Historical Reminiscing with Robert B. Hitchings
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I Remember Dan Blocker
Star of Bonanza, Television Western

I do not think anyone has ever forgotten Dan Blocker and his staring roll as Hoss Cartwright on the Television program called Bonanza. Audiences all over the United States tuned in on Sunday nights to see their favorite western. The Bonanza home was called the Ponderosa.

A month ago I happened to be switching channels on my television and I came across Bonanza, the old Western of the 1960s. As I looked at Dan Blocker playing his fictional character Hoss, I was quickly transported back in time to that chilly morning in April 24, 1965, downtown Norfolk on Granby Street when I saw Dan Blocker in person.

But many folks today do not remember that Dan Blocker (1928-1972) was in Norfolk, Virginia in April 24-26 1965. Dan was the Grand Marshall in the Azalea Parade and President Lyndon Bains Johnson’s daughter, 17 year old Luci (1947-   ) was our Azalea Queen that year.   

I remember the streets were lined with people. I was stationed at old Peoples Drug Store with my mom (1910-1971) and our neighbor Nina Cox Forrest (1905-1970) who wanted to see Hoss. We were together on the corner of College Place and Granby Street when two of my schools friends joined us. The newspaper estimated the crowd as 20,000 people that turned out to see Luci and Dan Blocker on that cold, chilly, windy day in April. The temperature was 49 degrees and the wind was blowing. Granby Street was crowded with excitement. It was the place to be in downtown Norfolk.

I remember the policemen walking down Granby Street with our Norfolk historical Mace followed by floats of the different Azalea princesses from many different countries in Europe. Interestingly, Norway’s float (replica of a Viking longboat) decorated so nicely with vibrant colors was the biggest float and won the Gold trophy, first prize. And many high school students from all over Virginia marched, strutting their stuff.  There was great excitement on Granby Street that day. 

During the first part of the parade came Dan Blocker, stretched out on the trunk of a small convertible. His two children were in the front & back seats. Many folks like myself were disappointed for we did not recozized Hoss at first. He was dressed in a suit. But up close he had that big, broad smile. He waved to everyone and so many people waved back and shouted, “Hoss, look this way, Hoss, look at me! “

Behind Dan Blocker came our Virginia governor, Alberta Harrison, Jr., and Mayor of Norfolk, Roy Martin, Jr., in an opened car, together.
At the end of the parade came the Azalea float with Queen Luci. She had a ton of secret service men all around her.  She was perched up on a chair waving to everyone with her small court of young ladies who smiled and waved.

Looking back in the old newspapers of this event, I could not help but borrow the first line of the reporter from the Virginian-Pilot who covered the parade that day. He said, “The Azalea Festival Parade in downtown Norfolk this morning will have enough music to make 76 trombones sound pipsqueak.” This phrase 76 trombones was taken from the 1962 movie, The Music Man. Twenty-seven bands were in lineup of 71 units. That reporter was so right; I remember the parade being very long and we had so many marching bands from all over the state of Virginia. Looking back that day was so special. People of all races came out not only to see Luci Johnson, the President’s daughter, but to see Dan Blocker, Hoss of the T.V. show Bonanza.  

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Robert B. Hitchings is a seventh generation Norfolk resident, graduating with an Associate's Degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and BA in history from Virginia Wesleyan University. During his studies he was awarded a scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, and he was an exchange student at Brooks-Westminster College, Oxford, England. From 1999-2014 he worked as head of the Sargeant Memorial History Room at Norfolk Public Library, and since then has headed the Wallace History Room at Chesapeake Public Library. He is also the President of the Norfolk County Historical Society, and for six years was a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Robert may be reached at nchs.wallaceroom@gmail.com