Last night's Mad Men season six premiere was set in December 1967, ending with a shot of Don picking up the paper on the morning of January 1st, 1968—the front page headline reads: "World Bids Adieu To A Violent Year; City Gets Snowfall." This was the real front page headline of the NY Times on that day, but the first half carries a hint of wishful thinking, as 1968 was marked with demonstrations, more racial tension, and assassinations.
Looking back, Bob Herbert wrote in 2008: "One of the astonishing things about 1968 was how quickly each shocking, consciousness-altering event succeeded the last, leaving no time for people to reorient themselves. The mind-boggling occurrences seemed to come out of nowhere, like the Viet Cong who set off a depth charge beneath the Johnson presidency with the Tet offensive at the end of January."
Here are some things that were going on in NYC and the world in 1968:
- The subway fare was 20 cents (it is raised to 30 cents in 1970).
- Mayor Lindsay was in charge—revisit his Fun City years here.
- The city was still rolling out air conditioned subway cars—we got our first in 1967.
- Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In debuted on NBC in January.
- Hawaii Five-O premiered in February. Hawaii, which joined the Union in 1959, was HOT in the '60s:
- For nine days in February, the city stinks of garbage during a sanitation worker strike.
- Madison Square Garden (one of Don's previous clients) opened on February 11th.
- A Viet Cong officer was executed by a South Vietnamese National Police Chief, and it was photographed by Eddie Adams. The photo won a Pulitzer Prize, and was part of what began to sway the U.S. public opinion against the war.
- On February 27th ex-Teenagers singer Frankie Lymon was found dead from a heroin overdose in Harlem.
- On March 16th, U.S. Army soldiers perpetrated the My Lai massacre, in which hundreds of unarmed civilians were killed, raped, and mutilated.
- On March 26th Joan Baez married activist David Harris in New York.
- On April 4th, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis; racial violence broke out in cities all over the U.S. At NYU, class was suspended for two days and student-faculty workshops on racism were held.
- On April 23rd, a rally was held at Columbia University by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), protesting "the university’s relation to the Institute for Defense Analysis, the school’s allegedly ‘racist’ policies in relation to the surrounding Harlem area, and disciplinary probation in effect against some of the SDS leaders." Three school officials are taken hostage for 24 hours.
- There was a months-long teachers strike—decades later John Kifner of the NY Times wrote that the "battle over school decentralization in an obscure Brooklyn district called Ocean Hill-Brownsville ripped apart New York City as nothing has before or since."
- On June 6th, Robert Kennedy is assassinated. Minutes before he was speaking out in favor of removing troops from Vietnam:
- A survey taken by the Washington Square Journal that year found that 75% of NYU students have tried marijuana at least once. The average marijuana user at NYU is "male, 20 or 21 years old, living off-campus and majoring in the social sciences."
- In August, at the 1968 Democratic Convention, anti-war activists were denied permits to demonstrate by the city and spent most of the week getting their skulls cracked courtesy of the Chicago Police Department, witnessed by a television audience of over 50 million.
- In September, the New York Radical Women organized a protest of the Miss America pageant, and as NPR later noted: "they had no idea that the media was about to give them a new moniker: 'bra burners.'"
- On Halloween night in Washington Square Park, the Youth International Party sponsored a "Come Curse Nixon" demonstration.
- Nixon, running on a campaign that promised to restore law and order to cities torn by riots and crime, won the Presidential Election.
- NASA launched Apollo 8 on December 21st, and on Christmas Eve Americans watched a live broadcast as it became the first spacecraft to orbit the moon and return to Earth.
- Movies that came out in 1968 included 2001: Space Odyssey, The Odd Couple, Funny Girl, and Bullitt.
- Songs released that year included The Beatles' "Hey Jude" (this was the year The White Album was released), Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild," The Doors' "Hello I Love You," Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson," and "Love Child" by Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Here's a walk through New York City in 1968, from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park: