Treasured -- Yes, Treasured -- Tokens of the '70s

By John Kelly
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Those of us who grew up in the 1970s have no trouble remembering what that decade was like, fashion-wise: the feathered hair, the puka shell necklaces, the painter's pants and Izod shirts. And that was just the boys.

Others of you may want proof. For that I recommend visiting a remarkable Web site that provides a literal snapshot of that magical, if much-maligned, decade.

It all started in 1966 when Ed Mullaney became the new geography teacher at Bethesda's Leland Junior High. Ed was charged with creating a teen club to help build a sense of community at a school that had a pretty transient population. The Leland Teen Club wasn't content to just sponsor dances in the gym. The members were veritable explorers, busing off on regular jaunts to amusement parks, campsites and ski slopes. When Ed transferred to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High in 1979, he started a club there, too.

"I'm not bragging, but we probably had the best program in the county," Ed told me.

And the best chronicled. Ed always had his trusty Pentax or Minolta hanging from his neck. His collection of slides grew. When things got slow at school, on the day before a holiday, say, he'd break out the slides and show the kids themselves.

When Ed retired in 1996 and moved to Cumberland, Md., he brought a thousand trays of slides with him. Each tray holds 80 slides. That's 80,000 images over 30 years, a remarkable archive of that endlessly fascinating and evolving creature known as the American teenager.

The collection became legendary. Graduates would contact Ed when they were planning a reunion, hoping to make the slides part of the festivities. When my colleague Jacqueline Dupree was working on her BCC Class of '83 20-year reunion, she decided to bring the collection into the 21st century. It took her 18 months to scan more than 17,000 slides from 1970 to 1983 and put them online at . Now anyone can take a look.

I don't even know these people and I'm captivated. Here is a bathing-suited boy weakly striking a muscle builder pose on the beach at Assateague in 1971. Here's a group of long-haired girls sitting on a cannon in Gettysburg, Pa.

Here are four ninth-grade boys lounging in chairs against a blue tiled wall at a freshman dance in 1976. Two of the four sport gargantuan bow ties. Two of them are wearing screamingly plaid pants. One of them is wearing a giant bow tie and a pair of plaid pants. Oh, the horror.

Lest you worry that exposure to such fashions is damaging to the wearer, rest assured that teen club members from all over the world have stumbled across the site and e-mailed Ed to tell him they turned out all right, in no small part because of him.

I asked Ed what he sees when he looks at the slides. "I see some treasured memories of the whole school community coming together," he said. "I think it created some good, wholesome, organized activities at some really challenging times."

Look for the Reunion Label

Old pictures will no doubt be a part of these upcoming reunions:

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