hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News August 2019


Of candy, conquest and the space age

Maury Thompson


My childhood whimsy in the early 1960s was influenced by the space race, but my imagination extended far beyond the moon.

I would hop on the backyard swing set, and after swinging a bit, I’d count down, very loud, in a deep voice in the style of a Mission Control television announcer, from 10 to “zero blast off!”
At that point, I’d jump off the swing and pretend I was on the planet Mars, gathering up all the Mars candy bars to bring back to Earth.

Three Musketeers was my favorite, followed closely by the appropriately space-themed Milky Way.

My grade-school mind did not distinguish between the candy brand Franklin C. Mars launched in 1911 at Tacoma, Wash., and the rival brand his son, Forest Mars Sr., launched in 1932 in Great Britain

The memory of my childhood play was jogged recently when I came across a tongue-in-cheek editorial about communication with Mars that was published May 15, 1920, in The Post-Star of Glens Falls.

“Just about every so often somebody tries to talk to Mars,” began the editorial, headlined, “Signaling Mars.”

Interest in the concept had been piqued in the days leading up to the editorial after the Italian inventor and engineer Guglielmo Marconi, a pioneer in long-distance radio transmission, suggested wireless radio signals might be able to reach Mars.

“It is an interesting and rather foolish diversion with a remote possibility of some good,” the editorial commented. “At least it stimulates invention. But while life may exist on the planet named for the god of war, and the inhabitants may be able to catch signals from Earth or send to us, we would have difficulty understanding each other.”

The editorial writer appeared to overlook the fact that the French, British, Dutch and American Indian inhabitants of the local region in the 17th and 18th centuries had learned to communicate.
“Listeners for Martian signals the other day caught the Navy wireless sending baseball scores to a ship at sea,” the 1920 editorial concluded. “Imagine the puzzlement of the Martians if the first flashes caught from Earth should tell them that ‘Babe’ Ruth struck out with three men on.”
By 1921, just a year later, creatures on the planet of candy makers might have recognized the name after Curtis Candy, another early 20th century candy maker, renamed its “Kandy Kake” bar the “Baby Ruth.”

Historians of the industry still debate whether the candy bar was named after the budding baseball legend or, as the company claimed, after the daughter of former President Grover Cleveland.

The Red Planet has been back in the news lately.

President Trump, in his Fourth of July speech at the Lincoln Memorial, addressed Gene Kranz, the flight director for the Apollo space missions, who was in the audience:
“Gene, I want you to know that we’re going to be back on the moon very soon, and, someday soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars.”

NASA officials say it is feasible to land on Mars by the end of the 2030s, when I would be about 80.

My whimsical nature has matured since childhood as my interests turned to things philosophical and poetic, and I no longer aspire to hoard candy bars. But I do wonder, without any real scientific knowledge, about the chance of cultural exchanges and agricultural production on Mars. After all, the Greek version of the god Mars originally was associated with agriculture.
I only hope that if U.S. astronauts do reach Mars someday, it is in a spirit of exploration and not of conquest.

Maury Thompson retired in 2017 after 21 years as a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.