1968: A day with my amazing dad about one amazing year

So I guess you know you’re old when a museum does an exhibit of the year you were born? My dad guided me through the 1968 Exhibit , which debuted its national tour at the MN History Center.

My dad narrated every step with his memories–many of which I’d never heard. Until now.

Month-by-month

The gallery uses a literal month-by-month account, starting in January, to chronicle this watershed year. The first exhibit features one key event from each month, and my dad, who has an amazing memory, led me through: “Ah, April 4th. They killed Martin Luther King.” There was sadness and wisdom as he shook his head. “June 8th, right after midnight. Bobby was shot.” Those dates were not on the exhibit boards, mind you. Just the months. It was a sign that this year did make an indelible impression–even now, my dad recalled the exact details.

C.h.a.n.g.e.

Every single American experienced change in 1968, as the exhibit aptly illustrates. Ditto for my dad. Just the year before, he graduated from college, got married to my mom, started his teaching career and began preparing to be a parent (my parents’ first-born, I was due in July 1968; born on June 25.)

Nice davenport

If you had avocado green and gold home decor in 1968, you were “in.” My dad explained the decor of our home while we sat on the davenport and watched Walter Cronkite narrate the evening news on a console TV:

Notice the Vietnam “news” coverage. My dad said there was a “ticker” at the bottom, chronicling the day’s casualties. Sobering.

Of course much of the display centers on Vietnam.

An actual Huey - the cockpit features a series of haunting videos narrated by those involved in the Vietnam War. Just "normal" people who served in an ever-escalating, ever-confusing, senseless conflict. When it comes to war, aren't they all?

The draft

My dad did not go to Vietnam. But he still remembers the full name of the draft board lady in St. Cloud, and related his visits there. I’d never heard the stories, and I was captivated. The final thing she said to him, “Well, you shouldn’t have signed that teaching contract. Now you can’t go. We need you here to teach.” And the U.S. military said I needed him here to parent me : ) !

Revolution

The youngsters spoke up strongly in 1968, whether about the war, peace, music, style and of course human rights.

Part of the impressive collection of 1968 memorabilia: clever anti-draft/war poster.

 What could have been?

One of the exhibit’s several succinct but beautiful videos chronicles Martin Luther King, Jr., his impact and his too-soon death. As you look into his eyes as he gives his last speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” you somehow know… that he knew. 

Colorful funeral florals for a man who tried to teach us color just doesn't matter. It doesn't, Mr. King. It doesn't.

 

 

The actual note to the President, advising him NOT to come to Memphis for Dr. King's funeral. What. A. Year.

MN connections

My dad and I proudly noticed several Minnesota connections throughout the 1968 exhibit, including:

The Packers ruled the NFL in 1968, too. Damn.

 

Time for some laughs

We laughed at clips from 1968 TV shows. There were some goodies!

"Won't you be my neighbor?"
"The thrill of victory ... the agony of defeat." Remember what happens to the skiier?

Speaking of sports, remember the Olympians (1968 Games were in Mexico City) who were stripped of their medals for this anti-racism statement on the podium?

The sounds of sixty-eight

My musical genius dad talked us through the iconic sounds of the year!

Then there was Chicago

All this change, all this joy and horror and revolution. And it was only August. Time for the Democratic convention in my 2nd fav U.S. city. Who could’ve anticipated those events? Actually, who thought it would be “just another convention?” In the exhibit’s video, you see and hear a very young, very spirited Dan Rather being jostled around on the convention floor, just trying to do a report. Things were much rougher outside the convention walls.

Ads = barometer

Of course I was very intrigued by the advertisements of the year. How long has it been since we’ve seen tobacco in ads?

So how do you end a year like this?

Typical American style: Shoot for the moon. On Christmas Eve 1968, we launched three astronauts into space who became the very first humans to orbit the moon.

What. A. Day./Year./Dad!

At one point, I asked my dad if he realized–at the time–what monumental shifts were underway. “Not really,” he said. “You’re going along, in your life, trying to leave your mark and make the world a better place.”

You did, dad. And you do. Thanks for making my day and my world a better place.

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