Posts Tagged ‘1930s’

Rushmore In Progress, 1930s.

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

We’ve got a lot of old photos – almost more than we know what to do with.   This one is so over-saturated, so light, that I had to really darken it in Photoshop just to see anything, and I didn’t realize what it was at first:

You might be thinking, “Wow — it kinda looks like there’s a face in those rocks!  Weird, huh?”

Well, that’s because Gutzon Borglum put a face there: that is several years away from becoming the Mount Rushmore we know and love today — President Washington is only partially done:

Carving started in 1927, and the finished Washington face was unveiled to the public on July 4th, 1934, so that puts this photo somewhere in between, probably 1932 or 1933.  Based on this 1932 photo, progress seemed at about the same point, so 1932 is probably right.  They didn’t carve all the faces at once — Washington was completed in 1934, Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937, and then Roosevelt in 1939.   About 4 years after the photo above, here’s how much progress they made:

Jefferson’s nearly done and they got Lincoln’s nose, which puts this postcard at about 1936 or 1937.

Barkers and Beagles, 1930s

Monday, September 30th, 2013

When the TV show DuckTales debuted in September 1987, twenty-six years ago this month, it brought with it the infamous Beagle Boys and their matriarch, Ma Beagle. These were the main antagonists of Uncle Scrooge McDuck and his wards, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. The whole world that DuckTales existed within was born from the pen of Carl Barks, the writer of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, with the debut of the pen-and-ink Beagle Boys hailing all the way from 1951.

In the book Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book a quote from Carl says the original Beagle Boys were based on “Capone’s gang and the different bunch of hoodlums around the country,” the kind of criminals that Banks would have read about in the news while growing up. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the combined impacts of Prohibition and the Great Depression brought out the worst in society, birthing the likes of Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and his gang, and the Ma Baker Gang.

In my Dakota Datebook for today I write about North Dakota’s rare interaction with a famous criminal. Alvin Karpis was a second-rate car thief when he met the Barker Gang in 1931, and their partnership caused 5 years of mayhem throughout the Midwest. On September 30th, 1932, a couple Barker Brothers, Karpis, and some other accomplices crossed the Red River and robbed a bank in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Nobody was killed (although their hostages ended up the worse for wear), but that wasn’t always the case. The Barkers and Karpis had no problem killing bankers and policemen alike if they interfered with their robberies.

According to Barks and the Disney Comic Book, the creation of the Beagle Boys was a response to the previous antagonists in the Walt Disney comics: Huey, Dewey and Louie were the troublemakers, but the idea of showing kids as the rebellious anarchists wasn’t the family-friendly fare that the 1950s wanted. Barks created the Beagle Boys as a source of mayhem that can feel the effects of punishment, unlike the stars of the comic, and lose in the end.

Actually, not all of DuckTales’ Ma Beagle Gang originated from Carl Barks’ stories. Ma Beagle herself is a purely DuckTales creation, an evil counterpoint to the heroes, leading her dependents into a life of crime as opposed to Scrooge McDuck’s molding of Huey, Dewey, and Louie into proper citizens of Duckburg. Even in the Walt Disney Comics, the Beagle Boys were obsessively family-oriented. While Huey, Dewey, and Louie were siblings, they lacked parental figures. Uncle Donald and Uncle Scrooge were in charge, and according to the family tree the trio’s father was never even directly shown in the comics. The Beagle Boys of the comics were devoted brothers, with their criminal lineage going back for generations.

The addition of Ma Beagle to DuckTales brings that family connection right to the forefront: the Beagle family were the moral opposite of the adhoc family of Duck and McDuck protagonists of the cartoon. In the comics the Beagle Boys were known to be brothers, but aside from their identical resemblance their familyhood was never as explicit as in the cartoon. The addition of Ma Beagle as the leader of the gang created a villain, a specific leader that bound the Beagle Boy Gang together as a cohesive enemy.

Writing in Ma Beagle as the leader after-the-fact has its roots, probably unintentionally on the part of the DuckTales showrunner, in the original Barker Gang. There’s little, if any, mention of Ma Barker until her death in a FBI shootout in 1935. An FBI report from 1936 makes a big deal of Ma Barker’s involvement in her son’s crime, but before 1935 the Barker sons were well known to the police while the phrase “Ma Barker” never appeared in a single newspaper. The gang was regularly called the Karpis-Barker Gang, or just the Barker Gang, but “Ma” wasn’t added until the late 30s.

The addition of Ma Barker to the story appears to be the creation of J Edgar Hoover. The Barker Boys had at times moved their elderly mother with them as they traded one hideout for another, but while she was likely complicit in their crimes there is little evidence that she was involved in any, let alone as a mastermind of some criminal empire. One of the Barker accomplices said, “the old woman couldn’t even organize breakfast,” and Alvin Karpis himself described her as just an old lady they lived with. Hoover’s concern was that the press would not be very complimentary over finding out that a 61-year-old woman died in a hail of FBI gunfire. A story was concocted that she had died with a Tommy Gun in her hands — and like Carl Barks’ Beagle Boys, the FBI now had identified their enemy, a criminal leader defeated and justice served.

Secession And The US

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

That cool cat up there is “Wild Bill” Langer, voting in the 1940 election that would send Mr. Langer to Washington.    Nothing was ever easy for William Langer: when he got to Washington, Congress refused to seat him.  They cited a history of lawbreaking, bribery, an attempt to secede from the United States, felonies, and general ethical shortcomings as reasons why he was unfit to be a Senator.

Wait, back up a bit:  sedition?  Yup, as you’ll hear in my Dakota Datebook for today, Langer decided nobody was going to remove him from office, so he called out the National Guard and proclaimed that North Dakota had declared independence.   His intentions are a bit clearer when you combine the two; just signing a Declaration of Independence for political reasons isn’t all that remarkable.   However, Langer claimed he called in the National Guard because of protestors around the capitol grounds.  His executive order, however, covered the entire state.   When the leaders of a developing nation, fearing a coup through the courts, call out the military, declare martial law, and issue a declaration of independence, the international news starts to declare either fascism or rebellion.

In Langer’s case, all was forgotten the next day.   Even the Congressional records of his Senate hearings only briefly cover his Declaration of Independence.  The biography The Dakota Maverick barely mentions the event.  It’s almost like people would rather forget that Langer got that close to really following through on his intentions.

Whenever the U.S. has been heavily divided politically, the secessionists come out of the woodwork.  There are currently a number of active secessionist movements operating in the U.S., from Hawaiian royalty to white supremacists to Native Americans.  Some of it is honest interest in establishing an independent nation, but much of it is rhetoric to emphasize how important a policy or stance is to the group.   They believe in their position so much they are willing to leave the United States to prove how important it is.

In this way, Langer was late to the came with secessionist talk.   Two years earlier, North Dakota state senator William Martin passed a resolution to advocate for secession — not just North Dakota, but a huge chunk of the west.   His motivation was due to percieved abuse by Eastern financial interests of the poor western farmer, who had been hard hit by the Depression and hadn’t recovered despite the banking industry’s rebound (sound familiar?).   Here’s what Martin’s US would look like:

This is pretty clearly more about making a point than creating a functioning nation;  Martin knew it, and when the national news started calling his motion sedition, he downplayed it as rhetoric.   Martin’s archives at the State Historical Society are almost 100% letters of support from around the U.S., thanking him for pushing his opinion through a secessionist statement, because people stood up and paid attention.

The difference between Martin’s secessionist motion, or the micronation movements, or actual seditionists, is the lack of power.   Few have any actual position of power to actually put secession into motion.  They need a leader, with financial and military power, to back their separation.

This is why Langer’s secession should have been more terrifying than any other secessionist movement:  Langer had a vibrant set of followers in his wing of the Non-Partisan League; he had power over the National Guard and support form the leaders in the Guard; the Bank of North Dakota and the State Elevator both put the state itself in a position of economic power.    When Langer and his followers signed the Declaration of Independence, the Supreme Court hadn’t yet filed their motion to remove Langer from office.  ”Wild Bill” Langer was entirely in power, with all of his assets and support, when he declared independence.    Of all the United States secessionist movements that have gotten close to actually getting their way, Langer did them one better:  he actually had the power to execute it and then actually did it.

Gandhi SHRDLU

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

I found this compelling article in the 18 June 1931 issue of The Beach (N.D.) Advance:

It reads:

SHEDDING NON-ESSENTIALS

All India is gossiping over Mahatma Gandhi’s unprecedented action in laying aside his spinning wheel and his h. e-uloo SHRDLU EATOISHSHSHRD.–Boston Transcript.

The article probably wasn’t run out of any newsman dedication to at least communicating part of the Gandhi spinning-wheel story.   More than likely, it was a case of professional schadenfreude.  Who would be so careless as to send out such a thing over the wires?  Those Boston newspapermen are running a shoddy ship, it seems.

You might want to blame static or some other signal interruption as the cause of such confusion, but there’s a clue here to prove the gibberish has an entirely human source.   You know the modern interface as the QWERTY keyboard — the reason we have to add QWERTY at the beginning is because then (and to a lesser extent now) people have devised other typing layouts for the sweet-spot of functionality, speed, and usability, so we name some keyboards by a pronounceable sequence of keys in order.

The top two lines of the Linotype keyboard are as follows:  ETAOIN and SHRDLU .  It would appear that the underpaid and underappreciated Bonston Linotypist messed up his text by hitting a few wrong keys — the “h. e-uio,o” part — and then signalled his failure by running his fingers down the keyboard to indicate the failed type.  Having done the keys out of order, or through some other carelessness, the text went out on the wires nonetheless.   What else is there to do when you’ve got a couple inches to fill and you’re just trying your best to run a ship-shape newspaper in far western North Dakota?  Run a bit of somebody else’s failure, and then get on with your day — another paper is due in only a few hours.

Rural School, 1930s.

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

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A rural brick school, done in the style of numerous schools that were built during the 1920s and 1930s. Few rural school-buildings are still operating as schools today; if they are, the original building has been added on to numerous times over the past seventy years to accommodate growth or consolidation. Others have been torn down, sit in disrepair, or — the lucky ones — have been taken over by the historical society, an antique shop, or some other business and restored to usefulness.

A Warm Stove, 1930s.

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

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Warming by the stove, 1930s. From this series.

Women, Car, Dog, 1930s.

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

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Two women chatting by a car parked in the weeds, with a trusty dog at their feet, 1930s. From this set.

Swimming Under The Bridge, 1930s.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009


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I’m not sure why: I’ve seen lots of pictures of people swimming, hanging out beneath a bridge. I figure it is to stay out of the sun, but it could also have to do with the ground being built up and cleared for the bridge, which makes a functional beach. This lady and her dog are cooling off in the river. 1930s.

Soldier, Convertible, Suitcase, 1930s.

Monday, May 25th, 2009

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Soldier, messing with a camera or other mechanism, 1930s. From this set.

Family Walk, 1930s.

Monday, May 18th, 2009

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Family out for a walk, consisting of a boy, a mother and child, and two older ladies, on a windy day. 1930s. From this set.