While going through possessions of my dad after he passed in June 2022, I came across this book titled "We had everything but money" - Priceless memories of the Great Depression from strong people who tell in their own words what it was like when banks closed, and hearts opened." from Reminisce books of Greendale, WI. The book is a compilation of stories from firsthand encounters and experience. I was reading through the book and things started popping out at me so I will be sharing a few stories going forward. When people hear the word the great depression, they may immediately think depressing stories. Tough yes, but many are uplifting stories of people helping people. Communities stepping up to help one another.
Story 1 - "When the banks closed, our hearts opened" by Clancy Strock
I was 9 years old in the Depression days when the banks closed our little Illinois town. I believe Roosevelt called it a "bank holiday." Some holiday.
You might wonder why a third grader would have any memory at all of a financial event. What could a kid have to lose?
Well, I lost my life's savings. It amounted to something on the order of $8 and change, as best I can remember. But it was pretty serious to me then. Fact was that the bank had closed, and I was wiped out.
A Lesson in Thrift
The only reason I even had a savings account - rather than the bicycle I really wanted - was because the bank and our school promoted savings program. It was supposed to teach us the virtues of thrift.
It had taken me quite some time to amass my fortune, small though it was. I carefully kept track of my money, dropping it dutifully into a little bank that my parents had given me.
Then, on every Monday morning throughout teh school year, I would bring my saved-up nickels and dimes (or whatever I happened to have in my pockets) to school.
Sometimes, it was the savings from my bank. Other times it was money I'd earned doing chores over the weekend. Still other times, it was a handout from a benevolent aunt or charitable uncle. Or maybe a birthday gift from Grandma and Grandpa.
My deposits were recorded each week in my trusty passbook. The entries seemed to fill the book fast, but my savings grew slowly. Twice a year the accrued interest (no princely sum, either, at the 3% rate common in those days) was entered.
Never Became Junior Tycoon
Watching my savings and interest accumulate, it slowly entered my mind that my chances of becoming John. D. Rockefeller were somewhere between slim and none. By my calculations, it appeared that my personal fortune might pyramid to as much as $50 by the time I graduated from high school. It seemed like scant reward for a childhood of deprivation. To me a nickel saved was, well, a Clark Bar not enjoyed.
Then came the day the banks closed. Preposterous! A bank was a place with guards and expensive furniture and brass bars in front of the tellers and an enormous steel door guarding a vault where, insofar as I knew, my $8 was under safekeeping.
I was wrong. And now I was ruined.
Eventually "my" bank reopened. The first depositors to be repaid were us schoolkids. Whether this was an uncommon stroke of public relations genius or simply a case of paying off the smallest depositors first is something I never found out.
As you might suspect, my money did not go back into the bank. I put my life's assets into a mason jar, which I hid above some rafters high up in the corncrib. For years I had considerably more faith in mason jars than I did in banks.
Given the course of economic events in more recent times, it appears I may have been wise beyond my years.