Monday, February 28, 2011

Open Highways (1966, 1971)

One of my favorite things about McKays Used Books, CDs, Movies, and More is the buying policy. Specifically, the good purveyors-of-books' decision not to take textbooks, visibly worn or yellowed books, or books mildly damaged in any way, in favor of (rightly enough) stocking their shelves with more sellable items. These rejected books are often left at the location by the person who has unsuccesfully to hock them, at which time McKays tosses said selections into three huge wooden bins outside marked "FREE BOOKS".

You do not have to tell me twice, Free Books sign.

Last weekend, I had a pretty lackluster "vintage movie star bios/50's suspense stories anthologies/old cookbooks/rare MGM movies not yet on DVD" run (which they're usually so good about having!!), but as I left, I thought I'd take a quick peek into the bin, which turned into a heartstopping moment of luck. Twenty or thirty early 60's young adult books! Donna Parker! Some knock off Hardy Boys esque titles! Nancy Drew! As I sidled up between two women who were having some long, loud conversation directly in front of the box, ABOUT the books in the box, I began to surrepetitiously pick books out of the mountain and hand them to Bab, who soon had a fifteen volume high stack to which I was still adding. The women caught wind of this, eventually, and began grabbing books for themselves, but I'd already taken the lion's share and passed them into Bab's helpful hands (he really is the best accomplice). Greedy? Yes. Happy? Also yes.

Amongst the titles I scored was a fifth grade textbook, originally published by Scott, Foresman and Company in 1966, but reprinted for this edition in 1971. The result was a strange melange of MCM illustrations and early 70's illustrations, the highlights of which I'll take you through story by story.

Above and below, these illustrations went along with the text of "Ernestine and Substance X". Unusual feminine versions of masculine names! Why aren't there more Ernestines and Bernadettes and Claudines these days? Ernestine Rosario and her friend Rosalie attempt to earn extra credit in fifth grade science class by inventing an "invisibility formula". Dialogue:

"For our experiment, let's try to find a substance that will make things the color of air!"

"But air has no color at all!" said Rosalie.

"That's right!" said Ernestine. "Now let's get started on our experiment."

Puzzling, but I guess true? I'm obsessed with the color and print of Ernestine's dress, by the way (the girl to the right). AND THE FLIPPIN WALLPAPER. Give me this wallpaper.

Ernestine's mother, Mrs. Rosario, comes home, and obviously Substance X, made up of household items of every kind, was not quite the hit it was meant to be. Slathered as it as all over a kitchen chair, the chair itself was still pretty visible. Mrs. Rosario, your tapered skirt, matched cardigan to trapezoidal purse, and lovely chignon are a perfect 10! I'm sorry about your kid's lack of scientific skill. Chalk this one up to experience.

A zoo theme carried through several selections... above, a boy and elephant bond of a shared love of an audience. Below, the illustration from an article about how zoos acquire animals (loan/trade from other zoos, buy from other zoos, buy from animal collectors). Included in the article, a 1965 price list for animals:

Royal Bengal Tigers, 1-2 years old.......$1200 each
Baby walruses..........................................$5000 each
Baby giraffes.............................................$4000 each
Polar Bears................................................$1200 each
Elephants (full grown).............................$4000 each
Hippopotami...................................$1500-2000 each
Dromedary Camels........................$1200-1400 each
Kangaroo males (full grown).............$700-800 each
Jaguars.................................................$400-450 each
Spider Monkeys (golden and black).$40-50 each

So, as a zoology investor, I guess spider monkeys would be your best deal, whereas a giraffe, elephant, or walrus can really set you back a few. How much is an ocelot or an otter? Inquiring minds want to know. Which one would you shell out the most for?

Speaking of Walruses ($4000 = $26915.30 in today's money, btw...worth it?), take a look at "Ookie", the subject of a short feature on his species.' It comes back around again to be cute. Almost. "Ookie is a walrus who likes people," the article begins. Beware, apparently, for if this is one of her defining personal characteristics, what does it say of others of her brethren? That they hate people? Ookie was scooped up at the tender age of "a few weeks old" in the ice fields of Alaska by a Dr. Carelton Ray and some Eskimo fishermen he had hired for the purpose of collecting specimens for the New York Aquarium. As this is a true story, you can see Carelton Ray's University of Virginia faculty page here (he's still working! Forty five years later!).

Settling in at the aquarium, Ookie was noted for her love of, you guessed it, mealtime. "Ookie drank almost three gallons of clams, cream, and vitamins each day. No wonder she gained more than a pound a day!" This goes on for some time until they try to wean Ookie from eating with a a trainer to eating by herself. She wasn't having it, at first. Listen to this weird passage: "Ookie didn't eat anything all day. But she was already so fat that the aquarium people knew it wouldn't hurt her to go without food. So they just left her alone." What! I'm glad you guys are aquarium-ists and not child service specialist. Jeez Louise.

Some pretty weird photos of poor Ookie trying to get into the seals' pen for some company. She jumps out of her pool, waddles up the wall, stands on her flippers, and flings herself over. The aquarium people keep making the wall higher, and Ookie keeps jumping higher, until finally the wall is built seven feet high and Ookie's climbing days were through. This is okay though, because of the coda added under the last photo: "But Ookie isn't unhappy. Lots of people come to see her, and Ookie is a walrus who loves people." Good to know.

Just like today, textbook authors in 1971 were obviously trying to "hip" up their source material by adding two passages written and illustrated in comic book style. The story about Frank "Bring Em Back Alive" Buck was done particularly well... love the colors and the action shots. Hold that tiger! As with any of my posts, click on any of the pictures to see a larger version.

Wasn't that thrilling?

"Earthquakes in Anchorage" had photos of the fallout from an earthquake that took place March 27, 1964. May I point out to the gentle reader that the school building below is split IN HALF. It's as if the ground beneath it were a huge blanket someone took by the corners and just shook in the air. Look at that car inside the house on the right!! Exciting stuff for a fifth grade textbook.

Cuuuute midcentury modern scribbly illustration of Indian maids and misters. From the first sentence of this selection: "Once there were six pretty Mono Indian wives. Each wife had a husband who was a mountain-lion hunter." Now THAT'S a day job. Eesh. The men are holding their noses as the story detail their wives' discovery of the cooking applications of wild onions. The women just keep compulsively eating onions, to the great dismay of their menfolk. "That night the husbands made their wives stay outdoors because the onion odor kept them awake." At one point, the odor is so strong from being AROUND the women that the men scare away the mountain lions with their onion stank. Later, the women lasso a cloud and traipse around in the sky, letting their onion loving flag fly high. Eventually, the husbands wanted them back, onions or no, but the women wouldn't come out of the sky. "All agreed they would rather be alone in the sky". Nice. Then the men and the women turned into stars, the grouping of which is today called "The Pleiades". WHAT. KIND. OF. STORY. IS THIS. I understand that folk tales can be way out there, I'm a huge fan of magical realism, but how in the hello did we get from eating onions like they were going out of style to flying up in the sky and getting star-divorced? How did the 1966 fifth grader take this?

Some particularly pretty space illustrations, probably leftovers from the 1966 version. I love the watercolor look of these. The bubblegum pink one on the right is from a story about kids in space in the future. As it was written in 1957, it comes with a 1966-1971 space age caveat in the introduction: "Look at the bottom of the page and see when this story was written. Since then, many facts about space have been discovered. After you read the story, ask yourself if any of the things imagined by the author are accepted as being true now. Are there any things that you know are not true?" A thoughtful question about space and science fiction for a fifth grader.

Hope you enjoyed the excerpts and the scans, there will be more where that came from, if I get up the gumption to process this mother lode of material.

Are there any stories from your elementary school textbooks that you still remember? My favorite was a sixth grade literature book that included the entire script from the Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" (the link provides the self same script in pdf, possibly from that text book). Did my parents and I construct a kid sized cardboard car for the penultimate scene, complete with flashlight headlights? Did I get the important role of Charlie, as originally portrayed by Jack Weston? Was this or was this not COMPLETELY up my alley, in terms of all time greatest classroom assignments?

You be the judge. :)

See you next time!


  1. Wow, some great imagery! I would faint if I saw free Nancy Drews in a box. I'd have knocked over either of those women for them.

    However I must confess, I am left feeling sad for the cheap spider monkeys surely they are/were worth more than that!

  2. The zoo pricing reminds me of taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. I do like the Rosarios' wallpaper. It's pretty groovy. I'll bet it was metallic--I've seen similar at some estate sales.

    MacKays sounds like an awesome place. I'll have to check it out if I'm ever in Tennessee again!

  3. What a delightful post! Haha I love your rendition of the ladies standing by while you stealthily nabbed the best of the FREE BOOKS. I love free book boxes, you never know what you'll find!
    Ookie is my favourite, I'm definitely leaning towards "cute" ;)
    M xo

  4. Super scores! I like your stealth teamwork at the free book box. Those ladies were snoozing and losing.

  5. Thank you so much for scanning these in! There is so much written & illustrated material out there, I'm glad you rescued it from the free bin and shared it with us :-)

  6. @ Tasha: Spider monkeys were and are doubtlessly more valuable than $40 each. You can't put a price on character.

    @Laura: THAT ONLY MAKES ME WANT IT MORE....I hadn't even thought of it! Metallics. Yum.

    @ Mitzi + Eartha: Not passing up any opportunities for free vintage goods! I got a vacuum cannister from the early 50's that way this be related in a later post. :)

    @Amber: More where that came from!!

  7. HA HA HA! Love your story-you go Girl-Thanks Bab! To the ladies-That's what you get for loligagging!!!!!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...