Kaleidoscope of Twenty Years

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This post is an excerpt from the book, The Life and Times of Warren Webster, by Warren Webster, Jr.

In the year 1920 the world “turned another corner.” The events, “movements” and problems—mechanical, economical, political, spiritual, ethical and intellectual, which have crowded each other on and off the American scene have been too many, too rapid, too far-reaching, too intensely controversial to be analyzed in this record. Furthermore, each event as it occurred has been enveloped in such pitiless publicity from radio, newsreel, newspaper and magazine that the briefest of references suffices to bring back surrounding particulars in all their vividness.

So you will remember:

How business began to brighten as Harding and Coolidge took office, as the specter of a Red Revolution vanished and the Klu Klux Klan faded.

The signing of the Limitation of Armaments Agreement.

The sudden death of President Harding on his Western tour.

How Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as President by his father, in the early dawn, by the light of an old-fashioned kerosene lamp in the “parlor” of an old Vermont farmhouse with only two witnesses.

The short depression, followed by the firm rise of business prosperity, which lasted for seven years.

The Hall-Mills murder case, revived four years later and still an unsolved mystery.

The exploits of the great “Man-o-War” and how they revived interest in horse-racing.

How drinking and the obtaining of liquor suddenly became a fad and a “sporting quest” to make Prohibition unenforceable.

The spread of the speak-easy, secret stills, etc., and the rise of boot-leggers, rum-runners and organized gangs, typified by Al Capone and his mobsters.

The Harding Administration’s scandals. The rascality in the Alien Property Custodian’s office. The Teapot Dome oil scandal.

The “revolt of youth.” The challenging and repudiation of everything existing before 1918 — theology, religion, education, literature, ethics, dress.

The problems of sex, love and marriage seemed the only mysteries clamoring for exploration, and Freud, Huxley, Mencken and the rest were the only teachers worthy of attention. And a book or play to be popular must have a sex motif, this trend, perhaps, reaching the ultimate in Eugene O’NeiI’s “Strange Interlude.”

The first Atlantic City Beauty Pageant and how it changed (and reduced) bathing costumes.

When rouge, lipstick and a cigarette became part of the feminine ensemble.

The Florida land boom—when everybody wanted to get rich overnight, buying, selling and reselling strips of Florida sand and suddenly found themselves with worthless property or shares in half-begun projects.

Mah Jong—and cross-word puzzles.

The long drawn out battle between Al Smith and William Gibbs McAdoo in the Democratic Convention of 1924. The nomination of Davis. The easy victory of Coolidge at the polls.

Miniature golf.

The Kellogg-Briand Treaty—hailed with such gladness.

The fruitless attempts to save Floyd Collins trapped in Sandy Cave, Kentucky.

The “Fundamentalist” and “Modernist” controversy. The trial of John Thomas Scopes, at Dayton, Tenn. Clarence Darrow for the “Modernists” and William Jennings Bryan (who died a week later of his exertions) for the “Fundamentalists.”

The passing of Rudolph Valentine—and the crowds which stretched for eleven blocks at his funeral.

“Red” Grange and his feats on the football field.

Aimee Semple McPherson’s disappearance from a California bathing beach—and the many columns of front page news she has furnished.

The first Dempsey-Tunney fight in the rain at Philadelphia, with receipts at nearly S2,000,000.

The second Tunney-Dempsey fight at Chicago and the “long count”—receipts at $2,600,000, an all-time high.

The “epidemic” of pole-sitting all over the country.

Rescue of the crew of the Antinoe by Captain Fried of the President Roosevelt.

The Sacco-Vanzetti case and their execution seven years after the alleged crime.

The Snyder-Gray murder case.

Lindbergh’s flight to Paris.

The beginning of the “Great Bull Market.”

The new Model “A” Ford.

The first “talkies” began to be advertised—Al Jolson in the “Jazz Singer.”

Father Coughlin went on the radio.

The Hoover-Smith presidential fight.

Nearly everybody “played” the “market”—mostly “on margin” to the tune of 300,000,000 shares of stock, and brokers’ loans rose to billions of dollars.

The stock market crash. The terror and paralysis of business reaching out all over the land.

The “Depression”! Hysterical crowds in front of closed banks.

Long queues in front of soup-kitchens. Apple-sellers—four to the block. Three million unemployed on the streets—their number growing, growing, until it reached twelve millions.

Amos ‘n Andy became a nightly “tickler.”

The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby.

Bobby Jones and his golf conquests.

The yearly international battle for the Davis Cup.

Knute Rockne’s death—and the “vacant place” it made in football.

Franklin D. Roosevelt went to the White House.

The “Bank Holiday.”.. Scrip.

“Happy Days Are Here Again” put the country-wide sentiment into song.

Beer came back—minus the quality.

Relief was provided for the unemployed, and other social legislation.

N.R.A.—and ceaseless bickerings.

The Chicago World’s Fair.

Disappointment as business fell off.

Great dust storms in the West and Southwest reached the point of a major national disaster.

Unemployment became a permanent and paramount problem.

The Townsend Old Age Pension Plan.

The Dionne Quintuplets.

Huey Long and his “Share the Wealth” and “Every Man a King.”

The “revolt of youth” movement faded, as Freud and Watson failed to furnish solutions for pressing problems.

Will Rogers and Wiley Post crashed fatally.

Roosevelt defeated Landon in the greatest political “landslide” in history.

The strangely misleading poll of the Literary Digest.

The great 44-day strike, involving 44,000 workers directly and 110,000 indirectly, closing 60 factories in 14 states.

Philip Musica’s unbelievable career—his suicide and the scandal involving a great drug house.

“Swing” music, Benny Goodman and the rest.

The disastrous hurricane which swept New England in the Fall of 1938, leaving hundreds of dead and injured and destroying millions of dollars’ worth of property.

The Czechoslovak crisis and the Munich “surrender.”

The one-round defeat of Schmeling by Joe Louis at the Yankee Stadium.

Orson Welles’ broadcast of the “War of the Worlds” which threw millions into a stark panic.

In this “news reel of high spots,” no effort has been made to record the innumerable scientific and mechanical advances of the period; the steady improvement in automobiles; the perfection of radio—with television in the offing; the development of the airplane for peace and war. Nor have we traced the magnificent advances in medicine, the creation of many remarkable books and plays with America and American life as the theme and the splendid influence of the radio in raising the musical education and appreciation of the nation to a high plane.

This brings us to the close of 1938, which ended dismally. Since then events beyond our control have forced old problems into the background and thrown new ones in our hands.

Today, as I write in 1942, the world is once again at war. What adventures lie before us or what will be the ultimate readjustment of the world on a peace basis, time alone will show.


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