Time machines, time travel and those scary clocks with hands that spin backwards are the stuff of sci-fi movies. But let me tell you, an old Danville Telephone Directory comes close.
A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled into a copy of the 1961 edition of the Danville phone book, published by Illinois Bell Telephone Company. It was $1.50 well spent.
Telephones were different in 1961. There were no cell phones, no smartphones, no voice mails, no text messages, no online phone directories … nothing. If you didn’t know a person’s phone number, you called the operator for help. Telephones were hard wired, and if the person you wanted to talk to didn’t answer, well, sorry buster, you had to try again later. Long distance calls were operator-assisted and rather rare (a three-minute call from Danville to Anchorage, Alaska cost $6.75 then). Pay phones were common; each had a communal local phone book, dog-eared and tied down with a chain or cable.
Back then, the prefix for Danville was “HIckory.” That is, the letters H and I. HI2-7347, or 442-7347, was the phone number for my Grandmother Cullen, at 5 W. Center St. Westville’s prefix was “AMherst.” That is, the letters A and M. Our home phone, at 418 Dowaitt St., Westville, was AM 7-7719, or 267-7719.
The thin little phone book has 391 pages – 122 pages for Danville and environs; 226 Yellow Pages and 43 pages for areas south of Hegeler and points west.
The Yellow Pages are chockful of listings and display ads for businesses, products and services I had forgotten. For instance:
• “Ambulance Service.” All the major funeral homes ran ambulances back then — Barrick & Sons, Johnson, Brown, Edmund & Dickson, Jones & Sullivan, Leek & Sons Funeral Home and Pape.
• “Amusement Parks, Arcades, Etc.” My favorite was “I & I Amusement Park Swimming Club,” on Fowler Avenue, Phone HI 6-4008. Oh, how we loved the dear old “Lion’s Eye” pool. The kids feared being exiled to “Dunce’s Corner,” so they didn’t run or dunk much.
• Wilson’s Hobby Shop, 22 W. North St., HI 2-8928, was where I spent many hours shopping for model airplanes, cars and tanks. It was jammed with every kind of art item, craft product, gag gift and decal imaginable.
• Bakeries included Price Bros., Starns Bakery, Bakery Bargains, and the late, great Arnholt Bakery, 204 W. Fairchild, Phone HI 2-0332. I still miss those Arnholt custard-center Danish rolls. The best.
• “Beauty Shops” were big business, with 59 listings, including Edna’s Beauty House, 502 Robinson St., “Open Evenings For The Working Girl.”
• Foreman Bottling Company, 511 Kimber St., Phone HI 2-0188, bottled Hires Root Beer, Choc-Ola, Canada Dry Ginger Ale, Grapette Soda and Sun-drop Cola.
• There were eight typewriter shops, 11 coal dealers, 18 hotels, 16 florists, 43 grocery stores and 69 restaurants.
Time travel! I was a 7-year-old again, without psychotherapy!