You have permission to edit this article.

Lessons from the '50s in Dubuque

Book research reveals what life was like in Dubuque decades ago

  • Updated
  • Comments
  • 2 min to read
Lessons from The '50s

University of Dubuque student Charles Freuden, of Milwaukee, presides over the model railroad club with Dubuque Boys Club members (left to right) Gilbert Dempsey, 11, Richard Menadue, 13, and Bruce McInerney, 11, in March 1952.

Dubuque history has always intrigued me. Photographs, especially, can help tell the story of my hometown. The Telegraph Herald is fortunate to have a treasure trove of such history nestled in its archives.

For a good portion of the past year, I've scanned negatives and researched photographs depicting life in Dubuque from 1950-54. The result of this work is Volume 1 of the TH's picture book, "The '50s," available Thursday.

Many of the images portray "slice-of-life" moments; others touch on more serious subjects.

From my time spent combing the archives, here are seven things I learned about Dubuque in the early 1950s.

1. The Boys Club was the heart of the youth social scene. Photos of the organization's myriad activities appeared nearly weekly in the newspaper. In addition to the requisite sport leagues, the group held weekly bean feeds, an annual toy repair program, Halloween and Christmas parties, health and fitness contests, watermelon- and doughnut-eating contests, chess tournaments, puppet shows, recycling drives, turkey shoots and Huck Finn Fishing Days.

Lessons from The '50s

Scanning the skies for aircraft from atop Sunnycrest Sanitorium in January 1952 are Dubuque Ground Observer Corps members (left to right) Carleton Sias, Al Sprague, Harry E. Rice and Kenneth L. Hartman.

2. The fear of air raids was very real. Residents were vigilant about the threat of communist incursion. A Ground Observer Corps post atop Sunnycrest Sanitorium -- later moved to Engine House No. 5 on Grandview Avenue -- was manned by two volunteers 24 hours per day. They recorded and reported "friendly planes and strangers" to the Air Force filter center. A similar site was added to New Melleray Abbey in 1955.

Lessons from The '50s

Published Oct. 12, 1954: An officer inventories the 172 bottles of liquor seized Monday night in raids on five nightspots in and near Dubuque. The liquor was taken to the sheriff's office to be held. Raided were the Canfield and Merchants Hotel lounges, the Plateau and the Friendly Tavern in Dubuque and the Chateau, just north of the city limits.

3. Taverns faced gambling and liquor raids. One of several raids conducted by the state in 1954 netted 172 bottles of liquor from five Dubuque-area nightspots. Gambling devices such as punch boards, roulette wheels and slot machines also were seized in raids during the early 1950s. Twenty-six pinball machines -- said to be controlled by a syndicate in Dubuque -- were confiscated (and later destroyed) from establishments in East Dubuque and Galena, Ill., in February 1952.

Lessons from The '50s

Published June 15, 1952: The swarm of flies on this pile of rubbish died soon after Allan Klein, sanitary inspector, sprayed with the mixture of DDT. Mayor Raymond F. Kolb proclaimed Sunday the official opening of Dubuque's ¨fly control campaign." It will continue until Oct. 1. Klein is in charge of spraying the downtown alleys at least once per month. About 1,000 pounds of spray are used each year in the program.

4. Rats and flies were a big problem. The city regularly sprayed DDT in garbage-strewn alleys and stockyards to curb the fly population. In a move to encourage residents to spray their homes and fly-breeding areas during the summer, the Public Health Committee of the Chamber of Commerce sponsored an annual pledge drive. Youngsters distributed "Kiss of Death" posters -- warning of the health threats posed by the insects -- and vied for prizes given to those who secured the most pledges. In addition, the Junior Chamber of Commerce sponsored a rat-control campaign, with Dubuque Senior High School students contributing bait boxes made in woodworking class.

Lessons from The '50s

Carole Dawson, 8, of 35 McEvoy St., holds an Easter rabbit March 28, 1952, as Donna Scharpe, 12, of 155 S. Grandview Ave., adjusts a corsage of lilies, which she will sell. Carole, who wears a brace as a result of polio, is a two-year veteran of summer day camp sponsored by the Dubuque County Society for Crippled Children and Adults. The day camp is one of the society's services that is aided by the lily sale.

5. Polio prompted community action. In the years prior to the Salk vaccine, polio -- the scourge of the post-war generation -- struck fear in residents. Children collected coins for the March of Dimes fund drives, and paper lilies were created and sold to raise money for the Dubuque County Society for Crippled Children and Adults.

Lessons from The '50s

Published Aug. 20, 1950: Off to sail the Spanish Main with Long John Silver and his rascally pirate crew are the children of St. Mary's Home, captained by Louis G. Wertin, commander of the AmVets post No. 3. Other guests of the AmVets and the RKO Orpheum theater at a showing of "Treasure Island" Saturday were children from Mount Pleasant and all the nuns in Dubuque.

6. Dubuque's many orphans were well cared for. The residents of St. Mary's Home and Mount Pleasant Home were the guests at Halloween, Christmas and Easter parties, made trips to the circus, movies, parks and downtown (for holiday shopping), and were the beneficiaries of bicycles, tricycles, sleds and recreation equipment. The Hillcrest Baby Fold, home to unwed mothers and their babies, also participated in similar events.

Lessons from The '50s

Published Oct. 29, 1953: "Now have a piece of good cake" says Waldo Brooks, president of the Rotary Club, was a competitor at Men's Night of the cake baking contest being held daily this week at Interstate Power Co. M. D. Finton, vice president of the Kiwanis Clubs, looks doubtful, but the Brooks creation won first prize after all. Contestants, left to right, are Peter Takos, president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce; Brooks; Finton; City Council Member Clarence Welu; James Walsh, president of the Lions Club; and John Riley, president of the Optimists Club. Welu's cake took second place. 

7. Fraternal organizations and service clubs flourished. Dubuque was home to thriving groups of Masons, Optimists, Kiwanis, Lions, Rotarians, Jaycees and Y's Men. An annual service club Olympics was a good-natured event. Some native sons also were members of the lesser-known but equally ambitious Northeast Iowa Hoo-Hoo Club, No. 132, Fraternal Order of Lumbermen.

Recommended for you