, Derry, New Hampshire


September 27, 2012

Column: These were not the ‘Happy Days’ in Derry

For many people most of what they know about 1959 comes from watching re-runs of the TV show “Happy Days.” They know about Fonzie, poodle skirts and DA haircuts. They probably know that Elvis gyrated on Ed Sullivan, and maybe that Eisenhower was in the White House.

By contrast I clearly remember Derry back then; 1959 was the year I graduated from grammar school, wearing a DA haircut, weighing 115 pounds and knowing all the words to Johnny Horton’s song, “The Battle of New Orleans.” Since then I have lost most of my hair, have doubled in weight but I still remember the words to that song.

Looking back, I guess that life for most of us then was pretty good. We had nearly full employment, no wars and cheap gasoline. There were, however, some rather significant problems and I guess in truth we weren’t all living in a “Leave it to Beaver” world. Nationally there was the Cold War, racial inequality and sexism. The year 1959 also saw Castro take over Cuba and the Russians beating us in the space race. Also in that year the “music died” when Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash.

One of our biggest local fears back then was that our children were growing into juvenile delinquents. Most of you probably have seen that movie about the 1950s called “Bye Bye Birdie.” Remember Paul Lynde singing “I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!” I suppose some would say that it’s an equally good question for today.

My files on the year 1959 seem filled with examples of Derry’s wild and crazy youth. A headline in the Derry News said: “Plaza Theater show jarred by firecracker.” It seems that some unnamed juvenile had thrown an “Atomic Pearl” in the movie house and caused a “minor explosion.” Atomic Pearls, or Snappers, are pea-sized wads of tissue filled with some kind of explosive power and sawdust. When you threw one against the floor they would explode with a loud firecracker-like sound. All firecrackers were, of course, illegal back then in New Hampshire. The Derry police traced the Snappers to a store on Broadway and all of the Pearls were confiscated. The store’s supplier in Manchester was arrested, brought before a judge and given a fine and a stern lecture.

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