BACK IN THE FIFTIES TONIGHT

Recently I came upon a bunch of black and white negatives I shot at my high school's Sweetheart Ball, about half a century ago. I didn't have a date, other than my trusty Kodak Signet 40. I'd offer to take pictures of couples for fifty cents, and usually I'd make a sale, but not always. Karen Davis said, "Get lost, creep!"and those harsh words have echoed in my ears all these many years, even though it is Karen who ended up getting lost and not I.

Ben Bean didn't know it at the time, but he was only two years away from being killed by an exploding wallpaper steamer. He was the first of my classmates to go; casualties now number almost thirty.

Many of my classmates married their high school sweethearts, and most of those marriages have lasted. Some stayed in Carbon County and found work in the mines. Others, like me, got as far away from the coal mines as possible!

Our school gymnasium was very much like a mine. It was underground, ill-lit, poorly ventilated and all but impossible to escape from should a crepe paper fire break out. Music was provided by Jimmy Dart and his orchestra, whose strong suit was swing. Rock 'n' Roll would soon take over, but in the meantime, the most scandalous activity was dancing cheek-to-cheek. The boys wore white sportcoats with pink carnations attached to the lapel. Girls wore strapless gowns with lots and lots of crinoline petticoats underneath. Highlight of the evening was pinning a corsage onto your date's budding bustline, and it had better be an orchid or else you would be branded a cheapskate forever afterwards.

I'm attaching two pictures. One shows Carol Ann Fugate and Charles Starkweather, soon to become famous following a cross-country crime spree. Or maybe it's just two young people who vaguely resemble Fugate and Starkweather. The other couple declined to have their picture taken, but I took it anyway. Why not? I was eager to finish off the roll of film and get the heck out of there, before somebody else called me a creep or dumped a bucket of blood on my head, and to get even I ended up setting the whole damn school on fire.

The names of Charles Raymond Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate hold a place in the history books as Nebraska's most notorious mass murderers. Their saga began when 19-year-old Starkweather killed a gas station attendant in December 1957. Then, in late January 1958, Charlie and his 14-year-old girlfriend Caril began an eight-day murder spree that started with the murder of Caril's family, and eventually led to ten total deaths before they were captured on the highway outside Douglas, Wyoming. Tried and convicted of murder, Charles Starkweather was executed at the Nebraska State Penitentiary on June 24, 1959. Also convicted, Caril Fugate's initial life sentence was commuted to a 30 to 50 year sentence in 1973. In 1976, after serving 18 years, Fugate was paroled and she eventually resettled in Michigan.

 

 

 

- Richard Menzies