Save the date: 1958

December 21, 2008|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,

Fifty years ago, Baltimore was a grimy, rowdy, unpretentious town of rolled-up sleeves and red-hot steel, a warren of row homes and warehouses, a place where a man could walk into a bar on Greenmount Avenue and gab with a Colts player over a cold Natty Boh.

"We were working-class people," said Gino Marchetti, the Hall of Fame defensive end who worked in the mills at Bethlehem Steel that offseason. "It seemed like we knew a lot of [average] people, and people sure as hell got to know us. Autographs weren't much in demand. When people recognized players, they'd just slap you on the back."

The year the Colts won their first NFL championship, Marchetti earned $8,500, about $3,000 more than the average worker. Christmas trees cost a buck or two. For 75 cents, White Coffee Pot restaurants served up a plateful of Swiss steak, potatoes, beans and hot rolls. Turkeys were 37 cents a pound at ACME - and don't forget your S&H Green Stamps.

the year

* 1958 was a year of firsts for more than the Colts. Arnold Palmer won his first Masters; Bobby Fischer, 14, earned his first U.S. chess crown. Congress approved Alaska's statehood, America launched its initial satellite and teens flocked to buy the new stereo records.

* Then as now, the Middle East was in turmoil. Iraq's King Faisal II was assassinated; meanwhile, U.S. Marines stormed into war-torn Lebanon to restore peace.

* A recession gripped America, sending unemployment up and auto sales down. Trying to cash in on Baltimore's championship, Marsden Chevrolet in Towson held a "Colt Appreciation Sale": Mention the final score of the game and receive $20 cash.

* Two days before Christmas, the Baltimore-Harrisburg expressway opened. Also in December, city officials chose a downtown site for the Civic Center. And construction continued, in fits and starts, on the spanking new beltway.

* In late December you could snuggle with your sweetie at the Edmondson Drive-In to a triple feature of Elvis Presley flicks: Loving You, King Creole and Jailhouse Rock.

* Kids drank Fizzies, ate Sky Bars and raced home after school to watch The Buddy Deane Show, Baltimore's answer to American Bandstand. The No. 1 hit Dec. 28? "The Chipmunk Song," by David Seville.

* Coltsmania even trickled down to the preschool set. On Dec. 22, TV's Romper Room aired a holiday special, "The Littlest Angel," narrated by Colts announcer Bailey Goss.

* On Dec. 28, Dwight Eisenhower retreated to his farm in Gettysburg, Pa., where the president watched the Colts-Giants game, then worked on his State of the Union address.

* The day after the Colts won the title, the stock market climbed to an all-time high of 578.60.

* In 1958, Baltimore's Leon Uris wrote Exodus. The book wasn't about the Giants' demise.

* TV gave us Gunsmoke, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and Father Knows Best, while Connie Francis, Ricky Nelson and the Platters ruled radio. In December, Buddy Holly had two months to live.

* Baltimoreans flocked to movies like Gigi and Vertigo at long-gone theaters such as the Stanley, the Century and the Mayfair.

* America smoked a record 424 billion cigarettes. Newspaper readership peaked - of the 49 million homes in the U.S., 43 million received a nickel daily. Popular comics were Peanuts, Pogo, The Flibbertys and Miss Peach.

* In December, union strikes grounded American and Eastern airlines and crippled New York's newspapers. Minimum wage was $1 an hour.

* Chicken cost 29 cents a pound, the same as a gallon of gas. Postage stamps jumped from 3 cents to 4 cents. The national debt was $280 billion ($10.6 trillion today).

* In sports, the New York Yankees won another World Series, Army football went undefeated and Althea Gibson, an African-American, ruled women's tennis. Ted Williams, 40, won his sixth batting title. Wilt Chamberlain (7 feet 1) left Kansas early and joined the Harlem Globetrotters for $65,000.

the fans

* Ticket prices ranged from $10 (box seats) to $4 (bleachers). Allotted 21,000 seats, the Colts returned nearly 5,000 of them unsold.

* More than 16,000 Colts fans streamed into New York by car, plane, bus and train. The drive up U.S. 40 took 4 1/2 hours. Almost 3,000 people crammed onto three special Pennsylvania Railroad excursion trains that left Baltimore on Sunday morning ($8.25 round trip). After arriving at New York's Penn Station, The Sun reported, a half-dozen young men "hoisted aloft a huge outsize pair of women's bloomers 2 yards wide and screamed their prophecy: 'The Colts will kick the pants off the Giants.' "

* One local travel agency made this pitch: a round-trip bus trip to New York, a sightseeing tour, a night at a swank hotel, a cocktail party hosted by Colts announcer Chuck Thompson and a ticket to the game. The cost? $37.50.

* At game's end, the C&P Telephone Co. reported that its boards "lit up like Christmas trees" as people rushed to spread the word. "One operator likened the volume [of calls] to that after V-J Day," The Evening Sun wrote.

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