Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cincinnati Deans, The Roaring Twenties

Note:  My changing outline as I rewrite the chapters for posting caused me to rework my earlier chapter called "Frank and Clara," which included the story of my Grandfather Frank visiting us before he died in the 1950s.  I gained more information about my grandfather from a new-found aunt and wanted to make that chapter reflect those new changes to Frank's life.

That change necessitated including my grandparents' marriage in this present chapter, where it's much more appropriate.  I didn't want anyone to think I was going nuts, rewriting stories already posted.

The Rhine Goes Dry

When my Grandfather Frank came home with his honorable discharge from the war in March 1919, alcohol was still going strong, and returning military men celebrated in style.  As the story goes, my grandfather liked to drink.  That would soon end, unless of course he was among those who had an undercover bootlegger friend or had access to one of the city’s many speakeasies. 

The ‘20s decade was both menace and miracle.

Organized crime was rampant, with gangsters like Al Capone making their fortunes when they cashed in on Prohibition by selling bootleg alcohol.

Bad batches of homemade liquor by others caused widespread death, making Prohibition a failure.

After years of dedicated work by brave suffragettes, women won the vote.

And the last year of the ‘20s ended with an enormous crash.

But a month after Frank Dean came home from serving his country, on May 7, 1919, he celebrated getting married to my grandmother, Clara Wehrle.  And alcohol was still legal.

Frank’s address at the time of his marriage was 314 Main Avenue, Elmwood Place.  He was 21 years of age and his occupation was woodworker. 

Clara, age 23, lived at home, at 1216 Poplar Street, approximately on the corner of Freeman Avenue.  Her father, Joseph, worked as a laborer, and her mother Mary kept house.  Clara was employed as a “box maker,” or “marker.”  (The handwriting is hard to decipher).  Earlier, at age 15, she was listed as a maid in a box factory. 

Clara Wehrle, Probably as a Bride in 1919
 The above photo, from my Aunt Dot’s collection, was likely taken for a special occasion.  The white dress shoes/boots and white embellished dress tell me this was probably a photo of my Grandma the day of her wedding to Frank.  I imagine, knowing my grandmother like I did, that any pictures which included my grandfather would have been either destroyed or given to him at some point after he left.

After eight months of marriage, on January 17, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution established prohibition of alcoholic beverages in the United States.

Cincinnati was a beer drinking town, a brewery metropolis.  Bars and saloons were plentiful in almost all neighborhoods.

…it is difficult to imagine a neighborhood more impacted by prohibition than Over-the-Rhine.  ~ Michael D. Morgan, Over-the-Rhine: When Beer was King

According to Allen J. Singer, in his book Stepping Out in Cincinnati, the city boasted of 1,887 drinking establishments in 1880, and Vine Street alone contained 113 saloons by the end of the decade.  ~ From chapter, “Brother, Can You Spare a Drink?”

On January 8th, 1920, a census taker, going door-to-door on Hensaw Avenue, in Camp Washington, recorded information for the young married couple, Frank and Clara Dean.  Frank was then a sheet-metal worker, Clara did not work, and they were renting.

Their first child, my father, Raymond Clarence Dean, was born February 21, 1920, after that census was taken.

The cold winter of 1920 in Cincinnati witnessed hundreds of closing saloons due to prohibition, breweries shutting down, and numerous “Speakeasies” popping up all over the city. 

The following summer, the same year alcohol became illegal, the suffrage battle was won.   On August 26, 1920, women won the right to vote.  

…long-standing social barriers began to crumble.  Women now drank alongside the men, and “flappers” entered the social scene.  They cut their long hair into “bob cuts” like their favorite movie stars, smoked cigarettes in public, rolled down their hose, and wore galoshes which “flapped” as they strode defiantly down Vine Street… Flappers and people of all ages and income levels shared a similar goal:  to get their hands on good prohibited liquor and not get arrested…over 3,000 speakeasies flourished in Cincinnati until Prohibition’s repeal.~ “Brother, Can You Spare a Drink?”

Moving Back Home

By 1921, when the city directory was published, Frank and Clara had moved in with her parents, Joseph and Mary Wehrle, still living at 1216 Poplar Avenue.  Also residing in the home was Clara’s sister, Eleanor age 17.  Frank and Clara brought their second child into the world.  Uncle Norb was born December 18, 1921, most likely there on Poplar Avenue.  Grandfather Frank was employed as an iron worker that year.  His father-in-law Joseph was a laborer.

Times were tough then for middle- to low-income families.  The country was heading toward a monstrous financial depression by the 1930s, and it was common for families to live together to share the financial burden. 

The 1922-23 directories list neither Joseph and Mary Wehrle nor Frank and Clara Dean, and for that matter, none of the Dean or Wehrle families.  I’ve wondered if they all went back to Indiana, but I've had no luck proving one way or the other.  It’s difficult to offer a guess as to where people are when they go missing on public records

Frank and Clara’s third child, my Aunt Dorothy, was born on October 15, 1923.

Then, in 1924, Clara and Frank appear again, living at 1100 Oehler Street, located at Freeman Avenue west of Harriet, in the West End.  Frank is now employed as a metalworker. 

There are no further directory entries until 1927-28, where Frank is a “packer,” living at 1033 West 9th Street, still in the West End.  My Aunt Clara, their fourth child, had been born in the interim, on October 4, 1926. 

The Crash of ‘29

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 began in late October 1929 and was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States when taking into consideration the full extent and duration of its fallout. The crash signaled the beginning of the 10-year Great Depression that affected all Western industrialized countries and did not end in the United States until the onset of American mobilization for World War II at the end of 1941.
Anyone who bought stocks in mid-1929 and held onto them saw most of his or her adult life pass by before getting back to even.  --Richard M. Salsman, 
  Crowd at New York's American Union Bank during a bank run early in the 
Great Depression ~

 My Grandfather Frank moved around with jobs and housing, but maybe he was always on the lookout for more money coming in.  My Grandma stayed home during those years of the children growing up, so supporting a large family in the late '20s wasn't an easy thing.

Things were not good for my grandparents.  In spite of prohibition, Frank managed to get hold of alcohol--most people who drank did, a fact which added to the overall declaration that Prohibition was unsuccessful in what it hoped to attain.  

As the financial status of the country plummeted in 1929, Frank and Clara found an apartment on Pendleton Street, part of Over-the-Rhine, which rented for $20 a month.  The building was across the street from St. Paul Catholic Church and School.  Frank tried his hand at being a "paperhanger," according to the 1929 Cincinnati Directory.  

My family would greet the next decade, the ‘30s,  which held disasters of its own and would test the souls of many.

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