Black Tuesday: The Great Depression Starts

Considering that the Lord Baltimore Hotel opened less than a year before the stock market crash of Black Tuesday and the beginning of the Great Depression, it is amazing that the hotel even survived its first decade, much less the following seven and a half decades. The crash was described in 1999 by Frederick N. Rasmussen in the Baltimore Sun:

“Julius Westheimer, Sun financial columnist, remembers the crash as if it were yesterday.

At the time, he was a 14-year-old board boy working after school and Saturdays for Westheimer & Co., the Redwood Street brokerage firm in which his father and uncles were partners.

It was a daily occurrence for the 50 or more men who gathered in the firm’s boardroom to smoke pipes, cigars and cigarettes while watching the board as prices were chalked on by the board boy.

“I’d tear pieces of tape off the ticker and post the rapidly plunging prices on a board,” Westheimer recalled the other day.

“They were watching their stocks plunge as tears streamed down their faces. It was a horror story. People were watching their life savings vanish, and it was something that totally was unexpected,” he said.

“It really kicked off the Depression,” said Westheimer, who recalled men in business suits and overcoats selling apples at the corner of Calvert and Redwood, and businessmen who still had jobsbringing lunches to work in order to save the 30 cents it would cost for a meal in the Southern Hotel cafeteria.

“If you had no money and lost your money, there was no way to get it. That’s how desperate people were. Some even jumped off of buildings in Baltimore, they were so distraught,” he said.”

The transition from the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression described by Westheimer is contextualized by PBS:

“During the economic boom of the Roaring Twenties, the traditional values of rural America were challenged by the Jazz Age, symbolized by women smoking, drinking, and wearing short skirts. The average American was busy buying automobiles and household appliances, and speculating in the stock market, where big money could be made. Those appliances were bought on credit, however. Although businesses had made huge gains — 65 percent — from the mechanization of manufacturing, the average worker’s wages had only increased 8 percent.

The imbalance between the rich and the poor, with 0.1 percent of society earning the same total income as 42 percent, combined with production of more and more goods and rising personal debt, could not be sustained. On Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, triggering the Great Depression, the worst economic collapse in the history of the modern industrial world. It spread from the United States to the rest of the world, lasting from the end of 1929 until the early 1940s. With banks failing and businesses closing, more than 15 million Americans (one-quarter of the workforce) became unemployed.

African Americans suffered more than whites, since their jobs were often taken away from them and given to whites. In 1930, 50 percent of blacks were unemployed.”

What stories does your family tell about the life in Baltimore during the Great Depression? Share them with