A DAY LIKE ANY OTHER
… yes, but the sun goes faster. It springs from the Atlantic and sets off at 5:26 in Portland, Maine, near the Canadian border, at 5:30, it’s in Boston and twelve minutes later, New York. At 5:47, it’s reported in Philadelphia, Quaker City, 5:48 in Wilmington, capital of the DuPont de Nemours, 5:54 in Washington, the seat of government. At 6:06, it’s the turn of Pittsburgh steel, at 6:10, the turn of Miami palms, at 6:18, that of the automobiles of Detroit. Not a second behind schedule, the sun arrives in Atlanta, Georgia at 6:24, in Cincinnati, Ohio, at 6:25, in Louisville, Kentucky at 6:29. The blast furnaces in Gary spot it at 6:35, the Chicago stockyards a minute later. From sixty seconds to sixty seconds, from city to city it moves, 6:46, Memphis, 6:47, Saint Louis, 6:48, New Orleans. Factories in the East are up and running, southern plantations humming; now, the Midwest farms and herds appear, Des Moines at 7:00 sharp, at 7:04 Kansas City, 7:10, Omaha. After the paths of French explorers, Dutch traders, British governors, the trails of the American pioneers and trappers. Desert cacti now, and Indians (7:17, Oklahoma City), Mexicans (7:50, Santa Fe), Mormons (8:13, Salt Lake City). A deaf ocean on the horizon; Los Angeles to the south, Seattle to the north; and at 8:57, the sun pulls into San Francisco.
September 21, 1936 begins in the United States of North America.
The legacy of the night weighs heavy on the continent. The morning is gorged with strikes, conventions, deaths, speeches.
The Colorado River hauls its swollen yellow flood-waters across the plains of Texas, and in the deserted backcountry towns, water takes the place of men, enters their homes, their workshops, their offices, their…
In Milwaukee, the gangster Cesare Cortese goes to the window of the cafe where he’s been sitting, peers at the lone car that’s just pulled up in front: a salvo of bullets rakes the glass, the car roars away, Cortese crashes down among shards of…
A nurse at a hospital in Memphis removes a bag from around the neck of a baby who has just been brought in, and takes out a shred of rattlesnake skin. "What’s this for?" she asks. "To prevent the teeth from coming in too early,” says the mother.
In Akron, Rubber Town, non-unionized mechanics come to repair a machine at the Goodrich factory; but seeing them arrive, the workers cross their arms and the machinery is paralyzed, and meanwhile the morning fog drapes itself around the Michigan highways, cars pull onto imaginary roads, four dead and six wounded by the time President Roosevelt arrives in New York.
7:30. This just in. The governor of Louisiana, following his counterparts in Alabama and Mississippi, agrees to participate in governors’ regattas in the southern states, while R. P. Crown in his Illinois town, sifts through contest answers - $5 for the person who can name the most horrible sin. It’s murder, says a schoolgirl, it’s tobacco, claims a doctor and a Chicago resident, it’s Communism!
On his sixty-first birthday, Walter Scott, a.k.a. Death Valley Scotty, divides his time between the gold mine, his hut, and his two mules Betty and Slim. Never comes across a sign of life but the prints of his boots and his animals’ hoofs in the dirt. About his family: he’s heard nothing of them since the day he ran away from home as a boy. He was a muleteer. The new century caught him by surprise in this California valley. He wanted to be rich and became a little richer each year, extracting gold.
Scotty had a wall built around his domain. One day he would emerge, powerful as a Rockefeller.
Fourteen years ago, he believed the time had come. In a California cañon, he built a two million dollar house. Once the work was done, he went out for a visit, toured the rooms, turned on the bathtub faucets, fiddled with light switches. All this belonged to him. He tiptoed out, moved by so much wealth, and bored to death. The next day he was at his mine.
Today he turns sixty-one. He will live for a long time yet, but will never have yachts, servants, women. There’s only one thing in the world he enjoys: leaving for his placer at dawn between Betty and Slim, and returning in the evening with a little bit of yellow dust, a little bit more each time.
In West Virginia, one hundred workers hired to put in a pipeline go on strike.
In a Newark hospital, a police officer approaches a nurse. “You’ve got a casualty who lost his nose in a car accident? Well! We found the nose on the car radiator. I’ll bring it to you.”
A black boy in St. Louis flees at the sight of detectives who suspect him of theft: THEY SHOOT TO KILL.
Mrs. Johnson of Washington applied for a divorce: she got drunk one night and the next morning woke up in North Carolina, married to a Mr. Johnson.
Samuel Insull, renowned crooked banker who recently merged twenty-two radio stations, offers his resignation as President of the new trust, of which he remains a director.
10:00: the New York Stock Exchange opens its doors.
In an Akron hotel (at the Goodrich factory, the strike is spreading from shop to shop), Preston Harless, Dragon of the city, confers with James Colescott, Grand Dragon of Ohio: the Ku Klux Klan Convention is a few days away, the presidential elections are approaching; said Colescott: "We’ll limit ourselves to informing voters of the candidates’ religion."
Casimir Cazale dies in New Orleans. In 1887, he left his home in Basses-Pyrenees for Louisiana.
“America for Americans,” replies Harless.
Ellen MacGeary dies in a Pennsylvania backwater; sixty years ago, she gave up her native Ireland for the United States.
Says Colescott, “We must elect men who will deport the fifteen hundred thousand foreigners living illegally in this country and stealing jobs from real Americans.”
Peter Stephen dies in Atlanta. In 1899, he left his village in Greece for the plantations of Georgia.
The Grand Dragon announces the good news to the city Dragon: HIRAM W. EVANS, IMPERIAL WIZARD, SUPREME HEAD OF THE KLAN, WILL SPEAK IN AKRON.
10:30. In St. Louis, the director of the Great Eastern Oil Corp, terror-stricken, opens his vaults while looking down the barrels of revolvers that two men are pointing at him - Boyd's City Dispatch, the oldest direct mailing agency, puts up for sale a list of 13,183 millionaires - In Hollywood, costume designer Adrian has just reconciled Greta Garbo with sound engineers by inventing a "noise absorber," thanks to which the star may - FINALLY! – wear the taffeta dresses she loves but whose rustling, until now, drowned out the actors’ dialogue.
In Chicago, a member of Congress holds forth at the Jewelers’ Board of Trade
Convention "The business world (in Port Huron, Michigan, Mrs. Parish, 84, kills herself by opening the gas valve), we must feed the unemployed, or fight them."(An unemployed man dies in hospital in Youngstown) -
11:00. 640,000 shares have been traded on the Stock Exchange since it opened –
3,200 lettuce growers are on strike in Salinas, California. The police have just searched the home of the union secretary, in his absence and without a warrant, and found evidence of conspiracy. That is, some communist newspapers, a volume of the works of Lenin and a letter whose recipient is addressed as "comrade", signed "Fraternally yours." Two thousand citizens, vested with police powers, work relay-style at the Salinas Barracks. "We’re in a virtual state of war," said a municipal employee. And the sheriff: "Whatever the purpose of the strike, order must be maintained. I have faith in democracy and trade unionism.” The strikebreakers work under police protection. Some strikers are in prison for hitting back, blow for blow. Others who did not are in hospital.
Noon. 970,000 shares were traded on the Stock Exchange - In St. Louis, Hickman Holloman, 83, leaves his own funeral: he wanted to know how the ceremony would go, a pastor friend was able to satisfy his curiosity - At the Texas Centennial Exposition, the audience is introduced to the mysteries of banknote manufacturing. "SEE THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR BILL!"- The Women's Club of Youngstown hurries through lunch in silence, eager to start the bridge tournament.
In a Detroit home, cream candles with pink tulle bows rise from silver candelabra: engagement party - Chicago City Hall advises that starting October 1st, twelve inspectors will be in charge of counting the sheets on toilet paper rolls; if the number is inferior to the one marked on the label, the seller will be prosecuted for fraud - The National Weather Service in Florida announces that at 1 p.m., the cyclone raging in the Atlantic was 700 kilometers northeast of the Bahamas and heading for the American coast –
R. P. Coughlin, the famous RADIO PRIEST of Detroit meets the press at a St. Louis hotel. "I lead the crusade for democracy,” he says. – “If democracy failed and you had to choose between communism and fascism?” a reporter asks. – “I could never choose communism,” Coughlin says. “It denies the existence of God.” – “So you support capitalism?” – “Careful, my friends, careful! We must make a distinction between plain capitalism and modern capitalism. The latter is unconstitutional and anti-Christian. The former is the best economic system the world has ever produced. CHRISTIANITY, DEMOCRACY AND CAPITALISM ARE IN PERFECT AGREEMENT. In fact, they form the only triumvirate that can possibly function.”
14:00. The Stock Exchange has traded 1,450,000 shares – in Detroit, the lawyer Winter is preparing the talk he will give the following day at the Masonic Temple: “The arrest, trial and conviction of Jesus Christ” - Spike O'Donnell, ci-devant beer king of Chicago and rival of Al Capone, presses charges against the district attorney who had him arrested, undermining his reputation as a businessman
– The Five Republican councilmen of Braddock, Pennsylvania accuse their six fellow Democrat colleagues of illegally electing, in a secret meeting, a seventh council member, also a Democrat -
In Pittsburgh, the Mothers of Democracy hold a card game – 14:19: Start of the first race at the Havre-de-Grace racetrack (Maryland) - the Order of the Rainbow Girls of Akron elects its officers: Mrs. Willems, Mother Advisor; Miss Werntz, Charity; the Renner sisters, Hope and Faith; Miss MacGinley, Treasurer – 14:40: Start of first race at the Detroit Race Course - THE UNITED STATES’ MOST BELOVED CHILD, Shirley Temple, has lunch with an admirer, the wife of the governor of California, and a group of Boy Scouts – CALL-ING ALL U-NITS! Sighted near Cleveland, the Browe baby, missing for two weeks, and his kidnapper: blond, stocky, scar on left cheek - Two Whites and a Black escaped from the chain-gang of Georgia: calling all units - In Chicago, two priests taking $500 to the bank are attacked by three bandits: this is an alert, this is an alert - Bang! 16:37: start of the fifth race at Havre de Grace - Bang! A tanker blows up in Dubuque (Iowa) - Bang! The farmer Stutz, seventy years old, of Wooster (Ohio), shoots himself in the head - Bang! Miss Winslow breaks a bottle of champagne over the bow of the new destroyer named in honor of her grandfather, the Vice-Admiral - 6:45: start of the sixth race in Detroit. Bang! Bang! Bang!
The mayor of Pittsburgh is there, surrounded by police officers and reporters. Day-before-yesterday evening, gangsters visited the “Amerito” Club, headquarters of City Councilman Verona. Club management did not file a complaint.
An inspector rounds up the doorman. The mayor himself conducts the interview. “Had some trouble at your place on Saturday? - Sure. - But when the police questioned you, you claimed nothing had happened! - Sure. – What exactly happened? – Someone rang the doorbell. Strangers. I opened the door to ask if they were members. Yes, they said, and one of them stuck a gun in my gut. The other went upstairs, lined up the players and emptied their pockets. - And why you didn’t report it? – What for? - And your bosses? – That’s their business. - Who was there that night? – What do I know? - Was Verona there? - Ah! No. - But he’s a member of the club? – So they say. - And did you recognize the gangsters? - I have a lousy memory for faces. – Looks to me like you’re covering for someone. - What an idea! - Is it Verona you’re covering? Or the gangsters? - I don’t understand. - Maybe both?”
Thousands of tons of salmon leave Alaska; in the Hawaiian Islands, the crowd lays siege to grocery stores; from Los Angeles to Seattle, cargo ships load and unload bananas, coffee, furs, grapefruit, oil, cement: in nine days, the Pacific sailors go on strike. The police chiefs are already conferring in the ship-owners’ offices - Roxana (Illinois). Restaurateur Fairbanks is pressing charges against the management of Shell Petroleum: he’s demanding $15,000 for meals he provided for scabs locked in the company factory during a recent strike - Atlanta. Mrs. Smith celebrates the seventeenth birthday of her Airedale Miki with twenty dog friends: they serve cake and ice cream - St. Paul. 1,700 strikers from Public Works Administration are forced to return to work: defeat. Toledo. Workers from eighteen dry-cleaning establishments, on strike for three weeks, sign an agreement with the bosses: victory.
(Now in turn the night sets out) In a small Ohio town, Mrs. Dobson recites a poem about friendship at the Pleasant Grove Club - (It springs from the Atlantic and invades Portland...). The football player Russel, 19, is buried in a small town in Texas (night engulfs Boston...), operated on for appendicitis, he died the day before (... New York...) As he lay dying, he was delirious (...Philadelphia, Washington...) "Let me out of here, I want to get back to the team" - (it grazes the Miami palms…) Mary Pickford finally admits to reporters that she spoke these words: "I’m not engaged, at least not yet" - (and the steelworks of Pittsburgh...) In a village in the state of New York, Doris Purcell, 16, learning that the man she was in love with is married (Memphis follows ... at 7 p.m. sharp...) takes her own life - (... after St. Louis and before New Orleans...) The Roosevelt family is celebrating the 82nd birthday of the President’s mother – (a deaf ocean on the horizon...) The Excelsior Lodge meets in Louisville - (Los Angeles to the south, Seattle to the north...) The daily greyhound races start in Dallas - ( ...and at 9:09 p.m., night pulls into San Francisco and the sun plummets into the Pacific...)
Now that the journalists who dogged him with their questions have been left behind, the car peacefully cruising through the Pennsylvania night, Charles Margiotti, District Attorney, can finally stop smiling. There is nothing to be cheerful about. Monaghan was murdered by police, no two ways about it. One more time, the judge reviews the case. Ten days earlier, the Chief of Detectives was found with his throat cut. A few hours later, three policemen arrested Frank Monaghan, 64, a hotel manager whom they suspected of the crime. They took him to the basement of the police station, and when he did not confess, they beat him all night. The D.A., lost in thought, sees the blood splattered on the basement walls: he would not have believed an old body could contain so much blood. Monaghan didn’t talk, but he screamed until dawn, and the crowd gathered in front of the station heard his cries. Too much noise, too many witnesses. They’d had to arrest the officers, alert the journalists, the photographers and the experts. A dirty business. "THIRD DEGREE, THIRD DEGREE." Luckily, it rarely ends in death. Rarely, Mr. D.A., rarely?
The numbers are rolling in from all directions. Three injured in Pittsburgh, two killed in car accidents - Saint Louis slaughterhouses took in 7,000 head of horned cattle, 8,500 sheep, 11,000 pigs
- In Washington, 38 births, 21 marriages, 31 deaths - At the Detroit Stock Exchange, 16,934 shares changed hands, in other parts of the city, there were 37 deaths and 89 births - 53,000 shares were traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, two gazelles and a monkey were born in the Chicago Zoo -
The clicker at the Baltimore Sun is doing layout for the Classifieds: "LADY (white) economical, gentleman’s home preferred." "WOMAN (negro) looking for any work at all." The Globe-Democrat, St. Louis: "YOUNG MAN, situation: anything. Strong, 20, good driver." From the Times-Picayune of New Orleans:" WE want to encourage prayers to St. Joseph and faith placed in him for the great favor he granted us. Mrs. Jourdan and her son Charles.” From The Detroit Free Press, Detroit: “Wanted: PRIESTS to sell, in spare time, The Treasures of the Doré Bible against payment of 50 cents a week.” From the Chicago Herald: “Christian Industrial League. Send us used clothing, furniture, newspapers to help rebuild worn men”-
There is not a single free bed left in Cleveland. The American Legion is holding its annual convention. Time to see who’s shown the most imagination! They’ve had a year to think about it, in the shop, at the office, or chafing under lack of employment. One Legionnaire has made a miniature cannon that shoots firecrackers into the legs of pretty passersby. Another member offers a sandwich to women in the street, two slices of bread with a baby alligator in between. It’s a September 21 they won’t forget any time soon. Eighteen years ago they were young, they experienced adventure and didn’t die of it. How beautiful war is in peacetime, it gives them the chance, once a year, to escape the family, money problems, the boredom that weighs heavy on the continent, heavier than the deepening night. (New York falls asleep.)
In a Chicago hospital, a woman is screaming and crying. She is only twenty-two, and her newborn is dying. Due to a malformation, the baby cannot expel food. “We can operate,” says the doctor, “put in drains.” – “And then what?” the father asks. – “Without surgery, he’ll die for sure,” the doctor replies. – “I don’t want him to live as a cripple,” the father says. – “I do, I do,” cries the mother, “operate!” – “I can’t without the father’s consent,” says the doctor. Chicago falls asleep. In his cot, the child grows weaker by the hour. Around him, a half-dozen newborns snore and digest.
Minneapolis falls asleep. Slowly the floodlight moves over the factory roofs and walls, the deserted yard, the compound, the bolted door, the armed men standing guard, and outside, the workers. There’s a strike at Archer Daniels Midland Co.
The forty mills of Minneapolis are on strike. Minneapolis truckers are on strike. Minneapolis factories are about to go on strike.
Again the floodlight beam moves over the roof, the walls, the picket lines. Armed guards protect the factory, patrol the city streets, knocking down isolated strikers. They know how to kill but they don’t know how to operate the machines. The shops close for lack of provisions, and only a hundred railway cars come through the freight yard per day instead of two thousand.
That floodlight again. A bullet fired in the dead of night lodges itself in the eye of the guard revolving the floodlight, the eye of the bosses goes out, and shadow engulfs the factory, the yard, the compound and picket lines.
At his home in Joliet (Illinois), watched over by two doctors, Patrick McFarland, one of the best boxers in the world, is dying of heart disease -
John Sweeney – twelve years old, nine-time runaway, escapes from his father’s house, gets off the bus in downtown New York, skulks around Times Square, goes into a shop, buys tobacco and a pipe, a real pipe like an old sailor’s -
Denver falls asleep - At the hospital in Chicago, the mother cries, and the father says: “I’d prefer the child to die” - Pat MacFarland on his deathbed is raving - John Sweeney lights the new pipe, a policeman comes up to him. "Nice pipe you got there.” – “Yes, it’s good, and the tobacco is strong.” He wants to vomit, but life is worth living. "Do you live around here?” asks the policeman. – “No, I ran away from Philadelphia” - San Francisco is going to sleep -
MacFarland’s heartbeat slows, the boxer sees his life in the ring, the brewery he owned. . .
At the police station, the officer makes his report, and the sergeant greets John, an old acquainta…
The child grows weaker at the hospital in ... A gangster approaches the cash booth of the Chicago Skytrain - The radio dreams of jazz – unemployed men and women are sleeping in parks -the Rocky Mountains: airplane flies – The rotors rotate: news flies – Chicago: gangster steals. All along the telegraph wires, from cloud to cloud, telegrams fly.
Yes, but the sun goes faster. It springs from the Atlantic and sets off at 5:27 in Portland, Maine, near the Canadian border. . .
September 22, 1936 will begin in the United States of North America.
[NOTE] This chapter is a summary of news items from thirty U.S. newspapers dated September 22, 1936, covering the events of the day before: a day like any other. All time references are in Eastern Standard Time.
Influential French novelist, screenwriter, pioneer in literary genre and Oscar nominee Vladimir Pozner came to the United States in the 1930s. He found the nation and its people in a state of profound material and spiritual crisis, and took it upon himself to chronicle the life of the worker, the striker, the politician, the starlet, the gangster, the everyman; to document the bitter, violent racism tearing our society asunder, the overwhelming despair permeating everyday life, and the unyielding human struggle against all that. Pozner writes about America and Americans with the searing criticism and deep compassion of an outsider who loves the country and its people far too much to render anything less than a brutally honest portrayal. Recalling Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Pozner shatters the rules of reportage to create a complete enduring and profound portrait.