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HISTORICAL CENTER Exhibit immerses viewers in cultural artifacts of '40s



Published: Fri, January 7, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



It's the next best thing to stepping back in time.

YOUNGSTOWN -- If you want to immerse yourself in the past and experience (or re-experience) life in the 1940s, "Kilroy Was Here!" at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor is a must see.

In 1940, you could eat one of the first packs of M & amp;Ms to roll off the production line, while listening to "Abbott and Costello" on the radio. If you were a bathing beauty in 1941, you could have worn a knit-wool bathing suit -- but carefully, because they were known to become heavy when wet. And you may have stayed slim and trim by eating Dannon yogurt, first produced in 1942.

The phrases "smooching" and "messing around" were coined in 1943, the same year 20th Century Fox insured Betty Grable's legs for $1 million. The following year was the first time you could eat a Chiquita banana, perhaps while reading the very first issue of Seventeen magazine.

From the end of World War II through 1949, the country seemed to accelerate into the modern world. Television replaced radio as the preferred mode of entertainment, and many modern items we can't imagine living without were invented in these years, such as ball point pens, frozen orange juice, microwave ovens and aluminum foil. In 1949, minimum wage rose from 40 cents to a whopping 75 cents an hour.

This exhibit is all in one fairly small room, but arranged so creatively that one can move through each year of the decade and catch a glimpse of what life was like at the time.

News of the times

Viewers can read about the top news and sports headlines, top recordings, movies and Academy Awards winners, best-selling fiction, what was on radio (or TV) and what was new on the scene. But the most poignant part of the exhibit is the collection of correspondence between soldiers and loved ones during the war.

Because so much of this exhibit is in writing, very young children may not be able to appreciate its value, but middle- or high-school students would probably enjoy it for a field trip.

There also are many visual displays, actual artifacts from particular years. See an early Kodak Kodachrome Home Color Movie Camera, bright orange Fiesta Ware and one of those electric exercise machines called a Graybar Simulator, with a belt women put around their buttocks, supposedly to vibrate off unwanted pounds.

There also is a display with war artifacts, such as dog tags, a gas mask and Nazi items identified with swastikas. There are no labels or description on any visual display.

"We want the objects to speak for themselves, to provoke memories, to start conversations between older people and younger people," said Kathy Hoke, communications and media relations manager for The Ohio Historical Society in Columbus. "This is an exhibit about social history."

She is quick to add that a tour of the entire museum adds to the richness of this exhibit.

Perhaps the most stunning visual effect comes from comparing the two living rooms, pre-war and post-war. The d & eacute;cor is authentic, and the figures are lifelike. Check out the minute details, like the wrinkles in the little boy's foot. In the postwar display, an original TV is playing clips of shows popular at the time.

And just who was Kilroy? Visit the museum to find out.




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