1931 Radio Repairs

January 6

The year starts with the Shop losing a longtime employee who is family. James Woods Jr. re-locates to Southern MD. His wife’s family has a farm there and they need a laborer. Although James Woods has worked at the Shop for nearly 20 years, his wife wants to move closer to her family. The Kavanagh’s are sorry to see him go but know that it’s one less person to pay. Right now, that may be a good thing. Because of the cold and lack of work, Joe and James Kavanagh have decided they may not be able to open five days a week. There are some confectionery kettles to make to start the year but there’s no backlog. They can’t predict what work there will be more than a week or two in advance. The crew is down to Joe’s sons Leo and Eddie, James’ son Guy and veteran employees Funke and Strumm. Money is tight as the men have nearly run through any cash reserves the Shop had. Joe and James discuss the fact that at some point they may have to cover the payroll from their personal savings. Joe volunteers to cover any payroll shortages first but his brother may have to chip in as well.

January 10

Eddie Kavanagh uses his Saturdays to attend to the “Radio Repairs” he is doing on Lakewood Avenue. “Radio Repairs” is the ruse or dodge Eddie uses to cover making illegal rye whiskey and gin. He began last year as the Depression hit the Shop hard, but is unable to make any alcohol at his home because his wife Anna is a prohibitionist. Eddie has made a deal with his next door neighbor John Kellner, and has built and installed a small 20 gallon still in the Kellner’s basement at 436 N. Lakewood Avenue. Eddie runs passes of whiskey and also mixes a concoction of alcohol and flavors into gin. John Kellner helps here and there but Eddie knows more about it. John has just provided a place to distill and gets a few dollars but mostly is paid in free whiskey. Eddie tells his wife that his radio tubes and parts are kept at the Kellner’s to keep them out of the hands of their sons. He has begun selling some whiskey and gin to friends and acquaintances, doing it all under the guise of “Radio Repairs” so no one was the wiser.

January 17

The Coppersmiths Local#80 Saturday night meeting: the rank and file are getting desperate. There is no work and more men are losing jobs every week, adding to the competition for any coppersmith jobs available. Their prospects are getting bleaker. Eddie has no answers for his union brothers. He worries for them just as he worries for the Shop, which has no work at all at the moment. Joe and James have decided to remain closed next week. Joe will call the Kavanaghs and workers if he finds anything for them to do. He makes calls to customers from his home, but barring a change of events, the building at Pratt and Central will be empty until Friday. On Friday, everyone will visit to pick up their reduced pay. They’ve all taken a cut but are happy to receive something for no hours worked. For his part, Eddie is very thankful he’s able to make some additional cash with his own version of bootlegging. His father has begun spreading the word to his friends and contacts with the Shop about what Eddie is doing. He goes over the procedure with them, to use the code word of “Radio Repairs.” Joe gets about one third of Eddie’s profits paid to him. He is Eddie’s father and his son wants to help. More to the point, this cash will aid Joe in making payroll during difficult weeks.

January 30

The Shop has been closed for its second week in a row and the time has come where the company can not make payroll. Joe covers this week’s salaries from his personal savings. He’ll do this for a few weeks in the hopes that some work will make its way into the Shop. Joe speaks to his wife Johanna about the company’s struggles and his having to front this money and Johanna supports his decision because she knows that their future depends on the Shop, not just theirs but both her sons’ and their families. She tells him to keep faith and they’ll be fine. Johanna questions whether they should proceed with a move they’ve been planning. Joe assures her that they have the money for that and will recoup the cost when they sell the home on Collington Avenue. They have savings of their own and will be okay. Times are tough but Joe is more worried about the future. What if it gets worse?

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The Shop’s job and payroll ledger. January 30, 1931.

February 7

The phone rings at 434 N. Lakewood and Anna answers. Mr. T. J. Burns is on the line asking if Eddie can come by and fix his radio. Mr. Burns is having a party this weekend and the radio is giving him trouble. He lives on McElderry Street, just five minutes away. Anna informs him that Eddie is working next door but when he comes home for lunch, she’ll give him the message. He thanks her and tells her he needs three of the dark radio tubes. At noon, Eddie returns from the Kellner’s and Anna passes along the message. Eddie eats a quick ham sandwich and returns to his neighbor’s, packs his briefcase with three bottles of rye and drives up the alley toward Jefferson Street. It’s a chilly winter day but Eddie prefers driving his motorcycle on these deliveries instead of the family car. He loves this old Indian and it reminds him of his youth. A few short turns and he’s on McElderry Street, shaking T. J. Burns’ hand after handing over the three bottles. They chat for a moment before Eddie returns home to run another batch of whiskey.

March 4

A short work week begins on Wednesday with Joe reading a story in the newspaper that the Star Spangled Banner has been chosen as the National Anthem. It’s a rousing tune penned in Baltimore by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. Joe likes that Baltimore connection and along with most Americans, he likes the choice. Putting down the late edition, he steps outside into the sunshine, walks to the corner and lights his pipe. He gives some thought to a move he and his wife, Johanna are making, moving from a home of over 20 years. He’s sure it’s a good idea, and puffing on his pipe, looks through the open garage door on Central Avenue into his empty Shop. They have two kettles to make this week. The rest of their time will be spent making more stock fittings and valves for the future. Joe is happy they’re open and have some small amount of work. The Shop is “cash poor” still and payroll is a problem. Joe has covered payroll from his own personal account four of the last six weeks and this week it’s his brother’s turn. James will put up the cash for the next two weeks’ salaries. They’re hoping by then to have brought in enough money so at the very least, Joe and James don’t need to dig into their savings. Joe glances up and down Central Avenue mostly out of habit, then heads inside.

March 21

Joe and Johanna move from their home at 2 N. Collington Avenue to 1629 Thirty-third Street. The move was a quick decision for the Kavanaghs. Joe was in favor when he realized they could get by with a smaller home. Their boys have moved out and are married; daughter Anna, Sister Mary Agnes lives at the Visitation Convent. Johanna was less enthused about the move but was convinced when they found the house on Thirty-third Street. Their sons help them with the move using the Shop’s Mack AB truck, the most use the truck has gotten in months. The Shop does have a few jobs and this week was able to make the company’s payroll without Joe’s or James’ help.

March 29

On Easter Sunday, Joe and Johanna visit their daughter Anna. They spend the afternoon with her having tea after Mass. She tells her parents that she’s working toward becoming a teacher. She loves children and the thought of working with them as part of her vocation is exciting. Her parents give an update on the rest of the family. Joe doesn’t go into details of how the Shop is struggling but lets his daughter know that, along with the rest of the country, they’re not very busy. They have a pleasant Easter with Anna and as they depart she sends her love and says she will remember them all in her prayers.

April 11

Eddie is home this Friday because he has several orders of whiskey and gin to deliver for the weekend. The Shop is open but not busy; Joe tells him to stay home and take care of his “Radio Repairs” as they need the cash. Eddie spends the day distilling some rye and then mixing some of the bath tub gin. He has a few regular customers now, including a couple of local speakeasies, one of which needs a shipment today. The speakeasies are the only buyers of his gin. He can’t blame people as the taste leaves a lot to be desired. Still, a bartender can mix juice and other things into the gin to make it more drinkable. Eddie fills his briefcase with four bottle of gin, straps it to his bike and heads down the alley to Orleans Street. He makes the quick right turn and drives toward downtown to make his delivery. He notes how little traffic there is moving about him. What should be a bustling busy center of the city is fairly quiet today: a sign of the times and the economy.

May 7

Joe has found some work from a couple of local steamships needing some ballast chambers to replace. It has kept their crew of five busy this week and will do so next week as well. Joe and James are getting more worried. The two brothers have little to do but sit impatiently in their office, Joe waiting for the phone to ring and James waiting for a drawing to make or a kettle to design. The younger Kavanaghs and the two coppersmiths who are not family work hard but can pace themselves. Having to save work or stretch it out is an uncomfortable feeling for both boss and employee.

May 24

Joe opens his Sunday newspaper and spots a story about the Maryland Penitentiary. Frank Allers, one of Jack Hart’s crew has been stabbed. Joe’s eyes narrow and he quickly reads through the column. Allers was stabbed in one of the showers by an unknown prisoner. Frank Allers was taken by surprise, stabbed twice, and his condition is critical. Allers was the “Squealer.” He confessed and implicated Hart and three others in the robbery and murder of William Norris in 1922. He was given immunity but arrested immediately after the Norris trial for a liquor robbery in Cockeysville, the victim one Thomas Hopper. Allers has served nearly all of a ten year sentence. Joe picks up the telephone and calls his brother, then his sons to ask if they have seen the story. All have read it and are shocked at another unexpected turn in the Hart saga.

May 26

Frank Allers has died from his wounds in the Maryland Penitentiary. Another inmate, Edward West, has been charged with the murder. West wasn’t involved with the Hart gang, nor with the Norris murder, but according to the paper, he may have had associations with John “Wiggles” Smith and Walter “Noisy” Sokorow, the two remaining members of the gang in the Pen. Frank Allers was two days shy of being released, having made parole after serving the bulk of his sentence. He was by all reports a model prisoner. While incarcerated, he and another inmate, Raymond Scott, designed a new hydraulic device for generating power. In fact, they received a patent for it and Allers’ plan upon his release was to take a trip to Europe and try to sell his device there. Joe stands in the doorway of the Shop as a steady rain pelts the street. He watches cars moving up and down Pratt and Central and thinks about Frank Allers, the driver of the getaway car and the second member of the gang to die. Charles “Country” Carey was hung for murdering a guard during an attempted escape several years ago. Both had been at the Shop, coming along with Jack Hart to pick up their rye.

Joe’s son Eddie joins him to look out at the rainy day.

“It’s a shame about Frank Allers.”

“Yes, it is. It’s another crazy thing.” Joe answers him, keeping his eyes focused on the passing vehicles and the rain.

Eddie leans against the door jam. “Of course, he didn’t make many friends and I’m sure he wasn’t popular at the Pen.”

“After he fingered them all in the murder? No, he didn’t have many friends.” Joe shakes his head slowly. “To most in prison, he was a rat.”

“To some outside of prison too,” Eddie adds. His father glances at him, looking away from the traffic.

Eddie asks him pointedly, “Do you think Jack had anything to do with it?”

Joe rocks on his heels for a moment then answers, “Yes.” He then turns and marches into the office without another word.

20190301_114152.jpg
Frank Allers. Getaway car driver and the “Squealer” of Jack Hart’s gang. Baltimore Sun 1931.

June 16

Leo Kavanagh takes a job at an auto repair shop. The Joseph Kavanagh Company has hit another lull in work. Everyone is making less money and Leo is offered a short-term job by a friend. The plan is for Leo to work for him through the summer. This will help ease the financial crunch on the Kavanagh’s. Joe still continues to dig for work wherever he can find it and Eddie’s “Radio Repairs” are helping, as well.

July 13

Eddie parks his Indian in a small yard on Chester Street, the home of Thomas Cunningham, who works at the Continental Can Company. Eddie knows him through the Shop. Thomas is at the back door and greets Eddie, motioning him into the house.

Eddie opens his briefcase and sets four bottles of rye on the table. “Here you go, Thomas. My wife said you wanted four. Correct?”

“Yes, I do need four. Two for me and a bottle each for a couple of friends.” Thomas hands Eddie several dollars for the liquor.

“Thank you,” says Eddie, pocketing the cash,” How are things at Continental Can?”

Slow.” replies Thomas, “I’m just glad we’re open. Would you care for a taste, Eddie?” He opens a bottle. “It’s after noon and I mean just a sip.”

“Sure,” Eddie smiles, sitting across from Thomas at the table.

“Your wife seemed very nice on the phone,” Cunningham pours two small shots of rye. “My wife is named Anna too.” He hands Eddie a glass.

“Really? We have a lot in common. Is she home?” Eddie holds the small glass in his hand, warming it.

“She’s at her mother’s. We do have a lot in common. My wife thinks you’re fixing my radio too.” He grins and both chuckle before taking the quick draught of whiskey. They speak for a few minutes before Eddie leaves. He drives east through the City, pulls into the backyard and arrives home. He calls his boys out of the house and spends part of the afternoon playing catch with his sons.

August 29

Another week passes with a few jobs but very little money again. Joe pays everyone’s salary this week from his own cash. They continue to worry, but there is little or nothing they can do about it. The Kavanagh’s keep working and hoping for a turnaround.

October 10

The World Series is a rematch of last year’s championship. This time the St. Louis Cardinals best the Philadelphia Athletics in seven games. Veteran spit-baller Burleigh Grimes wins two games. The spit ball is illegal now but those who threw it before are allowed to continue. The rule is grandfathered in and Grimes has his spitter dancing all around the plate in the series. It will be the last World Series appearance for Connie Mack’s team. The Kavanagh’s are disappointed for the Athletics, but have much bigger concerns than baseball this year. Eddie’s favorite player, Babe Ruth has a good year, batting a robust .373 with 46 homers. Throughout the season, Eddie often tells his sons tales of Ruth and baseball in general. He goes over the rules, the teams and many details about the game.

November 21

The Shop remains very slow and they only open for a few hours for three days this week. There are very few calls and even less jobs. This week neither Joe nor James draws a salary. They have done this several times through the year because it is another way to make payroll. Joe is worried and tells his wife so at dinner. He’s concerned that they may not be able to keep the Shop going. He confides that all of his lifetime of work could be for nothing. Jo comforts him and says they’ll find a way to get by and skimp a bit. She will begin selling some of her baked goods in the neighborhood. She knows people love her pies and she could do that to help with their expenses. She assures Joe that the Shop will bounce back. The country can’t go on like this forever. Something will have to be done. Joe nods and agrees that they will ride this out just like they’ve done in the past, but he can’t shake his fears.

December 12

Eddie is busy bottling some booze for delivery. Even in a Depression, the holidays are a time that people want to celebrate and he’ll be busy for the rest of the month. It’s a good thing too as the Shop is empty of work. They open for a few hours several days a week but have nothing to do. The demand for holiday cheer boosts Eddie’s bootlegging sales and that certainly helps the Kavanagh’s to finish the year with a good Christmas. He keeps at his “Radio Repairs” all month, only making a few appearances at the Shop.

December 24

The Christmas Eve party is held on a Thursday and it’s a quiet affair. The family celebrates, but these are tough times, not just for the Kavanagh’s but for everyone. They sing carols, eat and drink Christmas treats but it isn’t the same as in past years. On the ride home as their sons chatter to each other in the back of the car, Eddie and Anna speak. He tells her that he worries for the Shop and is happy they have another source of money. He knows that they’ll be fine and are much better off than so many others. Anna smiles and says she’s happy too that he has found a side job. She is proud of him for working so hard for them but she hopes he’s being careful. He looks at her curiously and says that he is, of course. Eddie parks their car in front of 434 N. Lakewood and the family climbs the marble steps and bustles into their home, the two boys bouncing with excitement for the holiday. The Kavanagh’s and the Shop have made it through 1931, another hard year for the business and the family. The Jack Hart story seems never ending with Hart still on the loose. Frank Allers’ death brought the whole affair back into the news again but the Shop was not bothered or searched. A strange twist to the story is that the authorities were never able to locate Robert Scott, the man who along with Allers designed the hydraulic power device. He was released before Frank Allers’ death and his whereabouts are unknown. The Great Depression has pushed the country to the limit. People are struggling and hope is hard to find. This family feels the same fear and frustration very keenly but they rally together and work as hard as they can. They will find a way to keep going and find that hope for better times, a better year.

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The Shop’s job and payroll ledger. December 24, 1931.

 

 

Herbert Hoover is the President of the United States. The cyclotron is invented by Ernest Lawrence. Gambling is legalized in Nevada. In New York City, the Empire State Building is finished. The Iron Lung is invented by John Emerson. Al Capone is sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion. Robert Duvall, Anne Bancroft, Mickey Mantle, Sam Cooke and Willy Mays are born. Knute Rockne and Thomas Edison die.

There are 48 states in the Union.

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Johanna Long Kavanagh with one of her grandchildren(undetermined). Late 1920s.

To view earlier years, click the Table of Contents link below:

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