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Community History Archive: This Week in History: May 13th – May 19th

The week of May 13th through May 19th is a time in the past when we saw the birth of new legends and traditions, and the passing of old stars. Between momentous Supreme Court decisions and the creation of one of the most popular fast food franchises in the world, this week in history provides us with the origins of some of our favorite places and traditions. Whether you’re a fan of Doris Day or The Kentucky Derby, this week in history is full of fun facts and search tips for you!

(2000s – Present) The Death of a Star: Doris Day Passes Away, 2019

Doris Day was one of the biggest film stars in the 1950s and 1960s. She started as a dancer but transitioned to music after breaking her leg in a car accident in 1937. Her career began as a singer, performing with stars such as Bob Crosby and Les Brown. Day made her big screen debut in the 1948 film “Romance on the High Seas”. Some of her most notable roles were in “Calamity Jane” (1953), “Love Me or Leave Me” (1955), and “The Doris Day Show”. She kept her foot in the door of the music industry by recording music for the movies she was in, which often became huge hits.

Day continued to perform in movies until her retirement in 1975. During her retirement, she spent most of her time as an animal rights activist. She created many organizations, including the Doris Day Pet Foundation. She not only spoke out against animal abuse, but she also personally adopted and fostered many animals. Her organizations are still in operation today, continuing to raise awareness and financial support for the cause she was the most passionate about. Doris Day lived a busy and fulfilling life up until her death on May 13th, 2019.

I found a lot of interesting pieces when looking for “Doris Day” in the Quincy Herald Public Library Community History Archives. The ones I pulled out were from the Quincy Herald-Whig, and ranged from pieces about her charity work to local theaters that were playing her films that week, to remembering her following her death. One piece was from a man who was heartbroken over her death and said that a piece of him died that day with her. Doris Day was an icon to people even after her prime acting years.

My search tip for this week is something I had to remind myself of when finding pieces about Doris Day. Make sure you pay attention to the date ranges that every CHA has because each one is unique. One CHA may have documents going all the way back to the 1800s and all the way up to the present day, while another may only have pieces from the 1900s when the newspaper ran. When I was looking for pieces that mentioned Doris Day, I found that some of them had nothing about her death and only her movies. This was because the one I was looking at only had pieces going to the 1980s, so there was nothing from her death in 2019. It is important that you’re looking not only in the right place but also in a database that covers the time period you are researching.

(1980s – 2000s) Disaster for Miles: Mt. Saint Helens Erupts, 1980

Mount Saint Helens, located in Washington, started to show signs of volcanic activity as early as March of 1980. For around two months there were earthquakes and steam venting caused by the volcano. The pressure built until May 18, 1980, when it erupted. 

The eruption was huge and disastrous. The entire north face of the volcano slid away, causing the largest subaerial landslide ever recorded. The eruption column rose to heights of 80,000 ft and deposited ash in 11 US states, and even some areas of Canada. The molten lava melted snow and ice, causing landslides that reached up to 50 miles around the volcano. The eruption resulted in around 57 deaths and caused over $1 billion in damages (almost $4 billion in 2024). A crater was left on the north side where part of the volcano slid away and was later turned into a national monument in remembrance of the eruption. 

The ash caused problems for many of the surrounding states. On page one of The Sandpoint News Bulletin, published in Sandpoint, Idaho on May 21st, 1980, they reported that the local school elections were being delayed because of the ash. Though the sandpoint is 300 miles away from the volcano, schools were closed and crews were sent to wash the ash off the streets and buildings. They did however report that the ash posed no threat to those living in the city.

(1945 – 1980s) Separate but not Equal: Brown v. Board Ruling, 1954

The Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case was a landmark decision that impacted the United States Education System forever. The case was a combination of Brown and 4 other school segregation cases that was combined into one Supreme Court case. The main case was a class action lawsuit that Oliver Brown filed after his daughter was denied entry from all-white schools in Topeka. He argued that the black schools were not receiving the same quality of education compared to the white schools, therefore it was separate but not equal. 

On May 17th, 1954, the Supreme Court came to a decision. The ruling of the case was a unanimous decision that state-sanctioned segregation of schools violated the 14th Amendment. This case ended the era of “separate but equal” schools. Following the case, in the Opinion of the Court, they wrote “We conclude that in the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place”. This case served as a cornerstone for the Civil Rights Movement, and was one of the first steps toward school desegregation. 

I found a couple of interesting pieces covering this event. The first was on page three of the Junction City Union, published in Junction City, Kansas on January 15th, 1954 (a few months before the decision). It expressed concern for Black educators if the desegregation law was banned. They feared there wouldn’t be enough available jobs if schools were to assimilate. Another was from the same publication, posted on May 17th, 1954 (the day the ruling was made) with the headline “School Segregation is Held Unconstitutional”. The general reaction in the papers seemed to be that Kansas schools would have no problem adapting to the ruling. However, we know that the general public was not as willing to desegregate their schools and a lot of pushback was received. 

(1914 – 1945) The Birth of an Icon: First Mcdonald’s Opens, 1940

The golden arches of McDonald’s have become an international icon. This famous fast food restaurant got its start this week back in 1940. Richard and Maurice McDonald opened “McDonald’s Famous Barbeque” in San Bernardino, California, serving a menu of barbeque-themed foods. However, when the McDonald brothers discovered most of their sales came from hamburgers, they changed the focus to the restaurant we know today. They aimed to create an efficient process from ordering to eating by simplifying the menu and maximizing productivity. 

The McDonald brothers created a new business model that the food industry hadn’t yet made. Business owners turned to them to discover their secrets, and the brothers willingly shared them with those who wanted to follow in their footsteps. They helped the creation of the Fast Food industry as we know it today. In the 1950s, they were approached by Ray Kroc, who wanted to franchise their restaurants beyond the six they had opened at that point. The brothers were not quick to buy in, expressing their concern that the business model would not succeed in other parts of the country. Kroc offered to take the lead on the project and assume responsibility for its potential failure (or success), and returned to the Midwest where he began to franchise more and more McDonalds Restaurants. Eventually, the McDonald brothers sold the company to Kroc for 2.7 million dollars in 1960.

In one of my college classes, I actually read a book about the history of the franchise. The book provided an in-depth history of the franchise, starting with its creation, and then dived into the connections that McDonald’s had within black communities at that time.  Not only did the McDonalds brothers give life to a whole new genre of the food industry, but they also helped many Black Communities begin to take control of themselves. By franchising these restaurants, they were able to hold positions of power and have control in ways that they were often prevented from, giving them financial freedom and economic freedom. 

The only thing I was able to find about this was news of one of Krocs franchised stores being built in Quincy Illinois, published in page 14 of the Quincy Herald Whig on October 15, 1962. It was pretty hard to find things because most of the items that came up in my searches were for people with the last name “Mcdonald”.

(1824 – 1914) Off to the Races: First Kentucky Derby, 1875

The first Saturday in May is a day of horse racing and extravagant outfits at the Kentucky Derby. With the 2024 Derby happening a couple of weekends ago, I started to wonder when this tradition began. 

The first Kentucky Derby happened all the way back on May 17th of 1875. It was a mile-and-a-half long race, slightly longer than the 1.25-mile race that has been the standard since 1896. There were 15 total competitors in the race, and around 10,000 people came to watch at Churchill Downs, which had just opened that year. An interesting fact I came across in my research is that 13 of the 15 jockeys at the race were African American. The winner was Oliver Lewis riding the horse Aristides. They won $2,850 (over $80,000 in 2024), and the second-place team won only $200 (around $5,500 in 2024). 

While I wasn’t able to find anything from the very first derby in the CHA, I was able to find some other interesting pieces. One was a story on page two of the Big Sandy News, published in Louisa, Kentucky on May 16th, 1889. It referred to that year’s derby as “one of the greatest horse races ever run”. It also talked about how it was a mile-and-a-half race, meaning this derby in question happened before the length was changed and was still using the original length. Another piece I found was a little more recent but provided some really cool perspective. On page three of The Commonwealth, published in Somerset, Kentucky on Thursday, May 12th, 1921, they referred to the race as “Our Far-Famed Kentucky Derby”. The author talked about how a lot of native Kentuckians didn’t realize how big this tradition had become. Popularity grew every year and became a tradition that the entire world looked forward to, even back in 1921. I think it’s safe to say that statement still holds true today. 


This week in history just goes to show how a lot of the things we know and love today started small all those years ago. Join me again next week to discover more of history’s hidden gems and timeless tales!

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