The Sixties, the bomb and iceberg lettuce

By Frank Roberts

Today, students, we are going to remember the ’60s. What a decade that was — so much going on in the world.
JFK became president, the first president born in that century; nuclear weapons were discovered in Cuba — much too close for comfort; there was the Vietnam War; there was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech; and, also in that era there were the assassinations of King and Bobby Kennedy.
The Beatles entered the scene, as did Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The Cold War was going strong. The Civil Rights Act occupied headlines. Women’s Lib was active. There was Israel’s Six Days’ War.
Hippies were commonplace; there were accusations of police brutality during the Democratic convention; black-gloved fists were raised on the Olympic victory stand. There were race riots, and there was one piece of very good news: The Eagle had landed on the moon.
Now, back to the ‘40s. The largest building in the world at the time was in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in an area known as Atomic City, where all types of secret activities connected with development of the “big bomb” were going on. That particular building cost $512 million.
Speaking of the ultra-secret work going on there, the bulk of the workers were women. Many of them were high school girls pulled from their rural Tennessee homes.
They operated calutrons for the super-secret Y-12. Work on those killer bombs was super secret. The closest President Truman came to talking about them was following the Potsdam Conference of Allied leaders during World War II. They outlined terms of Japan’s surrender. He said that if that country did not wave the white flag, it could expect “utter destruction.”
A final note on that: The president delayed the opening of the conference to first be assured of the functionality of the powerful new weapon.
The magazine “Confidential” was the forerunner of today’s supermarket rags. But get this: Over the years, most of the stories that appeared in that publication proved to be true. People used to put the mag down but it turned out that the magazine was right, and the naysayers were wrong.
Confession time: I once wrote for “The National Tattler,” a newspaper owned by Confidential. At that time, Confidential was the best-selling magazine in the United States.
The war against drugs continues. Still today, the super legal drugs are easy to find. They are caffeine, tobacco, alcohol — and lettuce. Yes, lettuce, the veggie that dominates what restaurants call a salad. You wind up with a bowl of lettuce and one or two bites of a couple of other vegetables.
It turns out that lettuce contains an opium-like alkaloid called lactucarium. Reports are somewhat contradictory about its psychoactive properties, though the substance apparently was used by the ancient Egyptians. Safe to say that it’s healthier to eat, anyway.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at