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Local residents offer Depression-era stories

December 16, 2009
Times Leader
During March and April of this year, the Ohio Department of Aging solicited stories about the Great Depression from Ohio residents who lived through it. Its hope was to gather recollections and lessons learned that people of all ages today could use for perspective during the current economic downtorun and perhaps, some advice for surviving in adversity.
More than 300 individuals sent in their stories of life during the 1920s, 30s and 40s. More than 1,000 excerpts on a variety of topics were submitted. Below are a few submissions from local residents.
Holidays during the Great Depression
“I was one of seven children: four girls and three boys. I was the youngest. My three older sisters and brother went to Michigan to work in the automobile plants and, at Christmas, they all put some of their earnings together to buy two scooters, a toy train, some small cars and a set of dishes (some of the cars and dishes I have to this day). My brother also bought my father our first radio (at Water Kent) so we could listen to the news and the comedy shows and also the Joe Louis fights.”
- Irene Burkhart, age 83, Shadyside
“I recall when Christmas came along, my dad told us that he could not buy us much, but we were happy with what we got. Plus, when we wanted to light the tree, we had to go down to the milk house and start the generator. It was tough times, but we learned how to accept it.”
- Carl Krob, age 82, Bridgeport
Food, Cooking and Eating
“When my husband was about eight or nine years old, his mother sent him to the store to get some soup beans to cook for their supper. He had to walk down a hill that was a little over a mile long. On his way home, the bag in which the beans were broke and the beans spilled onto the ground. When he got home and told his mother what happened, she gave him another container and told him to go back and pick up the beans, so he went back and picked up every bean. Another time, he sat down at the table to eat breakfast and his mother said to him ‘I don’t know what you are going to eat because we only have some homemade bread and milk.’ So she broke up some bread in a bowl with some milk, and that was his breakfast.”
- Irene Burkhart, about her husband, Lawrence, age 86, Shadyside
“Our meals consisted mostly of fresh vegetables, soups, bread and macaroni. Rarely was any meat served and cookies were Easter and Christmas treats.”
- Frances Daubert, age 80, Centerville
“Dad had built a Fruit Cellar in our basement and it was all concrete. This is where the jelly and canned goods were stored. There was always a large sack of flour and a bucket of lard, and my mother would make wonderful bread and rolls, and pies from the apple orchard and the berries we picked. Her pies would have won prizes. Because of my parents ingenuity I don’t recall going hungry. Mother was a great cook, and what ever she made was delicious.
Bacon was bought in a slab that you would slice off. Somehow, we always had real butter, but it was about 19 cents a pound. Mother made very good salad dressing with a bit of bacon grease, vinegar and a dash of sugar and salt in a skillet. This was poured over leaf lettuce from the garden or dandelions. Lots of people came to our home and ask for apples from our orchard. Mom would always give them some.”
- Martha Rosella McCabe, age 88, Saint Clairsville
Entertainment and Recreation
“For recreation in the winter we played card games and checkers, and people had parties in their homes. We would roll up the rug and square dance the night away. In the summer, we played softball in the roadway, or went swimming in the old swimming hole’, which was a dammed up creek and sometimes muddy.”
- Mary Cole, age 91, Cadiz
“For entertainment in our early years and up through high school, we made our own: singing around my cousin’s player piano, board and card games and the whole run of outside games including tennis (which was free), horse shoes and miniature golf (which we built ourselves). We saw free shows like the NCR School House Saturday morning free show and programs at Church - anything that was free and that we could walk to.”
- Louis J. Leibold, age 93, Centerville
“Toys were at a premium. We used to find a bushel basket, knock the bottom out of it, nail it up on some garage and that was our basketball net. To play football, we could not afford equipment, so we just played without it.”
- Raymond J. Mock, age 85, Centerville
Rural vs. City Life
“The effects of the stock market crash in 1929 reached rural areas soon: poor markets, general decline in factories, fewer markets, people without jobs and with no income. Some families in cities lost a job but went to the home of relatives in the country. They had food and shelter, and worked on the farm without pay. This made a strain on family living, but as soon as any kind of work became available, they moved out to available living quarters in the community.”
- Viola Reed, age 95, Barnesville
“After school had ended, we were all assigned farm chores, starting in May with strawberries, then early cherries, raspberries, blackberries and huckleberries. If we were not picking the various fruits, it was time to finish planting the huge garden - planting enough potatoes to keep us over winter and spring. After the planting was done, it was time to start putting up hay. After the haying was done, then it was time to help with wheat and oats. Dad had a binder pulled by the team of horses, but we had to stack the sheaves that the binder made. When the grain had dried well, there was a threshing. Neighbors came and helped. We girls and mother had to fix a huge meal for the men.”
- Beva Stonebreaker, age 89, Cadiz
Public Assistance and Government Relief
“There were some that used the government programs such as C.C.C., W.P.A. and P.W.A., but my father was not in favor of that. We traded produce with some stores for clothing and sometimes for shoes, but my father was able to make shoes from the leather from hides that he processed himself.”
- Myron Johnson, Barnesville
“When you went to high school, you either rode the train or, later, we got a Model-T Ford to drive. It had to be cranked to start it. When we got to school, we had to drain out the water so it wouldn’t freeze, and when we were ready to go home, we filled it with water again, cranked it and we were on our way home. Gasoline was eleven cents a gallon. If you were low on gas and you came to a big hill, you turned the car around and backed up the hill so that the gas would run forward and keep the motor running.”
- Mary Cole, age 91, Cadiz
Other Thoughts
“I can remember when we went to church one Sunday and my mom had about 300 young chickens about ready to lay eggs. When we came home, all of her chickens were gone and my mom cried for days. People would steal anything that they could. It was terrible in those days. My dad would get up at night and go out and shoot his 12-gauge shotgun to scare people away. We had a dog, but he barked all the time and we couldn’t tell what he was barking at.
- Charles Warrick, age 81, Barnesville


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