In a fit of nostalgia, I remembered how my Dad talked about his youth in 1920’s. So I decided to review some American history from 1920 up to 1986, which includes my youth, and also it was the year I emigrated to England. I will do this in a series of blogs.
I mentioned this to my boyhood friend and adult buddy, Tom, and he decided to take the journey with me.
The 1920’s were known as The Roaring Twenties or The Jazz Age.
I will start the 20’s journey with a few things that happened in Chicago, since Tom and I were born and bred there.
In 1921 the magnificent, 4300 seat, palace called The Chicago Theatre opened on State Street.
Al Capone rose to power in 1924 (more later).
US Route 66 opened in 1926 linking Chicago to Los Angeles.
In 1927, the Harlem Globetrotters were founded by Abe Saperstein. They were a comic basketball team staring Wilt “the stilt” Chamberlain.
Also in 1927 Maxwell Street and Halsted was the home to thousands of Jewish immigrants. The Maxwell Street Market was a place where “most everything” was on sale, the motto was, “We Cheat You Fair”.
In 1929, the gangland St. Valentine’s Day Massacre happened at a garage on Clark Street by Capone’s hit team. They killed some of Bugs Moran’s men, who were Capone’s enemies.
My Dad told me how many people were caught up in the art of Autosuggestion in the 20’s. This was due to a Frenchman named Emile Coue who advocated self-improvement based on optimistic autosuggestion. People used to recite a mantra daily to themselves. It went something like this: Everyday in every way, I am getting better and better.
“Sounds good to me,” said Tom, “I can just see a 1920’s flag-pole sitter mumbling that to himself as the pole sways in the breeze.”
“How about this, Tom, imagine a flapper repeating the mantra over and over while sitting in a bathtub filled with gin!”
We both laughed.
“The economy was booming those days, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right Tom, my Dad told me the US economy was growing over 6% per year and 50% of the world’s goods were made in America!”
“Hey Dave, wasn’t there a phrase going around: A Chicken In Every Pot.”
“Yes Tom, my Dad did mention that. He also said, by the mid-20’s almost every home had a radio. But there were some down sides. The American factory worker was slaving away 10-12 hours a day, without any job or health security.”
“Didn’t women get the vote in 1920, Dave?”
“Yes, but the liquor companies were in opposition because they feared that women would vote for prohibition, which they did. It was called the noble experiment.”
“Women started smoking in public in the 20’s, didn’t they, Dave?”
“Yes, the flappers did. Cigarette production doubled during the 20’s.”
My Dad also told me about the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925.”
“Was that about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution?”
“That’s right Tom. Scopes, a teacher, was accused of violating the Butler Act in Tennessee, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in schools. Most people in Tennessee didn’t like the notion that everyone’s ancestors were monkeys!”
Tom laughed and said:
“People didn’t like the findings of science to conflict with the teachings of the Church.”
“Does it bother you, Tom, that you came from a chimp?”
“No,” said Tom, swinging his arms wildly.
Now, we come to the gangster era in Chicago. Al Capone came to Chicago in 1924, when he was 25 years old. He was a henchman for John Torrio, the father of gangsterism. When a rival gang shot Torrio, he went back to Italy and handed over his empire of breweries, speakeasies and brothels to Capone. He just about owned the mayor, Big Bill Thompson, by payoffs and helping him get rid of his political opponents.”
“Whenever people speak about Chicago, right away they think of Capone,” said Tom.
“That’s right Tom.”
“Dave, what exactly was a flapper?”
“Well, according to my Dad, they were young women who wore short dresses and cut their hair short to conflict with the way people thought women should behave. They were the fun loving women of the times.”
“I would of liked to have met one,” said Tom, smiling.
“Me too, Tom!”
“Talking about gangsters in the 20’s, Prohibition let them make lots of money by bootlegging alcohol and they became rich.”
“That’s right. The temperance women wanted their husbands to stay out of the taverns and the companies wanted their workers sober. So the people thought prohibition would be a good idea. But with the chaos created by the gangsters it meant that the amendment had to be repealed, and it was in 1933.”
“Dave, you mentioned the 20’s were called “The Jazz Age”, what was that all about?”
“My Dad told me the national culture was changing in the 20’s. Music was one thing that changed. Jazz was a type of music that combined African American music with European harmonies. It inspired Americans to dance fast with crazy actions, such as the Charleston. Talking movies came in and everyone listened to the radio. Change was all around and the Americans loved it!”
“I remember once I tried to dance the Charleston and fell over,” said Tom, laughing.
“Well, that’s it for the 20’s. Next blog will be about the 30’s and the Great Depression.”
“That should be interesting,” said Tom, jitter bugging down the street, or was it the Charleston?
Also published on Medium.