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Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Summer of 1927


Charles Lindberg and his Spirit of St. Louis
The summer of 1927 in America is more interesting than you could ever imagine, for a lot of reasons. Author Bill Bryson's latest work, One Summer in America, is all over it, as usual. Bryson is a most interesting author, researcher and story-teller with a WIDE range... but more of him later.

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh was the first to fly the Atlantic and take the prize so many aviators of the time died for. Known as Lucky Lindy, he was! He captured the nation and the world in ways unimaginable today except by the historically trite like Justin Beiber, the Kardashians, reality TV, yada yada. My, how the world has changed.

Lucky Lindy even had a hit song about him that swelled the pride of every American:

Lucky Lindy (Recorded by Vernon Dalhart ca. 1929-1930)  

From coast to coast, we all can boast and sing a toast to one
Who's made a name
By being game.  
He was born with wings as great as any bird that flies
A lucky star
Led him afar!

Lucky Lindy! Up in the sky
Fair or windy, he's flying high.
Peerless, fearless --- knows every cloud
The kind of a son makes a mother feel proud! 

Lucky Lindy!
Flies all alone In a little plane all his own,
Lucky Lindy shows them the way
And he's the hero of the day.

Just like a child, he simply smiled while we went wild with fear  
That Yankee lad!
The world went mad!  
Everywhere we prayed for him to safely cross the sea
And he arrived In gay Par-ee! 

But Lindy was far from the only story... only the first of that 1927 summer. Babe Ruth was pretty noteworthy that same year... as was Al Capone, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge and flag pole sitting. It was the advent of sensational journalism which filled our eye with colorful tales of murder, mayhem, scandals and con men that  caught America's eye the same way CNN, Entertainment Tonight, American Idol do today, but this was before TV...  when we first 'got the fever.'

Bryson writes: To a foreign visitor arriving in America for the first time in 1927, the most striking thing was how staggeringly well-off it was. Americans were the most comfortable people in the world.

American homes shone with sleek appliances and consumer durables--refrigerators, radios, telephones, electric fans, electric razors--that would not become standard in other countries for a generation or more. Of the nation's 26.8 million households, 11 million had a phonograph, 10 million had a car, 17.5 million had a telephone. Every year, America added more new phones that Britain possessed in total.

 Made in America? How about 42 percent of everything! Four times more cars than all the rest of the world. More gold reserves too. America only had 120 million people then, about a third of today's number, and most of those lived on farms or in small cities.

Travel? Railroads and airplanes, new as they were. We had one transcontinental highway and it was only half-paved from the Iowa to the Pacific. No TV of course, or air conditioning. Lots of homes had horses but didn't have toilets. A different time for sure.

But zeal? We had that. It was zeal and happenings and circumstance and curiosity that marked this remarkable summer. So did I like the book? Guess. It's filled with tales about all of the above.

Bill Bryson has always been a favorite of mine. He was born in Iowa with a lot of growing-up time in England where he now lives. He writes mostly non-fiction, most interestingly. His range is broad. He has a book about language called The Mother Tongue. Another about words called (you're not going to believe this) Words. I especially liked A Really Short History of Nearly Everything... and it is! Really. I found it most palatable as an audio book that I could listen to in drive-time snippets because there is so much to digest.

He is a good read... One Summer in America fits the bill just fine.

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