Vietnam, UFOs, Taxes Bring On Spring 1966
GGet into a conversation with a long-time Queens resident and you’re likely to discover a subscriber of the Long Island Star-Journal, a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star-Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper’s name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal--The Flushing Journal (1841).
Welcome to the Spring of 1966!
The Vietnam War was escalating. B-52 bombers struck North Vietnam supply lines for the first time and U.S. planes were striking targets in Hanoi, the North Vietnamese capital. In South Vietnam, Buddhists were demonstrating in an attempt to overthrow the Ky government. In the wings, 5,000 additional American troops were scheduled to join the war.
In Saigon, mobs of Buddhist students savagely beat an Oakdale, Long Island, man, then kidnapped him as anti-government demonstrations took a violent anti-American turn.
Eighteen year-old Pfc. George Cannata Jr. of Woodside asked in a letter home from Vietnam: "Why don’t they send reinforcements? Why isn’t everybody back home behind us in this war?" He would never know the answer. He was killed near the Cambodian border on April 1 by a Vietcong mortar shell.
The spring of 1966 was a banner time for sightings of unidentified flying objects in Queens. Motorists driving on the Grand Central Parkway near the site of the former World’s Fair and Meadow and Willow Lakes, reported seeing a large luminescent blue-green object, which looked "like a glowing dirigible that came into view and then descended into the lake," at about 7:40 p.m.
A number of observers said that the object appeared to correspond to the descriptions of UFOs reported in Michigan the previous week, which Air Force experts had attributed to swamp gas discharged from lake bottoms in springtime. This explanation did not satisfy everyone in Queens. "Maybe the Martians wanted to visit the World’s Fair, and didn’t know it was over," was a frequently heard comment.
Later that season, Bayside residents saw a UFO in the evening. An observer said it looked like "a merry-go-round in the sky with lights on it." The Star-Journal reported that the object was possibly an illuminated sign attached to a helicopter meant to advertise the opening of Modell’s Shoppers World in Commack.
In early May, Long Island City got its own UFO. The object, described as "silver colored and shaped like a big pillow, about half the size of a mattress," was reported floating aimlessly some 500 feet above the corner of Jackson Avenue and 42nd Street at 1:05 p.m. in broad daylight. "Anyone else seen this flying pillow?" the Star-Journal asked.
Six Queens high school students were participating in an IBM program where they used a computer to do their arithmetic assignments from home using a push-button telephone. As they pressed their buttons, indicating the arithmetic operation and the numbers, an IBM 1710 computer 50 miles away did calculations and replied with an answer in a clear feminine voice. The students and their parents found uses of the computer beyond school assignments, such as balancing a checkbook.
A manager of the program foresaw the day "when people in all walks of life will make use of the computer system. Pictures and sound from the computer might even be received on home televisions. Such services as home selection and purchasing of goods with automatic charges to the purchaser’s account might be practical through computer technology."
Air Force Captain Alfred M. Worden, husband of the former Pamela-Ellen Vander Beek of Bayside, was named by the U. S. space program as one of 19 new astronauts to train for flights to the moon. The moon shot candidates joined 26 other pilot-astronauts and five scientist-astronauts in the U. S. bid to land a man on the moon by 1968. (The actual moon landing was in 1969, but in 1966 the Star-Journal could not foresee that in 1967, the moon landing program would be delayed one year due to the Apollo 1 fire, which killed three astronauts and caused a partial redesign of the Apollo capsule.)
Mrs. Mary Calaghan Purcell, a 103-year-old woman, faced eviction from her home in Astoria. In a moment of youthful impulse two years earlier at the age of 101, Purcell had gone to the Manhattan office of the city Finance Department and told the tax collectors that she had "paid enough taxes for one lifetime and won’t pay anymore." She proceeded to stay true to her intent.
By spring 1966, the city had seized her house to collect back taxes of $2,000 and had a buyer offering to purchase the house for $20,000. Fortunately, temporary judicial restraint was in the cards. A judge stayed the city from selling Purcell’s house, questioning whether the city was more concerned about its $18,000 profit than what would happen to Purcell, her 90-year-old brother, and her ill son, both of whom lived with her, when they "are tossed out in the street."
Once her predicament was publicized, Purcell’s attorney received calls of support for her cause from around the county. Councilmember at-large Joseph Modugno of Beechurst, who had received many calls from his constituents, introduced legislation to give Purcell tax relief. Modugno filed a resolution calling on the state legislature to enact legislation making it possible for persons in Purcell’s position to get some money from the sale of a house, should the property fall into the city’s hands because of failure to pay taxes. He also sought an amendment to the City Charter, which would not require persons of age 100 and over who live in and maintain their homes to pay taxes.
In the entertainment world, the movies "The Greatest Story Ever Told," "Our Man Flint," "Cat Ballou," "The Sound of Music" and "Darling" were playing in Queens theaters. "The Sound of Music received the "Best Picture" Oscar award. Lee Marvin was best actor for "Cat Ballou" and Julie Christie was best actress in "Darling." Television’s Emmy award nominees included "Batman" and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."
A 1965 Corvette cost $3,545, a 1965 Ford Galaxy $2,095, and a 1966 Volkswagen $1,661. A three-bedroom apartment in Astoria rented for $130 per month. A five-bedroom house in Bayside was advertised for sale for $24,990.
A new home interior design idea came to Queens—residents were invited to carpet their kitchens with Herculon carpeting. The cost for a 9-foot by 12-foot kitchen was $121, including installation. The installation could be financed for only $10 per month.
In the sports world, baseball’s spring training ended, and the 1966 season opened. The Star-Journal sports page commented that if the Mets won their opening game, it would be the first time they had ever been in first place. Meanwhile, the news from The Bronx, was not good. Mickey Mantle was paid $100,000 a year, but there were concerns about his effectiveness as a player. By the first of May, the Mets had a 5-6 record, while the Yankees’ stats stood at two wins and 11 losses.
That’s the way it was during the spring of 1966!
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