Are you familiar with the Federal Writer’s Folklore and Life Histories project? It was a subsection of the larger FWP (itself a New Deal arts program) undertaken to support writers during the great depression. The Folklore Project, in particular, has fascinated me for years because at bottom it is simply a collection of the musings of ordinary people walking the 1930’s streets; and largely anonymous ordinary people at that. For example, the typewritten text above is all we are given by way of biographical information on the man who dictated a piece I came across today, and wanted to share. See below for I’m a Might-Have-Been, recorded in New York circa 1938.

06.15. filed under: history. humanity. people.


I’m reading some of the North Carolina entries, some very local. “Martha’s clothes are sagging and shapeless, but so is Martha. She weighs 215 pounds and wears no corset. She settles in a chair and looks as if she means to be there permanently, but every few minutes she pulls herself up to settle a dispute.” Who’s writing this stuff, Henry Miller? Hahahahhh! That’s from the Belks of Charlotte, and here’s more from the same tale:
““I never will forget when we lived out from Pac’let at a place called Possum Holler. A fam’ly livin’ right close t’ us caught the black-tongue fever. Natchly ever’body was scairt to death of it and nobody wouldn’t go near the house. One afternoon Pa was out in the backyard a-choppin’ wood and all of a sudden out from acrost the field we could hear this woman a-screamin’. Pa didn’t do a thing but stick his axe in the choppin’ block and tell Ma that fever or no fever he was a-goin down there and he’p them sick people. And he went!

“When he got down there he found two of the kids in one bed already dead. Pa said it was a turrible sight. Two more of the kids and the old man was piled up in another bed with their faces a-turnin’ black and their tongues swole outa their heads and jus’ as black as yore hat. They was a-chokin’ to death and they wasn’t much Pa and the woman could do for ‘em. The woman couldn’t do much but scream noway.

“That night both the kids and the old man died. Pa went up to the Pac’let health officer next day and tole him ‘bout the five dead ones down at that house, and, you know, nobody but Pa and the health officer and a doctor from a nearby town would go into that house and get them pore things out and bury ‘em. And I want you to know Pa never caught a thing! But of course he didn’t know he wasn’t gonna when he went there.”

The New Deal years show so, so much of what a government can do when it gives a shit. Have you ever noticed how many bridges, dams, parks, etc. etc. etc. were built during the Depression by people given work by the government? Around here, the Blue Ridge Parkway is such a project.

posted on 06.17 at 05:56 PM.


Great post by Tom Buckner!!! lots shoking information shared. Would like to share with few pals.

posted on 08.30 at 04:08 AMPreethi

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