Michele Bender photo

Michele Mikesic Bender

The year 1969 overflowed with significant historic events and cultural upheaval that undeniably changed our world. Many folks, particularly baby boomers, look back in wonder at incredible memories.

And some not so incredible ... but, well, showstoppers.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 moon walk stands as an unforgettable technological milestone in space exploration.

In August, a horde of more than 300,000 music fans jammed a 600-acre New York farm to enjoy a weekend of peace, love and music. The almost spontaneous concert featured a lineup of the most popular, talented and often controversial performers of the era.

Charles Manson, a career criminal and cult leader, sent five inept followers to murder a record producer who’d rejected Manson’s musical efforts. The executive no longer lived in the posh Los Angeles mansion, so Manson’s crew slaughtered five innocent celebrity renters by mistake. Manson then ordered the deaths of a wealthy older couple living in the same area to disguise the first crime.

Not to be outdone, California’s Zodiac Killer launched a murder rampage in ’69 as well. He was never caught.

In Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy crashed his car, causing the death of a young woman, creating the Chappaquiddick scandal that permanently tainted his family name.

New York illuminated the sports world as the Mets won the World Series and the Jets upset the Colts in Super Bowl III. Mickey Mantle retired, but Willie Mayes hit his 600th home run. In soccer, legendary Pele kicked his 1,000th goal.

John Wayne won his only Oscar – for “True Grit.” “Easy Rider” filled drive-in movie theaters, and “The Brady Bunch” made their TV debut. While ’69’s most popular TV show was “Laugh-In,” “Hee Haw” joined the lineup, as did “Sesame Street.”

We “Let the Sunshine In” during the “Age of Aquarius,” ’69’s most popular tune. 

A new car cost approximately $3,200. A gallon of gas sold for 35 cents.

An overdose of sap? I can fix that. The final edition of the beloved “Saturday Evening Post” was published in February.

“The Smothers’ Brothers Comedy Hour” (a personal fave of mine ...  I loved their goofy songs) was canceled when Spiro Agnew accused them of being subversive. Yes, they would slide some subtle politics in occasionally, but Spiro T? Izzat the pot calling the kettle black, er whut? I don’t know anyone who was OK with the Vietnam conflict. Whatever the Smothers said wouldn’t come close to the outrageous rhetoric that is spewed all over media daily in 2019.

In Cleveland, the Cuyahoga River actually caught on fire. Flames blazed when an excess of pollutants in the troubled waterway ignited. (Ever hear the Randy Newman song, “Burn On, Big River?” It’s the theme of the 1980 movie “Major League” a hilarious fantasy about the Cleveland Indians.)

In December, the “Johnny Carson Show” televised the nuptials of (entertainer?) Tiny Tim and his ladylove (third, but who was counting?), the very youthful “Miss Vicki.” Jerry Lee Lewis served as best man. (OK, sometimes I fib.)

Quick! Quick! More good stuff!

Dave Thomas (an orphan who became a philanthropist) opened the first Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers in Columbus, Ohio.

Mario Puzo published his bestseller, “The Godfather,” and Maya Angelou dazzled us with “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Vietnam was winding down.

The Boeing 747 aircraft made its first test flight on Feb. 18, 1969. Battery-powered smoke alarms appeared in hardware stores. The first ATM machine installed in the United States followed. 

Laser printers and bar-code scanners were invented but weren’t “market-ready” yet. (My printer, purchased in 2004, apparently still isn’t ready.)

Let’s close with muscle cars, super popular in our area. 1969’s top seller was the 396 Chevelle. However, the Pontiac Trans Am two-door V-8 took first place as the hottest muscle car invented in ’69. (Don’t believe me? Ask the Bandit!)

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and regular community columnist for The Tribune-Democrat.​ She can be reached at MsGeezerette@aol.com.