I’ve been fixated recently on what happened in 1964—fifty years ago—as 2014 winds to an end. Perhaps I should have focused on these events throughout the year, but I’ve only noticed occasionally when the media has reported on anniversaries of major happenings from 1964. I didn’t research 1964 events until this week.
What started my current fixation was reading last week that the first Peanuts television special, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, is turning fifty. I watched its first airing in December 1964, and I’ve probably seen about twenty of its annual reruns since that time (though none in the last fifteen years or so).
I remember curling up on the couch in my flannel pajamas to watch the various Peanuts specials during my childhood. But I couldn’t have told you that the Christmas special was the first one created, nor that it first aired in 1964. I do recall when various other Peanuts specials debuted—it was an exciting occurrence for children of my generation.
But look at what else was happening in 1964:
In our culture:
- The top two hits were by the Beatles (“I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You”), but number three was “Hello, Dolly!” by Louis Armstrong.
- The premiers of both My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins.
- The first Ford Mustang.
- Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali.
- The St. Louis arch was under construction.
In world events:
- Nelson Mandela went to prison in South Africa.
- Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in a landslide.
- Three Civil Rights workers were murdered in Mississippi by members of the KKK during the Freedom Summer.
And close to home:
- My sister was born.
- A school friend of mine died of leukemia.
- My fourth grade teacher made everyone call me “Mary Theresa” because there were three Marys and three Theresas in the class.
Other than the “close to home” events, only Mary Poppins had any major impact in my life in 1964, and I don’t think I got to see the movie until it reached my home town in 1965. I was aware of the Johnson/Goldwater election, but it didn’t affect me as a grade-school child. I wasn’t even very concerned about the Beatles.
As I peruse the list of notable historical events now, I can see how much the world has changed in fifty years. For an amazing collection of photographs from 1964, click here. And here is the PBS American Experience list of major headlines that year.
These pictures and headlines make clear that 1964 was a pivotal year, politically and culturally. But at the time, my life was confined to home and school, with little awareness of the world beyond.
How do you think differently about past world events as you age?