Friday, July 31, 2009

What Isn't Great About Depression?

One topic that is rarely discussed since it is still so volatile today is the level of depression during the Great Depression. The Princeton Institute for the Chronically Bummed Out (PICBO) was not established until 1948 when a branch of the Cabot family (the North Carolina annex of the family who owned Cabot Cabbage and Kiwis) funded it since they didn't want their money going to the tobacco financed Duke University. So there is no hard data on whether or not there was a rise in Depression related depression.

The institute was the first success in the Carolina Cabots previously disastrous legacy in philanthropy and monument building. Hoping to amplify their contribution to the economy of their hometown Lynchdale, North Carolina, in 1926 they commissioned a 70-foot bronze cabbage in front of the court house. Designed by Pierre Parchement-Diaz, it was prone to rusting and had a very poorly welded base. During a 1928 rainstorm, it broke loose, rolled five blocks down Robert E. Lee Avenue and finally crashed through the front wall of the Cracker Box Orphanage. Although all the children were away attending a screening of Birth of a Nation, the potential scale of slaughter did not go unnoticed and the cabbage was replaced by a more appropriately modest fountain with a cherub urinating into the mouth of a Tennessee Sea Bass.

Hoping to restore their image and show their altruistic concern for children, the Cabots funded an enormous amusement park on the north side of town with a ferris wheel that resembled Scarlet O'Hara's skirt lifted sideways, log rides, a three headed llama and the educational "Our Confederate Heritage" museum. Choosing to be low key about putting their own name on the park, the Cabots opted to borrow from the name of their own city and called it Lynch Land.

When the northern press pointed out that some parts of southern society might be less than enamored with the name, they rushed to rechristen the place as The Heart of Dixie weeks before opening. But the rushed revamp didn't work, and opening day on December 7, 1941, brought paltry crowds, and the place eventually was retooled as the largest salvage yard in the Carolinas.

Matriarch Cornelia Sidwell Cabot had long wanted to support an institute that documented the impact of depression, having grappled with it for years. She saw a therapist for more than 30 years who finally concluded that the main reason for her chronic blue demons was due to the undeniable fact that she was "a royal bitch".

Though rarely talked about publicly during the 1930s, depression was ever the eternal elephant in the room. Confusing the issue greater was whether The Depression and depression were the same thing. Sort like not knowing if funny ha ha and funny strange are the same or feeding off each other.

Lithium did start showing up on the black market during these years, but there was also a sometimes uneasy celebration of bum and hobo culture. No one lauded this more than radio star Mable Cohn, known to millions of children as Aunty Depressant who had her 20 minute broadcast on NBC at 4:40 every weekday just before the national news. Aunty Depressant would read happy stories about hobos hopping the rails and eating rusty nails and worm stew. "When things are scarce, we learn to improvise," Aunty Depressant would advise. "Ain't no reason for worries; just whistle your woes away!"

When television arrived in the wake of the Second World War, Mable Cohn's career suffered greatly as her wart infested nose didn't transfer easily to the new visual medium, and her bromides were equally out of step with the new times. She did manage to land a few small supporting roles in lower budget film noirs, typically playing tough spirited land lady or crusty bar maids in run down waterfront gin joints.

Mabel did eventually go on to find modest success in television in the 1960s doing voice overs for commercials, primarily for dog food, motor oil and as the distinctive "Lava soap lady" with her now raspy, gravelly, gender ambiguous baritone.

In an odd irony, in 1970 Mabel and Cornelia Cabot were seated next to each other in coach on a Branniff flight from Bakersfield to Reno. Oblivious to the others identity, these now quite elderly women exchanged tips on which hotel had the best prime rib buffet and which slot machines they felt were rigged.

Cornelia died in July of 1972 from a heart attack when she witnessed Sammy Davis, Jr. hugging Richard Nixon on the campaign trail. In a tragic turn of events, Mabel died the following January during the Nixon inaugural when she was trampled by a mob of "Dick Addicts", the Nixon youth corps, overcome in a frenzy as they caught a glimpse of the commander in chief waving from his limo.

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At 9:09 PM, Blogger ArtSparker said...

Very edifying.

At 9:13 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Susan - Since you mention edifying, it reminds me that I should have mentioned Eddy Cabot and his ill-fated cabbage root beer.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Salty Miss Jill said...

Great post!

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Salty - Hope it didn't depress you.


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