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Memories of the Great Depression

Sasha Aslanian

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Joan and Teddy Anbuhl in 1935
(Courtesy Joan Bloom)
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This week marked the anniversary of the stock Market crash of October 29, 1929. That led to the Great Depression, of course. Friday, one of America's greatest documenters of the Depression died. Studs Terkel. His book Hard Times was based on interviews with hundreds of people. Terkel read this excerpt from his interview with Sidney Weinberg who had been a senior partner with Goldman Sachs:

"October 29, 1929, I remember that day very intimately. I stayed in the office a week without going home. Everybody was stunned. The street was in general confusion. They didn't understand it any more than anybody else. They thought 'Something should be announced,' and I wonder, 'By whom? God?' well it was announced, by the government, who saved the butts of the daddies and granddaddies the very ones who condemn big government today."

Studs Terkel, oral historian and broadcasting legend, died Friday at 96. We asked you for your memories of the Depression as well. And like Studs, we heard an incredible array of experiences; some of them happy.


Mickey Shell
Grand Marais, Minn.

I was born Lorna Simpson. I was born in San Fernando, California in 1927.

We lived in a cornucopia. The Japanese had just turned the valley from a desert to a truck farm. We would take "smelling rides" in the summer because everything was field-ripened and tree-ripened. And you'd drive by these huge strawberry fields and just about pass out from the smell, it was so wonderful. And we would take rides through the orange orchards in the spring with the orange blossom smells.

And so all of that went into our cafeteria and we ate very, very well there.

By the evening, people would show up at the farm and talk politics because, of course, during the Depression everybody was a politician. And my grandfather would play fiddle. His hands were loosened up by then. He'd play fiddle and they'd argue politics, laughing and carrying on. It was a lot of fun. I thought they got a lot out of life - made a lot out of life.


Dorothea "Dottie" Thompson
Birmingham, Ala.

I grew up in Meridian Mississippi and that's where I have my memories of the Depression era.

I never heard people talk about a lack of money but you could tell it because we had all of these men, mostly - I don't ever remember a woman.

Men would come to our back door begging for food. Some of them wanted to work for food and some of them just wanted food.

But my mother cooked three meals every day and she would always give them food and they would eat on our back porch. And one of the things they really liked were sandwiches made on flat bread. They thought that was a real delicacy.

Everybody seemed kinder and gentler and more involved with their neighbors. But that might have been because I was four or five years old.


Joan Bloom
Boulder, Colo.

We lived in Troy, N.Y. We certainly weren't like the poor Joads in "The Grapes of Wrath." I think we always had food to eat, but I think probably the stress of the time affected my mother, and my mother just left us. We were five and four years old, maybe a little younger. Nobody gave children explanations in those days.

My father had to go and work; there was a flood in Paducah, Ken. So we had no idea if he had died or left us, too.

But the thing I remember is, we had a family whistle. And I heard - we didn't know when he was coming home from the floods, fighting the floods -I was sitting on the toilet, and I heard his whistle, and I jumped out the window right through the screen into his arms.

It was like a resurrection to have him appear and to hear that whistle.

  • Music Bridge:
    There's No Depression In Love
    Artist: Vincent Rose and His Orchestra
    CD: Brother, Can you Spare A Dime (Fanfare)


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