home sites starting at $1,295. That’s total, not per square foot. If you preferred a pre-owned home there was a real bargain available. It was a two-bedroom, 1,300 square foot home, complete with an intercom system and a swimming pool with a screened enclosure for $11,500. It even had an underground shelter/basement to take cover from tornadoes, zombie attacks or as a place to store all the “necessary items” you just can’t live without. It must have been located at one of the higher elevations in the county since homes with basements in Florida are rare. 

The newspaper had a weekly TV Guide as a supplement. For you folks who are younger than thirty, those are magazines that listed the shows playing on all the local channels, along with interesting entertainment articles. There was no such thing as cable television, so you had your choice of about eight channels. TiVo and DVRs hadn’t been invented yet, so conflicted viewers had to decide whether they were going to watch “The Monkees” or “Gunsmoke” at 7:30. If the family was comprised of an intellectual, a spy buff and a comedy fan, and there’s only one TV in the house, I guess they would have to draw straws to see whether the television would be tuned to “Nation of Immigrants,” “I Spy” or “The Carol Burnett Show.” Or they would have to be patient and wait until summer reruns to see that particular episode of their favorite show. Some things really are a lot simpler these days. 

My time machine needs to be re-charged so I have to stop here for a while. We’ll continue our trip next week when we’ll find out how people were celebrating Halloween years ago.    


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