The Great Depression

My father had work, but many didn't... 

... Personal insights on hardship and survival

by Paul Hupper, MHS '37

The year 1928 was a presidential election year. Although only 9 years old, it is still clear in my memory a great many details of what went on during that time. The candidates were Herbert Hoover, running on the Republican ticket and Gov. Alfred E. Smith, running on the Democratic ticket.

Herbert Hoover was a mining engineer and was born at West Branch, Iowa, August 10, 1874. Hoover was better known for his service as chairman of the American Relief Committee in London, chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belguim and as U.S. Food Administrator during World War I; therefore he was fairly well known in the U.S.

Alfred E. Smith was a politician and was born in New York City in 1873. What his political career was prior to his nomination as presidential candidate for the Democratic Party is unknown to me. At the time of his nomination, he was the Governor of New York State. I have no clue as to any of his other political offices.

Regardless of Smith's political career, the campaign during 1928 was a very heated one. People that had Hoover signs on their cars had them ripped off and other signs calling for Hoover's election were also destroyed. Of course, both candidates had their respective headquarters in Melrose and political signs, buttons, etc. were very plentiful for both parties. Needless to say, Herbert Hoover was elected president in 1928 by an overwhelming margin. One reason was that Al Smith was the first Catholic politician to run for the office of the president. His religious affiliation, of course, was against him.

Hoover took office in March of 1929. Business was very good, many people were employed and wages were high according to the standards of the times. The good times did not last too long as October 1929 came along and the worst stock market crash in the history of the stock exchange occurred.  There were some wealthy men who lost vast fortunes in one day. Some could not take what happened and they committed suicide. Of course, Hoover was blamed for a world wide depression!

During Hoover's term in office, the veterans of World War I had been promised a bonus for their service to their country. With the country in such dire straights, Hoover evidently reneged on paying the bonus. Veterans were very upset and many of them marched on Washington demanding payment of the bonus. Troops under the command of Douglas MacArthur were sent to Washington to break up the marchers. Some were shot. The bonus was eventually paid but not until either 1936 or 1937.

In the election of 1932, Hoover was defeated by an overwhelming margin by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, N. Y. on January 30, 1882. He was a Harvard graduate, attended Columbia Law School and admitted to the New York bar. In 1910, he was elected to the New York State Senate as a Democrat. Re-elected in 1912, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy by Woodrow Wilson the next year. In August of 1921 he was stricken with infantile paralysis. He did recover partial use of his legs. Roosevelt led the fight at the Democratic National Convention for the nomination of Gov. Alfred E. Smith who was defeated as noted above.

As is well known, Franklin Roosevelt  defeated all Republican candidates in four presidential elections, the first and only president to be re-elected to four consecutive terms.

Roosevelt began his New Deal Program part of which were the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC); the National Recovery Act (NRA) and other programs which slip my mind at this time.

One of the most memorable things that happened during Roosevelt's first term in 1930's, -- I don't remember the exact year, but I do remember when the banks were closed for three consecutive days. Stores were hardly able to make change there was such a shortage. I remember that my Mother had some change that she had saved and as I knew most of the store managers on Main Street, she gave me the change to take to one of the stores in exchange for paper money. It was also during Roosevelt's term in office, that the U.S. went off the gold standard.

At one time all of our money was backed by gold. The ten, twenty and larger bills were printed on the back in gold ink and eventually they were completely withdrawn from circulation. They also had gold coins worth $2.50, $20.00 and $50.00. They, too, were gradually withdrawn and it was illegal to possess gold other than jewelry, etc. unless you were a jeweler or had a legitimate reason to possess it. Gold sold at the time for $35.00 per ounce and for many years after.

Roosevelt's Fireside Chats ...

I believe that many of us remember the Fireside Chats that Roosevelt began during his terms in office. He had a stirring voice and I would estimate that nearly 100% of the adults in the U.S. listened to his monthly chats. See additional information about FDR later.

Radio was very popular during the 1930's as, of course, there was no T.V.! There were many real good programs. Some of them were The Shadow with Lamont Cranston; The Green Hornet; Fibber McGee and Molly and famous closet; Fred Allen; Burns & Allen; Jack Benny and Rochester; Inner Sanctum; Amos & Andy; Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy sponsored by Wheaties; The Lone Ranger and of course Tonto; Buck Rogers; and Stella Dallas.

Remember Kimball's Starlight???

The Big Bands were very popular, such as Les Elgart; Benny Goodman; Jack Teagarden; Kaye Kaiser;  Paul Whiteman; Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmie Dorsey; Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians;  Guy Lombardo; Harry James; Shep Fields, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Bob Crosby (Bing's brother); Cab Calloway, Count Basie; Spike Jones; Stan Kenton; Woody Herman; Artie Shaw; Les Brown and others.

During that time there was place called Kimball's Starlight Ballroom just outside of Wakefield. The dance floor was all concrete and you danced with your favorite sweetheart under the stars while listening to one of the Big Bands that played there. My first wife and I did attend there several times. It was very romantic!!

Memorial Hall was the place that the  Annual Policemen's Ball and the Annual Firemen's Ball was held. There was an hour to an hour & half of entertainment and then the floor was cleared of all the chairs and dancing began. There were so many people dancing, that most everyone practically stood in one spot because there were so many people on the dance floor! Anyway, everyone seemed to have a good time as every year the Hall was always filled to capacity. The hall was also blue from cigarette smoke, as well!

...and there was Clarence DeMar!

One of the highlights I  remember in Melrose was one of the times that Clarence DeMar won the Boston Marathon. There was a big todo in front of the City Hall. I guess just about everyone in Melrose turned out for the affair. Clarence DeMar lived in Melrose for a number of years and he never walked, he was always running. He used to run around Ell Pond, I guess, almost daily in good weather. It evidently was his training ground!  Clarence moved from Melrose to Keene, N.H. and was a printing teacher at Keene Normal School. Do not recall the year he won the race and had Melrose turn out for him, but I believe it was about 1930.

There was a young man by the name of Paul Noyes (Spear Street) who sold donuts that his mother made. He built up quite a route after awhile. This was during the depression times. If Paul is still alive, he would be somewhere about my age as I attended Washington School with him.

Sometime during the 1930's, Main Street was rebuilt from Wyoming Ave. to the Malden-Melrose line at Pine Banks. It was the first and only section of concrete road ever built in Melrose. The section was blacktopped a number of years ago, but the concrete lasted 35 or 40 years.

As children, our shoes came from the W. T. Grant store that opened on Main Street. I don't remember how much they cost, but probably not more than $2 to $3 as men's shoes at Thom McAn sold for about $4.50. When the soles wore through, which was pretty quickly for us active kids, we used to take cereal boxes and cut out 'inner soles' and put them inside the shoes. I learned NOT to walk in puddles or even a wet place on the sidewalk or street! If you did, there went your 'inner soles'!!

Garbage, as distinguished from regular trash, consisted of vegetable peelings and the like, was placed in a separate container. This was picked up by the `honey wagon' a couple of times a week. It was taken to a piggery and cooked and fed to the pigs. All other trash items, consisting of empty bottles, empty vegetable and fruit cans, etc. were placed in their separate containers along with the ashes from the furnace because coal was used exclusively for heating purposes. There was no oil burning furnaces at that time. The ash barrels were placed out on the curb and dump trucks were used to pick up the trash. Two men would pick up the barrel and toss it to a man in the dump truck and he would then empty the barrel and drop the empty to one of the men of the ground. The barrels did not last too long as they would be dented quite severely when they hit the top of the dump truck. The men on the ground were not too swift  in attempting to catch them when empty. Any papers that accumulated were burned in our back yards.

When Tony the Shoemaker died...

When Tony, the shoemaker who had his shop on Grove St. for a number of years just west of Main St., died he had a great send off! A band accompanyed the funeral possession down Main Street to Wyoming Cemetery!

With so many people out of work and with no money to buy food or clothing or other necessities, the government began to distribute food and clothing to the needy, of which there were very many. Another one of Roosevelt's programs was the WPA (Works Progress Administration). Many construction projects were begun under this program all across the country. It did put a lot of men to work and quite a bit was accomplished. The WPA was also known as "we putter arounders". A joke that was quite popular was as follows:

One of the men happened to die while on the job, so the undertaker was called. He sent his assistant to take care of things, but it was hours before he arrived back with the body. His boss asked him what took him so long and he replied that he had to wait until the whistle blew at 5 p.m. to see which one was actually dead!

However, depression time was a time when neighbor helped neighbor. Most people were in the same predicament and if one person had $2.00 it was not uncommon for that person to give his neighbor $1.00 to help him out.

Jordan's cashes in ...

Fortunately, my Dad worked all during the depression. He worked for Jordan Marsh Company in Boston as their engraver. When the depression hit the country, the silversmiths in Attleboro, No. Attleboro, Mass., Providence, R.I. and that general area were left with thousands of dollars worth of sterling silver, such as flatware (knives, forks, spoons, etc.); all types of sterling silver coffee servers and sets; sterling silver tea servers and sets; sterling silver sugar and creamers. There factories were forced to shut down due to lack of sales.  

Jordan Marsh bought up thousands of dollars worth of their stock. At the time Jordan Marsh offered free engraving on all items that were offered for sale. The few people that still had the means purchased many, many of the sterling silver items which they felt was a good investment during the distressed times.

Although Dad was fortunate enough to retain his job, all during the depression years, I remember hearing  Mother and Dad talking about the 3 or 4 times that his pay was cut. What his weekly salary was at the time I do not know, maybe $12 to $15 per week!

One of the most memorable tragedies that  happened was in 1932 when Charles A. Lindbergh's baby was kidnapped from his home and later was found dead. A German by the name of Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested in 1934 and was convicted in 1935 and was executed in 1936. Many people believed that he was a scapegoat, but much of the ransom money was supposedly found in his garage.

Also in 1932, Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo. Of course, Charles A. Lindbergh was the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic 1n 1927. Another man by the name of Corrigan was heading for the west coast, but wound up in England! He was dubbed "Wrong Way Corrigan". The date was July 17, 1938. See additional information later.

On September 8, 1934, the liner Morro Castle caught fire and burned off the coast of Asbury Park, New Jersey. One hundred and thirty-four people died. In 1937, the German zeppelin Hindenberg exploded and burst into flames while trying to anchor in Lindenhurst, New Jersey. Thirty-six people were killed in this accident.

In my "More Melrose Memories", I believe I mentioned the Hurricane of 1938. Winds were recorded at over 180 mph at  Blue Hills Observatory when the machine broke. There was much damage to the New England States. Thousands of trees were uprooted and Pres. Roosevelt sent the CCC boys into the forest to trim the branches off the uprooted trees. They were then put into every available pond, lake, etc. to preserve them. Millions of board feet of valuable lumber were saved. Of course, many of the trees became waterlogged and sunk to the bottom of the lakes, but eventually they were brought to the surface, let dry out and thus were saved for use at that time.

Paul becomes a Carny star...

One year, the Carnival came to Melrose. Don't remember the year but remember vividly the Carnival! It was set up at the corner of Tremont St. and Lynn Fells Parkway across from the Melrose Athletic Field. Don't think the 'old' Melrose High School was built, so it must have been before 1931 or 1932! There were no tennis courts on the corner of the Parkway and Tremont St. at that time. It was quite a thing to have happen in Melrose. I guess I must have been 10 or 11 years old at the time, so it must have been possibly in 1929 or 1930! Anyway, I became acquainted with one of the Carny men! He was on Main Street and carrying a monkey on his back so, of course, being me, I got to talking to him. He asked me if I would like a job at the Carnival that night. Naturally, I said that I would. Well, I went home and at the supper table I made it known that I had a job!! My folks were not going to let me go at first, but they finally relented and they also went to the Carnival. The job consisted of being the 'headless man'! I was placed in a long  black box in a laying down position. My head was under two mirrors that were placed at an angle so that they reflected the sides of the black box making it look like it was completely empty. When the people came in to see the 'headless man' I got poked, pinched and punched!!

This lasted for a couple of hours and although the Carnival was to go on for a week or so, I was told I was no longer needed. Guess I didn't quite fit the bill! To top off this great adventure, I asked for my 'pay'! Well, I was quite hurt and surprised when I was handed five pennies!! I complained to my Dad, but he said to forget it, so being such a fine, good, obedient son, I let it pass!! Anyway, looking back on the whole situation, it was an experience that I have never forgotten and that happened about 67 or 68 years ago!! Quite an experience for a youngster. There are not too many "headless men" still walking around after so many years!

A young lady by the name of Eileen Foley and some of her friends were killed on the Newburyport Turnpike. She was in my class at Washington School and also attended Melrose High School. This accident must have occurred somewhere between 1934 and 1935. Eileen was the daughter of Daniel Foley, a Melrose policeman.

Melrose did not have a Chief of Police for many years. The person in charge of the Police Department was Captain Heaton who resided on East Foster St. He had a son called Buster Heaton and was a friend of my brother. Mr. Spraker, also a Melrose police officer, lived on East Foster St. right next to Ell Pond Brook, which since has been covered over.

I believe that a Frank Newman was the Fire Chief before Sid Fields took over his job.

Notes on Corrigan...

Douglas Groce Corrigan took off in his monoplane from Floyd Bennett field in Brooklyn, New York on July 17, 1938. He was headed for Los Angeles, but he landed 28 hours and 13 minutes later in Dublin, Ireland, after a 3,150 mile nonstop flight without radio or navigational equipment. He was given the nickname "Wrong Way" Corrigan because he claimed he accidentally use the wrong end of his compass needle to guide him. Instead of travelling west, he flew east! Following is a later bulletin regarding the death of Corrigan, although there was no date of his death listed.

"Corrigan, who made his famous "mistake" in 1938, died Saturday (no year shown) in Orange, Calif., his son Douglas said Tuesday.

"The Galveston-born adventurer moved to Los Angeles in 1922 and became enamored with flying. He worked as an aircraft mechanic and even pulled the chocks on his hero Charles A. Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" on its flight from San Diego to New York before Lindbergh's pioneering solo flight across the Atlantic May 21, 1927.

"By 1935, Corrigan had learned to fly and paid $310 for a secondhand 1929 Curtiss Robin monoplane that his friends derided as a "crate". Only 10 pilots had matched Lindbergh's solo Atlantic crossing by that time, and Corrigan longed to become one of them.

"But the U.S. Department of Commerce rejected Corrigan's request for permission to fly the Atlantic because of his "crate's" condition, even after he flew the plane nonstop from Long Beach to New York, a greater distance than the Atlantic crossing.

"On July 17, 1938, Corrigan loaded 320 gallons of gasoline (enough for 40 hours) into the tiny plane and took off from the East Coast's Floyd Bennett Field pointing the nose straight east into a cloud bank although he had announced he was heading west to Long Beach.

"Corrigan's instruments included two compasses and turn-and-bank indicator. The cabin door was literally held shut with baling wire.

"Twenty-nine hours later, he landed in Baldonnel near Dublin.

"'One compass failed to work', Corrigan explained, 'and the second malfunctioned, pointing 180 degrees the exact opposite direction. He forever claimed to be surprised at arriving in Ireland rather than California.

"Corrigan became an international hero. His ticker-tape parade when he sailed into New York was larger than Lindgergh's. After he flew his plane to Glendale, Calif., he headed a parade thorough downtown Los Angeles and Southern California, children got a half-day off from school to celebrate.

"A shy, private man, Corrigan became a test pilot for Douglas Aircraft during World War II. He later grew oranges in Santa Ana, where he had lived since 1951.

"Corrigan's little plane was stored in boxes in his garage until 1988, when he reassembled it for display at a nearby municipal airport.

"At that time, a new generation of news media questioned Corrigan about his famous flight, which fliers were certain could never happen to an experienced pilot.

"'I made a mistake', the octogenarian insisted. An honest mistake?

"'I was never really too honest, you know,' said Corrigan.

                                         - o - o - o - o - o -

Check Internet at Yahoo, type in "charles a lindbergh" where there are many interesting items. Can also do the same for Roosevelt. Type "franklin d roosevelt new deal programs" with interesting items.

November 7, 1998


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