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The Dirty Work of Illumination

We take lighting for granted.

The sun goes down; we flip a switch. Instant illumination. Sure, sometimes the power goes off and we have to “rough it.” Candles or hurricane lamps for a few hours, a couple of days, sometimes longer if you live on the Gulf Coast and it’s hurricane season (there’s a reason they’re called hurricane lamps).

And while urban America was almost completely electrified (eek! that sounds painful) by 1929, it would be well into the mid-30s, and even the early 40s, before electric power found its way to the farms.

So poor Rose

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Boogie Shoes

Yikes! That’s not from the 1930s!!!

And yet, that first line expresses Harold’s sentiments perfectly.

In the late twenties and early thirties, there seemed to be two main pastimes: dancing and going to the pictures (and even the picture shows featured dancing). Practically every little town hosted a Friday or Saturday night dance… in the armory, in a barn, at a local church, wherever space allowed.

Imagine how that would be for a fella with two left feet! Especially since Rose loves to dance. Poor Harold. Even the “simple” dances of the era–foxtrot, waltz, castle walk–were challenging. But that didn’t stop him. If dancing was what Rose wanted, well… Continue reading

By any other name

Not to put too fine a spin on it, but, there’s a lot of jargon for illegal alcohol during Prohibition: hooch, horse liniment, coffin varnish, gigglewater (no, JK Rowling did not invent this term), brown plaid, busthead, moonshine, panther piss, skee, rot gut, white lightening… Well, you get the picture.

One thing they have in common, though, is their danger. Continue reading

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Too Close to Home

How’s that for a headline? ‘SCARFACE AL’ SURRENDERS
Capone articleOn March 21, 1930, this headline topped most newspapers. After all, Al Capone was “Public Enemy Number 1”.

Not that there weren’t other big name gangsters: Bugsy Siegel (New York), Nucky Johnson (New Jersey), Harry Rosen (Philly)… And the one that worried Rose (and Harold) the most: Tom Dennison.

Poor Harold. He has gotten himself mixed up with Dennison’s minions so you can bet that seeing a headline like this March 21 banner was, to say the least, worrisome.

What? You say you don’t know who this Tom Dennison character is?

Well, it turns out that Omaha, Nebraska was a hotbed of bootleg liquor, illegal gambling, and ladies of questionable virtue. And they all answered to the beck and call of Tom Dennison.

It was this tiny bit of trivia that I stumbled over one day during genealogy research that sparked my imagination.

What if a poor farmer loses everything he has saved when the bank closes after the Stock Crash of 1929?

And what if, in desperation to save his farm, he gets involved with a local bootlegging kingpin who puts him in harm’s way?

And what if, in trying to save his farm, he risks losing everything that is important to him?

Yeah, I’d say this headline was a bit too close to home for Harold’s liking.

On Death

Pardon me while I get maudlin…

Yesterday, I read this in the 1930 diary I have: Had 16 little piglets today, but the old mother laid on 4 and killed them.

This made me sad. Especially if you’ve seen the cute piglet pictures I posted here. But it also got me thinking about how common death is, especially on a farm. And especially in the 1930s.

Well, it’s not a giant leap from cute piggies dying to human mortality… Continue reading

Prescription Required

Not too long ago, I joked about putting a little whiskey in my tea to help fight a cold I was battling. Truth is, people have been using alcohol as medicine since the Middle Ages (a drop of gin was believed to ward off the plague, a glug of wine could defend the body from corruption, and a sip of absinthe would rid the body of roundworms), even though there is scientific evidence that not only does it not help, it is often detrimental. What you may not realize, however, is what this interesting bit of trivia has to do with Prohibition… or Rose. Continue reading