As time goes by...
Many of my readers may not know what went on in Camden in the 1950s and 1960s. Many may think it is ancient history, but to some of us it was only yesterday. What can I write about that time period, except I was much younger and I have relatives and friends not even born then, but know more than I do.
To begin with, the town of Camden had a population of only 3,554 in 1950, and we all knew each other. No one locked their doors at night. We always knew where the keys to the car were (if we had a car) because people just left them in the ignition. We had one night watchman, Warren Connant, who checked the store doors and called the owner if their doors were unlocked in the business district. There was even a lockup in the Opera house building, where they might put a drunk for the night, until he sobered up (for his own protection). In the 1950s, two men were hired to be policemen and later the force grew to four. They did not have a cruiser, but sometimes had to use their own vehicle. An antique red light hung on a wire in the Arey-Heal Square and the watchmen in the office would put the light on, if a call came in, and a policeman would go find out what the call was about. One night a “lady of the night” (yes, Camden had some) called to say she had fallen. One policeman went to her door but it was locked and she was on the second floor, so didn’t hear him. The police called her and said they could not come and pick her off the floor, because they couldn’t get in the locked door. She replied, “Oh, I’ll be right down and unlock it.”
The year 1957 does bring to mind the filming of the famous movie “Peyton Place.” Someone gave me the banned book to read, saying it was great literature. I read a few pages and returned it the next day, saying that maybe it was their literature but not mine. At that time all movies and books were censored, and people were shocked that Clark Gable said ”damn” in the movie “Gone With The Wind.” Books were quite tame, but not this one. The Camden Public Librarian kept it under lock and key in her office, but if someone asked for it she had to give it to them. When news hit that it was going to be filmed in Camden, I was mortified and some were very vocal about it. But most people were quite excited to have a movie filmed in Camden and delighted to be “extras.” Fox Movie Tone donated money for our new hospital to be built. I watch the video once in a while to see the scenes of Camden, the people I know and the bus going the wrong way to Boston. I must be brainwashed by today’s movies, television and wonder why I was so upset. Anyway, it made its mark. People love the movie, but Camden is not Peyton Place. A group held a film festival, featuring that movie and asked me to be on the committee. I told them that they didn’t want me, because I did not want it filmed in Camden. But they thought that would be funny. Preceding me was a University of Maine professor, who spoke about how wonderful the movie was. Then it was my turn to introduce the Camden extras on the Opera House stage and I followed with my dissertation on what I had thought of it. Russ Tambelyn, who played Norman, was the only actor who came to the film festival. He was very nice to everyone.
Now , back to the 1950s we could buy groceries for a week for $20, a new car for $1,500, cigarettes for 25 cents a pack, and people didn’t know they were bad for their health. It cost $15 to stay in a hotel and $35 for a hospital room. Longer dresses and skirts came to Camden about 1951, but New York had them before. It just takes a little longer to get to Camden. The skirts came to ones calves, covering your knee but very sophisticated looking.
Some of the organizations and clubs are still around, but many went out when our black and white television sets came in. People gave up being with people to stay home, glued to the tube. The American Legion at 21 Elm St. is now on Pearl Street. It is much smaller because the World War I and II veterans are not around or marching, as they did then.
The Camden Woman’s Club was organized in May 1953 by a group of girls who still wanted to be together, after graduating from Camden High School and World War II was over. They became a federated club and kept busy raising money by holding three major projects each year and giving the money raised to various things in town. In 1964, they were one of 10 in the nation to win the Community Achievement Award from the National Federation and Sears Roebuck Foundation. Their prize was $1,000 and they divided it among the schools. Camden even swept the streets early that year, because the judges were coming. Marion Village (a restaurant where Northern Kingdom was on Route 1) treated the whole club and the judges to a free dinner. The town proclaimed it “Camden Woman’s Club Day.” The club was very active for probably about 53 years.
The town still has an active Rotary Club, a West Bay Rotary and Lions Club. In the 1950s, all members were men, now they let women join. They do many nice things for Camden. Rotary gives nice scholarships for local students and other nice things for the community. The Lions Club care for the new Honor Roll, plant flowers on Memorial Day and put out flags. They also collect eye glasses and cell phones to be used again for the needy. I am remembering too much about this time period for my allotted space, so Part II of “As Times Goes By” will follow!
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.