Great Depression Perseverance
By: Kyle Coslett (2015)
Everyone remembers the “roaring twenties” or the “swingin’ sixties,” but sometimes it seems the severity of the Great Depression gets overlooked in the memories of 20th century America. The Great Depression was arguably the most trying time in all of American history, as it affected millions of people across the country. Due to the booming economy after World War I in the 1920s, people were buying new items, like cars and appliances, with money they did not necessarily have. As a result of this, the stock market crashed at the end of the decade, and a period of deep economic hardships befell the country. People from all walks of life were affected by this economic depression and had to change their lives accordingly. For example, someone who had a good paying, comfortable, middle-class job may have had to resort to begging or intense manual labor. At a time where there were millions of unemployed and capable workers, jobs came at a premium. If someone was lucky enough to have a job, chances were it was greatly affected by the intense business restrictions caused by the depression. The Great Depression affected all areas of the country, too. It affected major cities like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, as well as smaller metropolitan areas and towns. Since Pennsylvania was considered one of the nation’s top manufacturing and farming states, it was hit especially hard. Due to the fact that Pennsylvania was a blue collar state, the north eastern region’s dominant coal mining success also took a serious hit. Through the use of interviews, we were able to receive some insight as to how families from this area were impacted by the Great Depression, and how they were able to survive and persevere through this extremely hard time. Mrs. Scott and Mr. Falcone both mention in their interviews how their families dealt with the hardships thrust upon them during the Great Depression.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression essentially started after a ten week span of consistent stock market downward spiraling where many people quickly lost everything they owned in an attempt to salvage their family’s wealth. The marked date of the Great Depression is October 1929, although the situation continued to barrel out of control until the country lifted itself out of it in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The Great Depression was relatively quick, but many people were faced with harsh choices to make regarding their livelihoods in that time.
Hoovervilles and Homelessness
One very common outcome of the Depression was that of homelessness. Because the unemployment rate was so high, the housing market naturally crashed as well. People could not afford to pay for their houses, so families were forced to move into de facto shantytowns on the outskirts of cities. These quickly erected, run-down towns were called Hoovervilles. They usually consisted of sizable congregations of destitute, or homeless, people that would live in very cramped cardboard or wooden houses. According to an article by the New York Times, there were several Hooverville settlements throughout Central Park in the early 1930s.
Another issue that many destitute people ran into was trying to find work in different areas across the country. To attempt to solve that problem many young, single men took to the railroad cars to travel to distant regions. Since the region in Northeastern Pennsylvania relied so heavily on coal mining and manufacturing, there were hundreds of railroad lines placed throughout the region in order to be utilized by those in search of jobs. Mrs. Sally Scott discussed this issue in her interview with Rebecca and I, and it was quite interesting to hear what she encountered as a child. Before she was born, in 1932, her parents owned a delicatessen shop in Pittston. However, because of the effects of the Great Depression, her parents closed the shop on the day she was born. However, her memories of the destitute people that roamed around Pittston in search of food and work were strong, and I found them to be particularly interesting. She recalled that her house was “marked” by the destitute people that traveled in and out of Pittston. She also remembers her mother and father graciously feeding the hobos that used the trains that ran through her neighborhood. She said that her father, especially, was very keen on feeding these people, and often invited them inside to join them for meals.
When Mrs. Scott first told us that, it surprised me that these people potentially had a complex system of communication. But, upon further research, Mrs. Scott’s premonition was accurate. Since there were very few ways to communicate in those days, hobos used to leave
symbols on houses, buildings, fences, and other structures to relay messages to other hobos. The wide array of symbols in their communication system is fascinating, too. The nomadic hobos had ways of relaying things like what kind of food was available to them in the area, if the people were kind, if there was strict law enforcement, and if there was somewhere to sleep. The symbols that hobos used were almost exclusively done in chalk, which allowed them to erase or add more symbols if need be. Based on the various reports throughout history of this happening, Mrs. Scott’s assumption is most likely correct. It also shows the great resolve that people showed to survive through the Great Depression.
If people were lucky enough to retain their homes or farms during these times, they almost always had to resort to severe rationing. This practice was used throughout the country by millions of people, and it tried to ensure that the amount of food available was enough to distribute to the American people through relief efforts. Mrs. Sally Scott described her experiences of rationing during her childhood, showing that the effects of the Depression hit Northeastern Pennsylvania just as hard as anywhere else. During her interview, Mrs. Scott told us that her family was given rationing stamps that determined how much food and other materials they were able to get. She said that butter was a rare item during the Depression, so a product she called oleo, or margarine, became popular. People living through the Depression had to adjust to living without many of life’s common items.
Another firsthand account I came across is from a young girl that grew up in Utah during the Great Depression. She was older than Mrs. Scott at the time and they lived in vastly different areas of the country, so her experiences during the Depression were different than Mrs. Scott’s. The girl, named Verla Hendrickson Daniels Breinholt, was in her teens when the Depression hit. She echoes the rationing experience that Mrs. Scott described, but got into more detail about the types of things available to them. She emphasized the fact that her family was only able to secure small amounts of gasoline and sugar, since they were considered quasi-luxury items at the time. Aside from only being able to buy a small amount of sugar, Verla and her sisters had to work in the fields to get it, as well. People became dependent on rationing supplies and whatever relief they could receive. However, if it weren’t for the rationing precautions and measures taken by the government and other agencies during the Depression, some people may not have been able to receive any supplies at all.
When it comes to discussing the great personal strength that many individuals showed during these tough times, many stories of survival are told. Whether it be an actual life or death situation, or just perseverance of a family, millions of people showed the strength to do so. Like Mrs. Scott in her interview, Mr. James Kozloski, who was interviewed by Rebecca Schnable and myself, spoke about his family’s means of survival through the Depression.
Mr. Kozloski had a different experience than Mrs. Scott and Verla, however. He told us that his family was considered an “elite” family in the neighborhood because his father never lost his job. He said that his father was a mechanic, which meant that he was self employed. Because of this, he did not have to worry about layoffs or shutdowns. Due to the fact that Mr. Kozloski’s father remained in business during the Depression years, he most likely made some connections with other people that later helped his family. Mr. Kozloski said that his father was very good friends with a man who owned a farm, so the man would allow Mr. Kozloski and his family to pick their own tomatoes, which helped them through the times of rationing and shortages. James also discussed the practice of canning fruits and vegetables. He said that his mother used to can countless quarts of tomatoes and other things, and then used them to make her own food supplies. By doing her own canning, this reduced their dependence on rationing stamps and food shortages. Anything that could have been done to give the family any sort of advantage or relief could be counted as a small victory.
The Great Depression was an overwhelmingly trying time in American history for both the people and the government. Even though it was extremely difficult for many years, the determination of the American people got them through it. However, due to the hardships of the time, many people were forced to resort to measures never before or again seen by the majority of America. As retold by our interviewees, Mrs. Sally Scott and Mr. James Kozloski, every family had their unique experiences during the Great Depression, but no one was immune to it.
Both Mrs. Scott and Mr. Kozloski were able to inform us what it was like to be alive during the Great Depression in Pittston. They were able to tell us their stories and experiences of personal and family strength during the hardest of times, and they were both able to give us a small piece of what life was like so many years ago in a small town like Pittston. Even though Sally and James had two different experiences during the trying times of the Great Depression, they both were able to persevere. Because I personally am from Northeastern Pennsylvania, I know first-hand the resolve and character that the generations before me possess. These two individuals displayed that through sharing their life stories with us. Mrs. Scott and Mr. Kozloski have both had long, fascinating lives, and hearing their personal experiences was an absolute honor.
 Bezilla, Michael. “Enduring the Great Depression.” Penn State University Libraries. May 23, 2012. Accessed December 12, 2015. https://www.libraries.psu.edu/psul/digital/pshistory/bezilla/depression.html.
 “Americans React to the Great Depression.” Great Depression and World War II. 2015. Accessed December 12, 2015. http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/depwwii/depress/.
 Gray, Christopher. “Streetscapes: Central Park’s ‘Hooverville’; Life Along ‘Depression Street'” New York Times (August 29, 1993). Accessed December 13, 2015.
 Library of Congress “Americans React to the Great Depression.”
 Sally Scott, Oral History at Misericordia University (9/26/2015), Collections of the Greater Pittston Historical Society.
 Fawcett, John, and Rambeau, Elizabeth. “A Hobo Memoir, 1936” Indiana Magazine of History [Online], (1 December 1994). Accessed April 2, 2016.
 Sally Scott, Oral History. 9/26/15.
 Breinholt, Cicily. “Growing Up During the Depression” (Interviews with Verla Hendrickson Breinholt, December 8, 1997). Accessed December 13, 2015. http://newdeal.feri.org/sevier/interviews/398s.htm.
 James Kozloski, Oral History at Misericordia University (9/26/15), Collections of the Greater Pittston Historical Society.
“Americans React to the Great Depression.” Great Depression and World War II. 2015. Accessed December 12, 2015.
Bezilla, Michael. “Enduring the Great Depression.” Penn State University Libraries. May 23, 2012. Accessed December 12, 2015. https://www.libraries.psu.edu/psul/digital/pshistory/bezilla/depression.html.
Breinholt, Cicily. “Growing Up During the Depression,” based upon interviews with Verla Hendrickson Breinholt, December 8, 1997. New Deal Network / Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, New York, NY. Accessed December 13, 2015. http://newdeal.feri.org/sevier/interviews/398s.html.
Fawcett, John, and Rambeau, Elizabeth. “A Hobo Memoir, 1936” Indiana Magazine of History [Online], (1 December 1994). Accessed April 2, 2016.
Gray, Christopher. “Streetscapes: Central Park’s ‘Hooverville’; Life Along ‘Depression Street'” New York Times. August 29, 1993. Accessed December 13, 2015.
Kozloski, James. Oral History at Misericordia University (9/26/15), Collections of the Greater Pittston Historical Society.
Scott, Sally. Oral History at Misericordia University (9/26/2015), Collections of the Greater Pittston Historical Society.