Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Government Shell Game

by Connie Cortright

As we learned last week, FDR's programs during the Depression made a difference in many areas of the country as it got people back into the work force. Besides parks, the WPA built band shells in 27 communities across the country.

During the 1930s, music was a way to escape the pain of daily life and band shells brought music to a community during the summer months. Big Band music was the rage back then with the beginning of such bands as the Tommy Dorsey Band, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. These bands toured the country from town to town before they hit the big time. The local band shells in the community parks were the perfect place for them to have a concert.

The WPA put up money for the communities to build their band shells in parks. Cities from Daytona Beach, Florida to Johnstown, Pennsylvania to San Diego, California took advantage of these funds and built band shells in their towns.

Men and women would gather on the grass on a warm summer evening and listen to the music to forget about their problems. They'd bring blankets to sit on or bring chairs from home.

The band shells were most often looked like a half dome to help broadcast the sound of the music without the aid of a speaker system. Made out of various materials such as wood, stone, or brick, the shells were designed by local architects and built by local companies using the federal funds for wages. Here are a few of the WPA band shells.

Bedford, IN

Johnstown, PA
Daytona Beach, FL

Pueblo, Co

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Makings of a Park in Dubuque, Iowa

by Connie Cortright

Last week in the article about "Alphabet Soup", the WPA was introduced as one of the many federal programs developed during the Depression to give jobs to the unemployed. This Works Progress Administration granted money to local governments to do improvement in communities.

One of these projects is mentioned in my second novel "Lead Me Home", taking place in Dubuque, Iowa. The city council hired Alfred Caldwell in 1934 to head up the project using $200,000 from the government. The plan was to construct stone shelters and gardens in Eagle Point Park, which sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in Dubuque.

Caldwell hired 400 workers to help with the construction of these buildings and walkways. According to my upcoming novel, one of these was Harry the brother of my hero. He left the farm work to his father and brothers and went to town to work on this government job. The family needed to have some cash income to purchase necessary items during the Depression. At that time the farm allowed people to survive, but didn't bring in much extra funds. "Harry" was one of 20 million people hired with federal dollars to do city or county projects across the country.

Since Caldwell was an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, he designed the park in the same Prairie Architecture Style that Wright used. The stone shelters and gardens are very unique for parks, making Eagle Point Park one the most beautiful in the Midwest.

Caldwell designed this building to be used as the office headquarters of the park. Wright's influence can be seen in the horizontal features of these buildings, using natural materials and blending them into the surrounding landscape as much as possible.
My husband and I visited Dubuque years ago, before I decided to use this location for my second novel. However, after finding out it was part of the WPA program and built in the 30s, I knew that it would show up as part of my story in "Lead Me Home".

In 2004, the park shelters built in 1937 by Caldwell were "recognized by the American Institute of Architects as among the most influential structures in Iowa from the decade."

We really enjoyed our visit to this park and encourage anyone visiting Dubuque to stop by and see this architecture. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Alphabet Soup

by Connie Cortight
Photo taken from Wikicommons

Last week our guest author introduced us to the Federal Writer's Project started in the 1930s during the Great Depression. That was one of New Deal programs instituted by President Roosevelt in an attempt to hire millions of unemployed men and women across the country during those years.

Since so many workers had lost their jobs, Roosevelt used his executive power to institute programs using federal tax dollars to find work for them. His thinking was that if these unemployed people went back to work, they would spend their money and bring the economy back from the depression. Sound familiar?

All these programs with their descriptive names ended up looking like alphabet soup when they were named. Some of the programs lasted only for a limited time until their purpose was completed. Here are a few of those:

CCC - Civilian Conservation Corps- Undertook conservation projects across the country including planting 3 billion trees in parks or federal land. They carved out the hiking trails in many of the national parks that are still used by people visiting these parks today.

WPA - Works Progress Administration - Hired up to 20 million people doing public projects across the country such as building high schools, parks, etc.

REA - Rural Electrification Administration - Installed poles and wires to bring electricity to farmers living out in the country. My dad experienced this when electricity was installed on the farm when he was a boy.

NRA - National Recovery Administration

NLB - National Labor Board

Many more programs were started in the 30s still exist in the government today such as:

TVA - Tennessee Valley Authority - Bringing soil conservation and supply hydro-electric power to the people in the Tennessee Valley.

FCC - Federal Communications Commission - They've been trying to regulate programs on radio stations.

NLRB - National Labor Relations Board - They've been in the news in the last couple years with their process of selecting members of the board.

RRB - Railroad Retirement Board - This could probably be disbanded.

USHA - US Housing Authority

FCIC - Federal Crop Insurance Corp. - This one probably could be disbanded also.

SSA - Social Security Administration - We all are well acquainted with this one.

SEC - Securities and Exchange Commission - They've been in the news lately also.

Roosevelt's New Deal did bring jobs to millions of people who were out of work during the Great Depression, but it also expanded the scope of the US Government giving it power it had never had before. The government has not gone back to its pre-Roosevelt size since then.

I will commend President Roosevelt for getting all those people back into the work force, at least. Today the government gives them paychecks to stay home and watch TV, or whatever. They don't even try to get jobs when "Now Hiring" signs are posted in so many windows around town these days. It would be interesting to see what would happen if they were required to work.

Information taken from Periodic Table of Programs Click on the link to find a chart of all the New Deal Programs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Federal Writer's Project-- Part of FDR's New Deal

This week we have a guest writer for this blog, Jennifer Uhlarik. This post was originally published on Heroes, Heroines, and History on April 25th. Since our post last week mentioned FDR, I thought you might enjoy this one also. Check out the information about Jennifer's new book on the bottom of the post. Thanks much, Jennifer for sharing this information with us.

By Jennifer Uhlarik

Franklin D. Roosevelt
I’m sure we’ve all heard of the Stock Market crash that occurred on September 24, 1929, when the market lost eleven percent of its value in a single day. Most of us know that this was a contributing factor to the decade-long Great Depression, when countries all around the world saw enormous economic decline. In the United States alone, the unemployment rate soared to twenty-five percent during this period. And plenty of us heard about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” a series of government programs put in place in the 1930’s in order to get Americans back to work through the “3 R’s” of Relief, Recovery, and Reform.

I remember learning all of these things in my middle and high school history classes, but they were all just static facts of American history to me until this past December. That’s when my husband and I received a phone call that brought this era of history to life for me. We’d arrived home from a nice dinner out to find a message from my husband’s long-lost step-sister. Her mother had passed away the month before, and in going through her mom’s effects, she’d found a box of my husband’s father’s things which she wanted to return to us.

Carl Uhlarik
When the box arrived, we were thrilled to find black and white photos of my husband’s parents and grandparents, old watches, birth and baptism certificates, diplomas, and other interesting memorabilia. But of most interest to me were a set of hand-written notes on notebook paper, as well as an old journal—all which had belonged to Carl Uhlarik, my husband’s grandfather. As we read over Carl’s neat script, we found the loose-leaf pages to be a journal of his efforts to write and publish a novel. The journal, dated February 10, 1939, was an odd assortment of sentences, phrases, and short paragraphs detailing story ideas he’d written down to remember for future writing endeavors. These items began to bring the man I’d never met to life, and it made me quite curious to know more about him. Thankfully, my husband remembered the basics…and despite the fact that Carl lived long before its invention, the internet helped me research other aspects of his life. The most interesting detail I found was that he worked for the Nebraska branch of the Federal Writers’ Project, one of the many arms of FDR’s New Deal program.

The Federal Writers’ Project was created in 1935 to provide employment for librarians, teachers, historians, writers, and other white-collar workers who were otherwise unfit for manual labor jobs. Instead, these folks were tasked with writing guide books about the peoples, geography, history, resources, traditions, and achievements of their respective states. All 48 states at that time had a guide book, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. The American Guide Series is still considered to be one of the most comprehensive surveys of the American cultural geography ever written.

FWP authors at work in their Lincoln, Nebraska office.

Over time, the job expanded to more than just the guide books for each state. These historians went on to write the oral traditions, folklore, interesting tidbits, and historical facts for their states. Today, the Library of Congress contains over 300,000 pieces written by the authors of the Federal Writers’ Project, all filed under the American Memory Collection.

Some of the staff of Nebraska's Federal Writers Project team. We aren't sure, but
believe the man standing left of the two posters in the right corner may be Carl Uhlarik.
I can’t say what happened to all of the men and women who worked with the Federal Writers’ Project in the late 1930’s, but for Carl Uhlarik, his stint with the FWP set him on the path of writing throughout the rest of his life. He went on to work long-term jobs in radio and newspaper news, as well as doing freelance articles for various magazines. Among those are various western history magazines such as The West Magazine and Real West Magazine. It was pretty exciting to search the internet and find digital copies of a few of his articles published in the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s. I was also able to find and a few magazines on Ebay with his articles inside. What a thrill to read his words all these years later. It made him come alive in a way I never expected to experience, and he made The New Deal come alive in my brain in a way that it never had before.

It’s your turn: Have you explored your family tree and discovered any interesting characters? Who are they? Did discovering your ancestors make history come alive for you in a new way?

Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.


The Convenient Bride Collection
Join nine brides of convenience on their adventures in a variety of times and settings gone by—from a ranch in California…to the rugged mountains of Colorado…to a steamship on the Mississippi…to the dangerous excitement of the Oregon Trail…into high society of New York City. No matter the time or place, the convenient brides proceed with what must be done, taking nuptials out of necessity. . .and never dreaming that God might take their feeble attempts to secure their futures and turn them into true love stories for His glory.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Most Famous Victim

by Connie Cortright
Photo taken from Wikicommons

Last week this blog described polio, the devastating disease that infected millions of children around the country during the early 20th Century. But the fact is, it didn't always hit children. The most famous person to contract infantile paralysis was a 39-year-old adult -- Franklin Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was enjoying the summer of 1921 at his family's cottage on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada when the symptoms started. In a matter of a couple days, he went from having back pain and weakness in his legs to being paralyzed from his waist down and in agony.

His wife Eleanor, seeing him in pain, contacted the best doctors to diagnose his problem. In August, 1921, Dr. Robert Lovett finally diagnosed him with infantile paralysis after several wrong diagnoses by others. Franklin and his wife were stunned by the verdict since adults were not known to contract polio.

He dropped out of political life to try to deal with the debilitating disease. By the fall, the disease had run its course and Franklin was left with the process of rehabilitation. He must have been wondering if would he ever be able to walk again.  He found that swimming helped to strengthen his arms and stomach muscles. He spent hours a day in the pool because it temporarily gave him a feeling of independence.

In early 1922 his legs were fitted for braces because they were so weakened from the disease. With much hard work and exercise, he was able to stand with assistance by spring.

When he heard that the "healing waters" of Warm Springs, Georgia had cured another polio victim, he headed south to see if that would work for him in 1924. The waters did not cure him, but he continued to visit Warm Springs for the rest of his life for rehabilitation.

After years of exercise and therapy, he was able to walk with braces on his legs for short distances. His wife persuaded him to re-enter the political arena by 1928 knowing that he'd have to live with his disability for the remainder of his life.

He was elected governor of New York in 1928, proving that his handicap did not affect how the voters viewed him. He was elected twice as governor before running for president in 1932. This was before the days of television, so the general public never really knew that he had a disability. They only knew him through his voice on the radio, never realizing that he was speaking from a wheelchair.

Chatting with another polio victim
After he was elected president in 1932, he had to appear in public places more often for making speeches, etc. Since Roosevelt was the first president who had a disability while in the White House, he tried to minimize his disability whenever possible by holding on to his wife's arm while walking or standing. He had a wheelchair specially made for him by putting bicycle-like wheels onto a dining room chair so that the chair would more easily fit in hallways and through doors. He wanted to be as normal as possible.

He requested that the press would only take photographs of him while he was sitting or from the waist up. He didn't want people to see that he was wheelchair bound most of the time. With the help of his braces, he was able to stand and walk with assistance on some occasions.

He did use the "bully pulpit" to bring awareness to the fight against polio. In 1938 he urged the citizens of the country to donate to the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to help in research against this disease. This foundation, later renamed the March of Dimes, raised one million dollars which helped to develop the Salk vaccine to fight polio.

Until researching for this topic, I never realized that Roosevelt suffered from polio. He didn't waver from his goals even after he was afflicted with this terrible disease. That takes great amounts of courage and fortitude.

 I may not agree with his political ideology, but I do admire him for the courageous way he faced life every day with this handicap. We often give up with small hurdles to cross, but Roosevelt never gave up during the darkest days of the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, and the following years of World War II.

Do you have someone that you admire who has overcome an impossible situation?

Information taken from FDR Library - about polio