Thursday, May 31, 2012

Culture 101 (part 4) - Gold Diggers and the Great Depression

As a baby boomer, I grew up with parents who had lived through the Great Depression.

The mantra of their generation:

Use it up
Wear it out
Make do
Or do without

I'd also hear:

"We did not have this in the Great Depression."


"We did not have that in the Great Depression."

And it didn't take long for me to get sick and tired of hearing about the Great Depression!

I'm sure my folks were frustrated, too, by us young people - at least we were young back then - who didn't seem to have a clue as to what they had gone through when they were our age. But art and history had left us with many clues. Let's take a gander at the ....

Art of that era

Lange - Migrant Mother
Much artwork masterfully reflected the desperation of the Great Depression. One famous example - Dorothea Lange captured a snapshot of the harsh reality of the times in her iconic photography: Dorothea Lange | Shorpy Historical Photo Archive

Another, John Steinbeck's novel - The Grapes of Wrath - was made into an Oscar winning motion picture in 1940, telling the story of migrants, driven from their farms during the Dust Bowl to seek out work in the promised land of California.

But many ordinary people just wanted relief ... even if that relief came in the form of a fantasy to provide an ...

Escape from the grim reality of the Great Depression

And the movies provided such an escape - at least for an hour or two. Many motion pictures portrayed the blue bloods, high society, easy living in "screwball" comedies.
(reference: Movies in the Great Depression)

Warner Brothers put out one such movie in the 1930s with a seemingly escapist plot:

Millionaire turned composer rescues unemployed Broadway people with a new play ....


The Gold Diggers of 1933

The Gold Diggers of 1933 did not disappoint their audience's hunger for escape with its characters of millionaires, high society, show girls, in another screwball comedy.

The title characters - the Gold Diggers - were the scheming show girls (Fay, Polly, Carol, Trixie) - who mixed it up with the blue bloods. Polly's heart throb, aspiring song writer Brad Roberts, hid that he was an heir to a large fortune. When Brad's cover was blown, his big brother Lawrence tried to stop Brad's marriage plans to a Gold Digger with not much help from the family lawyer, who happened to love show girls.

The first scene of the movie, shown below, opened with a fluffy number sung by Fay, played by Ginger Rogers - who also was in other films as the famous dancing partner of Fred Astaire.

$$$ We're in the Money $$$

We're in the Money conveyed a common theme during troubling economic times when many dream of wealth beyond their reach.

The opening number was cut short as the Broadway show was in trouble from the get go due to lack of funds. Alas, it closed before it had a chance to open, and the producer, Barney Hopkins, and the show girls were back looking for work. But Barney would not give up and had a wonderful idea for his next show, but needed ... money. Help came from Polly's sweetheart, Brad, the aspiring song writer - and a secret millionaire.

Most of the movie was fun with some more fluffy and even risque numbers - such as, Pettin in the Park. (This movie was" pre-code," made before the Hays code came fully into effect.) And those scheming Gold Diggers created mischief and chaos by swapping identities and toying with the blue bloods. But in the end Polly, Carol, and Trixie caught millionaires for husbands. Not so sure what happened to Fay.

For all its fun and good feel ...

The final scene of the movie surprised me.

In the first part of the movie, after Barney's show had closed before it opened, the producer was not to be kept down. Barney wanted to put on another show - a great show - that captured the spirit of the Great Depression. And song writer Brad happened to be working on such a piece - inspired by what he had witnessed out on the streets of New York - the forgotten man.

(The inspiration for Barney's next show is shown in first seconds of the clip below. Then the remainder of the clip shows the result, the final scene of the movie.)

Carol, played by Joan Blondell, sang the final number in Barney's Broadway show as well as the final scene in the Gold Diggers of 1933 movie. (If the name of the actress sounds familiar to you baby boomers, Joan Blondell also played saloon/hotel keeper Lottie Hatfield in a popular TV series of (1968- 70) - Here Come the Brides.) The lyrics and a commentary can be found here: Remember My Forgotten Man (1933)

This clip below is worth a serious look.

Remember My Forgotten Man?

The End!!!

This was the final scene of the movie. Period. No more on how well the show was received by the public. No more about the producer, the Gold Diggers, or their beaus. Yet, on this somewhat downer note, Warner Brothers captured the ...

Zeitgeist - the spirit of the times ...

and the forgotten man endemic of the Hoovervilles that went up at the time.

And - for me - the final number captured some of the spirit of the times we are now living in. The country has been suffering through a deep recession and many - men, women, and children - undoubtedly feel like ...

the forgotten man,
the forgotten woman,
the forgotten child.

Some of the scenes in the final number got to me as I thought of the war veterans from Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places home and abroad, which we owe a debt of gratitude. Tragically, many veterans have fallen on hard times, too, and are homeless.

Such scenes of the World War One veterans are shown in the clip above at these time stamps:

* Time stamp: 4:15 - The vagrant slumped near the doorway, harassed by the police officer, turns out to be a veteran with medal.

* Time stamp: 4:35 - The tempo increases showing the call to arms during World War One, followed by the troops coming back beat and wounded only to face unemployment and the bread lines of the Great Depression.

And my grandfather was one of those veterans of World War One, who really had to hustle to support his family and keep a job that had shrunk to only two or three days a week.

This final scene of the Gold Diggers of 1933 gave me a taste of the Great Depression and what the Greatest Generation had gone through.

And Remember My Forgotten Man?
from the Gold Diggers of 1933

- conveying the zeitgeist of the Great Depression as well as other trying times in our history and the challenges yet to come -
are part of the American culture
which, Lord willing, will be continued to be reinforced in this blog ....


Previous posts in the Culture 101 series:

Culture 101 (part 1) - Reagan's Challenge (2012)

Culture 101 (part 2) - Easter Eucatastrophe (2012)

Culture 101 (part 3) - Paul Revere's Ride (2012)


Eye witness accounts of the Great Depression:

The Great Depression 1929 - 1945
(written November 27, 2008 )

The Great Depression 1929 - 1945 - Part 2
(written February 2, 2009 )

World War 2 - before, during, and after
(written March 21, 2009  )


Photos from: Memories of desperation
Wikipedia Commons: Migrant Mother, Money Bags, Unemployed

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

America's Story (part 8) - Memorial Day, Gettysburg, and Amos Humiston

Humiston Children
Memorial Day had its genesis in the Civil War.

First known as Decoration Day, the holiday began by commemorating fallen Union soldiers. The event was inspired by how the Southern States had honored their dead, decorating Confederate graves, usually in the time frame of April through June.

The first observance in the North was May 30, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery as well as other cemeteries in the Northern States. But after World War I, the North and South agreed on the same date (May 30th).  And Decoration Day was extended to all men and women, who died during any war or military action.  It would eventually be officially called and recognized as Memorial Day. (reference: Decoration Day, Memorial Day)

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was one of the first places to participate in Decoration Day. And the remembrance of the war dead was quite appropriate as the Battle of Gettysburg was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War. Likewise, the area was the setting of the immortal Gettysburg Address in 1863.

But Gettysburg was also the scene of tragedy and tenderness captured in ...

The Amos Humiston Story

Amos Humiston
During the Battle at Gettysburg, Union soldier, Sergeant Amos Humiston, was mortally wounded. He lingered perhaps as long as a day before he bled to death.

After the battle, a local girl found the sergeant's body clutching an ambrotype of three children - shown in the image at the top of the page. The unknown soldier's gaze was fixed on the picture of his family as he stepped into eternity.

The girl retrieved the picture and gave it to her father, Benjamin Schriver, a tavern keeper, who kept the image as an interesting conversation piece. Meanwhile the soldier was buried in an unknown's grave. And the story may have ended there if fate hadn't intervened.

Please feel free to check out parts of the Amos Humiston's story re-enacted in the following clips from the the History Channel.

(1) His story begins at the start of this video clip, then continues about 7 minutes in:

(2) The Amos Humiston story continues as he passes away from his wounds - about one and a half minutes into this clip:

(3) The  story of the girl finding the unknown sergeant's body begins about 2 minutes into this final clip:

Then Providence stepped in ...

It just so happened that a wagon, bearing four men, heading toward Gettysburg to help care for the wounded, broke down in front of Schriver's tavern. Philadelphia physician, Dr. John Bourns, heard the story of the unknown soldier, who died while clutching the picture of his children.   So moved, the doctor convinced the tavern owner to surrender the photo in an effort to find the identity of the man and his family. Inexpensive copies were made and the image and story were spread to newspapers.

The Philadelphia Inquirer carried such an account on October 19, 1863, under the headline, 'Whose Father Was He?' The article began by describing the final act of the unknown soldier. 'How touching! how solemn!' the anonymous writer declared. 'What pen can describe the emotions of this patriot-father as he gazed upon these children, so soon to be made orphans!' (reference: Amos Humiston: Union Soldier Who Died at the Battle of Gettysburg)

The clip below describes the events and scrolls the prize winning poem written about this soldier's final hours:

Mrs. Philinda Humiston, the mother of eight-year-old Franklin, six-year-old Alice, and four-year-old Frederick, finally received news of the article in the American Presbyterian in Portville, New York. She contacted Dr. Bourns, saying she had sent her husband the photo and had feared the worst as she had not heard of him since the Battle of Gettysburg.

Dr. Bourns sent a carte de visite to Mrs. Humiston in Portville, who confirmed the image as those of her three children. Sadly, she had acknowledged she was now a widow and her children fatherless.  The American Presbyterian broke this news on November 19, 1863–the same day that President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

Memorial Day tradition at Gettysburg

Gettysburg national cemetery

Famous for her grief, Mrs. Humiston took on a new task as headmistress of an orphanage in Gettysburg. The sales from the pictures of her children had helped raised the funds to start this orphanage after the war when widows and orphans were all too common in Pennsylvania.

May 30, 1868, on the first Decoration Day in Gettysburg, Mrs. Humiston started a tradition  as she allowed the orphans to lay flowers on the graves of their fathers.

To this day in the Gettysburg national cemetery, school children lay flowers on the soldiers' graves.  The story is told here:  A Man's Fate, A Town's Tradition.


The story of the dying soldier clutching the picture of his family resonates with the brave men and women in the armed forces as well as those in other occupations that put themselves in harm's way. Many men and women have pictures of their family as they serve their countries whether at home or abroad.

God bless them all and keep them safe!

The Amos Humiston story at Gettysburg and the origin of Memorial Day and its traditions are part of America's story
which is to be continued ....


Other posts in this series:

America's Story (part 1) - The Speech that redefined us, November 19, 1863 (2011)

America's Story (part 2) - Savages! (2011)

America's Story (part 3) - Over There - 1917, 1941 (2011)

America's Story (part 4) - Christmas 1944, when we said NUTS to the enemy (2011)

America's Story (part 5) - Amazing Grace (2012)

America's Story (part 6) - GI Joe Tuskegee Airmen (2012)

America's Story (part 7) - When Reagan was shot (2012)


Other posts on Memorial Day and soldiers:

Memorial Day - Do we know how much they suffered? (2010)

Welcome Home, Troops! (2010)


eCards from

* Remembering

* Those who served

* May we never forget ...


photo from Wikipedia Commons: Humiston Children, Amos Humiston, Gettysburg national cemetery