1937 Her Left Foot

January 11

It is a solid start to the year for the Joseph Kavanagh Company. The Shop is filled with distillery repairs and commercial cooking kettles to fabricate. Joe and his sons are busy fielding calls and bidding jobs while their crew crank out the work. More and more, Joe allows his sons to take some of the phone calls and deal with customers. Joe knows the boys’ time is coming and they need to start handling that end of the business. Once a job is received, Leo does any engineering and makes the necessary sketches. Eddie assigns the work to different members of the crew, taking care of the more difficult projects himself. He still leads the crew for most installs at distilleries and breweries but whenever possible, he passes as much off to the workers as he can. As Eddie and Leo must learn, sooner rather than later, Joe will be gone and his sons will be in charge.

February 15

Another member of the next generation starts at the Shop, Leo Jr. He has been playing baseball for different semi-pro teams in Maryland for several years after school. His father convinces him to give the Shop a try though the younger Leo isn’t particularly enthused. At nineteen, he’s a little old to be starting as an apprentice, but he’s persuaded by his father to step into that position. He works as a helper as any other apprentice would, but is also taught the basics of coppersmith work by his father. The Shop is flush with work: some boiler parts, a fountain and a brass railing to make in addition to some distillery repairs.

March 1

Distilling and beer brewing work continues to return to the Shop. The crew has grown to sixteen including the Kavanagh’s. Young Leo is struggling a little but most employees go through a period of adjustment to Shop work. It’s dirty, heavy and occasionally dangerous. Today, several beer vats are being made, the copper heated and hammered into the large basin-shaped vats. Once finished, they will be installed next week at National Brewery. The team of workers will be led again by Eddie but this time he will take on more of a supervisory role. He’ll allow his crew a little leeway during the installation. He wants his senior workers to take on more of a leadership position so he doesn’t have to.

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Bronze label attached to beer vats and stills in 1930s.

April 3

After a discussion with his father, Leo Jr. returns to playing baseball. The Shop is not for him and he’s quick to join a team on the Eastern Shore as the baseball season begins. His father may have been disappointed, but is happy his son gave it a chance and knows that baseball is young Leo’s calling. He is a good pitcher and player but not of the same caliber as the Major Leaguers. He is talented enough to work on the semi-pro side and in the minor leagues. He tells his father he wants to take his shot at baseball for as long as he can. Perhaps he will turn to coaching or even return to the Shop some day.

May 7

Joe reads the newspaper account of the Hindenburg disaster in Lakehurst, New Jersey and is horrified at what he reads. The airship exploded as it landed and thirty-six passengers were killed. Joe has always been very skeptical of air travel particularly airplanes. This is different though; these rigid airships were considered relatively safe. This is a terrible disaster whose memory will live on forever in the US. The live broadcast of the event is replayed on the radio for all to hear later that night. Joe listens and wonders at this terrible disaster and the loss of life.

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Hindenburg flying over New York just prior to the crash and explosion.

May 17

The Shop gets a phone call about the Statue of Liberty. Joe answers the telephone and the caller is from Coppersmiths Local #55 in New York. They wish to speak to Eddie and Joe passes the phone over to his son. They need some additional help on repairs to Liberty, specifically her left foot. The shackles are damaged and need fixing. It is pure coppersmith work; the feet like the rest of the statue are copper. It will require a deft and skilled hand to reshape the foot or it may need replacing. These repairs need to be done as quickly as possible because Liberty’s Fiftieth Anniversary is in October. A large ceremony is planned to celebrate her birthday. Eddie has made several trips to New York over the years. These trips are rare, but occasionally an out of state distiller needs the Shop’s services. This is very different, obviously, and Eddie is very interested. He assures his union brother that they’re happy to help and will get back to him tomorrow. After hanging up, Eddie explains the situation to Joe who is just as interested. Joe is all for it as he remembers that Old Uncle Joe played a part in the Statue’s construction. He regales his sons on the tale they have heard before: how Joe traveled to New York to offer his services in the building of Liberty. Learning that all the copper work was finished in France, Uncle Joe was undaunted and returned the next day offering to be a simple laborer. It was important to him to be involved. He helped rig and assemble the pieces that make up the statue. Leo and Eddie can see the excitement building in their father as he speaks to them. They know already that he wants this job and they will get it, whatever it takes.

May 20

Joe places a call to the administrator of the Statue of Liberty and quotes a price to repair the foot. He quotes a base price and then an hourly rate as they have yet to see the damage. Joe is excited to be involved in this project but several days has lowered his enthusiasm if not interest. He was never one to forget price and quotes a figure to be sure to make some profit. Joe is confident they will be awarded the job. Time is of the essence and the Shop has its experience and reputation.

June 7

Ed Kavanagh Jr. returns to the Shop for the summer to continue his apprenticeship. He did well in his first summer and with school finished he is back for more. His father teaches him the skills he needs, using a torch, using a hammer and the other details of copper work. He is welcomed back by the crew with a mix of enthusiasm and chiding. The young guy often takes a lot of ribbing at the Shop. You have to be tough enough to take it and find a way to fit in with the group. The crew is like a team and this is part of finding your place or position on the team.

June 28

On this Monday, Eddie travels to Bedloe’s Island in New York to do some repairs on the Statue of Liberty’s left foot. Eddie takes the train along with Mr. Funke and young Leo Giannetti. After getting lost briefly, they make their way to Bedloe’s Island by ferry. Eddie meets his fellow coppersmith union members and the details are quickly gone over. Eddie and his crew are escorted up on to the Pedestal to see the damage. The left foot itself has some wear and tear but the real issue is the shackles near the foot. They are broken to signify her breaking the shackles of oppression and finding freedom. That is how they are supposed to look but they are in far worse shape. The chains are pitted and split throughout with most of this damage caused by water. Eddie is told the copper apron at the bottom of Liberty’s garb is to be extended by about twenty-five feet. This will help to protect the feet and chains from rainwater in the future. There’s a crew in place to take care of the apron, but with a deadline to finish, additional help for the foot is called for. That help is Eddie and his two assistants. Eddie assesses the problem quickly and knows what needs to be done. The chains must be re-worked and in some places covered in new copper. He doesn’t think this will take them very long. He came here assuming they would need three or four days to complete the work but now he thinks two days might just do it. They set to work immediately and hope to be finished and heading home the day after tomorrow.

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The right foot of Liberty prior to construction. Postcard undated.

June 30

Eddie, Mr. Funke and Leo Giannetti head back to Baltimore via train. They have finished and the foot and the chains look much better. With Eddie’s union brothers near at hand, any tools and materials they needed were available. Eddie and the boys were able to borrow torches and hammers. Any holes were covered or filled with new copper. Those areas that were out of shape were hammered out and all seams were repaired. The administrators of the Statue of Liberty were very pleased with their work and quite grateful for the speed with which it was completed. Eddie and the boys smoke and play cards on the ride home. All the while, Eddie is going over the experience in his head. Not just for his own sake but for his father’s. Something tells Eddie that Joe will want to hear all about it. When they return to the Shop, Eddie gives his father a blow-by-blow account of their trip and what they did. It was not a big job but one of the more important ones they have been involved in. The story was short as the work was fairly straight forward for an experienced coppersmith like Eddie, but Joe loved hearing about it and was happy to pass it along to anyone he knew. And, of course, he was happy about the money they were paid.

July 4

Eddie and his wife Annie host an Independence Day cookout on Lakewood Avenue. Eddie’s parents, Joe and Jo are there, as are brother Leo and his family. They cook burgers and hot dogs in the backyard while enjoying potato salad and the rest of the trimmings. After they eat, they take the short four block walk to Patterson Park to enjoy some fireworks. They sit in the grass on a humid night and watch as the sky explodes in colors of red, white and blue. The children are getting older but still not so old to not “ooh” and “ah” at the display. The older Kavanagh’s talk baseball and the Shop as they watch. Joe brings up the story of Amelia Earhart, a famous female pilot who has gone missing during her transatlantic flight. Joe pontificates a bit about the dangers of flying but as a group they are hopeful that Miss Earhart will be found soon. When the fireworks are finished, the family joins the throng of spectators exiting the park. They make their way back to 434 N. Lakewood Avenue, all having enjoyed a great holiday.

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Letter from Administrator of Statue of Liberty to Director of the National Park Service referencing pictures taken of repairs to Liberty. July 7. 1937. Courtesy of National Archives.

August 14

Eddie leads a meeting of Coppersmith Local #80 on this Saturday night. The news is mostly good for the rank and file as more work has come back and more companies are hiring. Eddie has seen this himself at the Shop but other small shops are also bringing on new men. One thing that strikes Eddie is the news of a new coppersmith shop opening called the J. D. Kavanagh Coppersmith Company. He realizes immediately that this must be his Uncle James’ new place. He gives it some thought on the drive home and calls his father on the telephone upon arrival.

August 15

The Kavanagh’s enjoy a Sunday dinner at Thirty-third Street. Johanna prepares ham and potatoes in a large jacket kettle cooker made in the Shop by Eddie. After their meal, the kids and their Moms settle in front of the radio while Leo, Eddie and their parents have a chat. They gather around the kitchen table with Joe at one end and Jo at the other, each drinking a glass of much needed iced tea on a humid August night.

“So James has opened his shop. Eddie heard so last night at the union meeting, but we knew it was coming.” Joe announced to the room, though everyone there knew this. “We knew he was going to do it and I’m not worried. He can’t compete with us, not with our quality, our experience and our reputation. Good luck to him.” Joe finished and lit his pipe while his eyes moved from his wife to his sons.

“Do you think this will effect the Shop? I mean, sure, he can’t compete with us, but he could still take work away from us. He could call customers of ours.” Leo inquired before taking a long finishing drink of his tea, the ice tinkling in his glass as he put it down.

“I’ll handle it if he calls customers. I’m not too concerned. They all know me.” Joe answered, pointing at his chest with a jerk of his hand, “I’m not much worried about our old customers, but there are new distillers out there. With Prohibition long gone, thank God, more will keep opening. James knows how we price jobs. He could underbid us pretty easily. It’s a concern, but I’m not worried.” Joe puffed on his pipe and leaned back in his chair.

Eddie sat forward in his and said, “I don’t know where his shop is located yet or if it’s even open. I know there was an inquiry about hiring two coppersmiths and two helpers later this year. The union approved it and we’re waiting to hear back from James. My only concern is that he knows all about our business with James Connelly and the whiskey. He knows all we’ve done for the last fifteen years. Bootlegging with James and without. He was involved in it, but not like we were.” Eddie paused to strike a match and light a cigarette, his eyes focused on the tip as he brings the match to it. “Should I be worried about that?” he asked looking directly at his father.

“No. I’m not. James may have tried to stay out of our whiskey deals but he took the money. When there was money anyway. We did what we had to do to survive. Plus, he’s my brother. He won’t do anything about that. He’s just trying to make a living and that’s fine with me. If he calls our customers or tries to low bid us, that’s different.” Joe replied to Eddie. “Still, keep your ears open at the union meetings.”

Eddie nodded in response as his mother spoke up, “I think you’re right, Joe. He is your brother and he is trying to run a business like you are. Let him have his shop. There will be plenty of work for everyone. It seems much busier this year. Does it not?” Johanna looked to her husband but seemed to be speaking to all of them. Both boys quickly confirm that the level of work is better than it was.

Joe spoke up to the boys, chiming in, “See. Your mother says it will be fine so it must be true.”

Johanna grinned as her husband and sons chuckled then she continued, “I think the best thing to do is stay out of any trouble with James. Ignore it, and you boys,” she looked from one to the other, “take care of our Shop. That is more important than what James does.”

The Kavanagh men agree and the room grows quiet. Each is satisfied that they won’t worry about James and the J. D. Kavanagh Company. They will focus on the Joseph Kavanagh Company and may never cross paths with the other business as far as they know. Joe and Jo’s sons and families soon depart, ready to start another week on Monday.

September 6

Ed Jr. returns to high school for his final year. He has learned a lot in the second year of his apprenticeship at the Shop. He has not passed the pitcher test yet which is a time honored tradition for the Kavanagh’s: to be able to make a drinking pitcher from a flat sheet of copper, heating it and shaping it on your own. This has been the standard by which a coppersmith is measured at the Shop for years. Next summer Ed should be ready for that; it takes several years to get the skills and experience to make a good, balanced, smooth pitcher. It is the Kavanagh litmus test for coppersmiths.

October 10

The New York Yankees defeat the New York Giants to win the World Series in five games. It is a very one-sided series with the Yanks winning the first two games each by a score of 8-1 and is also the first series where a team, the Yankees, did not commit an error in any game. This World Series featured the last appearance by the great left-handed pitcher, Carl Hubbel and the last series home run hit by Lou Gehrig. With this championship, the Yankees pass the Philadelphia Athletics and the Boston Red Sox for most series wins with six. The Kavanagh’s follow it closely as they always do with each game being discussed both at the Shop and around the dinner table. Eddie’s son, Jack updates his father every night on what he heard on the radio. The final game is on a Sunday afternoon and father and son are able to listen together.

October 28

The ceremony and celebration is held at Bedloe’s Island for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Dedication of the Statue of Liberty.

November 27

The Kavanagh’s visit Sister Mary Agnes at the Visitation Convent on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a tradition they follow every year. Sister Mary Agnes is Joe and Johanna’s daughter and she joined the order nine years ago. She sits with her parents, brothers and their families and has a long chat. They visit her once a month if they can and do keep her up to date on the family. They tell her the Shop is doing well and all of them as well. She is teaching now which makes her very happy. She loves children, and that certainly includes her brothers’ kids who call her Aunt Anna. She is thrilled to hear of Eddie’s work on the Statue of Liberty’s left foot, something that sounds very grand to her and much easier to be very excited about than their usual work. It’s a wonderful day and they make plans to return in several weeks and attend Mass with her.

December 24

On a chilly Friday afternoon, the Joseph Kavanagh Company’s Christmas Eve party is held. They convert the messy dirty Shop into a decorated festive place for a party. There is food, drink and song as there is every year. Customers and friends stop by through the day and celebrate with the Kavanagh’s and crew. It has been a very good year for Joe and his family. They do have the small concern of James’ shop competing with them but, for the most part, they are not very worried. Joe knows it will be difficult for the J. D. Kavanagh Company to be compared to the Joseph Kavanagh Company. They have years of experience and Joe has many friends in the industry. The distilling and brewing work keeps picking up steam as each year passes after Prohibition. Joe feels very confident that the Shop will do well and even flourish if the work holds out. He gives more thought to his retirement and even begins to look forward to it a bit. Joe begins formulating a plan for next year and beyond: how to transfer responsibility and control of the Shop to his boys. It must be done carefully and with thought to the long term. One thing he knows is that his sons get along very well and their partnership would be a very amiable one. Of course, things can change over time but Joe does not envision any situation like what happened with his brother Martin or with James. The party kicks into high gear, and calls for Joe to lead them all in “O Holy Night!” are heard. Joe sang this for years on the Lombard Street bridge on Christmas Eve in his younger days, both with his fellow members of the Primrose Quartet and on his own. Joe remembers those days with a smile but it is starting to be a very long time ago. It was just before and after the turn of the century. He takes his place in the midst of the party and starts to sing, his booming baritone voice filling the Shop. He is happy; they are doing well and he sees a successful future ahead for his family. They did a lot of work this year and they have more on the books. The distilleries, breweries and other customers are keeping them busy. Joe sings and his thoughts run to Old Uncle Joe. They went back to Liberty for work and a great deal of pride fills Joe at this thought. His uncle would love that they worked on the Statue again and both Joe’s might be surprised that it is still not for the last time.

 

 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the President of the United States. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not are published. Daffy Duck appears in a cartoon for the first time. A soldier is stationed at the Tomb of the Unknowns in perpetuity. Spam is invented. The first issue of Detective Comics is released. Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs opens as the first full length animated feature film. The Lincoln Tunnel in New York opens to traffic. Jack Nicholson, Mike Cuellar, Morgan Freeman, George Carlin, and Madeleine Albright are born.

There remain 48 states in the Union.

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Statue of Liberty. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

Table of Contents

7 thoughts on “1937 Her Left Foot

  1. ❤️ SOooooooo MUCH Family PRIDE SOooooo DESERVED…..
    Statue of Liberty 🗽
    Kavanagh ‘s ( save the day )
    also
    JD Kavanagh startup
    Hindenburg
    Amelia Earhart
    Baltimore ‘s July/August Heat n Humidity
    4th July Patterson Pk Fireworks
    Eddie Jr ⚾️ Eastern Shore semi pro
    Yankees AGAIN 🤬
    ❤️‘D it…….. Like the rest…… Will probably reread 2-3 more times before 38 arrives !!! NEVER DISAPPOINTS

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  2. Joe, having follow this story for a while now, thinking about Joe will be leaving the shop to his two sons kind of got me a little bit emotional. That sounds weird I know but after following your family’s history you get a real liking or your past family members! I was amazed to find that Leo Junior was playing Semi-Pro baseball. Baseball was so different in those days but how I love the history of baseball!  At least Leo Jr gave working at the shop a good try! One must do what in hos blood to do. I’m glad that Joe was happy and content that his son gave it a whirl. It’s also amazing to learn that your family was involved in the building and the repairing of the Statue of Liberty. The fact that Miss Liberty still stands today, that your family had made a mark in American history! Wow, that is really a cool thing I think. I love the picture of the foot on Liberty!!!  I enjoyed reading about your family celebrating the Fourth of July and going to see the fireworks at Patterson Park. Always a big day of appreciation for our freedom! Always good to hear about the Christmas party every year at the shop in Joe singing his song. You are a great writer Joe, and I always enjoy reading through your family’s past history! God bless you my friend

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    1. Thank you for the kind words and blessings. It really means a lot to me. We have two more brushes with Liberty in our history. Btw. 🙂 Not quite the same but we’re involved. The picture of the foot is from a set of postcards I found in my parent’s strong box. At the very bottom. These are old postcards. I have not been able to date them. I don’t think my parents went there ever so these postcards may be from Eddie. I’m still digging into it. A couple spoilers for you, Robb. 🙂 Anddddd. here’s a secret. I am planning on paying a little tribute to my great-grandfather at the Lombard Street bridge on Christmas Eve . He did it every year. Perhaps, I’ll revive it but I’m planning on singing there this Christmas Eve. Crazy idea but it seems the least I could do for Crazy Joe. 🙂

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      1. Joe, Wow! Paying tribute to him would be awesome! I hope you plan in videoing this great event! I would truly love to see it. I will be with you Joe in spirit!!! Thanks for your resp8nse bc I always enjoy chatting with you!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Joe, yes indeed! O Holy Night, I believe that’s what your great grandfather sang. Ine if my favorite Christmas carols. If I could get down there I would love to be there. That would really be a cool thing to witness. I’d become a part of your family history along with you! You probably think I’m quite crazy! LOL. I can’t wait to meet you Joe, after my wife gets home I will make arrangements for either my wife or one of my sons to bring me down to your shop. We could really chew the fat together for quite some time I believe. Have a great night my good friend!

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