For many, today, the world seems to be coming apart at the seams, a frightening place, fraught with uncertainties. But sometime around 1848, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French critic, journalist, and novelist, penned the words “plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose,” usually translated as “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” And for those of us who have been around long enough to experience the truth of that well-worn quote, these present times only serve to prove the truth of it.
The following is a chapter from the beginning of what is to be my memoir, Final Approach. It somehow struck me that this chapter would serve well for a reminder to us, today, that as difficult, challenging, and at times frightening, as the world now seems, our earlier generations show us that although adversity, hard times, have always been a part of life, human nature always prevails. Although the chapter is a bit long for a normal blog, it doesn’t lend itself to shortening.
Back some years ago, probably in the 1980s, the editors of the Iola Register (my hometown newspaper) decided to compile and publish a two-volume set of archival books. The books were to include excerpts from the paper for each and every day from the very first issue of the paper in the late 1800s, up to the late 1970s. Some of the items were of a headline nature, others purely of local interest. It was almost like a century-long daily snapshot of life in my hometown.
My brother, Don, bought a set and loaned it to me. I became fascinated reading through those two books. I saw headlines from both world wars, of the Hindenburg burning, the Titanic sinking, the first automobiles and airplanes. I read of daily life as the Great Depression began, through the adversities and miseries of it as the townsfolk and the nation tried to cope, to find a way to survive. I read of my various relatives, of my church, of the arrest of local chicken thieves and the scarcity of coal in the coal yards.
In short, I loved it. So, one day, I decided to see what it was like to be living in Iola, Kansas, the year I and my future bride arrived on the scene. From the pages of The Iola Register, I learned the following about the Year of Our Lord, 1936:
“The year began auspiciously enough in Iola, Kansas, with the most elaborate New Year’s ball in the history of the Elks Lodge, featuring an eight-piece orchestra to provide music for the occasion. Tails and white tie were suggested, for those invitees who had the two dollar entry fee and possessed such attire, but others were assured they would feel comfortable in a business suit.” (from a New Year’s Day editorial)
Kansas started the year without federal funds for cash relief, and the Allen County Poor Commissioner reported in January that nearly 400 relief clients remained on the rolls to be cared for by the county. More than 125 of Iola’s relief children were allowed to feast to their heart’s content on New Year’s Day at the Portland Hotel.
The United States Army Air Corps announced that Boeing Aircraft Company had been awarded a contract to produce thirteen YB-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers for service testing of the new aircraft. (Note: This “sleight-of-hand” contract by the War Department saved the Boeing Company from bankruptcy, and saved the magnificent bomber that later was to be instrumental in winning the global war that erupted only three years later when Hitler invaded Poland—DH)
At least 190 employable men had not yet been absorbed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Governor Alf Landon, of Kansas, was offered to Republicans of the nation as a candidate for president at the Kansas Day Celebration.
An exhibit of work accomplished by women employed at the WPA sewing room was on display for a week for all those interested.
A temporary restraining order was issued by Judge Frank Forrest to halt the County Commissioners from issuing warrants under the new Social Security Act, which was not yet operational in the country.
A threat of coal famine swept the city as the four largest coal dealers announced they were running out, due to the continued cold spell—but local wood lots reported adequate supplies. Overnight lows of minus three degrees, and highs of eight degrees, exacerbated the shortage.
Jokes and wisecracks flew fast and furious at Memorial Hall, at one of the best performances of the Moments Musicale Club minstrel shows, with Thomas Waugh serving as Interlocutor.
In March, after three days of high winds, dust churning up from the Oklahoma panhandle began filtering into the area. By the second day, visibility was reduced to a couple of blocks.
A program was begun wherein all children could have the opportunity to be finger printed and identification cards issued. The records were to be forwarded to the FBI in Washington, DC to be placed on file. (Note: This was likely prompted by the national hysteria that followed the kidnapping and murder of the baby son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindberg in 1932. Bruno Richard Hauptmann was executed by the electric chair on April 3, 1936, for the crime, and Congress passed the National Kidnapping Law as a direct result of the crime.—DH)
Fairmont Creamery introduced the use of the first refrigerated truck in Iola, for delivery of its ice cream.
An enthusiastic crowd of over 600 attended the first session of the Iola Register’s cooking school held in the Memorial Hall.
On its first birthday, the Resettlement Administration announced it had advanced over $14,000 in aid to 107 farmers of Allen County, with the bulk in the form of budgeted loans to 23 families and the rest a dole to needy farm families.
Iola Boy Scouts and local businessmen joined forces to do battle to the death against the scourge of dandelions in the courthouse park
The basement supporting pillars of the First Methodist Church were decorated as “May Poles” for the Junior-Senior Banquet. The May Day theme was carried out in its entirety.
WPA vocational education classes began to get underway, with free instructions in sewing being given at Lincoln school. A class for colored residents was offered by the Baptist Church.
All Iola businesses were closed for Memorial Day. Boy Scouts placed flags and flowers on the graves of all soldiers.
It was announced that 250 men employed by the WPA would be laid off.
An opportunity for county farmers to get farm ponds built at low cost was offered by the WPA.
WPA vocational classes got under way in Allen County.
Three more chicken thieves were arrested.
John Rodriguez, a Mexican boy, received his diploma and had the distinction of being the first boy of his nationality to graduate from Iola High School.
The highest temperature ever recorded in Iola was experienced as the thermometer reached 109 degrees, to be followed two days later by a high of 114 degrees.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was re-nominated by a unanimous convention vote to be the Democratic candidate for president.
The editor of the Iola Register, on vacation in California, reported back to his readers that “Certainly one feels he is living it up…when he is flying 180 miles per hour, when he can leave Kansas City after a late breakfast and arrive in Los Angeles in time for dinner…I traveled in one of the great 14-passenger Douglas planes. By the time we reached an altitude of nearly two miles natural coolness took charge.” (Note: This was the iconic DC-3, that during WWII became the C-47, the “Gooney Bird,” that carried troops and supplies literally all over the world. They dropped thousands of paratroopers into France as the D-Day invasion began. And they are still hauling freight and passengers, all over the world.—DH)
County Commissioners signed a WPA water project that would put some of the 200 county farmers certified for WPA employment to work building a 3-acre pond.
On June 29, Iola resident Mrs. Ruth Hayes, wife of Dean Hayes, gave birth to a fine baby boy. The couple named the child Delmer Dean.
On August 3, on a farm in neighboring Bourbon county, Mr. and Mrs. Claude Cady announced the birth of a daughter, Marjorie Colleen.
In Germany, Berlin hosted the summer Olympic games, which were opened by Chanchellor Adolph Hitler and choreographed to demonstrate Aryan superiority over all other races. Colored Olympist Jesse Owens of America won four gold medals.
In Japan, Vice Minister of the Imperial Navy, Isokoru Yamamoto, arranged for the construction of two new aircraft carriers, the Shokaku and Zuikaku, as well as for the increased production of the new Navy fighter plane, the Mitsubishi A6M, known to our Navy as the “Zero.”
For the first time in the history of the Iola Junior College a girl was elected president of the student governing body of the college. One of the largest enrollments at the college was announced, with 135 students signed up at the beginning of the new school year.
A Colored Women’s Republican Club was organized by 16 Iola colored women.
Two WPA projects got underway at the courthouse. Assurance was given by the WPA that if voters passed the bond issue for improvements at Riverside Park only Iola labor would be used. The bond passed.
Only Maine and Vermont voted in favor of Kansas Governor Alf Landon for president, with FDR being resoundingly approved for four more years by the other 46 states—including Kansas.
One hundred seventy local children had a happier Christmas, as a new resident to Iola awarded 120 children who attended Sunday School at the Salvation Army for six consecutive weeks with a shiny new silver dollar. Another 50 went to the colored children who attended the A.M.E. church.
The Iola Register closed the year with an editorial claiming that over 1,000 local men were put to work by the WPA, yet at the end of the year all were as dependent on government work as at the beginning—the government spending had not “primed the pump.” What was needed, the editorial stated, was a demand for products from the local heavy industry, and “we could get along very well without government money.”
The editorial page of the Iola Register opened the New Year of 1937 with an editorial on “Why the U.S. need not build a large Navy.” The editorial explained that it had been 124 years since the U.S. was attacked. That attack had come from Britain, and “would never be repeated,” the editor claimed.
(Note: That “attack from Britain” would have been, of course, the War of 1812. What a painful example of short-sightedness and irony was that editorial. Almost exactly five years later, our Naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by planes launched from aircraft carriers—including the “Zero” fighter and the carriers mentioned in the Register earlier in the year—of the Japanese Navy. Virtually our entire fleet of battleships in the Pacific were sunk or seriously damaged. The US went on to build the largest Navy to ever exist in history.—DH)
Nineteen hundred and thirty six, in many ways, was a pivotal year in America. The world was not at war—but was about to be. The nation was knee-deep in the Great Depression, but FDR had started his New Deal to relieve the suffering and was “priming the pump” with government funds. He was putting people to work on WPA projects, building things the country needed—but the Depression had not ended, and seemed to be worsening. People were helping each other, and coping—but they were also suffering.
As I have reflected back on my life, our lives together, I have concluded that Colleen and I were very fortunate to have been born when we were—1936—and where we were—rural, small town Kansas. Our roots were those of people who had to struggle against all odds to survive, to overcome adversity. They taught us the value of strength of character, of family, of being and having a good neighbor. We learned to be polite, grateful for what we had, and respectful of the adults around us.
As important as those lessons were to us, we also got to experience many of the adversities of life—war, depression, doing without, making do, hard physical work—without having to actually participate in very much of it. We were born in the middle of the Great Depression, but the war ended it. We were children during the war. We experienced it, but second hand, as spectators rather than players.
We got to experience the heady days after the war ended, days of economic growth, of new homes in the suburbs, new cars, the glory days of Hollywood and the “Hit Parade,” of the growth of television. Growing up in the 1950s, starting life as young adults, newly married, was a time of being able to believe that the dark days of America were behind us, the sun was always going to shine.
And no, neither my own birth, or that of Colleen, was included in the archival books of the Iola Register. I just added them to the excerpts above because, well, it’s my book and I wanted to. If they weren’t included in the Register, they should have been.
I suppose it is purely a matter of circumstance that we were born when and where we were. But I know we both were grateful all our lives for that, happenstance, or not. I hope to have a chance to thank God face-to-face for that, some day.