Details can add life to a historical novel.
by Andy Scheer
Last year, Tater Tots turned 60. I’d never have known, but my wife got an email from Ore-Ida.
I checked online and learned the company’s marketing department wanted to make this a big deal:
“Ore-Ida Tater Tots potatoes have a 60 year history that evokes many happy memories,” says Fed Arreola, Vice President of Marketing. “From humble beginnings, the original Ore-Ida Tater Tots potato brand has retained its place at the dinner table as the one and only, the original that we all know and love, and that’s something we’re proud of.”
The announcement got me thinking how someone writing a novel set in 1954 might research what people would eat, drink, and wear – besides what brands of soap they’d use to wash dishes and their laundry.
Some historical details are easy to find, like the names of elected officials and what songs were popular. But many minor details, like the brands on a shopping list or those products’ advertising slogans – “Crisco: It’s digestible!” – take deeper digging.
As I type this, I’m listening to the 1957 “RCA Victor ‘New Orthophonic’ High Fidelity Recording,” Bing With a Beat featuring Bing Crosby with Bob Scobey’s Frisco Jazz Band. That’s one way to get in touch with the mid 1950s. But it’s not an easy album to find – or find out about.
With all the information available online, there must be reliable sources for discovering what was new and popular in any given year. If you’ve found some of those sources, please share.
When you do, let me know if you’d like an MP3 of Bing’s version of “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella.”