I Was a Johnny Reb

1960s boy with Johnny Reb Toy Cannon

With battles being drawn over Confederate monuments, one retro toy, the Johnny Reb Cannon is sure not to make a comeback.

As the battle rages across the US over the fate of Confederate monuments and Rebel flags are being furled up tucked away in attics where they belong, it’s time for this Yankee to come clean.

I was once a proud, Confederate flag waving Johnny Reb.

For a brief few weeks in the spring of 1961, the South rose again albeit on the south shore of Long Island, N.Y.

Johnny Reb Cannon

Johnny Reb authentic Civil War Cannon. Molded plastic, muzzle-loading cannon came with plastic cannonballs and the Confederate flag all for $11.98

Thanks to a much asked for birthday present from a well-meaning cousin, I was the proud owner of a genuine Johnny Reb Cannon, one of the most requested toys for mid-century tots above and below the Mason Dixon Line. Elated I embraced my role as a suburban secessionist, proudly waving the Dixie flag that came with this toy cannon.

This is one retro toy sure not to make a comeback.

But in 1961 the Civil War was on everyone’s mind, (and no not because of the Freedom Riders that traveled down south that spring to fight segregation.) Just in time for the big Civil War Centennial that year savvy toy company Remco the makers of such fine toys as “Mighty Matilde Atomic Aircraft Carrier” turned back the clock  with a George Wallace approved homage to “States Rights”- The Johnny Reb Cannon,” billed as the most famous cannon of all time.

Civil War Trading cards General Robert E Lee

A series of trading cards produced during the Civil war Centennial could be purchased at your local candy store. Along with your bubble gum you could chew over the romanticized version of the Civil War. General Robert E. Lee, was now recast…not only “universally revered by friend and foe alike” but also “ a symbol of the true spirit of America. Talented, generous devoted to duty…he belongs to all of us.”

In the gauzy spirit of revisionist history of the time, when whitewashing was applied in broad stokes, the Civil War had been recast in more romanticized “Brother vs Brother” story line; each side fighting for a “just” cause they believed in. Confederate soldiers weren’t traitors or proponents of evil slavery but were brave and handsome, their leaders noble and true.

The truth is I was won over to the Rebel’s side by a TV commercial with its uplifting snappy jingle sung to the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, Hurrah Hurrah!” My heart, to my parent’s amusement was in Dixie. Besides which, those damn Yankees didn’t have anywhere near the same fun toys as those Johnny Rebs did.

With nary a thought to traitors or slavery, I fell in love with the Ol’ South and ready to fight for it’s Lost Cause.

 

 

Despite Remco’s gender equal sounding tag line- “every boy wants a Remco…. and so do girls,” it was clear I wanted what the boys had. The Johnny Reb commercial featuring sentimental girls in period costume waving dainty hankies to cheer the brave boys off to do battle  or dressed in their Clara Bow best to help out on the front, didnt appeal to me. Neither role was what this little rebel wanted.

No, I wanted to be where the action was, the power, the thrill of a smoking battlefield. With just a tug of the plastic lanyard on the 30 inch cannon and pow…plastic cannonballs could travel 35 feet, clearing any field in my northern suburban development. Print ad’s boasted  “You don’t have to wait till you see the whites of their eyes before shooting with this long-range 30 incher!”

However in the midst of battle when one of those authentic looking plastic cannonballs accidentally dinged my parents Plymouth, I had to surrender my Johnny Reb to Mom. Despite my protestations it was a Lost Cause.

What our cleaning girl Willie May actually thought of a little tow-headed blonde girl waving a Confederate flag around the house as she electro luxed our living room, I can never be sure. But the roll of her eyes and the sly smile on her face when my parents confiscated my cannon and tossed away my flag said it all.

At least in my suburbia, the South would not rise again.

Copyright (©) 2017 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

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8 comments

  1. Pierre Lagacé

    Such memories that make today’s events even more acute.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Pingback: I Was a Johnny Reb — Envisioning The American Dream | cigarman501

  3. I used to watch the Dukes of Hazzard 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sally, I’ve been in a discussion/debate lately, both on my blog, WordPress, as well as in-person socially and in my classrooms, about censorship of history or degrees of censorship, regarding some of humanity’s most heinous atrocities against each other which, as we are finding recently in Charlottesville, perpetuate at least the knowledge (and ignorance) of the behavior if not incite it.

    There are MANY pieces of historical literature, “holy” books and passages within, recorded speeches or videos, etc, that are in ways double-edged swords. Other than quality, proper teaching of core principles and critical-thinking skills in primary and secondary schooling and beyond, I’m not exactly sure how best to approach subjects like slavery and the American Civil War — and so, so many other horrible times in our history — teaching a population the moral-ethical contrasts for higher learning and wisdom, while protecting against repeating history over and over. Is there NOT some virtues in moral/exemplary caution with censorship or ignorance, e.g. necessary materials for atomic nuclear weapons? Where does or should the line be drawn? Who determines “proper” and exactly what is safe or lethal? :/

    Liked by 1 person

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