Surviving the Great Depression

When the Lord Baltimore Hotel opened in late 1928, the marketing was focused on the modern luxuries the guests could expect to enjoy. For example, an early hotel brochure said:

“The Lord Baltimore is the hotel of Baltimore. In a city famous for its appreciation of the fine things of life, it expresses the spirit of Baltimore charm and graciousness in a way that delights the traveler of taste.

As modern as television, it includes every refinement of the sumptuous hotel. Truly, one of the America’s finest hostelries.”

1928 LBH Brochure

Upon the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the Lord Baltimore Hotel in 1938, the tone was a bit different. Read this excerpt from a hotel brochure about the anniversary:

“These ten years have been crammed with economic, political and social events comparable in significance and extent to the momentous occurrences during no other decade in the history of the world. Through these ten short but eventful years – years of change, which have brought with them innumerable local, national, and international crises – the Lord Baltimore Hotel has forged steadily ahead. It has had its bonanza days and its months of desperation.”

1938-Ten Year Flyer

The first decade of the hotel’s existence was clearly marked by the Great Depression, like everything else in the 1930’s. So what did that mean and how did people get through such adversity? An online history course from Collin College explains what happened:

“As hundreds then thousands of banks failed between 1929 and 1933, the economy’s credit (and, thus, money) supply began to dry up.  Also, as banks went down, they often took local businesses with them as they called in business loans in a desperate effort to stay afloat.  All of this rippled outward in ever-widening circles of bankruptcies, job lay-offs and curtailed consumption.

The Depression’s impact on the economy

1929 1933
Banks in operation 25,568 14,771 
Prime interest rate 5.03% 0.63%
Volume of stocks sold (NYSE) 1.1 B 0.65 B
Privately earned income $45.5B $23.9B
Personal and corporate savings $15.3B $2.3B

Historical Statistics of the United States, pp. 235, 263, 1001, and 1007.

During the worst years of the Depression, 1933-34, the overall jobless rate was twenty-five percent with another twenty-five percent of breadwinners having their wages and hours cut.  Effectively, then, almost one out of every two U.S. households directly experienced unemployment or underemployment.  For workers’ families already facing hard times, the Depression’s unemployment woes wreaked unprecedented, catastrophic havoc.”

People got through this havoc in whatever ways they could. In a 2012 Baltimore Brew feature, the lives of a pair of cousins who lived through the Great Depression were described:

“Milton, born in 1919, spent his early years at his mother’s grocery in Elkridge and the long-lost farmland that surrounded it. When his father left the family, mom and kids moved to 936 South Paca Street.

More than once, he said, he had to go to the downtown courthouse as a kid to report that his father wasn’t giving the family any money.

Milton’s was a scrappy childhood; a hand-to-mouth struggle not unlike the one Babe Ruth had a generation before on the same streets off the corner of Light and Pratt, a time when just about every bar had an upright piano against the wall.

“It was a big thing to walk through the Cross Street and look at all the things you couldn’t have,” he said.

The delicacies he craved included fresh sauerkraut, limburger cheese and dark rye.

“Sometimes we might have some,” he said. “If you could get the limburger past your nose you were alright.”

Once he made a quarter for telling a man on Hamburg Street where to find the neighborhood speakeasy. Another time, he watched foreign sailors make turtle soup at a German bar in Pigtown.

“I never seen a turtle so big,” he marveled.”

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