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Jack Smith

Ah, those nostalgic sounds of yesteryear clang heavily in the hearts of readers

April 08, 1986|Jack Smith

Bob Williams' recollections of "sounds . . . that are now gone forever," have struck a resonant note in the memories of many readers.

Almost everyone is stirred by echoes of the old steam locomotives, and many remember the old ragman, as I do, and recall that their mothers used him to frighten them, as mine did.

"You must have had a very poor ragman just to yell 'Rags!' " writes Rene A. Schweitzer of Glendora. "Our ragman used to yell, 'Rags, bottles, sacks!' "

"I, too, was threatened with the long forgotten 'ragman,' " writes Betty Eileen Merrill of Whittier. "I was only 3 years old, but I can always remember his chanting of 'rags, bottles, sacks. . . .' "

Mary Jane Pulver of Canoga Park remembers that when she lived in Baltimore in 1912 or 1913 the ragman used to come by. "I think he used to call, 'Old rags, old bottles,' but of course I could be wrong. Anyway, when I was 'bad,' mother used to say, 'The ragman is going to take you away.' "

(As it turned out, the ragman was a gentle old fellow, and Mrs. Pulver's mother later apologized to him and to her daughter.)

Ginny Kendrick of Mission Viejo recalls another familiar street sound that I forgot to mention. "My mind flashed back to one of the most exciting sounds of all," she writes--"Extra! Extra! Read all about it!' That lone newsboy coming down the street in our neighborhood, his voice invading the quiet of the night."

Dorothy Duer of Monrovia also remembers the newsboys shouting "Extra!" "I remember running out for my grandmother with a dime to get the news, many times."

I not only remember the newsboys, but I remember them shouting two big stories of the 1920s: "Lindbergh lands in Paris!" and "Marion Parker dead!" Marion Parker was a 12-year-old girl who was kidnaped for $1,500 ransom by a psychopath named William (the Fox) Hickman. Her father paid, and Hickman shoved her dismembered body from a car; he was caught and later hanged at San Quentin Prison.

Dennis L. Gibbs of Pasadena remembers not only the clickety-clack of train wheels on steel rails but the thrill of night crossings when he rode the Pullman from Pasadena to Boston with his parents.

"Late at night, when the entire car was quiet, we would roar through a small town, and as we approached a crossing, the warning bell would go ding-ding-ding-DING-ding-ding --and then diminish in the distance. You don't get that experience of movement on a jetliner, do you?"

I am surprised that Gibbs should recall "the rolling resonance of a prop-driven four-engine aircraft" that is "gone forever." I remember flying to San Francisco on one of the first DC-4s. Hard to believe they're gone forever.

Though he had flown thousands of hours on a Navy bomber in the Pacific in World War II, Gibbs best remembers a night flight he took as a businessman after the war from Los Angeles to New York City on a DC-6.

"All night I monitored the sounds of those old prop-driven Pratt & Whitneys as the captain fought to get them synchronized. Heavy drone, No. 1 engine; lighter drone, No. 3 engine--then, suddenly, all four in perfect harmony! I wish I had a tape of that. . . ."

I am taken to task by two readers for recalling that the Helm's Bakery truck had a "horn."

"Well, Jack," writes Ed Wilkerson of Calabasas, "we didn't 'toot our familiar horns'; we blew our familiar whistles that were suspended from our familiar necks. I know because I was a Helmsman in 1937. In those Great Depression days I blew my whistle lustily . . . to make $30 a week. Our pound loaf of butter-crust bread sold for 9 cents, and the larger sandwich loaf for 12 cents. Eat crow, Jack; it's cheaper than bread these days!"

Robert E. Hill of Hollywood writes to remind me that the sound of the big Wurlitzers shaking the old theaters in the days of silent movies is not entirely gone.

"The Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo," he says, "has been doing just that for some 10 or 15 years. Each Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, and Sunday afternoon, they feature classic movies of the past . . . and sometimes even a newsreel and a sing-along with the bouncing ball and the Wurlitzer. . . ."

Gertrude Pontell remembers even back beyond the silent movies and the great organs. "(Your column) has sent me back so many years to even earlier times than you mention--the Nicolette--moving pictures that flickered across the screen. We went for a nickel, which was all we had to spend. There were no Wurlitzers yet. My brother got a job playing his violin at these small theaters, trying to play appropriate, fast, wild or nostalgic tunes to suit the picture, and I got in free. . . ."

David R. Moss reports that, though the Good Humor man is gone, the ice cream man and his musical truck is a common phenomenon in the central city.

"He's alive and well. Of course the trucks don't carry the Good Humor logo. They're all independents, but what takes place is exactly the same. They come down the street half a dozen times a day, sometimes tailing each other 15 or 20 feet apart, each one playing a different tune. At times, I feel that if I have to listen to 'You Light Up My Life' once more, I'll go into orbit. The kids gather round just the same way we did 50 years ago. . . ."

Glad to hear it. It lights up my life.

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