Jumping Saturday Nights on Main Street in the 30s and 40s
Saturday night was family night in downtown Ames in 30s and 40s. It was really jumping. The sidewalks were crowded with people shopping and visiting. It was like a big social carnival. Everyone in town and the farmers from the surrounding area drove to downtown Ames on Saturday nights from 6 or so until the stores closed. If you came 1ater than 7 pm you couldn’t get a parking space. If you sat in your car, you visited with all the people you knew who came by. They'd stop beside your car and exchange the latest news.
Or if you got tired of sitting, you'd walk up Main Street, do your errands, and talk to everyone you knew who was shopping or sitting in their cars with the family, watching everyone else who was milling around... dogs and kids and old people and all ages. You couldn't walk very fast because it was solid people. If you made the rounds of Main Street, up one side and down the other it would take about an hour.
I went downtown last Monday night [this was written in 1992] and parked in front of [The Frame Shop]. Maybe a dozen people walked past in the 2 hours I sat there. Back in that former time zone, there were at least a dozen people just standing in front of the car and the town was 1/10 the size it is now. This, of course, was mainly in summer, though Christmas was a busy time too.
Another busy place in summer was the A & W Root Beer stand (first green and later orange) and Moore's Dairy, which along with the theater, boasted the only air conditioning units in town. Of course when you're small, your sensations are more acute, but I can remember thinking they were both as freezing as the ice
Another difference between that time and now was church. On Sundays at 11 a.m. the church was always filled. The hotter it was in summer, the more people would be packed in, clear up to the balcony. The ladies fanned themselves and whatever kid was sitting next to them with their church program or hat or something else suitable. The men took off their suit coats and suffered in silence, and the kids just sat in the pews sweating until their legs stuck to the seats.
There was as little emphasis on sex as possible. I can remember asking my mother what the word meant after I had learned to read. And later, when sex education was introduced In Junior High School, we actually learned something.
In July when school finally let out in New York City, my aunt and her 3 daughters would come and visit us until September when school started up again. Our tiny four-room house was really bulging at the seams. But my Mom, a veritable dynamo of energy, made sleeping arrangements on our back porch and wherever else she could. They would come on the Chicago and Northwestern train, and in those days the Ames depot had a tunnel. Meeting the trains from the West, one merely stepped outside the depot. But to meet a train from the East, one went through the tunnel, coming out on the other side of the tracks -- a necessity with all the trains coming and going. And going through that tunnel amidst all the train noise, was, to a small child, the greatest excitement of the whole summer.
Our relatives, after that long trip, would emerge from the train with hatboxes and luggage like the queen of Sheba and entourage. My aunt had studied opera in New York City, and her stage presence was not to be sneezed at by anyone, let alone a small hick from the Midwest!
Ames really is a beautiful town--the Campus and Mall and Downtown with all its trees and the horse clopping up and down Main Street on Monday nights was pulling a wagon of shoppers. I guess the difference between then and now is there was more emphasis on people in the 30s, and very little attention given to things and how they looked. The more people you touched the happier you were. In some ways, people didn't seem to care as much what they wore or what they said. In other ways there was more emphasis on traditions and formalities, and less casual living. But our little car was often jammed with people when we went on a jaunt somewhere. If not the four of us, my parents would fill it with whoever was available.
Of course, people, me especially, tend to remember the good things. That's why it’s such fun to reminisce if you have the time and inclination.
By Barbara Egemo
Photos from the Farwell T. Brown Photographic Archive