The Beat Goes On

“Life is just a bowl of cherries.
Don’t make it serious.
Life’s too mysterious…”

George White’s Scandals, 1932

As the second year of the depression drew to a close and a third relentless year began, an ominous black cloud of disillusionment and fear hung over America and Europe. The disparity between rich and poor continued to widen. Inexorable conditions led millions of unemployed to desperate measures in order to survive. It was an almost unbelievable era.

***

Sometime during this period in my life, I vowed to myself that I would be the first person in our family ever to graduate from college.

***

In the midst of it all, many Americans turned to light­hearted motion pictures to get their minds off their troubles. An evening out at the movies usually started off with a ten-minute newsreel, followed by lengthy coming attractions, a cartoon or two, and finally, the main feature. Zany comedies and happy, escapist fare like the Busby Berkeley musicals were especially popular. Who can ever forget Footlight Parade, Forty-second Street or Gold Diggers of 1933?

At neighborhood theaters, weekly “Bank Night” drawings for cash prizes packed them in, too.

During those dark days, many Americans also looked for answers in a new wave of astrology, fortune tellers, mediums and the Ouija board. They became fascinated, too, by such diversions as wacky flag pole sitters, elaborate new outdoor miniature golf courses, and the sleazy marathon dance craze.

Marathon dance contests were sorry spectacles that attracted hungry and desperate young people with the promise of excitement and three square meals a day (or night) and a chance to win a pile of money—sometimes as much as $5,000.

***

Agnes Peterson’s niece was one of the many.

Divorced and alone, close to the end of her rope, Emma Lindquist teamed up again with her ex-husband. They hitched a ride down from Spokane and entered what promoters called “The Grand Pacific Northwest Championship Marathon Dance Contest.”

Twice—Agnes and my mother took me along to cheer for “Couple Number 78.”

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