Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When She Turned 59

Mary Thompson Bickerstaff turned 59 on Monday, October 26, 1931. She was living in Mineral Ridge, Ohio. All of her children were grown, though her youngest daughter, Cora, 19, still lived at home. The photograph at right was taken in the spring of 1931.

The U.S. was just two years into the Great Depression in 1931. No doubt times were as tight for Mary and her family as they were for nearly everyone else. Gramma's dress was probably more than a few years old considering that its very low waist and ankle length were very different styles from those popular in 1931.

What might Gramma Bickerstaff's concerns have been in 1931? I have no way of knowing her most personal concerns but the October 24th issue of a local newspaper, The Youngstown Vindicator, gave me an idea of news of the day and some community and worldly concerns.

In Chicago, the tax evasion trial of "gangster overlord" Al Capone ended and Federal Judge James A. Wilkerson passed sentence of 11 years in the penitentiary and a fine of $50,000. Additionally, he ordered Capone to pay court costs.

Double headlines went to Los Angeles "Trunk Slayer," Mrs. Winnie Ruth Judd, 20, wife of a physician and daughter of a minister. One set of headlines read, "Woman Gives Self Up in Trunk Killings. Says She Shot Two Victims in Self Defense. Claims Murders were Committed in Fight with Victims. Tells of Being Wounded. Says Fear of Lockjaw Made Her Surrender--Expresses No Regrets." I didn't follow this story but surely my grandmother must have read about and wondered at the motive of Winnie Judd. Perhaps she and her husband, Edward, debated about the circumstances preceding the killings and whether she was telling the truth.

Another topic of discussion might have been the elections. The pages of the paper had articles about who was running for which office and what the issues were. Voter fraud was a problem. It seems that more than a few people registered to vote giving addresses where foundations remained but where homes no longer existed.

Prohibition was a topic of discussion in the newspaper. The churches took a stand with an ad about Temperance Day.

The paper filled a page of church-related articles including an illustrated Bible lesson.

There were the requisite sports pages; society news; and stock market reports. Other market reports included livestock, poultry, oil, produce, metal, rubber, feed, and foreign markets. And of course there was a weather prediction: a high of 77 and a low of 50 degrees.

The Vindicator published news columns from towns around Youngstown and in Trumbull and Columbiana Counties, including Newton Falls, Evansville, Lowellville, Southington, Damascus, Girard, McDonald, Kinsman, and Sebring. (Unfortunately, Mineral Ridge was not included. If Mineral Ridge had had a suburb, Evansville, barely a crossroads, would have been it.) The news from these towns included sentences such as, "John I. Evans has gone to Ruskin, Fla., where he will spend the winter." "George, little son of Mr. and Mrs. Hayes Mayan, is very ill with bronchial pneumonia." And "Mrs. Margaret Williams spent the week-end with relatives in Salineville."

Did my grandmother go to the movies? Would she have gone to the theater to see The Beloved Bachelor, Platinum Blonde, or Honor of the Family? Would she have thought Susan Lenox a little too risque?

Gramma certainly would have listened to the radio. She may have already had the schedule memorized it if was the same from day to day but just in case it wasn't, she could have checked the radio broadcast schedules of all the local stations in The Vindicator and read a list of highly recommended broadcasts.

If her grandchildren came to visit, the newspaper could have helped her entertain them with a Thornton Burgess bedtime story, "Bugler Becomes Humble," which offered the admonition "Beware the arrogance of pride;/ An humble spirit be your guide."

One of Gramma's very real concerns was probably keeping her home warm during the coming winter months. There were any number of coal dealers in the Youngstown area. She may have ordered her coal deliveries from Youngstown or maybe there a more local supplier. No doubt once she found a reliable source, she was a repeat customer.

Whatever her cares and interests of the day were, I hope she was remembered and honored as wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. I hope she had a happy birthday that year -- and I hope she has a happy birthday this year.

All images are from The Youngstown Vindicator.


  1. Very nice post! Enjoyed the newspaper info with your comments your grandmother was experiencing at the time. We love to browse old local newspapers and imagine what people were doing 'back then'. Thanks for the trip back in time. JLK/NK56

  2. Really enjoyed this post, Nancy. Great job weaving bits of interest from the local paper in with your grandmother's life, and telling how things might have affected her. The images transport us right back to the time. Shows how much social history can add to our ancestors' stories. Wonderful!


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