Sunday, October 25, 2009

Obituary Archeology

The prior posting refers to the obituary and the news story about the passing of Howard Unruh, at 88, who by all accounts was America's first mass murderer.

I asked a friend of mine who is as old as I am, (we remember the same presidents) if he ever remembers hearing anything about the rampage. I was over his house watching television when Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower sniper was picking people off in the 60s, but don't remember anyone making a reference to Unruh. Not the news, not my friend's mother.

My friend said he only heard of Unruh becasue there was an episode on one of the cable stations about evil people, and he qualified. One of those crime-type shows. I had never even seen that.

We further talked about the story and the pieces of information I picked up in reading the archived news account. I told my friend about the reporter who called Unruh's house and got him on the phone as he sought refuge after his killing spree. The reporter and Unruh talked for a bit, but then Unruh broke the call off and said, "I'm too busy now." Tear gas had just crashed through the window.

The reporter got Unruh's phone number quite simply by looking it up the phone book: CAmden 4-2490W.

My firend and I certainly remember phone numbers that started with a geograhical exchange, but NEVER a number that had an alpha character in it. Then as now, the alpha characters would translate to numbers, what was then on a dial, but never heard of a W. West Camden?

In that era, Q and Z were not on the dial, and the 1 had no letters associated with it. My own number as a kid was an FL 9, for Flushing. I vaguely remember party-lines in which people on the block shared the same number. You had to wait for their call to be through before you could get a dial tone. You could listen to their call, and they to yours, but there was a distinctive sound when someone else was "on the line" so the eavesdropping was detectable.

If anyone needed a new phone number after September 6, 1949 it was Howard's mother. Maybe a few other people did too.

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