Photo of a large lightening bolt coming out of the cloud in the middle of the sky, and several fingers of lightening contact the ground. There are two very tall power line poles in the foreground. The bright lightening illuminates the darkness in this very dark photograph.

Story

We’ve Seen Stranger Things in Our Collections

Items reminiscent of the hit show lurk amongst History Colorado’s treasures.

If your social media feeds and company water coolers are anything like ours, Season 4 of “Stranger Things” has been all the talk this summer. And if you are arriving a little late to the party, never fear no problem! We’ve got the CliffsNotes for you.

With storytelling set solidly in the 1980s, this hit Netflix series is way more than popular airheads and bullies at odds with lovable nerds and wannabes. It’s a totally intense immersion into the decade that brought you Farrah Fawcett Hair Spray, the Pontiac Trans Am muscle car, over-the-top neon, and arguably some of the coolest music, for sure. And all that has had us thinking (in era-approved lingo) about the '80s-related treasures that might be hiding out in our collections.

Cool Places

Photo of 3 kids' bicycles parked just inside of the chain link fence surrounding a municipal park. The sign next to the open gateway says "Please no bottles." The park grounds are of grass, with a few trees on the opposite side, and a round picnic table. The skies are clear and there is no one in the park on this day.
David DeHarport Collection. History Colorado. 2000.168.536.1

The "Stranger Things" story begins in Hawkins, Indiana, where life in 1983 moved at an easy pace and the biggest problem the town's police chief had to deal with was an owl landing in a woman's hair. This striking image, taken on June 19, 1986 in Bennett, Colorado, speaks to that time when chilling out with friends at the park and cruising the town astride prized bicycles was mega rad.

Shoppin’ From A to Z

Photo of one of the giant fountains inside of the Cinderella City shopping mall. The fountain is flanked on each side by a large white structural column that reaches a very high ceiling that looks to have large sky lights directly above the fountain area. The fountain area is surrounded by large green leafed plants, and there are no people around at the time the photo is being taken.
History Colorado. 2006.90.4

Season 3 of the television show has many of us smelling the Sbarro pizzas and caramel corn cooking, and recanting the finer points of our local shopping malls (and loitering locales). Pictured on this postcard is one of the huge fountains at Cinderella City, a very popular mall in southwest Denver. If you missed out on the shopping mall phenomenon, check out this video for a sweet taste of that '80s mall culture.

Hit That Perfect Beat

Photo of a modest-sized portable cassette tape player, photographed on a gray gridded mat to indicate the size. The cord is bundled, tied together with string to the handle. There is a cassette tape player on the left, and a window indicating radio bands, along with a silver speaker encased in a black mesh cover, on the right side of the player. Along the top of the device are buttons to operate the tape player, and two dials to control the sound. An antenna is lying flat against the top of the device.
History Colorado. 94.179.1

“Stranger Things” protagonist Will Byers enjoyed listening to his favorite song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash on vinyl in Season 1, but music lovers in the '80s maximized their access to funky fresh tunes by listening to radio stations, vinyl records (including the popular EP), and cassette tapes…and
along came MTV on August 1, 1981. Compact discs, or CDs, were first made available to the public in 1982, and portable players like the one above, “boom boxes,” and the Sony Walkman quickly upgraded from cassettes to CDs so listeners could jam to their music in either format, anywhere their Duracell batteries would take them.

There is a Light That Never Goes Out

Photo of a string of Christmas lights. The yellow and green cord is gathered into a tidy bundle, with the bulbs at one end. There are five glass bulbs in the shape of a small rounded flame. There are 3 yellow, 1 green, and 1 red bulb in the bunch, with a black plastic base that connects them to the electrical cord.
History Colorado. 89.358.5

Actor Winona Ryder plays Will’s mother, Joyce Byers, for whom Christmas lights such as these take on a whole new meaning. This particular set of lights was manufactured by General Electric around 1936–1940, but this bulb style remained popular for many years. You can see some of the first Christmas lights—invented in Denver!—in the Zoom In exhibition at History Colorado Center. And for creative decorating ideas, see “Stranger Things” Season 1, episode 3.

Just Can’t Get Enough

Image of a newspaper ad, full page. Kmart stores are advertising Christmas holiday sales for November, 1983. The products on sale include a Lite-Brite toy, a Casio digital watch, a mini-cassette recorder, and a punch bowl set, among other items.
Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection.

Spotted throughout the “Stranger Things” series, awesome Lite-Brite toys, Casio watches, and mini-cassette recorders are shown here for your holiday wish list, available in this Kmart advertisement page from The Broomfield Enterprise, December 10, 1981.

She Blinded Me With Science

Photo of a pair of long white latex-like gloves, dirtied around the fingertips and edges. They are likely to reach over one's elbows, and have a wide white edging along the arm edge.
History Colorado. 96.18.18

Anti-Contamination Gloves like these were used by Rocky Flats workers in Colorado during the Cold War period between 1947–1991. And of course, the totally gnarly Dr. Brenner and his colleagues at the Hawkins Lab. You can see these gloves in person at History Colorado Center, also part of the Zoom In exhibition. Radical!

I Ran (So Far Away)

Photo of a book. Its cover is black, with an illustration of a red monster in the center, and a handful of men in robes standing nearby. Two men try to scale the monster statue, which appears to be holding a chalice of fire in its hands. Words across the top say "Advanced D&D Players Handbook." Across the bottom it says "Compiled information for players and dungeon masters by Gary Gygax."
History Colorado. 2001.104.2

Dungeons & Dragons may have been invented in 1974, but during the 1980s it was a game popularized by, like, everyone’s nerdy friends. This D&D Players Handbook, printed in 1978, is similar to the one used by Will Byers and his friends in the show, especially during the fateful campaign in which they encounter the totally heinous Demogorgon. But look who’s playing D&D in real life now.

Every Breath You Take

Image of a newspaper ad, full page. Foss Drugs
Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection.

Jonathan Byers, Will’s older brother, is handy at capturing images with his camera. When it gets broken, he receives a replacement Pentax MX camera as a (totally wicked) gift, a very similar model to the ME Super on offer in this November 22, 1983 issue of the Golden Transcript.

Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)

Image of a newspaper clipping. It is from the Automotive section "700," and Section 701 is for American Cars. Under the listing for a 1971 Plymouth, is a listing for 1974 Ford Pinto Wagon. It says "6 wheels & tires. Body damaged. Runs fine. $700. Golden. 278-1487." The remaining sections are 702 Foreign cars, and 711 Parts & Accessories.
Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection.

It seems like we all know a Joyce Byers or two in our lives—and maybe we feel like the Joyce Byers character, ourselves. Sometimes, life totally gives you a Ford Pinto. From the Golden Transcript, May 12, 1983.


Inspired to launch your own campaign to uncover 1980s gems straight out of History Colorado’s fantabulous collections? You can visit the online collection catalogue at the Stephen H. Hart Research Center by following this link. And chill out perusing the very cool Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection for more '80s insights.