At 6:06 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, about one minute later than it rose the day before and a minute earlier than it would rise the next, the morning sun of September 5, 1974, first brushes the hulls of lobster boats off Maine's Quoddy Head. Here at the country's most eastern point of land, where America's day begins, the weather is clear and cool, with just a tickle of fall in the brightening air and the northwest breeze. In St. Paul, Minn., occasional showers and thunderstorms are predicted for the evening, and a little rain falls during the day at Denver, where the low temperature is 44 and the high is 83. The skies clear after a foggy start in Wenatchee, Wash., and oppressive "kona" winds from the southwest block the prevailing trades and bring a steamy downpour to Honolulu. Meteorologically, September 5 is just about what a weatherman might look for at this tremulous, equinoctial time of year.
This special edition of LIFE is an effort to show the essence of one day in the enormously complex life of America. It does not purport to be the true and perfect record of a single day. Obviously there can be no such thing, at least not to be gathered and put on pages. One cannot simply collect a day, even though it can be seen, like a shadow, as it passes by in a cycle of light and dark. And although our rigid human schedules make most days seem comfortably the same, they are not the same at all. Days are like fingerprints, no one exactly like another in its whorls and ridges.
In one sense, then, this issue is a portrait in time, a selection of perspectives of Thursday, September 5, 1974, as that 24 hour period was seen by 100 photographers working all over the country. On that day, four weeks after Richard Nixon's resignation, the stock market went sharply and briefly up, and Gerald Ford, still in the glow of his White House honeymoon, presided in televised pomp over a convocation of puzzled economists. But this issue is not especially concerned with the day's headline events, and though the President and a few other well known Americans appear, the principal characters on these pages are ordinary people photographed in the midst of their normal lives. As for the specific date, it was selected for one reason: in the period immediately after Labor Day each year, summer is put away, school begins, the tempo is up. In many ways, it is the year's real beginning.
The emphasis in planning this issue was not on the coverage of stories, as such, but on finding ways to show the texture of the day in both its ordinariness and its individuality. Certain general facts about it, common to other days, were predictable: about 8,600 babies would be born, 5,400 people would die, 2,500 would get divorced, 6,300 would get married. Other information was more specific; correspondents advised us in advance about events of both local and national importance. We learned the rough details of President Ford's schedule for that day, where John Glenn would be campaigning in Ohio, that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was going to Washington's International Club for dinner. On quite another level, we discovered who was having a 100th birthday party, who was moving to a new house, who was having a heart operation.
Many photographers were stationed in places and situations where we guessed and hoped that their pictures might best reflect the special feel and flow of American life. One such place was in a squad car in Chicago, another in the Massachusetts house of a divorced mother and her two children, another in the western wilderness, another in a high school in Madison, Wis. Wherever they were, the enthusiasm of the photographers often resulted in their taking extra initiatives. That spontaneity produced pictures whose qualities of insight and immediacy simply could not have been planned.
What follows on these pages is, of course, just a fragment of the record of September 5, 1974. There are 208 photographs here, and on that day around the country more than 1 5 million other photographs were taken. To speculate on all those unpublished views, to consider all those images and their infinite reflections of tenderness and pain and of just keeping track of a passing day, to think of that quite staggers the mind.
Two health buffs get their circulation going on the beach at Santa Monica at 7 in the morning.