Gareth Jones

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The Western Mail. March 30th 1932

A Welshman Looks at America (First Article)

Land of Tragedy And Disillusion


Mr. Jones, son of Major Edgar Jones, of Barry, is spending a year in New York as assistant: to the public relations counsel of Rockefeller, Pennsylvania Railroad, Chrysler, Standard Oil, and other organisations.


  YESTERDAY New Yorkers took up their newspapers and read:


  “His whole fortune of 175,000 dollars, amassed in a lifetime, swept away in Wall Street, Robert J. Levine (48) jumped to his death from the roof of the eighteen storey apartment building at the corner of 134th street.  A director of the bank in which he worked said that disillusionment at the crash of business had preyed on the victim’s mind.”

To the average New Yorker this item of news described only one of those individual tragedies that happen every day in a great city.  But it was more than that. It was a symptom of the collapse of an epoch and a symbol of the feeling in depression-stricken America.

Disillusionment!  That is the dominant note in America today disillusionment among the businessmen, disillusionment among the workers, disillusionment among the unemployed.

Lost Dream of Riches.

Little more than two years ago people with their pocket-books crammed with dollar notes were jostling through the streets of New York, Chicago Detroit, keen on buying more and more automobiles, radios, gramophones houses, land, stocks, bonds, everything there was to buy.  Building operations rattled, telephones buzzed, Stock Exchange buyers shouted higher and higher prices, glasses clinked in speakeasies, pecked ocean liners sailing for Europe hooted in the Hudson River; all these were signs that Americans were richer than any other people had ever been in history.

The “New Era” had come!  There were to be more and more riches.  Buy, buy, buy! was the slogan.  Don’t save! But spend, spend!  “We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever in the history of any land” said Herbert Hoover in 1928.  “The poor-house is vanishing from among us.  We have not yet reached the goal, but given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years we shall soon, with the help of God, be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation.”

Grim Spectre of Broadway.

That was the belief of three years ago.  The picture which America offers today with its unemployment is a tragic commentary upon that burst of optimism.  Nothing illustrates so clearly the contrast between the confidence of the America of yesterday and the plight of the America of today than a visit to the most dazzling part of Broadway.

Last night I walked through Times Square, watched the lights of the movie-houses flashing, passed inviting dance-halls, glanced at the life-size photographs of film stars, and looked up at the searchlights sweeping from the summits of forty-storey skyscrapers. 

Suddenly I saw in the midst of this riot of Broadway extravagance a queue of hundreds of bedraggled men, waiting sheepishly as passers-by stared at them.  They were lining up to get a scrap to eat from a large van.  Each, as his turn came, had two sandwiches, a doughnut, a cup of coffee, arid a cigarette pushed into his hands.  And all around people swarmed in and out of restaurants and cinemas and lights blazed.  Many of those unemployed men lining up for a bite once had motor-cars of their own, but they are now dependent upon private charity.

Millions in Poverty.

Unemployment has become the greatest problem in the United States and desperate efforts are being made to relieve hunger by charity drives.  Yesterday, as I sat in an office on the thirty-fourth floor of a Wall Street skyscraper, I heard a booming voice outside which seemed to descend from the skies.

Looking out of the window, I saw hovering above these streets of big finance an airship from which came the words through a loud-speaker:

“Give your spare suits, coats, and boots to the unemployed!  Take them to the nearest police-station!” It was organised by a voluntary body.  But efforts like this are not enough when there are at least eight-and-half-million men and women who have lost their jobs.  The result is cruel suffering and the deepening of the disillusionment. In the coal districts of Kentucky starving miners have rioted and been shot down.

The workers, clerks, teachers, town employés who have been thrown out of work have faced their plight with courage and quiet.  This week I experienced a rare example of how men thrown upon their on resources can struggle along in the face of adversity.  One evening I decided to walk from Wall Street to the Cunard Pier in order, to post mail on the steamship Berengaria.

It was eight o’clock at night as I descended 34 floors in the elevator, walked past J. P. Morgan and Co., past the Stock Exchange, almost underneath towering buildings of 50 storeys, until after five minutes I came to the street which runs along the river front where the boats bring food to New York and where liners bring passengers’ from Europe to America.

In the Depths.

The scene changed.  Instead of luxurious banking corporations with vast entrance halls there were dirty warehouses, with hundreds of boxes of oranges and apples piled up outside - a sudden contrast indeed to the dignified Wall Street I had just left, but not so striking as the contrast I was soon to see a few streets further on. There I came upon a patch of wasteland covered with bricks, where several large buildings had been torn down.  Primitive hovels had sprung up, built by hand from old boxes and pieces of timber.  I walked across to examine these rough huts, when I discovered that I was walking on top of roofs, and that there, sure enough, were dozens of homes where men bad burrowed under the earth.  They were dug-outs where the hoboes slept.

Somebody was playing a banjo and singing raucously.  As I stopped to listen a young man in his shirt sleeves, grinned and said: “Hullo buddy, buddy, guess we’ve got swell night club here.  Step right down.  That’s right, don’t ‘bump your head.”  I stepped inside and found a small underground room with four bunks where four workless men were listening a huge Negro who was strumming a banjo, and drawling:

Halleluja! I wanna. go ter Heaven.

Halleluja! I wanna chase de rainbows!

He stopped, his eyes rolled, and he showed his teeth with a drunken grin “Ah’m a poor coloured man aht of work, boss.  And de white man, dey all criticise. But us coloured guys, we’re men just like you.  Ah’m up from South Carolina, bin riding do rails, but can’ find no work nowhere.  You aren’t a judge, are you?  Cause dyers ‘after me.”

“Let Us Forget.”

One of the men whispered to me: “The police are after him. And he’s stolen that banjo, too.”  The Negro went on strumming and singing as the hobo told me: “And I don’t blame him, buddy.  It’s hard times, and every man for himself in days like these.  Look at us here.  We had to dig down into the earth, carry planks from a house that went on fire, pile up those bricks to keep the damp from coming in.  So we’ve got a place to sleep in.  But it’s hard to get the food.  What we do is to hang about those fruit boxes outside the warehouses and we get the throw-offs.  But let’s forget and let the darkie sing.” The darkie was still singing the same song, and as I stepped out of the hovel I could hear him drawling: “ - wanna go tar Heaven.”

Bankrupt Cities

Hovels of the unemployed in the heart of the richest city in the world!  No wonder that the factory workers and the clerks and the teachers and the Civil Servants are anxious.  No wonder there is fear for the future.  The school teachers of Chicago, members of the profession which moulds the future citizen, have only received six weeks pay in the last seven months, for the city is ‘bankrupt.  It is estimated that today in Chicago seven thousand of them have not enough money to buy a bowl of soup and bread and butter for lunch.  No wonder there is disillusionment at America’s shattered prosperity.








Dollar,  Yo-Yo.


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