Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A 1926 Happy New Year!

by Connie Cortright

New Year's Eve is approaching quickly. What are your plans for that night? Since historically this holiday isn't much different than we celebrate today, I'm going to share what New Year's Eve might have been like in 1926 via an excerpt from my novel Guide Me Home available at Amazon.com Freddie and Emma. and Jules and Vivi are at a ballroom celebrating the big event:

Emma could hear the music blaring when she emerged from the car. Her feet threatened to tap out the rhythm already, and they weren’t even in the building. “It seems like it’s been such a long time since I’ve gone dancing I probably forgot all those steps for the Charleston and Longbottom, and other dances you taught me.” She took hold of Freddie’s arm as they sauntered toward the lighted doorway, the hem of her flapper dress swishing with the click of her heels.
Freddie looked down at Emma, patting her hand, and smiled. “Just stick with me, baby, I'll help you out.” He leaned in closer. “You’ll be the cat's meow all dolled up in that dress.”
“Thank you.” Emma could feel the heat rise in her cheeks. Finally she was wearing her new silky dress with her black silk stocking to go dancing. Would this night be a dream come true? Excitement coursed through her veins. 
As the clock approached the hour of midnight, Emma floated around the ballroom floor in Freddie’s arms. Since the first beat of the music, this night had turned out to be as wonderful as she hoped. She’d remembered all of the dance steps she learned before, dancing either with Freddie or Jules. When Freddie spun her in circles during the waltz, she felt like she was on a carousel at the park. She wanted the evening to go on forever.
As the music stopped, everyone crowded around the stage in anticipation of the stroke of midnight. Freddie had his arm draped around her shoulder. “You sure are a terrific hoofer.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze. “I could dance with you all night long.” He leaned over giving her a peck on the cheek.
Emma could feel her cheeks burn. She wasn’t used to the show of intimacy in front of people. She stepped away from Freddie. “Thanks. I’ve really had a great time, too.” She looked over at Vivi. “Let’s go to the powder room, Vivi.”
“Great idea.” Vivi looked at Jules. “We will be right back. We still have a few minutes before midnight.”
When Emma and Vivi headed back toward the guys, Emma saw Jules hand something back to Freddie. Freddie glanced up while he shoved the item into his pants pocket. His ears turned red, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, as his eyes met Emma’s again. What could that have been about? Jules and Freddie were laughing loudly as the girls reached their side. 
“Are you ready for the celebration?” Freddie leaned closer to Emma to make himself heard above the noise. “I’m ready for my New Year’s kiss.”
She turned to him and smiled. “I’ve never had a New Year’s kiss before.” This would be the icing on the cake for her. A kiss to usher in the New Year. It definitely would be a fantastic year if it started out with a kiss from this man whom she surely loved.
  “Five, four, three, two, one!!! Happy New Year!” The room erupted in a symphony of shouting, with the song “Auld Lang Syne” playing in the background. Freddie took Emma in his arms. As he bent her backwards, she put her arms around his neck and held on. She had expected a warm romantic kiss but was instead surprised by a loud, wet smack. Freddie said with a smile on his lips, “Happy New Year, doll.”
Standing up, Emma pulled away from him. What was that smell on Freddie’s breath? It reminded her of Uncle Max after he had been drinking on the night her cousin got married. Was that mysterious object in Freddie’s pocket a flask of whiskey? Her mind raced trying to figure out what to say. “What were you and Jules doing while we were gone?” The bubble burst on her idea of a nice romantic New Year’s celebration.
“What’s eating you?” Freddie straightened up. “You were only gone for a couple minutes. We didn’t do anything.” He shuffled his feet.
“Oh, come on, Freddie. I can smell something on your breath.” Emma put her hands on her hips. “Did I see you stick a flask in your pocket?”
“You betcha. Did you want a swig?” Freddie put his hand on his pocket.
Emma gasped. “Are you serious? I’ve never even tasted any stuff like that.”
“Don’t be such a dumb dora.” Freddie glared at her, his nostrils flaring. “What’s a sip now and then? It’s a New Year’s Eve party. It’s what everyone...” Freddie froze. Scrubbing a hand over his face, he stared at his feet. “Uh, Emma, I’m sorry. Um, I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
Biting her lip, Emma shook her head. What should she do?
Jules sidled over and put his arm around her shoulder, giving her a brief hug. “Hey, come on, doll. Where’s the crime? Nobody’s going to get plastered.”
Emma narrowed her eyes and peered at him. “What do you mean? What about Prohibition? Last time I checked, it was a crime.”
With a shallow smile on his face, Jules shrugged. “It’s only a crime to sell the stuff, not take a drink.”
Emma scowled. Was that true? Oh yeah, what about Ella’s wedding last year? The scowl faded. “You’re right. Our neighbor had homemade beer at a wedding since that was not illegal. Our pastor even had a beer that night.” 
Vivi smiled at Emma as she leaned against Jules. “Let us not ruin the night with this.” Vivi took Jules hand. “I hear the Charleston starting up. Let us go dance, Big Daddy.”
Not sure what to say, Emma stared at her feet. “I’m sorry I jumped down your throat before.” She couldn’t make herself look at Freddie.
Freddie put a finger under her chin, tipping her head until she gazed into his blue eyes. “No, you don’t have to apologize.” He brought his face close to hers and gave her a soft kiss. “I’m the one who needs to apologize for getting angry at you.” He used his thumb to brush a tear off her cheek. “I don’t want to spoil your special night.”
Now Emma was definitely confused. This kiss meant so much more to her than the one at midnight. She’d been angry after the first kiss, but this made up for it. If only her mind didn’t act like a kaleidoscope-change the angle a little and a completely different view emerged. 
Freddie smiled at Emma and took her hand. “The music is calling me.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

by Connie Cortright

Christmas is a time filled with family traditions and decorations unique to every nationality and household. These traditions follow from one generation to the next, but how does Christmas today compare to Christmases long ago?

         What will your Christmas morning look like? If you have children in your household, I imagine you'll have boxes and wrapping paper strewn around the sparkly Christmas tree. What kind of toys will they get? Probably they're either electronic, battery operated, or electric. Most of them will most likely made of plastic, also. Not so for toys from decades ago.

       My mother reported to me that Christmas morning in the 30s was much different. She went to bed on Christmas Eve expecting Santa Claus to come. Until that time, the house wasn't decorated any different than any other day in the year. During the night, the Christmas tree magically appeared decorated with candied cherries, candy canes, colorful glass ornaments, and tinsel. They didn’t have electricity on the farm, so the tree didn’t have lights on it, but but the presents under the tree brought color to the room anyway.

      What kind of toys would boys and girls have received during the 1930s? I think it’s safe to say they had fewer toys than children today. After all, it was the middle of the Depression. There wasn’t much extra cash for gifts.
       Many toys back then were either made out of steel or wood. My father remembers getting tractors, and trucks, all made of steel. At least they lasted a long time that way. Over the years, he and his brothers had so many pieces of farm equipment, including a steel thrashing machine, that they could re-create a farm in their living room.

       Of course, girls had baby dolls back then to care for. One memorable doll my mother received could close her eyes to “go to sleep”, drink water, and “wet her diaper”. That was the highlight of her childhood Christmas memories. Along with the baby doll, she had a rattan doll buggy. That buggy was passed down to her granddaughter many years ago.

       She also received a china tea set one year. I remember playing “tea time” with her using those tea dishes when I was a little girl. I have the tea set sitting on a shelf in my home today.

       We can’t forget about teddy bears, either. Many children had these toys given to them on Christmas Day. Some of the bears even had the mechanism to move their arms and legs.

       Many a lucky girl received a Shirley Temple doll. Her movies were very popular back then.

       There were a surprising number of toys manufactured during this era I recognized from my childhood – Tinker Toys, Erector sets, and Lincoln Logs. Are these toys still sold today? I have no idea.

        There's one gift that's as timely today as it was decades ago, and  will remain the most important thing to remember about Christmas. The main reason we celebrate this season is the birth of Jesus our Savior.

       I pray you all take time out of your celebrations to focus on that "reason for the season". Hope you all have a blessed Christmas Season.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bank on It

by Connie Cortright

Even though cash was in short supply during the Depression, children were still encouraged to save their pennies in a "piggy bank", but sometimes they were not shaped like piggies at all. Insurance companies and banks gave out such money collection banks.

My mother found three of them from Aid Association for Lutherans, Appleton, Wisconsin when she was cleaning out a drawer lately. All three are shaped like books about 4 1/2 inches tall and 3 inches wide. As you can see from the picture, they are all about the same shape, but have different coloration in them. They are from the 1930s when she was little, but I can't imagine why AAL would have made a different tin book bank every year, or why Mom's parents would have had three different banks for only one little girl.

 The book banks have keys (she still has two of them) that can unlock the bank to get out the hard earned money that was saved - most likely a penny at a time.

There is a slot on the bottom of the book banks where the dollars or coins would be inserted to save - maybe for Christmas. I bet Mom and Dad would keep the key so that the children couldn't open the bank and take out their hard earned money to spend early.

Maybe one of these tin book banks will end up in one of my novels sometime. That might be a good idea.

I'd sure love to hear from anyone who has any memories of these banks, or why a company would make so many different ones during the Depression.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Weather or Not

by Connie Cortright

      I'm watching the first snowfall of the year outside my window. Not surprising since the calendar tells me that it's December already. I really can’t complain about the weather this fall in Wisconsin. We had a great October and November - at least in the Milwaukee area. I'm not sure that I'm at all ready for the cold winter weather to come.

     Of course, we don't want the kind of cold winters that my parents experienced when they were growing up. The stories that they've shared with me about the winters of the 30s makes me shiver.      In fact, both of my parents, in their grade schools years at the time, have attested to very harsh winters back then.

       My mother, who walked down the road to school from her dad’s farm, told me that during those years (1936-1939) she remembers walking on top of snow banks that were much taller than the cars driving on the road. She described it this way: “The snow banks were so high that I could almost touch the wires on the telephone poles”. Those are tall snow banks! 

       My dad also remembers his growing up winters. He said the winters often got down to 25 to 28 degrees below zero. The snow would drift up to ten feet deep on the gravel road going by their farm. A Caterpillar snowplow would then come past their house moving about a half mile an hour cleaning out the drifts and piling high snow banks. AND THEY NEVER CALLED OFF SCHOOL FOR A SNOW DAY BACK THEN! 

       When the roads were impassable, his pa would hook up the bobsled and horses for the trip to school. He would take the fresh milk to town at the same time. The kids would bundle up and sit in the back of the sled by the warm, fresh milk cans. To stay warm while driving the horses, his pa wore a fur coat extending from his neck to knees, with a fur hat and mittens. They would go across the fields, cutting the top wires of the fences on their land. The fields were more passable than the road. 

       When the roads were finally cleared, the kids would sit on their sled on top of the hill in front of their house and slide most of the way to school down the road. They’d have to take turns pulling each other the rest of the way to school. The trip home, up the high hill, wasn’t nearly as fun as the trip to school down the hill. 

       I’m not even sure if they are longing for those “good ol’ days”. Sounds mighty cold to me.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Over the Hill, NEVER!

by Connie Cortright

This week's blog is a hard one for me to write. I am admitting to the world that I'll be retiring in a couple weeks. Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled to be quitting my job, but being old enough to retire is another matter.

Since I spend half of my life submerged in the 1920s-30s (just ask my husband), I decided to look into the topic of old age - not that I'm old. I found out lots of interesting information I'd like to share with you.

Life expectancy charts in 1930 predicted that men would live to age 58 and women to age 62. That means if I were living back then, I would have been measuring my coffin size this week. With a bit more research, I found out the reason those ages were so low was the infant mortality rate. Because so many children died before the age of 21, the life expectancy charts were not accurate. Whew!

Other statistics more accurately explain the life expectancy rate of people living in the early part of the 20th Century. These charts are based on people who actually lived through their childhood years. In 1940, 60.6% of the people who made it to 21 survived to age 65. Of that group of people, the women were expected to live 14.7 years longer and the men to live 13 years longer. So that would give me more hope.

What did people who actually lived to the ripe old age of 65 do back then? Of course, the statistics I found were for men since women didn't work outside of the home after marriage in those days. (They dedicated their lives to housekeeping and raising a family.) But in 1930, fifty-eight percent of men 65 and older were still working on their jobs.

There was no Social Security check coming in the door after a person retired, so people didn't have the option to retire at all. Most men worked until they were physically unable to work because the money was needed for survival. In other words, there were no retirement years to look forward to. Most people worked until they died.

In fact, some companies, railroads among them, started offering the elderly workers pensions because having them around got too dangerous on the job site. For the railroads, mandatory retirement was at age 70 with a pension from the company paid out after that. According to that, I have several more years to work before I can retire. Now I am depressed!

Then came the Depression. That changed things. People lost their jobs way before retirement age. Many older people moved in with their families because they had no other way to cope with the lack of funds.

When the elderly didn't have families to support them they had to move to the county poor house. There the elderly and infirm were institutionalized by the government and housed until they died. If they were physically able, the men participated in the farm work growing food for the people living in these institutions. The women were assigned to housekeeping duties until they couldn't manage it anymore. By all accounts that I saw, this was an awful situation to find yourself.

That was a big reason the government had to get involved in support of older people. By 1935 the government created a program called Old Age Assistance(OAA), which gave every man and woman $20.00 per month, matched by state funds. These funds helped the elderly stay in their own homes longer. OAA prohibited money to be paid to public institutions, including the poor houses. That was a way to get the poor houses closed down.

If the elderly were not able to care for themselves at home any longer, the $40.00 per month could be used toward their support in a group home setting. This was the birth of the "old folks home". These for-profit facilities sprung up quickly to accommodate the large number of elderly needing a place to live and not able to care for themselves. The OAA recipients were paid in cash, which was in short supply during the 30s, so people were eager to use unneeded bedrooms in their homes for that purpose and established these needed nursing homes to house the elderly.

And of course, we all know about the other program - Social Security - that started up in 1942. Social Security payments eventually took the place of OAA payments. Since that time the plight of elderly has improved dramatically.

After doing all this research of the elderly during the 1930s, I'm feeling much better about my age. Sixty three isn't old at all! In fact, I'll probably go out after I retire and kick up my heels to celebrate how young I am. Have a great week!

Information taken from several websites including: Economic History of Retirement in the United States and Elder Web

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Turkey Day

by Connie Cortright

       Thanksgiving traditions… lots of good food… family gathering… Macy’s parade… football games. How are Thanksgiving celebrations different today than they were in the 20’s and 30’s?
You may be surprised to find many of the same traditions we have today were already in place during this time period. 

        First of all, the national day of giving thanks for all the blessings we receive was started officially by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. He declared the last Thursday in November to be the day of thanksgiving. Prior to this date, each state picked its own day to celebrate. The last Thursday was used each year until 1941. President Franklin Roosevelt urged the Congress to change Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday in November, as it is today.

       The tradition of giving thanks in a family gathering with lots of good food started way back with the Pilgrims, as we all learned in school. During the 20’s and 30’s, mothers and grandmothers worked much harder to get all the food ready for the family – at least before electricity came to the farm houses. Cooks were challenged by wood-burning stoves since they are hard to regulate the heat. I bet there were more burned pies or maybe turkeys back then.

       Macy’s parade… That tradition started during the 20’s. The parade started in 1920 by the employees of Macy’s Department Store in New York City. Many were immigrants and wanted to show their thanks for their adopted country. By 1927 the big helium balloons were added to the parade with Felix the Cat as the first one. The parade continued to grow in scope until 1934 when Disney joined the parade with the first Mickey Mouse balloon. It’s grown since then, except during WWII when the materials for the balloons could not be spared from war use.

       Last, but not least… football games… Football games were played on Thanksgiving Day at the high school level in the early 20’s. The NFL didn’t have Thanksgiving Day games until 1934 in Detroit. G.A Richards started this tradition with a game between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions. The difference at that time was that men were not glued to the TV watching the game (TV’s didn’t exist back then). Instead they may have been glued to the radio listening to the plays of the game. The first NFL Thanksgiving Day game was broadcast on ninety-four radio stations around the country. By the way, the Bears won that game. 

      Hope you have a great Thanksgiving Day celebration this year with family or friends. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Wastin' Away Again in... Hooverville

by Connie Cortright

The Era of the Great Depression saw the rise of a phenomenon that is unknown to many people today, the "Hooverville."  Named after hapless President Herbert Hoover whose presidency was blamed for the bad economy, these shanty towns sprang up in major cities all over the U.S. during the early 1930s.

Hoovervilles were largely populated by families who had been evicted from their homes when husbands had lost their jobs and as a result couldn't pay the mortgage or the property taxes. The country was filled with homeless men without work along with their dependents. Without a permanent roof over their heads, necessity gave birth to the rude, crude squatters' shacks of the Hoovervilles.

The shanties in the Hoovervilles were made up of any material that could be found -- discarded wood, stones, cardboard, tin, tar paper, glass, or canvas. Basically, anything men could move to a spot and use for shelter found a home--built a home!--in the Hoovervilles. Men who were skilled in carpentry and had the wood to work with were able to construct shacks that kept out the rain and cold, but lacking skill or lumber, Hooverville residents used whatever was available to provide shelter from the elements.

As the years dragged on without any improvement in the economy, some Hoovervilles grew larger and took on an air of permanence. "Citizens" organized themselves and tried to work together using their various skills to help each other. Some shantytowns even had their own mayors and sanitary committees.

Sadly, other locations turned in the opposite direction and became magnets for alcoholics and criminals, rampant with disease, dung, flies, and human misery. The prohibition years only served to exacerbate the problems.

City governments sometimes tried getting rid of these unsightly suburbs by having the police raid the residents on the excuse of looking for alcohol and illegal activity. When this happened the shanty towns were often burned and their people dispersed. But a new Hooverville would rise in another location as the dislocated relocated--they had no where else to go.

There were no government programs or social "safety net" as we have today that could help the "Hoovervillians" buy food or pay for housing. They were left to their own devices to fend for themselves;  many became bitter and angry. The poor and sick felt nothing but hopelessness.

Beginning in 1933, Congress enacted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's various New Deal programs to help the unemployed and homeless. This helped to improve the conditions that fostered the Hoovervilles, but it took the advent of World War II in 1941 to finally break the back of the seemingly intractable unemployment situation so that the Hoovervilles at last disappeared as the country marched to war.

Our present economic situation is different because of the government programs today that help the poor and homeless. Without these, it would be likely that we would see more 21st century shanty towns since the unemployment rate is still so high. But it all comes at a price: our national debt is soaring and a mentality that looks to the government to solve all problems and support all needs is growing. Still, here's hoping that we don't ever "waste away again in 'Hoovervilles'"!

Information for this article taken from : United States History website

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Red vs. Blue

by Connie Cortright

     Since most people were focused on the elections, I wanted to find out how they worked back in the day. There were no TV’s during the 20’s and 30’s so we know people weren’t glued to them like we were last night. So how did people find out the results of elections?

     I wanted to find some interesting facts about elections during the 1920’s to 30’s for you. Thanks to the help of my wonderful local librarian and online archived newspapers, here they are:

·       1920 was the first election in which women could vote. That must have been an exciting election to participate in.
·       Radio was used for the first time to air election results in Pittsburgh in 1920. Election results were called in via telephone to the radio station. While they were waiting for more results to be called in, the audience was entertained with live banjo music. Sounds like fun.
·       Newspapers across the country announced the election results by a megaphone from their front steps yet in 1920. I don’t think I’d like to stand out in the weather for hours to hear the news.
·       In the late 20’s the radio was used more for campaign speeches and election results were broadcast via radio stations. The candidates were heard live for the first time on air, so their speaking ability and even different accents affected the way people voted.
·       Polls were conducted back then to predict the results of the elections, but they were done through the mail. The Literary Digest Poll was a straw poll of 10,000,000 ballots sent out and returned by mail. They got the list of names in the phone book, list of automobile owners, and registered voters. The problem was getting people to mail the election poll back to be counted. I can’t imagine they were too accurate.
·       In 1932 Franklin Roosevelt used the song “Happy Days Are Here Again” for his campaign song for the first time. Since then it has become the unofficial anthem of Democratic Party campaigns.

     The election in 1932 was on November 8. The first page of the November 9th paper was entirely stories about the election, so results of the elections were known the next day even back then. The interesting thing is that the cover stories were entirely biographical material for president-elect Roosevelt, his wife, and the vice president-elect. Can you imagine hearing about the life of our president- elect and his wife the day AFTER the election? In most cases today, the past history is found out months before the elections.

     It would be interesting to see what campaigns were like back then. Maybe they were actually about policy topics and future plans. That would be a breath of fresh air compared to some of our negative campaigns today.

     At least, all the campaign ads are finally done for this year!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Ads You'll Never See in 2016

by Connie Cortright

Someone posted this retro ad in the kitchen at my office. I immediately thought of my blog since it looks like it was originally from the 20s or 30s. My co-worker purchased it as a joke for our kitchen, but my thought was to make this into a blog posting. Guess I've been doing this too long.

I decided to add some other early twentieth century advertisements that would never be published today to round out this post. I hope you enjoy them.

I don't think we'd use Santa Claus to sell cigarettes these days.

Children would never be allowed to play with a gun today. Parents would be shot if that happened.

Which of you men would say this to your wife? And live to tell about it at least!

Rather sexist wouldn't you say???

I don't think my daughters-in-law would agree with this one.

Does this ever happen in your neighborhood?

Was this on your Christmas wish-list this year?

Political correctness certainly has changed our world!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Halfway to Hell Club

by Connie Cortright

The amazing achievement of building the Golden Gate Bridge happened in the middle of the Great Depression. Jobs then were so scarce that any able bodied man in the San Francisco area jumped at the chance to work on the project when the call for workers came out. They would be less than truthful about how much experience they had for an ironworker position, for instance. Anything to get employed.

The contractors were required to hire local workers to fill the hundreds of positions needed during the construction. Men from other parts of the country bought addresses and Social Security numbers of city residents just to say they were local. The wages were very good also - $4 to $11 per hour (equivalent today - $45 to $125 per hour).

When they were hired, the workers found themselves working in caverns in the ground where the anchoring towers were built. Tons of cement made the base for the 63 million pound anchor towers. Later on different workers had to climb the 745-foot towers to drive rivets into the steel towers to make them secure.

By June, 1936, the construction workers started building the roadway. Keep in mind that they were working high in the air while this was proceeding. The strong wind at that height was enough to scare any man. The fog added to the problem bringing dampness that turned the steel icy when they were working. On cold days they had to wear all the layers of clothes they could find, and still they almost froze, suspended on the heights.

Joseph Strauss, the structural engineer, implemented safety measures for the men. He insisted that a safety net was in place under the entire bridge during the the roadway construction. During these years of construction, this safety net saved the life of nineteen men who fell from the structure and were caught in the net. These men formed a club and named it the "Halfway to Hell Club".

Unfortunately, during the last months of the construction, an accident happened that claimed the lives of ten men in February, 1937. The men were removing a wooden scaffold underneath the bridge since it was no longer needed. They were working on a temporary catwalk which was not attached properly. As they removed planks from the scaffold, the catwalk collapsed taking down the safety net with it into the freezing water.

A couple of the men survived the 220 foot fall, but ten men were killed, either by the fall or the freezing temperatures of the water. There is a plaque on the southern end of the bridge today commemorating these brave men who built this bridge.

Click on this link to see more amazing pictures of the building of this landmark in our country: Life on the Gate Working on the Golden Gate Bridge-1933-37 The bravery and stamina that these men showed was a great example for others across the country to copy. 

Information taken from American Experience Features/biography/goldengate-Workers

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bridging the Gate

by Connie Cortright 

One of the most impressive accomplishments of the 1930s was the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge across the strait near San Francisco. In the early 20th Century, San Francisco had a hard time growing because it was so cut off of the surrounding land areas by water. The only way to access the city from the north was by Southern Pacific automobile ferries. It was a timely venture for anyone who lived north of the city to commute by ferry to work on a daily basis. 

By the early 20s, many people were attempting to design a bridge that would span the mile-wide distance between the points of land. Many experts fought the idea, saying it was impossible to build a bridge over the strait with its strong tides and currents with water up to 372 feet deep. The powerful winds blowing through the strait, plus the fog that comes and goes almost daily, would hinder the progress of building this bridge. 

The naysayers lost the battle when the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District Act passed the state legislature in 1923. That act made it possible to do the necessary planning and financing for the bridge. Joseph Strauss, who had drawn up a design for the bridge before 1920, was the chief engineer for the project. With the help of Leon Moisseiff, the architect of the Manhattan Bridge in New York City, the final plans were drawn to make a suspension bridge to cross the expanse. 

Plans for the bridge proceeded until the stock market crash of 1929. After that time, another source of money had to be found when the finances of the country and city collapsed. The $30 million bond was approved in 1931 by the District so construction could now proceed. 

The construction of the bridge began in January of 1933. Thousands of men worked on this project during the next four years under many different contractors. The progress of the building can be seen by clicking on the following link Golden Gate BridgeConstruction/ Photos. The pictures in this link tell the story much better than words can.

The bridge was opened on May 27, 1937 for pedestrian traffic only. Two hundred thousand people walked across the suspension bridge that day to get a close look at the technical achievement accomplished by the brave men who built it. The next day it was open to vehicular traffic. Since that date it has been only closed three times due to high winds.

It's not the longest suspension bridge in the world today, but it was from 1937 until 1964. It is still one of the most photographed and recognized suspension bridges in the world.

Have you ever visited this amazing landmark?

Information taken from American Experience-Golden Gate Workers and from Wikipedia -Golden Gate Bridge. Photos taken from Wikicommons.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Would You Like a Hot Cup of George?

by Connie Cortright

These days coffee comes in all sizes, colors and flavors from Keurig machines to Espresso Cafes. We are used to getting a hot cup of "joe" any time of the day in two minutes flat.

But, how about a "cup of George"?  If you were a soldier in the trenches during World War I, you'd know what I mean. Back then the doughboys drank cups of George-named after George Washington Coffee-when they needed a hit of caffeine.

George Constant Louis Washington was the first person to mass produce instant coffee in America around 1910. Coffee had been boiled and consumed for centuries prior to that, but Mr. Washington discovered a way to hurry the process by making instant coffee powder. However, most people didn't appreciate his novel idea because of the disagreeable taste.

The soldiers in France drank it eagerly because the caffeine kept them awake and alert during the long days in the trenches, despite the bad taste. As documented by an American soldier in 1918: "I am very happy despite the rats, the rain, the mud, the drafts, the roar of the cannon and the scream of shells. It takes only a minute to light my little oil heater and make some George Washington Coffee... Every night I offer up a special petition to the health and well-being of [Mr. Washington]." At least they could have coffee without lugging around a coffee pot.

Photos from Wikicommons
After the soldiers returned from the war, instant coffee showed up on more kitchen cabinets in our country. Because of Prohibition in 1919 the sale of coffee soared and other companies introduced an instant coffee line such as Bantam Coffee.

In 1938 the Nestle's company invented freeze-dried coffee which tasted much closer to the real thing. It was sold under the brand name Nescafe. A short time after that Maxwell House started marketing their instant coffee also.

At the start of World War II the demand for instant coffee spiked again to supply the soldiers abroad. During one year the entire production from the US Nescafe plant - over one million cases- went solely to the military.

Today's form of coffee from the Keurig machine is amazingly fast and of a very good quality, but would be hard pressed to be used by soldiers in the field of duty. They probably have to revert to instant coffee again when soldiers need a bit of caffeine.

Information taken from  The History of Instant Coffee

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Little Train That Could

by Connie Cortright

Several years ago my husband and I took a trip to Dubuque, Iowa to visit the sights. We encountered something so unique that I decided to set my second novel in Dubuque just to let my characters experience the same thing. We rode on the Fenelon Place Elevator also known as Fourth Street Elevator - the steepest and shortest railway in the United States.

If anyone has traveled along the Mississippi River, you've seen the bluffs lining both sides of the river-especially the western bank. Dubuque also has these bluffs, west of the downtown area. In the 1800s when Dubuque was growing westward, houses were built on top of the bluffs. The residents had a hard time commuting up and down the bluff to work in the downtown area.

In 1882 Julius K. Graves received permission from the city council to build a one-car rail system using a Swiss-style incline railway. After several fires destroyed the cable cars, a unique system was installed that has lasted until today.

The 286-foot railway that has three rails widening to four in the middle section to allow the two cars to pass each other up or down the 189-foot cliff. It's run by a powerful motor that pulls the cable car up the cliff and conversely the other one goes down the same route, meeting in the middle of the bluff where the tracks are wider to by-pass each other. As one is pulled up the cliff, the other descends.

The two cars hold eight passengers, sitting opposite each other on stair-like seats ten inches below the person seated next to you. The short ride up the bluff in the open car only lasts about five minutes, giving you a splendid view of the city and surrounding river scenery as you approach the pinnacle of the ride on the bluff. The amazing thing is that this fun adventure only costs fifty cents per person today yet.

Here's the description of this event from my second book in the Grace Alone Series -"Lead Me Home". I'm hoping this novel will be published early in 2017.

When the passengers disembarked from the car, Cissy entered first. The tiny car was built at such a steep angle for the hill that each person had to sit on a step-like seat opposite one other person. Harry and Cissy walked up several steps to sit in these highest seats. Romy let Ruth proceed in front of him, climbing to the seat a foot below Cissy. Romy followed after her and sat across from Ruth below Harry.
“Cissy, you sure were right about being tiny.” Ruth looked as excited as a kid eating her first lollipop as she glanced around.
Romy juggled the large box from one leg to the other as he got situated on his narrow bench. His knees brushed against hers in the cramped space. Warmth spread up his leg, so he tried to make himself smaller as the last four passengers entered the tram. He couldn’t move even an inch and resolved to enjoy the ride no matter what.
The cog train jerked as it left the station on its short journey to the top of the bluff. The car rose at a snail's pace and, in due course, cleared the treetops. Cissy pointed toward the east. “Oh, look at the view of the Mississippi River. I just love to see across the valley to Wisconsin and Illinois.”
Romy twisted his neck to see the view out of the dirt-covered windows before looking across at Ruth. Her face was red enough to light up a Christmas tree. What’s wrong now? She gnawed on her lower lip and looked everywhere except at him. Was she uncomfortable because of their knees? Heat rose on his cheeks, but what could he do about it?
There was no way he could maneuver to avoid contact with her. Just ignore the situation. The five-minute ride up the bluff took an eternity. The rhythmic slap, slap of the cable rope strained to tow the tram up the cliff. How long would this take? He bit his tongue to stop himself from screaming. At long last the car shuddered to a stop in the upper station house.

Information taken from Encyclopedia Dubuque

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Grease... Not the Musical

by Connie Cortright

Used from WikiCommons
This week we're going a bit back in time before the 20s, 1911 to be exact. Crisco, first produced in 1911 by Procter and Gamble, was marketed as the new modern, scientific substitute for grease used for frying food. Made with all hydrogenated vegetable oils, it was introduced as an alternative to cooking with animal fats and butters. Part of the reason that women liked it was the fact that it stayed solid in the container no matter what the temperature was outside.

One hundred years ago Crisco was advertised to the wives of America as THE product needed to deep fry French fried potatoes, or fried chicken, or maybe even fish. You could use the same Crisco over and over again for frying because the taste of the food didn't carry from one food to the other. Crisco would cool down and could be poured back into the same original can because it was hydrogenated. It was the perfect thing to use in your kitchen every day for your food preparation.

Used from WikiCommons
As one advertisement read: "Having satisfied themselves, by actual experience, of the purity, richness, digestibility, economy and convenience of Crisco, they and their friends--and the friends of their friends--began to buy it in ever-increasing quantity."
Procter & Gamble helped to advertise the use of their new product by creating recipes for Crisco and sending cookbooks to wives across the country. They also had home economists teach cooking classes to the wives and daughters introducing the new recipes to them.

As in other food manufacturers, Procter & Gamble was very aware of the concern of consumers at this time to practice high cleanliness and hygiene in their factories. They required all employees to wear uniforms and had standards of cleanliness in the packing lines. The consumers reacted positively when these standards were publicized in advertisements.

In the 20s, Crisco started to be sold in an airtight can that was opened with a key. The airtight container kept the shortening fresher until it was used so the food tasted better as well. These cans were used into the 1960s, so I remember opening cans of Crisco like that.

Procter & Gamble used the radio airwaves to advertise their product in the late 20s and 30s. The cooking shows highlighting recipes made with Crisco were very popular among housewives. Mmmm... deep fried home-made raised doughnuts. Makes my mouth water to think of them.
Used from WikiCommons

While I was doing research for this blog post, I searched to understand What are hydrogenated fats?
The first sentence of this article says, "Hydrogenated fats are unnatural fats that are detrimental to your health." It goes on to explain that foods made with hydrogenated fats - like Crisco - are cheaper and less perishable than animal fats - like butter, but they don't digest as well and remain "stuck" in your blood circulation causing heart disease and possibly cancer.

It's amazing to think how much we've learned in a hundred years. Something that was touted as being good for you and digestible, now is looked on as bad for your health. I wonder how many cans of Crisco are still sitting on kitchen shelves today. I know I haven't had one in my kitchen for decades.

Information taken from Crisco History.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Button Up

by Connie Cortright

What to wear? What shoes should I wear? Those are two questions that every woman probably asks herself every morning. Maybe back in the early 20th Century, the first question was asked regularly, but I doubt if the second question was asked that often.

In the early 1900s most women probably didn't have too many choices for shoes. The fashion back then was to have button-down, also known as high-button, shoes. These shoes became the style in the late 1800s and remained in high fashion until after World War I. These leather shoes, rising well above the ankle, were fastened by a row of buttons that fastened an extra flap of leather over the front of the shoe.

I don't know about you, but those shoes don't look too comfortable to me. The reason they were so high was to prevent any gentleman from peaking at the ankles of his woman friend if her ankle length skirt happened to ride up an inch or so.

Can you imagine reaching all the way to your feet to button those small buttons into the buttonholes? People found it nearly impossible back then also. Thus a very necessary tool was invented to help with this--the buttonhook.

The buttonhook, a small metal device with a hook on the end, was invented for the sole :) purpose of buttoning the small buttons that couldn't be reached easily. Some of these buttonhooks were ornately decorated on the flat end to show prestige.

"Once the shoes were on the feet, the hook was threaded through each small buttonhole, then hooked around the button and pulled back out, buttoning the shoe," according to "Fashion Encyclopedia." I'm sure the process of buttoning your shoes was accomplished much faster with the use of a buttonhook. 
As the hemlines of skirts started getting shorter after WWI, the use of buttonhole shoes became unfashionable. Now women were happy to show off their ankles and legs with the new "flapper" dresses that were worn in the 20s.

It was interesting to learn that the collection of buttonhooks didn't disappear along with those old style shoes. In fact, if you still own a collection of buttonhooks today you might be in the The Buttonhook Society and even attend their annual convention. Check out the web page if you collect these rare gems.

For me, I'm glad we wear flip-flops or sandals these days. High-button shoes do not sound too appealing to me.

Information taken from History of Button-Down Shoes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Just for September

by Connie Cortright

Something different this week: a poem by Edgar Albert Guest who was a prolific writer in the 1920s and 30s. In fact, he was so well known that he had his own radio show in the Detroit area during the 1930s. I'm going to share a poem of his that is very fitting for the season.

It's September

It's September, and the orchards are afire with red and gold,
And the nights with dew are heavy, and the morning's sharp with cold;
Now the garden's at its gayest with the salvia blazing red
And the good old-fashioned asters laughing at us from their bed;
Once again in shoes and stockings are the children's little feet,
And the dog now does his snoozing on the bright side of the street.

It's September, and the cornstalks are as high as they will go,
And the red cheeks of the apples everywhere begin to show;
Now the supper's scarcely over ere the darkness settles down
And the moon looms big and yellow at the edges of the town;
Oh, it's good to see the children, when their little prayers are said,
Duck beneath the patchwork covers when they tumble into bed.

It's September, and a calmness and a sweetness seem to fall
Over everything that's living, just as though it hears the call
Of Old Winter, trudging slowly, with his pack of ice and snow,
In the distance over yonder, and it somehow seems as though
Every tiny little blossom wants to look its very best
When the frost shall bite its petals and it droops away to rest.

It's September! It's the fullness and the ripeness of the year;
All the work of earth is finished, or the final tasks are near,
But there is no doleful wailing; every living thing that grows,
For the end that is approaching wears the finest garb it knows.
And I pray that I may proudly hold my head up high and smile
When I come to my September in the golden afterwhile.

Information taken from Wikipedia - Edgar Guest and Poemhunter: Edgar Albert Guest

In loving memory of my father: Willard Laabs November 16, 1928 - September 7, 2016.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Hearing is Believing

by Connie Cortright

Last week my husband and I went to see a new movie that came out recently called "Florence Foster Jenkins" about the career of a singer in the 1920s-1940s. This woman's story is very unique in that her claim to fame was her lack of talent.

Florence Jenkins longed to be a performer from the age of seven when she would play piano to entertain people under the name of "Little Miss Foster". In 1885, she married Frank Jenkins, who gave her syphilis after their wedding. She struggled with this disease for the rest of her life. At that time, the known "cure" for syphilis was arsenic (which might have affected her singing voice). She never recovered fully from this dreadful disease.

In 1909 she married St. Clair Bayfield who became her manager for her singing career. With the help of her father's trust, she used her wealth to become a benefactress for the arts in New York City, in particular musical performances at the Verdi Club.

In 1912, she started private vocal lessons to improve her singing skills. Because of her wealth, the people around her praised her singing ability just to keep her happy. She loved operatic music and, in private musical recitals, would insist on performing technically challenging music that was beyond her ability. By 1917, she performed on stage at the Verdi Club to an audience that had been hand-picked by "Lady Florence" herself.

Before long, Lady Florence became known for her terrible singing ability. "She is described as having great difficulty with such basic vocal skills as pitch, rhythm, and sustaining notes and phrases." Her accompanist Cosme McMoon had to adjust his tempo and rhythms just to accommodate her mistakes.  Her bad singing combined with her flamboyant costumes brought the audience back to see her again and again.

Her friends and hand-picked audience would cheer and applaud to disguise the laughter so as to have her continue to sing the pieces. "Jenkins was exquisitely bad, so bad that it added up to quite a good evening of theater." Cole Porter was one of her attendees during the 30s and 40s. "They say Cole Porter had to bang his cane into his foot in order not to laugh out loud when she sang. She was that bad." But Mr. Porter never missed a recital. Click on the link to hear for yourself: You Tube - Florence Foster Jenkins (she made recordings of her voice and sold record albums)

Her manager husband and McMoon encouraged her singing and avoided telling her the truth about her ability so as not to hurt her feelings. The public heard about this singing "diva" and demanded a concert open to the general public. On October 25, 1944, Jenkins finally sang at Carnegie Hall for general-public admission. The concert was sold out with 2000 people waiting at the door. However, now that the public finally heard her bad singing, the newspapers gave truthful reviews that panned her performance and in one case calling it "one of the weirdest mass jokes New York has ever seen." Five days after hearing the uncensored truth about her voice, Jenkins suffered a heart attack and died within a month.

No one was quite sure if she knew the truth about her audiences or not. She once told her friend, "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

This story is portrayed in a very amusing and interesting way by Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant in the movie "Florence Foster Jenkins". I highly recommend seeing it just to hear Streep's portrayal of Lady Florence's terrible voice. She did a great job of singing off-key.

Information taken from Wikipedia: Florence Foster Jenkins

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Why the Hindenburg Disaster was Newsworthy

by Connie Cortright

We've had a discussion of dirigibles for the last couple weeks and learned that many of them crashed between 1930 and 1937. So, why was the Hindenburg disaster so important to history?

Part of its significance was the insignia on the tail fin of the airship - the Swastika. The Zeppelin Company from Germany built it and placed this German symbol on the fins.

During the 30s, Hitler's power was growing. He wanted to show that Germany was superior to other countries in the world. By having the Zeppelins successfully fly important people around the world when other countries failed to fly these long distances, he was proving that Germany surpassed everyone else. 

When it crashed in May, 1937, the news reverberated around the world. It was a defeat for Germany - at least for Hitler's boasting.

Herbert Morrison

The other reason this disaster was so well-known is the media coverage that memorialized it. WLS radio from Chicago wanted to share this historic event - the landing of the Hindenburg - with their Chicago audience. Of course, they planned to record it not knowing what the day would bring. Back in those days, they didn't have the equipment to do a live broadcast, so they sent an announcer - Herbert Morrison - and his engineer - Charlie Nehlsen - to make a recording of the event at the naval station. The thought was to get on an airplane and get back to Chicago to play the broadcast the next day. 

Morrison and Nehlsen had their recording equipment set up and ready when the airship came in sight. Morrison started recording his voice description of the event as he usually would. When he saw flames coming out of the tail, he described what happened with his hysterical comments included. As a result, there is a voice recording of the events as they unfolded before his eyes. 

At the same time, other news sources were recording the event of the landing on newsreels. The footage of the airship bursting into flames and crashing to the ground was very dramatic, to say the least. At a later time, Morrison's voice was linked with the newsreel's video footage to make it more dramatic. Click on this link to see and hear a short portion of the recording:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ad9tholMEM

The drama is palpable when one sees the event and hears Morrison's emotional commentary. This video, with a different narration, was shared in the movie theaters across the world, bringing the end of the Zeppelins for commercial flights.  No one wanted to pay to fly on something this unsafe.

Morrison's voice recording was indeed flown back to Chicago and broadcast to the Chicago radio audience later that night. NBC Radio played portions of it across the country bringing this important event to the awareness of millions of Americans. It was the first time a recording of a news event was ever broadcast from coast-to-coast. 

This event is now considered a classic in audio history and is the most well-known event involving a dirigible to this day. Our 24/7 news coverage we have today had its beginning in 1937 with this on-the-scene description that Morrison happened to witness on that fateful day. After this exciting news coverage, the American audience wanted to hear live coverage for other events, including WWII. 

Information taken from Wikipedia Herbert Morrison (announcer) and Wikipedia Hindenburg disaster