1932 The Great Depression and Half-Pies

January 4

The Shop has two kettles to make for an ice cream company and nothing else to start the year. Joe and James discuss the business. Joe tells James that they will have to put up more cash to keep the doors open. James tells his brother he cannot put up any more dollars. Joe will come up with the money himself rather than permanently closing.

January 17

On a cold Sunday, the Kavanagh’s have a ham dinner at Thirty-third Street. Joe and Johanna host their boys and their families, oldest son Leo, his wife Maymie and their children Leo Jr. and Mary, and younger son Eddie, his wife Anna and their sons Ed Jr. and Jack. After a comforting dinner, they hold a meeting about the Shop. Joe, Leo and Eddie retire to the parlor while their wives begin cleaning up after dinner and tending to the children. Joe pours them each a glass from his dwindling stash of Mount Vernon Rye. He has broken into his last case, given to him nearly twenty years ago. The men sip their whiskey and talk about work a little but mostly they wait. After several minutes, Johanna leaves her daughter-in-laws to the household chores and joins her husband and sons, toting a platter of apple pie and tea. Once everyone has a piece of pie and a cup of tea, Joe begins telling them the Shop will need an influx of cash. There’s no chance that the business will survive without payroll, not just for themselves, but also for Funke and Stromm, the two talented workers Joe doesn’t want to lose. He glances at Johanna, then looks to Eddie.

“We’re going to need your Radio Repair money to help us keep going, Eddie.” Says Joe. “Leo and I will come up with a list of people who might be interested. I bet we can find more customers for the whiskey and that other stuff you sell.” (Joe doesn’t understand why anyone would buy the bathtub gin.)

“I can handle more customers and deliveries. It seems to be working out pretty well. I just won’t be able to spend much time at the Shop if we find more buyers.”

“I have a feeling we won’t need you much. I think things will get worse before they get better in this country. We have to do what’s necessary to keep the Shop going and for all of us to survive. I can help you with buying corn and barley. I can find the best deal on ingredients. I’m sure of that.” Replies Joe.

Leo chimes in, “I can get my part-time job at the auto shop back. That will help me with money so I won’t need my normal salary, but I will need something, and I’ll get you a list of friends who will be buyers. I know some folks that will be interested for sure.”

“What about your brother James” Johanna asks her husband.

“James says he can’t help with cash anymore but he expects to be paid.” responds Joe. “I’m not going to talk to him about what Eddie is doing but I’m sure he knows something’s going on. He doesn’t need to know, but he is my partner and my brother. He’ll have to get something out of this even if it’s less than he wants.”

His wife nods as she sips her tea and then asks Eddie, “You’re being careful? None of this is worth doing if you get yourself into trouble.”

“I’m very careful. I don’t think Annie even knows what I’m doing and I want to keep it that way. The only ones who know are my customers and the people in this room.” Eddie answers his mother.

A small smile crosses Johanna’s lips as Joe pipes in, “We should figure on splitting the money in half. I’ll use half to make cash loans to the Shop to make payroll. You keep your half for you, and hold some aside because if things keep getting worse, that could be a fallback for all of us.”

“Will you and Mother be okay?” asks Leo, his brother Eddie nodding to show he shares his concern.

“We will,” says Johanna before Joe can speak. “We’ve been through tough times before and we’ll get through this too. I’ve been selling some half-pies in the neighborhood and I’ll continue to do that. We’ll stretch our money and all of us will be okay.” she assures them.

Eddie takes a forkful of apple pie and says, “Keep making them like this Mother and we won’t even need whiskey sales.” He smiles at Johanna as they all chuckle softly. Soon, Maymie and Anna and the children join them in the parlor. Joe plays some piano and sings for them all, his youngest grandson Jack sitting next to him on the piano bench, paying close attention to Joe’s playing.

Mount Vernon Rye Bottle. 1914.

February 12

There is no work at the Shop. Eddie has added more names to his book of customers. He keeps a journal of his “Radio Repairs” customers, addresses and notes. Joe and Leo have brought in some more interested parties. Today Eddie visits a speakeasy for a much larger delivery than he typically makes, a case of whiskey and a case of gin. Eddie is finding more and more customers every week as friends tell friends. Baltimore still loves having a drink now and then and Eddie is benefiting from it. He makes runs around the City daily. He still prefers his motorcycle and briefcase, but when necessary he’ll drive the car. At home, he and Anna are worried for their son Jack who has the mumps and is very sick. Although the boy recovers, his parents are saddened when the doctors tell them Jack will never be able to father children. They know that doctors aren’t always right and they pray for their son, still grateful that he has recovered. Those doctors would turn out to be very wrong because Jack will father nine children.

The Shop’s ledger entry for week of February 13, 1932. No work. No hours.

April 24

The Kavanaghs’s hold another Sunday dinner meeting to discuss the progress on the “Radio Repairs.” Eddie lets his parents and brother know that sales are going well, and he continues to get many calls, but could use Joe’s help with supplies. Joe suggests he order the supplies from now on, the corn, rye barley and empty bottles which will be stored at Joe and Johanna’s house on Thirty-third Street. Eddie will pick them up as necessary. The cash is starting to roll in and bolster the Shop; Joe will continue to make cash loans to the Shop to cover payroll. Joe tracks all these loans in the Shop’s ledger, referencing Eddie’s journal with small cryptic notes. They’ll save what they can against any emergency that might come along. After their discussion, Joe sits at the piano with young Jack next to him showing him some chords and melodies. At seven years of age, Jack has taken a strong liking to the piano; Eddie and Anna have decided to pay for piano lessons for him. Next week lessons begin at twenty-five cents a pop at St. Elizabeth’s School where Eddie’s boys attend. Joe is very pleased to hear it and loves the thought of his grandson carrying on the tradition of music that is very much at the core of the Kavanagh family.

May 13

Joe opens the Shop on Central Avenue to pay everyone. His brother, sons and the rest of the crew stop in for their money. After they leave, Joe stands for a few moments on the corner and thinks about what they’re doing. As always, the family is doing what they have to do. He trusts his son to be careful and keep producing good liquor. This seems to be working until the real work comes back, whenever that may be. Joe returns home and tinkers on the piano while his wife is bustling about the house. Johanna is spending a busy day baking pies and the occasional cake if a neighbor has a special request or is throwing a party. She begins baking in the early morning and sells a few half-pies just about every day. Neighbors come to the back door of the house and she tells them what she has. More often than not a sale is made and Jo puts this money in her own safe place. She uses it for household expenses, her baking ingredients, and special treats or gifts for the grandchildren. Joe does his best to stay out of her way, sitting at the piano smoking his pipe.

June 19

Joe reads the Sunday paper and finds a story about Jack Hart. There’s a report that Jack has been spotted in Montana. According to the paper, the Sheriff of Missoula, Montana has requested a description of Jack Hart before they will confirm or comment. The story recounts the whole sordid Jack Hart affair from 1922 on, before stating that, after receiving Hart’s description, the Montana authorities denied any knowledge of his presence in their state. Joe keeps wondering when will this Jack Hart thing come to an end. He sighs and calls his brother and sons to inform them of the article. They all read it and feel the same as Joe. It seems like Jack can not stay out of the news even when no one is sure where he is.

June 30

Maryland Governor Albert Ritchie loses his final bid to be the Democratic Candidate for the Presidency. Ritchie had campaigned for the nomination in 1928 as well. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New York’s governor, secures the nomination in Chicago after four ballots. Roosevelt leads after each vote but falls short of the required number in the first three rounds. House Speaker John Garner is a distant third in a crowded field and he endorses Roosevelt to deliver the necessary votes. Garner joins Roosevelt’s ticket as his Vice-Presidential Candidate. Ritchie appears in all four rounds of balloting. Humorist Will Rogers appears in one. The Kavanagh’s supported Ritchie’s slim chance but were satisfied with the choice of Roosevelt. The Depression makes it easy for them to not support the incumbent Herbert Hoover.

July 5

Eddie takes his sons to their first ballgame, an exhibition game between the New York Yankees and the International League Orioles at Oriole Park. The boys as well as Eddie are very excited to see the hometown hero and superstar Babe Ruth in person. Ruth is a mammoth figure in baseball at this time, the superstar of superstars, especially in Baltimore where he was born. Eddie and his sons have a great day as the Orioles win easily 9-2. Eddie buys a large bag of peanuts and a large cola for them to share as they take in their first game of baseball, their first time hearing the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. Buzz Arlett and Heinie Sands each knock one out for the home town Orioles. Ruth doesn’t homer but settles for a double and a walk. The Kavanagh’s are not at all disappointed; the home team won and they saw Babe Ruth.

July 22

On this Friday, Joe is preparing to leave the Shop after paying everyone when two men in suits appear at the door. Joe greets them and they inform him that they are from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, special agents Frank O’Neil and Dick Rosengarten. Joe is taken aback but motions them into his office. They tell Joe with Jack Hart still on the loose the case is in their hands now. They’ve been trying to speak to the Kavanagh’s for several weeks but the Shop is always closed. The Police told them to come by on a Friday because that’s the only day the place was always open. Joe is still shocked at their presence in his office but responds quickly that the Shop is struggling these day like every other business. Agent O’Neil continues that they are tracking and investigating Jack Hart. They ask Joe about Hart and he gives them the same story he has told the police for years. The Kavanagh’s knew Jack Hart as James Connelly. He was married to Joe’s niece and god-daughter Kitty. They didn’t know him well and they want nothing to do with him. The agents seem to believe Joe about Jack Hart but they think since Kitty is dead, Joe might be someone who could tell them more about him. Specifically, they want to know if Jack Hart has any family or contacts in the Northwest. Joe says he has no idea and tells the agents he saw the report that Hart might be in Montana. Special Agent O’Neil is quick to say they can not discuss any details but Hart is a wanted man. He is considered a fugitive in all 48 states and they will find and catch him. Joe wishes them luck but re-iterates that he has no contact with Jack nor does he expect to hear from him. Now that Kitty is dead, Joe thinks Hart has no reason to return to Baltimore and doesn’t have a clue whether or not Hart knows anyone in Montana or any other state. The agents politely thank him for his cooperation and leave the Central Avenue building, informing Joe they might return. Joe nods and forces a smile telling them the best day to come by is on a Friday. Joe breathes a sigh of relief and sits at his desk a moment before locking the front door and heading home for the day. Joe can not believe this is still happening and tells his brother and sons so when he calls them all to tell them of the agents’ visit.

August 15

Johanna has her grandsons over for the day. As she bakes in the kitchen, they enjoy some peach pie. She begins slicing two pies into halves and the younger boy looks at her curiously.

Jack asks his grandmother, “Why don’t you sell a whole pie to people? If they like your pie, they’ll eat a whole one.

“Well Jack, if you want someone to buy your pie every day, never sell them a whole one.” Johanna answers, her eyes smiling at the young boy.

“That’s pretty smart, Grandmom. I didn’t think of that.” Jack says through a mouthful of pie. Johanna grins and returns to mixing and measuring her ingredients. Jack watches her, slightly fascinated, as she seems to do three or four things at once with great ease. The boys finish their pie and head outside with gloves in hand to play a little ball.

Johanna Long Kavanagh. 1930s.

September 14

Eddie has ten deliveries of whiskey and gin to make, mostly in East Baltimore today. Eddie zips through the streets on his motorcycle, briefcase full of booze strapped to the back. Friends and friends of friends call every day now and especially on Fridays when most people have received their wages. His wife fields many of these calls and passes along the customers’ needs. Eddie suspects Annie (as he always called his wife) does, in fact, know he is selling alcohol and not fixing radios. She’s a smart woman and he is doubting his ruse lately. Eddie has deliveries every day including Sundays and distills every night. He does spend a lot of time next door, and again, Annie seems okay with it. He has shown John Kellner how to work the still properly but doesn’t trust him to run batches of whiskey very often. Eddie is so confident in his abilities and his product that he prefers to do it himself.

October 2

The New York Yankees sweep the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. This was the tenth and last World Series for Eddie’s favorite player, Babe Ruth. He hits two home runs in the series both in game three including his famous “called shot.” Pictures show Ruth making a gesture toward right field before blasting an estimated 500 foot homer. The story spreads quickly that he had “called” or predicted the home run and it was reported as such in the newspapers. Ruth concurred when asked if he had motioned that he would hit one out, being always aware of the value of his image and how to work the press. The story grows into baseball legend but the truth of it is up for debate. Eddie assures his son Jack that “calling his shot” was exactly the sort of the thing the great Babe Ruth would do. Jack is a rabid Ruth fan now just like his father. The Babe hits .341 for the season and belts 41 home runs, another good year for the now veteran star.

November 8

Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected the thirty-second President of the United States, defeating incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover. The Kavanagh’s vote for Roosevelt. The Depression has crushed them and they are obliged to vote against Hoover. The family are all registered Democrats now, something that has changed from a generation ago.

November 19

Joe and Jo visit their daughter Anna, Sister Mary Agnes, at the Visitation Convent on Roland Avenue. She speaks of her studies in her goal to become a teacher. She is learning much and doing well. She loves the Visitation and is very pleased she answered the calling. Her parents are happy as well. It has taken some time but they are more comfortable with her vocation and the cloistered life she lives. Joe and Johanna tell her about her brothers and their families. She’s particularly delighted to hear that Eddie’s son Jack is learning the piano.

December 23

The Christmas Party is held at Central Avenue appropriately enough on a Friday, the one day they were regularly open. The Kavanagh’s are there with their employees and their families and just a few friends. They celebrate the Yule together with food, drink and song as they always do. They’re making it work through Eddie’s bootlegging and working together as a family. Johanna sells her half-pies and Leo has returned to auto work to help with money. A year has passed with nearly no jobs and no hours worked, but the business still exists even if they aren’t open many days. The Depression is deep, many are destitute, and bread lines are long. The list of unemployed is frightening, but the Kavanagh’s go on. The men have jobs and still have their houses thanks to the illegal whiskey and gin. They’ve made it through another year and are doing far better than most folks in these tough times. They do as they have done so many times before. They hope for a better year.



Herbert Hoover finishes his term as the President. Hattie Wyatt Caraway becomes the first female Senator in the nation representing Arkansas. The Olympics are held in Lake Placid, New York in the winter and Los Angeles, California in the summer. The first gas tax is enacted. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century premiers on radio. Radio City Music Hall opens in New York City. Johnny Cash, Elizabeth Taylor, Sylvia Plath, Ethel Ennis and Little Richard are born.

There are 48 states in the Union.

Eddie Kavanagh. Circa 1920s.

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