The Great Depression

Hard times: the 1930's

 ... A Melrosian, retired in Florida, remembers the depression days

by Paul A. Hupper

Editors' note: Paul Hupper is a long time member of the SilverStringers, although he is, and has been, a resident of Florida for several decades. Two years ago he began recording his memories of his home town, and within a few months time we, the editors, had well over 50 pages of Paul's thoughts. It was, frankly, too much to handle for this amateur group, and we lost control -- until recently when The Hupper Project was passed along for action. And simultaneously one of Paul's articles appeared in the Melrose Historical Society's "Ell Pond Echoes", which we repeat here with their permission:

On 1928 the Democratic Party Candidate was Alfred E. Smith, former Governor of New York. The Republican candidate was Herbert Hoover. A bitter battle took place between these candidate. The election was held Nov. 6, 1928. The next morning the world found Herbert Hoover was elected President with an overwhelming majority. I was nine years old at the time. President-elect Herbert Hoover, of course, was not sworn into office until March of 1929.

Times were good, business was booming and the stock market was favorable to the stock speculators. October 29, 1929, however, brought the beginning of the worst worldwide depression known to man and Herbert Hoover got the blame. Thousands of people lost everything they owned, especially those who relied solely on their income from stocks. When the crash came, those individuals, and there were many, became poor people. Many committed suicide. Banks closed, some never to reopen. The family of my schoolmate, Harold, lost their savings because they were tied into the stock market. Harold ended up taking a job as a janitor at the old Oak Manor Dance Hall at the corner of East Foster Street and Leonard Road. He was fortunate to have the job, for so many businesses went bankrupt and close their doors forever.

Fortunately, my dad was able to keep his job. He was the head engraver at Jordan Marsh Co. in Boston. When the silversmith concerns in Attleboro, No Attleboro, Mass. And Providence, R.I. closed their doors, Jordan Marsh bought up their sterling silver merchandise: tea sets, coffee sets, Paul Revere bowls, and sterling flatware. People who still had a few dollars left bought these items as an investment just as some purchased gold. Jordan Marsh would engrave these sterling silver items free of charge.

I remember hearing my parents discuss the three pay cuts my dad received. I never did find out how large they were, but I would guess he was making $12-$15 a week. However, because the demand for silver items was so high, my dad actually worked overtime, augmenting his income.

In 1932 the U.S. House voted to give a bonus to the World War I Veterans, but the Senate voted against it. When veterans marched on Washington to demand approval, Hoover called out the troops headed by Douglas MacArthur. Most of the marchers left Washington but other were removed by MacArthur's troops. Eventually the bonus was approved and paid.

In the election of 1932, President Hoover ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt, former Governor of New York and former Secretary of the Navy. As Hoover was being blamed for the Great Depression, Roosevelt was easily elected. In early 1933, before Roosevelt was sworn in as President, he and the Mayor of Chicago visited Miami. During the visit, an assassin tried to shoot Roosevelt, but missed and killed the Chicago mayor.

In 1933 Roosevelt launched the New Deal and repealed Prohibition. Some of Roosevelt's programs were the Civilian Conservation Corps(CCC) and the National Recovery Act (NRA). One of the most memorable events of Roosevelt's first term were the "Bank Holidays," when Roosevelt ordered all banks closed for three days. Many never reopened. Stores were hardly able to make change because of the money shortage. Paper money at that time was much larger than today, and 10-dollar bills and larger were printed in gold on the back. They were withdrawn from circulation when it became illegal to possess gold other than for manufacturing purposes.

Radio was popular during this time, with programs such as "The Shadow," "Inner Sanctum," "Amos and Andy," "The Green Hornet," and "Fibber McGee and Molly" with their famous closet.

Clarence DeMar, a Melrose resident, won the Boston Marathon seven times. During his years in Melrose, DeMar was frequently seen running around Ell Pond. He later moved to Keene, N.H. where he taught printing at Keene Normal School.

Sometime during the 1930's Main Street was rebuilt from Wyoming Ave. to the Melrose/Malden 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 to 40 years.

With so many out of work and without money to buy even the most basic necessities, the government distributed food and clothing to the needy. Another program of the time was the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Many construction projects were begun under this program, including the Mt. Hood tower, golf course and the wall surrounding Wyoming Cemetery.

November 2, 2001

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