Lessons from the ’30s
July 17, 2008
WSYB Sports Director Jack Healey was grumbling about a $51 fill-up at the gas pump a couple of weeks ago.
“I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach,” Healey said.
Healy feels that way more than most. The combination of great pipes, a tremendous knowledge of sports and meticulous preparation, make him as good a play-by-play man is there is anywhere. But he can be a little neurotic.
These are tough times. It’s not the Great Depression, but it’s something closer to that than many of us have ever lived through.
One area physician told me that he has recently seen older patients who had not showered in a while and who were using cold water to wash dishes.
They are conserving, far more conscious of commodities they always took for granted.
Not anymore. They are trying to get ready for a long, cold winter where skyrocketing heating costs and other things figure to test their resolve.
But those who weathered the 1930s will tell you it was worse then. A lot worse.
Frank Crowley was a hero to his brothers Joe and Larry. They lived on Nichols Street in Rutland and would excitedly wait near the top of West Street hill for him to come home from Manhattan College where he was an All-American distance runner.
That’s why I expressed surprise when Joe told me he didn’t go to Los Angeles to watch his brother in the 1932 Olympic Games.
Joe was incredulous.
“Los Angeles? We couldn’t afford to go to Center Rutland,” was his reply.
The Crowley brothers have all passed on, but Proctor’s Charles Shostak is still very much alive at 90. And he remembers the 1930s well.
And one snapshot that remains vivid is walking up Powers Hill in Proctor to listen to the Friday Night Fights on the radio at a place called Young’s Boarding House.
I did some research on the place and came up empty.
But from what Charlie told me, the facility that housed workers for the Vermont Marble Company would have been situated between the homes currently owned by the Kimballs and Chehys near where North Street turns into Florence Road in Proctor.
“There weren’t too many radios,” Shostak said.
There weren’t a lot of radios, cars or other material things.
“You couldn’t go to Rutland. There weren’t enough cars and it was seven cents to go from Proctor to Rutland by train,” Shostak said. “Nobody had a car. We didn’t even have a bicycle.”
“We would go up to the boarding house and spread out on the lawn. They would see the people out on the lawn and bring the radio out on the porch. There would be 10 or 12 people out on the lawn.”
And that meant fight time.
“The fights started about 8 o’clock,” he said. “The fights were a big thing. There was nothing else to do and you looked forward to them. What else were you going to do?”
The first national broadcast of a boxing match came in 1921 when Jack Dempsey fought Georges Carpentier. The fight was telegraphed to radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh for broadcast and heard mostly by people fortunate enough to have handmade radios.
And thanks to big names like Dempsey, Tunney and Schmeling the fight game evolved and became a big event carried by radio stations each week.
It was certainly one of Charlie Shostak’s favorite memories from a time when not much came easy.
“It was different then. Nobody got upset if their guy lost. It was more like entertainment out and you didn’t care who won,” Shostak said.
“We had fun, but you wouldn’t want to go back to those days.”
No definitely not. But we can learn a lot from Charlie Shostak and others who endured those difficult times.
Things might get bad, but we need to savor the good moments.
The next time a $51 fill-up feels like a Max Schmeling blow to your gut, think of the good times, the simple pleasures. Find your own Friday Night Fights whether it’s taking in a Legion game at gorgeous St. Peter’s Field, a Sunday night sunset at Devil’s Bowl or just a walk through the beautiful trails at Pine Hill Park groomed with so much care. Maybe a nice country drive out to Mill River Union High on Friday to watch the kids wind up their week at the Southern Vermont All-Star Football Camp with scrimmages?
Crowley, Frank (MC1934)
# # # # #