a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The rich dine while the poor suffer

By Scott Beveridge

WEBSTER, Pa. – The biggest surprise find when I purchased my century-old, 10-room house was that the former owner was willing to accept a $4,000 sale price.

People have always been shocked to hear that a house would sell so cheaply, and then some would follow that up with a question about what antiques came with the place in 1987.

The fixer-upper was somewhat rundown, but there was little else inside but three decades of dust crusting the floors and baseboards. The previous owner, who was well into his 80s, had sold the contents at auction prior to listing the property in Webster, Pa., with a Realtor.

The only real treasure discovered was a newspaper spreadsheet from a Sunday, Sept. 10, 1933, publication of The American Weekly, which boasted the greatest circulation in the world.

It was found, along with other pages from 1933 newspapers, underneath crumbling asphalt linoleum that I was throwing away from a bedroom. The back page boasts the ad, above, for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

It seemed odd to me because the ad features a well-dressed couple relaxing at a restaurant during the heart of the Great Depression, when money was scarce. They were staged being served by a smiling black waiter, an obvious statement on racial inequality of the time.

It also made me wonder about how the steel mill boss who owned the house could have afforded new floor covering in a depression, while also adding an adjoining room to his house. The remodel was to create a second-floor apartment for his son, who had taken a wife.

Meanwhile, the front page of the newspaper was devoted to new publications of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York about the pastimes of the ancient Egyptians. The newspaper was distributed coast to coast in all Hearst Samily newspapers. Inside were printed adds for Royal Baking Powder, A-1 Sauce, Quick Elastic Starch, Pyrex nursing bottles, Lacross Nail Polish and Log Cabin Syrup.

The MOMA book were even made possible by a donation from Charlotte M. Tytus of Asheville, NC, in memory of her son.

So unlike the mental pictures we have today of the poverty of that era, some people in the United States were still spending money for newspapers, books and household supplies while others were suffering greatly. 

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