Even during the depth of the depression local organizations held fund raisers. We just don’t know how successful they would have been.
One that generated a lot of publicity was the Lions Turtle Derby held on Oct. 3, 1934.
The Lions Clubs around the northern plains seemed to be working together on this. A bale of turtles, according to the Internet that is the proper way to refer to a bunch of turtles, was passed from Lions club to Lions club. Jamestown got the 1,000 turtles from the Lions Club in Pierre in September and got the races underway.
First the public was allowed to purchase the rights to a turtle and give him a name.
Slow Foot, by J. S. Larson, was probably the only appropriate moniker given. Other names were more of humorous look at the life of a turtle. George McRae named his turtle T.N.T., J. W. Wagner named his Goodyear while Virginia Everett called hers Spark Plug.
Others seemed to name their turtles after friends or family. Dorrance Freese labeled her turtle Tillie while Dude Meharry called his Scotty and Marner Cook came up with Omar, Jr.
One of the more interesting names was supplied by Oscar Price of Edgeley who christened his turtle Mae West.
I can’t see how anyone could look at a turtle and suddenly be reminded of the 1930s movie sex symbol although, maybe, if two turtles were crawling along side by side.
The races were held in a circle with 25 turtles placed in the center. The first turtle to reach the edge of the circle, 20-feet away, was the winner. The top five turtles from each heat advanced to the finals where a champion would be crowned.
On Oct. 3, 1934 hundreds gathered under the lights of Roosevelt Field, now known as Ernie Gates Field, to watch the event. The Lions Club worked hard at putting on a good show. A few nights before they had held some test races to make sure the lights wouldn’t confuse or slow the turtles.
The crowd cheered through five heat races before the finals. And, given the results I read in the Jamestwon Sun, the turtle Mae West wasn’t particularly fast. She didn’t make the finals.
The winner, described as a “fast stepping turtle” was owned by Emil Frey, a farmer from Bloom Township. His turtle covered the 20 feet in a blistering three minutes and 18 seconds. His turtle defeated Ralphy, owned by Dr. John Regan, by a shell.
Frey must have had a bit of an interest in politics. He named his turtle “Bill Langer” in reference to North Dakota’s governor who had been removed from office just a couple of months earlier after a felony conviction. His conviction was later overturned and he returned to politics in 1936. In the meantime his wife, Lydia Langer, ran for governor in 1934 but was defeated.
So the only thing named Langer that won in 1934 was a turtle.
This story ran in the Sept. 22, 2009 edition of the Prairie Post.
You often hear that our current economy is the worst since the 1930s. That may be true but, fortunately, our current difficulties don’t come close to approaching the hardship faced by the citizens of this country 75 years ago.
The contribution by North Dakota citizens to the federal government in taxes had been less than $2 million in 1933. And the citizens of the state got a lot of benefit for that money.
Various New Deal programs paid over $150 million to the citizens of North Dakota. On top of that another $31 million was paid to the farmers of the state through farm programs.
During the depth of the depression the state was receiving benefits from the federal government on a about a 90 to 1 ration based on what taxes the state paid.
The state was receiving about $265 in federal aid for every man, woman and child in the state. Adjusted for inflation that is the equivalent of about $4,100 today which is pretty much delivering the cash for clunkers deal for every resident of the state.
Still there were a lot of people suffering.
Unemployment was high and people were looking for work of almost any kind.
That is why the Federal Emergency Relief Agency started a number of factories around the country. These plants produced two things, jobs for the unemployed and a product that would be useful for the people of the area.
In September of 1934 Harry Dickinson, Stutsman County relief administrator for FERA, announced that a mattress factory was to begin operation in Jamestown in the next weeks.
The Jamestown plant was part of larger plan that included similar plants in other communities. The cotton, all 26,000 pounds of it, was made into pads in Fargo, other parts of the mattresses were made in other communities, and the final assembly was to occur in Jamestown.
Dickinson announced that 4,500 yards of ticking had been delivered to Jamestown on Oct. 11, 1934. The same announcement said the mattress factory was to operate in the Red Trail garage which was already the location of a “canning center” operated by FERA.
The mattress factory started operating a little later that fall. Perhaps the people employed at the canning center went to work making mattresses when the growing season ended and there was no more produce to can.
The Jamestown Sun never reported how many people worked at the mattress factory or how many beds they made. Working with 12 tons of cotton and nearly a mile of ticking I’m sure they produced a lot of mattresses which were sold locally with one restriction.
In order to not compete with the furniture stores mattresses made by FERA factories could only been sold to low income families.
But given the depths of the financial difficulties of the time I would guess they all sold.
It is such a nice Saturday, and I’m stuck indoors working…
Did get the Prairie Post article done for this week. It’s about the Great Depression and the government programs of the era.
I apologize for the slowness of my posts lately. I’m trying to finish the work on Volume 2 of the Great Stories of the Prairie Post. I hope to finish the layout this week and get it off to the printers next week.
This story ran in the Sept. 15, edition of the Prairie Post.
It was the era of gangsters back in the fall of 1934. Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd was in the last weeks of his career as an outlaw before being gunned down by the authorities in Ohio.
And John Dillinger, accompanied by a lady in red from Fargo, was killed by authorities in Chicago just months before.
The hard financial times of the 1930s may have spawned the age of the celebrity bank robber. Jobs, and money, were scarce for the average working man of that decade and may have been the driving force for some men’s life of crime.
Others were probably just criminally inclined. Willie Sutton, another of the gangsters of that time was asked by a reporter why he robbed banks. The thief replied, “because that’s where the money is.”
I don’t know as the robbers that struck the State Bank of Marion 75 years ago this fall were ever identified or apprehended. Similar robberies occurred at several banks around eastern North Dakota in the months that followed without any arrests.
About 11 a.m. on Oct. 13, three men entered the bank in Marion and began the first bank robbery in North Dakota for 1934. C. A. Arduser, cashier of the bank, described the incident to the newspaper by saying the three men deployed themselves around the bank before ordering Arduser, Ben Johnson and Elmer Nagel, customers at the bank, down on the floor.
Two of the gangsters watched over the men on the floor while the third ordered the bank teller, Miss A. Louise Paulson, to clear out the money at the window and then took her back to the vault to gather the currency there.
Within a matter of a few minutes the robbers had all the cash from the bank, something in the range of $800 to $1,000, and ready to make their getaway.
But before they left the scene of the crime they locked the two bank employees and the two customers in the vault. Fortunately, the Marion Bank had a fairly modern vault with a safety feature that allowed the group to escape within minutes.
Arduser managed to get to the street in time to see the car headed south out of town. His cry that the bank had been robbed was the first that anyone knew of the crime.
The bank employees and customers were able to give authorities a good description of the thieves. Two were described as medium build with dark complexions, the third was described as tall and light. All three were considered well dressed.
And while no license plate was observed the car, a black Ford like about half the vehicles on the roads of North Dakota in that era, had a torn spare tire cover with “Jamestown” printed on it.
The gangsters weren’t Dillinger or Floyd, but it made for a pretty exciting time in Marion.