Americans of a certain age today wouldn't be blamed if their minds wandered back to a more civil time. If we could just go back 50 years, they might think, when everybody got along and the world was a much less turbulent place.
(Cue the blurring screen and the dream sequence music; fade in.)
As it turns out, the world in the second week of August 1969 was hardly a peaceful place. Indeed, it may have been one of the most tumultuous months of the year, according to pages of the local newspaper.
While the Apollo astronauts whose recent first trip to the moon left the country agog were released from isolation and feted with parades, headlines said, "Death Toll Soars At End Of [Vietnam] War 'Lull'." Thirty-eight Americans had been killed and 144 wounded by North Vietnamese troops.
At home, a Chattanooga native and a LaFayette, Ga., resident were killed in the war, and another Chattanooga soldier home on leave was killed in what was termed "an apparently unwarranted shooting" at the corner of Ninth (now M.L. King) and King streets.
Meanwhile, a Massachusetts district attorney was mulling the exhumation of Mary Jo Kopechne, the 28-year-old campaign worker who was killed the previous month in a suspicious accident involving U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, youngest son of the prominent Democrat political family.
Further, authorities were widening the search for individuals involved in the murder of actress Sharon Tate and four others in the hills above Los Angeles and were wondering whether those murders had any link to the death of a couple in the city's Silverlake District. As it turned out, the killings were linked, and the mastermind would be one Charles Manson and his pseudo "family," who were later captured, tried and imprisoned.
In New York, a crowd of some 300,000 was expected near White Lake, New York, for what was officially called the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Its cost was $7 for one day and $18 for the weekend. "Something happened, something snapped," the fair's director of operations said. "Every kid in the world is here."
And, in the Caribbean Sea, Hurricane Camille was moving toward Cuba and was expected to be a threat to Florida. When the hurricane had concluded its reign of terror on Aug. 22 as the second most intense hurricane ever to hit the U.S., 259 people were dead from Louisiana to Virginia and $1.43 billion of damage had been done.
Locally, the area's auto theft rate was said to be the 22nd highest in the nation, the city settled a strike with its garbage workers and national labor leader Jimmy Hoffa arrived in the city for a federal court hearing.
In addition, some of the same Chattanooga and Hamilton County entities in the news in 2019 were prominent in 1969.
For instance, the Erlanger hospital board of directors recommended to the then-county council that T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital be closed in Glenwood and a $3.9 million, four-story wing be added at Erlanger to accommodate the facility. That, in time, was done, and this year, its partial replacement, the Kennedy Outpatient Center, opened across Third Street from Erlanger.
Fifty years ago, several city policeman were in trouble with the law for theft and concealing stolen property, while this year the cases of some city and county police have been referred to various law enforcement agencies over tactics alleged to have been used during confrontations with citizens.
And while county officials dealt this year with the request for a 34-cent property tax increase to pump another $34 million into county schools and increase teacher salaries 5%, the city school board in 1969 approved a salary scale for teachers in the upcoming year that raised wages from $500 to $1,414 annually, depending on experience.
But who could forget fake news?
While fake news today is too intertwined with actual news, it seemed more or less gossip in 1969. That week in August, it was reported the new Mrs. Aristotle Onassis (the former Jacqueline Kennedy), 40, was expecting a baby in early 1970. She was not.
So, while we might be tempted to hide our eyes from both years, the goodness and promise of humanity always shine through.
In 1969, a new organization of the Hamilton County Lions Club was raising money for life-saving kidney machines, a local United Methodist church held a carnival art fair that intentionally drew both white church members and black inner-city youth, and several budding astronauts who were local teen members of the Astron Rocket Society sent a white mouse hurtling 3,000 feet into space at 550 mph and back safely via parachute.
Similarly, in 2019, the Volkswagen Academy mechantronics program gave eight apprentices a chance for a new career, groups have banned together to help conserve a portion of the Cumberland Plateau, and a 34-year-old German man who donated his stem cells to help a 64-year-old Chattanooga woman in a 1-in-35 million match met here for a reunion.
We may think the country is in sinking sand, but all around us something positive is going on. We should open our eyes to that more often.