The Great Depression 1929 – 1940

My pending manuscript, the story of three generations of women, is taking form.The title remains unknown, but here’s a taste of the story to come. The story of heritage, helping, the importance of family in sharing the burden. 

This story embraces ten years of a lifetime. What will our story be in the years following our 2020 pandemic economic chaos? Where will our family be?

1924 -Carefree School Days

You arrive at Central Wisconsin College in Scandinavia, Wisconsin. Age 16. Your first time away from family, hometown, mother and father. You meet Harold —  tall slim black hair, a “black” Norwegian. He’s called ‘banker’ at school, only because his father is cashier and owner of the Bank of Scandnavia.You really want to impress Harold, you bob your hair with a flip. Your mother would flip if she could see you now. But everybody’s doing it. Everybody’s smoking too, but don’t get caught by the teachers.  

1925 – Banker or Technician?

Harold graduates and is working in Evanston, Illinois. His father got him a job as a banker, but that bank failed, now he’s working for a place called Patterson Bros, repairing sewing machines and vaccuum cleaners. He likes it a lot more than banking.  

1926 – Married!

You get married in April in Evanston, a simple affair. Your sister and a friend of Harold’s are witnesses, and a Lutheran preacher from a close by church does the marrying. Then you go home to Sturgeon Bay because your sister asked you to be her attendant at her wedding. 

Your sister’s wedding is at your parents home, with most of the family attending. 

Door County Advocate: July 2. The marriage of Miss Petra M. Haines, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Haines, of Hainesville, in the town of Nasewaupee, and Christen Slotten, of Wittenberg, Wisconsin, took place at the home of the bride on Saturday, June 26. The bride was attended by her sister, Mrs. H. R. Bestul, of Evanston, Ill., who wore a gown of printed chiffon over green with corsage bouquet of sweet peas and weigela. 

You wonder if you should have gotten married at home like your siblings. But you didn’t feel a part of all that any more. 

You stay with your mother and father at Sand Bay The tourists are filling the summer cottages, but the house built to be a hotel is still just their residence, with half of the downstairs and the entire second floor unfinished. 

1927 – First Child – Grandparents Dilemna

You are going to have a baby. Due in November, it dawdles, but Ruth Marion is born on December 8th in the Evanston Hospital. You stay in bed for a week and the nurses bring the baby every four hours. 

You hear that your parents have signed a Deed of Trust for $11,000 secured by all of the Sand Bay and surrounding property, prime lakeshore property that had been in the family since your grandfather had purchased it, years ago. Interest at 6%; taxes due semiannually, but the principal isn’t due until 1934. Sounds like plenty of time. Now mother and father can finsh the hotel and get it open. All of Door County is becoming a tourist haven.  

1928 – Bargain Birth

Door County Advocate: June 29. A daughter was recently born to Mrs. Amy Haines Lewis, at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Haines, at Sand Bay. The Lewis family is spending the summer at Sand Bay.

tere Soon you are expecting again. Your sister Amy says come to Sand Bay. The doctor will come from town if needed. And mother is a veteran of babies.

1929 – Family Support and Failure

Harold drives you and Ruth to Sand Bay. Your sister Petra comes from Wittenberg with her two boys to help. Toddlers everywhere, but your mother is happy to have you. Petra and Chris and their two boys live on a farm in Wittenberg. You keep quiet about Harold losing the Patterson job. Mr. Patterson died and his wife just closed up the business. Now there are so many unemployed in the city. 

Jeanne Carrol is born on July 30th. Harold’s mother doesn’t like the name, says it should be Jennie Clara. Foof, you say. 

Door County Advocate: August 9. A baby girl was born to Mr. and Mrs. Harold Bestul of Chicago last week at the home of Mrs. Bestul’s parents at Sand Bay.

You and Harold are happy with your two little girls. Harold has another job servicing household machines. Looks hopeful.

HISTORY: The FDIC was created in 1933 by the Banking Act (often referred to as the Glass-Steagall Act). During the 1920s, before the Black Tuesday crash of 1929, an average of about 70 banks had failed each year nationwide.

Then came the telegram. No, No, No! That $1,000 that you deposited in the the Bank of Scandinavia, your father-in-law’s bank? Gone. The bank failed. Everybody wanted their money right now, and they paid out until there was none left. Harold’s father and mother won’t even talk about it. Finally his sister Margaret called. Nobody understood, she said. They thought the money was sitting in the bank in piles, she said.  The family is disgraced. They moved out of town, out of their house in Scandinavia, the one Harold grew up in. Your savings are gone.

HISTORY: October 24. As nervous investors began selling overpriced shares en masse, the stock market crash that some had feared happened at last. A record 12.9 million shares were traded that day, known as “Black Thursday.”

Five days later, on October 29 or “Black Tuesday,” some 16 million shares were traded after another wave of panic swept Wall Street. Millions of shares ended up worthless, and those investors who had bought stocks “on margin” (with borrowed money) were wiped out completely.

1930 – Uncertainty

Your sister Amy is spending the summer in Sand Bay to help Mother and Father run the resort. Amy is still worried about that loan. There’s not much action on building out the hotel, she tells you. But the cottages are thriving.

Harold was laid off again, he’s looking but so is everybody else. You’re worried about paying the rent.   

1931 – Survival

You pack up the family and your few belongings, and move to Auburndale where Harold’s parents are living. His dad gets him a job pumping gas in a filling station. Ruth and Jeanne are ok. They don’t mind this run-down neighborhood.

But the filling station job doesn’t last. No business. You move again to Harold’s childhood home in Scandinavia — pay rent to his father. Harold can’t find a job there either. There is another baby coming.

Harold’s sister Margaret loaned him $50.00 to buy a machine to repair shoes. There is no other shoe repairman in town, so maybe . . . 

Richard Haines Bestul was born on October 6th. You call him Dickie. The girls are very excited to have a new boy baby. Harold’s parents are overjoyed to have a grandson to carry on the family name. The first.  

1932 – First Grade

Ruth is starting school. She is not happy. She feels like the poor kid from out of town. She says the kids treat her differently. Next year Jeanne will start school too.

 The shoe repair business is slowing down. 

HISTORY: In 1932, with the country mired in the depths of the Great Depression and some 15 million people (more than 20 percent of the U.S. population at the time) unemployed, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt won an overwhelming victory in the presidential election.

You take a quick trip home with the children. They love visiting their grandparents and the Sand Bay beach. Harold looks for a job in Milwaukee. Things seem to be going okay with your mother and father.

Door County Advocate: October 14. Miss Daisy Buer of Scandinavia, Wis., motored up last Saturday for a several days visit with her sister, Mrs. Gus. Roalkvam. She was accompanied by Mrs. Harold Bestul and children also of Scandinavia, who visited with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Haines at Sand Bay. 

1933 – Daughter Distress 

Ruth cannot see well. The doctors say she has a “lazy eye.” Ruth said the kids are calling her names, “Ruth, Ruth, the cross-eyed goose.” The doctors are recommending surgery. Where? How?

1934 – Land Grab – Family Disgrace

May 24, 1934  

State of Wisconsin: Circuit Court: Door County:

Joseph M. Schauer and Wllmer C. Schroeder, trustees, Plaintiffs,  vs.

Oscar Haines and Martha C. Haines, his wife. Defendants.

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN:

That by virtue of a Judgment of foreclosure and sale In the above entitled action . . . the sheriff of Door county, Wisconsin, will sell at public auction . . .  on the 22nd day of June, 1934, . . . the real estate and mortgaged premises situated In the County of Door, State of Wisconsin, and directed In said Judgment to be sold, and therein described as follows: 

Lot one (1) and two (2) section thirty (30) and lots one (1), two (2) three (3) and four (4) In section thirty-one (31) all In township twenty-eight (28) N range twenty-five (25) East… 

You grieve with the rest of the family. The folks can continue to live in the house, keep some cottages and the garden and barn. But when they die, it all goes to the new owners.  

It’s a terrible shock to your family, the entire community. Your brothers especially feel the loss, it’s as if all has been washed away by this grand failure. Grandsons of Tallak, the Hainesville patriarch, pioneer, lumberman, land baron. Sons of Oscar,  leading innovator of farming methods and equipment, and guardian of this land  — all that heritage obliterated with shame, in their eyes. And the land, which should have been theirs one day, gone. 

You cry for them. You cry for your children and your husband and you. 

Will this never end?

Ruth will have surgery on her eyes. She has to have bandages over both eyes for three months. Be blind. She is six years old. Your heart hurts.

1935 – Soldiering On

You move back to Chicago, a small apartment close to downtown. Harold is making 40 cents an hour with the  American Express and Electric Company. He’s feeling hopeless. He’s grouchy too — wants the children to be seen and not heard, he’s acting like his father. Two sheets of toilet paper, no more, he says — to all of us. 

HISTORY: When the Great Depression began, the United States was the only industrialized country in the world without some form of unemployment insurance or social security. In 1935, Congress passed the Social Security Act, which for the first time provided Americans with unemployment, disability and pensions for old age.

Harold isn’t eligible for the new unemployment benefits because he hasn’t worked in one job long enough. He doesn’t believe in it anyway — socialism, he says. Silently, you think maybe there won’t be so many men competing for the few jobs available.

1936 – The Hat

Dickie started kindergarten, now all the children are in school. 

You have $5.00 to make it through the week. 

You buy a hat. It costs $5.00. Harold is pretty mad. 

After the children are tucked into bed . . . we laugh.

1937 – Despair and Relief Together 

HISTORY: A sharp recession hit in 1937, caused in part by the Federal Reserve’s decision to increase its requirements for money in reserve. Though the economy began improving again in 1938, this second severe contraction reversed many of the gains in production and employment and prolonged the effects of the Great Depression through the end of the decade.

Harold stands on the corner with hundreds of other men waiting for the foreman, overseer, bossman. I’ll take you … and you … sometimes Harold is chosen. He’s paid a pittance. 

 You can’t pay the rent. The landlord says nobody else can afford rent either, so you might as well stay rent-free. But we can’t face taking that charity. Besides, we need food, clothing .  . .

I am expecting again. Now what?

You pack up once more and move the family to Sand Bay, move into one of your parents tourist cottages, the biggest one. You will stay at least until this baby is born. Charity, yes, not much easier, but it will come in one full family package. Harold returns to Chicago to look for work. He will stay at the YMCA. You return to garden and goats, chickens and eggs and love.

The leaves are turning, it’s getting cold. The log cabin isn’t winterized. Tomorrow you all move into the big house with your parents. There’s plenty of room — it was built to be a hotel, after all. The kids loved the summer, as they always did when you came for a week or two. But now, they even love school. They walk to school, just one room, all the kids together. 

 You wanted so much more for them, city schools with proper classrooms. But maybe now, with the chaos that has been their lives . . . Even Ruth, your little grown-up, says here she feels welcome, not pitied, like she was in the small towns. Here we are part of the family, she says. The Hainesville family. 

You plod, this baby weighs heavily in body and soul. Your mother became mother to the children. She shows them all her old fashioned ways of cooking, sewing, she gives them chores. Fetch the eggs. Knead the bread. Dig for those potatoes. Father shows them how to feed the goats and takes them along when he searches for the Christmas tree.  Your mother and the children plan the homemade gifts, thread strings of popcorn and cranberries. They bake krumkake and rosettes.

You talk with Harold every week if he can get a turn at the YMCA phone — and if he has the money to pay for it. I’m so lonesome! you tell him. Come home. Sometimes he works for a day or two, but it’s not worth it. Yes. He will come home. 

He comes home for Christmas. With oranges for the children.

1938 – One More Child

January 5th. Mary Louise is born. Harold will stay. He is ice fishing with your brothers Oliver and Ted, all three hoping to make a little profit from the fish they can sell. They are farmers, but nobody’s buying the milk and the crops from the farms; they grow enough food for family and animals. 

Ruth and Jeanne and Dickie are so happy with this new baby. You call her Mary Lou. It is sweet to have a baby. The children love the winter and the snow and the cold too. This year the storms are continuous, snow is eight feet high. Jeanne and Dickey love building the tunnels in the snow, creating rooms. Even Ruth has abandoned her books and is joining the snow games. For a few days the snow stays hard and they walk to school close to the top of the telephone poles. When the melt starts, impassable roads close the schools.

Spring finally. Your parents have never even acknowledged the strain of six extra appetites and desires, the wildness of three children and a baby and two world-weary adults under their roof. It is time to give your parents some rest. You move into an old farmhouse abandoned for years — no rent to pay if you work to fix it up. Together, you clean out the old animal nests and debris and odor from the downstairs rooms, rebuild the stairway to the second floor to continue the cleanout, restore the outhouse, fix and fix, clean and clean. Shore up the barn just to make it safe. Mary Lou sits up. Harold works for a cousin building a stone wall, is paid in produce.

Door County Advocate: November 10. Hainesville School Notes. This year our school has an enrollment of 28. . . Ruth Bestul, sixth grade, Jean Bestul, fourth grade, Dickie Bestul, second grade.

Harold’s parents visit to see the new baby. You spend the glorious afternoon outside with Mary Lou on a blanket on the grass.  The charity food truck arrives. Everyone is embarrassed, Harold is ashamed. 

1940 – A Job. A Real Job

 You rejoice! Harold is hired by the Sturgeon Bay Shipyard Company. He works on acquisitioned private yachts, stripping them of their luxurious interiors to turn them into war boats. It pays well. 

1941 – Recovery at a Price 

Harold brings home a radio. Then a toaster! The children are overwhelmed.

The landlord comes to visit and loves how good the house looks. He praises the great job you have done. He decides it’s good enough to collect rent. From you. 

It feels like a betrayal. You worked hard enough on that house to own it. You move into town to share a house with friends.

HISTORY: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 led to America’s entry into World War II, and the nation’s factories went back in full production mode.

This expanding industrial production, as well as widespread conscription beginning in 1942, reduced the unemployment rate to below its pre-Depression level. The Great Depression had ended at last, and the United States turned its attention to the global conflict of World War II.

1942 – War and Rescue

You rent a house through the government war housing agency in Sturgeon Bay. Built especially for the influx of 9,000 workers for the Sturgeon Bay shipyards during the war years. It is new and clean. It has indoor plumbing, running water, a toilet that flushes. And reasonable rent. Harold’s registers for the draft. Four children. Age 37. 

You have a place of your own.

2020 – Again?

March, 2020. We’ve been furloughed until this pandemic is over, and the economy picks up again. Tough, but it shouldn’t be long.

 

CBS News: August 28. MGM Resorts International, the Las Vegas-based casino operator, will layoff 18,000 furloughed workers. MGM’s CEO Bill Hornbuckle blamed the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the layoffs, which represent about one-quarter of the company’s pre-pandemic workforce. 


By

The number of small businesses in New York City closing because of the pandemic — more than 2,800 since March — has been stark. But some independent family businesses in the metropolitan area — all deemed essential — not only operated throughout the worst part of the outbreak and are still going strong, but also survived 20th-century crises like the Great Depression and World War II. Here are a few of them. . . . Read More

 

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TALLAK! immigrant tells the story of the everyday lives of 18th and 19th century immigrants. They loved their home country, but didn’t have much time to mourn that loss, as they worked and loved and lived in the country they had chosen to begin their new lives. 

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