Are we there yet?
May 15-21, 2017
By Jay Edwards
My late mother was born in 1929, one of those watershed years in our country.
I always picture the food lines, and those stockbrokers, hurling their commission-conscious selves from Manhattan windows; and black and white faces like Tom Joad; or maybe a gin joint.
But obviously I wasn’t there. The ones who were might remember things more like this –
In January, the comic book hero Tintin appeared in “Tintin in the land of the Soviets.” But there would be another cartoon character created the same month who would rise to icon status in a short period. Popeye the Sailor Man did more for spinach than millions in advertising ever could.
On February 14, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago’s North Side, John May’s German Shepherd, Highball, who was leashed to a truck, began howling and barking, attracting the attention of two women who operated boarding houses across the street. One of them, Mrs. Landesman, sensed that something was dreadfully wrong and sent one of her roomers to the garage to see what was upsetting the dog. The man ran out, sickened at the sight. What he had seen were seven men sprawled on the dirty floor and riddled with machine gun bullets. What he had seen was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Frank Gusenburg was still alive when police first arrived on the scene, despite reportedly having fourteen bullets in his body. When questioned by the police about the shooting his only response was “nobody shot me.” He died three hours later.
In March Herbert Hoover succeeded Calvin Coolidge as president. When the stock market crashes eight months after you take office, leading to something known as “The Great Depression,” your presidency probably never has much of a chance; Hoover’s was not the exception.
In May the president established the Wickersham Commission, which, to the chagrin of many did not repeal the 18th Amendment but rather “documented the widespread evasion of prohibition and its negative effects on American society and recommended much more aggressive and extensive law enforcement to enforce compliance with anti-alcohol laws.”
Questionable wisdom: While it’s true that our citizens are starving to death and lack any hope, we feel it is in their best interest that they experience this despair with a clear mind, devoid of spirits.
Franklin P. Adams, a columnist for the New York World, summarized his opinion of the Commission’s report with this poem:
“Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can’t stop what it’s meant to stop.
We like it.
It’s left a trail of graft and slime,
It don’t prohibit worth a dime,
It’s filled our land with vice and crime.
Nevertheless, we’re for it.”
Escape came in the form of celluloid and in May the 1st Annual Academy Awards took place. Tickets cost five dollars, 270 people attended the event and the ceremony lasted fifteen minutes.
In September, The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) peaked at 381.17.
Then October came, and in just three trading days $30 billion from the New York Stock Exchange was wiped out (10 times greater than the annual budget of the federal government). It would be over a quarter-century before the Dow would reach 381.17 again.
Somehow we’ve managed to last from ’29 to 2017. Stocks are up, or maybe down, depending on where you got in. Tommy guns are gone but dead men on the wrong end of vengeance are still real. Drinking is legal, but not opiates; and we always seem to need more of which we can’t get.
Vice, crime, graft and slime. As long as there is a breath left.
So let’s toast all the mothers, who love us anyway, in spite of ourselves.
See Jay’s past columns on our website at www.dailyrecord.us.
Jay Edwards is publisher of the Daily Record. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.