We Could Sing a Rainbow: Remembering Captain Noah

STP68839

STP68845

If you were a kid growing up in Philadelphia during the 1970s, chances are you watched Captain Noah and His Magical Ark starring W. Carter Merbreier as “Captain Noah” and his wife Pat as … well, Mrs. Noah.  Along with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and The Electric Company, Captain Noah was must-see TV for the elementary-school set.

(Those of you who lived in other parts of the country may know Captain Noah, too; at one point during its history the show was broadcast to 22 other markets.)

But Captain Noah was ours because Philadelphia was home to Captain and Mrs. Noah.  Carter Merbreier grew up in Delaware County, attended the University of Pennsylvania followed by seminary school at Temple. He and Pat lived in the area. Their appearance in Philadelphia’s annual 6ABC Thanksgiving Day Parade was almost as highly anticipated as that of Santa Claus, who could have passed for Captain Noah’s twin.

Captain Noah — sorry, I mean, Carter Merbreier — died today, at age 90.  Yeah, for real. If you thought this post was one of those stories that people share with R.I.Ps and sad emoticons and hashtags not realizing that the subject had left this Earth several years prior, I thought the same thing. Even The Husband, who has a keen knowledge of celebrity recognition and obscure trivia, insisted that Captain Noah had sailed away long ago.  (We realized we were probably thinking of Mrs. Noah, who died in June 2011.) I verified all this with my sources —philly.com/The Inquirer/Daily News or whatever they all call themselves these days and 6ABC, which has Captain Noah’s death categorized as Breaking News, which strikes me as both odd and amusing only because there was nothing sensational or urgent or anything remotely breaking news-like happening on the Ark.

Indeed, Captain Noah and His Magical Ark was a simple show with simple things. Stories about animals. Life lessons told by puppets. Children’s artwork. (“Send your pictures to dear old Captain Noah … .”) As a kid, I remember being amazed that you could actually put something in the mail AND CAPTAIN NOAH MIGHT GET IT AND SHOW IT ON TEEVEE!  Sometimes, a celebrity would guest star on the show and it would be the coolest thing imaginable.

Eight years ago, I took my own kids to the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. There among the exhibits was THE ACTUAL SET FROM CAPTAIN NOAH AND HIS MAGICAL ARK. I was reverent, awestruck — and yes, stunned that the set was so small. Part of me, I think, expected to see an honest-to-God real ark, like one of biblical proportions. After all, things seem so much bigger when you’re a kid, more magical.

We lose that as adults when the storms of life hit.

I remember staring at the animals, the TV cameras, the captain’s wheel. My kids were running all over the place, ignoring my insistence that they just had to come over and see the set of Captain Noah, right now, because here was my childhood, right here.  Needless to say, they were unimpressed and it occurred to me that there’s only so much of one’s experience and history that can be passed down to the generations after us.

I often think about the ways that stories and the personalities of a particular place have a way of becoming part of us as children, shaping us into the people we become later in life. I feel supremely lucky to have had the childhood that I did, and for having grown up in Philadelphia during the ’70s and ’80s.  In the span of two decades, the world has become a very different place and I wonder sometimes what cultural memories like Captain Noah my kids will carry from their early years, if any.  It makes me a little sad that they likely won’t have the collective shared history that The Husband and I share. That their memories will be more commercialized, so to speak, and less tied to an individualized, unique moment in time, a particular place or person, as compared to a generic, homogenized experience.

Given its beginnings as a religious program for children, Captain Noah and His Magical Ark probably would never be allowed on the air in today’s politically correct, hypersensitive, easily offended environment.  And today’s kids would probably be bored out of their minds. But I know I’m not the only middle-aged person who still has an enduring love and nostalgia for Captain Noah, and that has to mean something.

Maybe it’s a testament to the power of stories, of simple songs about colors and listening with our eyes to the world and being kind to one another.

Maybe those are the only things we need with us in our proverbial ark when the storms of life hit and threaten to destroy our world. 

Red and yellow and pink and green
Purple and orange and blue
I can sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow too.

Listen with your eyes,
Listen with your ears,
And sing everything you see,
I can sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow,
Sing along with me.

Red and yellow and pink and green,
Purple and orange and blue,
I can sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow too!

Thanks for sharing this post!
0

3 thoughts on “We Could Sing a Rainbow: Remembering Captain Noah

  1. Kimberly Robinson aka The Wife

    I remember one of the first conversations we had, my husband and I, comparing childhood memories, when I mentioned Captain Noah and was shocked he didn’t know who I meant. Of course, I was equally unfamiliar with Miss Judy and Hatchy Milatchy, the Scranton area local kids show. I remember his kind voice (with that unmistakable accent!) and obvious tender adoration of Mrs. Noah. The ark was a lovely safe space and a wonderful piece of those days when things like sending pictures to dear old Captain Noah was a magic assignment.

    1. Melissa Post author

      I remember you telling me that story — but had forgotten it until I saw your FB post! What a great story.

Comments are closed.