Tuesday November 1, 2011

If Walter Dickie had trouble sleeping at night during the year 1934, you couldn’t blame him. The city’s Register of Deeds in all likelihood had to deal with his own great depression simply by showing up to work every day and dealing with Pittsfield’s toughest year amid the Great Depression.

Don’t be fooled by the numbers. Neither employment nor payroll declined during that year -- but the number of available young men and women eligible for employment increased greatly, adding to an already long list of those either getting city assistance or on federal welfare. There were also many who in 1933 had depleted their financial resources and were now forced to join others on the assistance rolls.

Few knew the city numbers better than Dickie. Construction in the city was but one-tenth of what it had been in 1929, and banks had started to examine the strength of the mortgages they carried. Foreclosures and tax title cases were up 33 percent over the previous year. Dickie’s wife, no doubt, learned quickly in that year not to greet her husband at night by asking him "How was your day?"

The young were indeed the restless, as they made up a good chunk of those unable to access the job market, and the numbers on the relief rolls rose 20 percent higher than in 1933. To add to all the misery, Pittsfield -- and it can be assumed other places as well -- did not handle the situation with a great deal of style, although it can be said the city learned from its mistakes. Food deliveries were inconsistent for no apparent reason, and many families literally did go hungry waiting for the supplies to reach the city.

One other disturbing thing: People were often put on or taken off the relief rolls for what appeared to be arbitrary reasons -- unless, of course, there were politics being played. But you would hate to think that.

And just when you thought enough was enough, the city announced that the federal work programs had either been reduced or eliminated. And the city had been forced to stop transporting its men to those work sites because it needed to eliminate insurance on city vehicles in what was a cost-cutting measure. An accident surely would have prompted a lawsuit, it was assumed.

"Hey buddy, have you got a dime?" Most didn’t. It was a tough year.