Back during the Thirties, everyone, urban and rural, read the newspaper comic strips. It was one of the glues that helped hold our society together. If you mentioned Boob McNutt or Joe Palooka everyone knew exactly what you were talking about. I couldn’t wait till someone, usually an Uncle or a Grandfather, had time to read me the adventures of Felix the Cat who had this magic bag of tricks and about Alley Oop and his pal Foozie, and the dinosaur he rode in on. (I think maybe that’s where the Christian Team Park guys got the idea of humans and dinosaurs existing at the same time. Who can blame them? At age 5 I believed it. Do they still call newspaper comic strips, “The Funny Papers”?) It was an incentive for me to learn how to read. Who gave a crap about Dick and Jane when the adventures of the Katzenjammer Kids waited in the folds of the evening news? The Kids flew around the island in their very own helicopter and I thought that was the best thing ever. They called the helicopters Auto Gyros back then. I really wanted one of those.
The funny papers of the day reflected some of the reality of the Depression era but also hope for the future. It was a common practice at the time, rather than to blatantly beg on the street, (though some did) to sell apples for 5 cents each. That was a ridiculously high price for an apple back then but almost everyone went along with the fiction it was not begging. The comic strip “Apple Mary” depicted an elderly lady in threadbare cloths, a person who had seen better times. She sold apples on the street. As time passed she became a middle class lady known as Mary Worth. We were all moving on up.
Barney Google was a comic strip guy who, for the most part, successfully coped with the Depression. There were two spinoffs from that strip, “Snuffy Smith” and “Bunky”. Snuffy Smith was a uneducated hillbilly and Bunky was a very precocious baby whose nemesis was Viper Fagin. The men in that strip constantly worried about being vamped, which was a mystery to me and no one would explain. The lyrics of the song, “Hardhearted Hanna, the Vamp of Savannah” did little to enlighten me. My Uncles gave me the nickname Bunky and called me that till I left for the Army. By the time Dickie Dare appeared in the funny papers I could read the strip myself. Dickie was about 10 years old and sailed all over the world in his very own sailboat. He also successfully out foxed the evil, and very sexy, Dragon Lady. I couldn’t wait till I got my very own boat and sail the seven seas. What a life! (I was in my early 50s when I finally acquired a sailboat and no sailing the seven seas, but I did marry the Dragon Lady when I was in my 20s! Lucky me!)
The Moon Mullins strip was a rather unflattering depiction of an Irish family during the depression. Hey, we were a WASP culture back then! No Catholics in high office or the on the court. Were we bigots back then? Yeah we were, and raciest as well. Some things never change.
Tilly the Toiler strip expressed a theme ever popular in American culture since the Roaring Twenty’s. A smart stylish working girl, Tillie was employed as a stenographer, secretary and part-time model. You know, like Betty Boop. The Mary Tyler Moore TV show picked up the theme. Mutt and Jeff the comic contrast. The fabulously wealthy Gump family who supposedly had as many problems as the poor.
I was two years old when Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. I followed Amelia Earhart’s adventures in the 30’s via radio and was very concerned when she went missing. I heard about the deaths of Wiley Post and Will Rogers in the Alaska crash by the same means.
The first time I saw an airplane up close was at a county fair. They were selling 30 min rides for $5.00. They were not very busy because not many people had five bucks to spare but there were a few. The pilot allowed me to touch the plane and that was worth a fortune to me. By that time I was reading the “Smiling Jack” comic and discovered there was a complete subculture of airplane enthusiasts, barnstormers and daredevils, devoted to flying. I was about 6 when I saw my first Zeppelin. (Actually, my only Zeppelin.) It flew over our western Pennsylvania town on its way to Akron Ohio. And no, it wasn’t the one that crashed and burned, that came later. It was however, a sight I’ll never forget. The thing was flying under a thousand feet altitude and filled the sky. Impressive. Air mail used to cost more than regular mail. They had special stamps for airmail. My Uncle once took me up the hill in back of town to watch the airmail pickup. The mailbag was suspended on a cable between two tall poles about 30 feet apart, and at a specific time a small plane with a hook dangling from the tail flew by, snagged the cable and reeled the lot into the plane. The latest technology!
I logged a lot of flying time during my military career but never got a pilots license or owned my own plane. Still, I somehow relate my interest in flying to those early comic strips. How about Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon? Remember those? I have only mentioned a few of the popular strips of those days and I’m sure you all have your own favorites. So far as airplanes are concerned, we have made unbelievable progress just during my lifetime.