Friday, December 25, 2009

Fads: The Surfer's Cross

From TIME Magazine. Friday, Apr. 22, 1966
World War I Ace Max Immelmann earned two, as did Corporal Adolf Hitler, and now U.S. teen-agers are buying them by the gross. Dug out of attics and curio shops and freshly minted by the thousands, the German Iron Cross has become the newest surfer's emblem and high school fad. Nobody, except parents, seems upset by the Iron Cross's connotations. "When kids ask me about the 1939 inscription," says one distributor, "I just tell them it was a big year for surfing." Those who do know don't mind. "We just don't have the feeling about this Nazi thing that our parents do," explains Los Angeles Teen-Ager Rick Higgins. In fact, what parental disapproval there is seems only to fuel the fad. Admits Palmdale's Paul O'Hara, 15: "It really upsets your parents. That's why everyone buys them." The vogue started with California's Hell's Angels, whose motorcycle brigades also like to sport Nazi swastikas (TIME, Jan. 21). Then it spread to surfers, who began exchanging their St. Christopher medals for Iron Cross pendants (now sold as his-and-her pairs, charm bracelets and even earrings). Soon landlocked emulators across the U.S. took up the fad. Explains Chicago's Walter Wagner, 17: "I'd like to be a surfer, but you can't do much on Lake Michigan. If you can't surf and you can't have a board, at least you can have something." Spread across the country by chain and variety stores, the crosses are now being made of copper, wood, enamel and silver plate, and are being sold by such quality stores as Manhattan's Bergdorf Goodman and B. Altman. Largest manufacturer is Rhode Island's Ronnie Jewelry, Inc., which is now turning out some 24,000 crosses a day, calls them "the hottest single novelty item in years." But no one takes greater pleasure, and profit, from the new craze than Los Angeles' Ed ("Big Daddy") Roth, the 275-lb. supply sergeant for Hell's Angels, who was first on the bandwagon, has sold 51,800 to date. Roth, who specializes in morbid-art decals for the hip trade (latest sample: a baby with sign reading "Born Dead"), sees the Iron Crosses as setting a whole new trend, and he has already followed up with an even newer vogue: plastic copies of the Wehrmacht iron helmet. Says he: "They really reach into a kid's deepest emotions." Beyond that he sees a big potential market for SS emblems and Nazi swastikas. "You know," he says expansively, "that Hitler did a helluva public relations job for me."

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