1927 - Was that ever a year!
Lindbergh flew the Atlantic.
Television was born.
And the talkies.
And Mickey Mouse.
I never saw a year with so many 50th anniversaries in it.
A turbulent year, really. Seething with the ferment that was to explode around the world in the '30s. Sacco and Vanzetti: refused a new trial in April, sentenced to die, finally executed Aug. 23.
That week thousands upon thousands of people rioted in every large city in this country and Europe. Ten thousand "radicals," as the U.S. press omnisciently called them, marched on our embassy in London. Strikes in Paris and Colorado. Arsonous fires. Bombings in four continents. The flag burned by a mob in Casablanca. All summer long, the uproar reverberated.
(I was interested to learn that those sainted Supreme Court justices Holmes and Brandeis were among the powerful who refused the anarchists' appeals.)
Everywhere, it seemed in every country, the leviathan of communism was stirring. Some events could be clearly labeled as history right away: In September the Communist International expelled Trotsky. In March Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Kuomintang forces combined with Soviet-supported Communists captured Shanghai, Nanking and Chun-kiang.
A month later Chiang turned on the Communists, forcing them to flee to Kiangsi province under Mao Tse-tung: the prelude to the Long March.
Some events were mere gigantic mutterings: revolution in Nicaragua, uprisings in java and the Dutch East Indies, rioting in Berlin - which brought a city ban on Fascists. Two attempts on Mussolini's life, Assassinations from Russia to Ireland and points west. American marines in Shanghai and Nicaragua.
The earth itself rumbled that year: dozens of quakes from Japan to Turkey killed hundreds, and the Mississippi roared through levees all over the South. In November floods paralyzed most of New England and stopped all traffic on the Erie Canal in New York. The Hudson River rose 10 feet. Three major tornadoes howled through the Midwest.
It was a year of endings and beginnings, as I suppose all years are, but 1927 did seem to make a watershed of some kind that perhaps wasn't apparent until my generation got a little older.
In January, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld its state law barring the teaching of evolution but reversed the guilty verdict against teacher John T. Scopes. Jiggs, the original Marine bulldog, died with four doctors at his side. The Elk Hills oil leases granted to Edward Doheny by Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall were formally declared illegal. Harry Sinclair was found guilty of contempt of the Senate in the Teapot Dome case, wrapping that up.
And Ferdidand I of Rumania died and a regency was set up for his grandson Prince Michael, 5. (Michael figured in my childhood: a long-necked youth in brocaded Prussian collar who always looked royal but baffled in the rotogravures. I vaguely identified with him for awhile but lost track of him in the war.)
And the Greek war debt, the final one, was settled. And Von Hindenburg officially denied that Germany started World War I. And Ruth Snyder and Henry Judd Gray got the chair for murdering her husband.
Beginnings, too: a special commission called for a Seaway on the St. Lawwrence River, and the Holland Tunnel opened, and ground was broken for the world's longest suspension bridge, at $60 million, between New York and New Jersey. The Moffatt railroad tunnel near Denver was holed-through by President Coolidge when he pressed a telegraph key in Washington - the latest gimmick.
Deaths: Armour the meat packer, Colgate the soap maker, Guinness the brewer, Steinway the piano man, Elbert Gary of U.S. Steel and Gary, Ind. The last Kiowa Indian scout. Isadora Duncan, strangled by her own scarf, flamboyant to the last. John Drew the actor, Juliette Low of the Girl Scouts, Payne Whitney, "sportsman and financier," a lost American type. And Gen. Leonard Wood, the old Rough Rider. YEAR, From H1>
And Lizzie Borden. She was 68, and she passed on without ever having left Fall River, Mass. It was almost as if she had sentenced herself to life imprisonment there, despite the court's acquittal. (They said she was a gentle soul, but a neighbor child who made friends with her was forbidden to see her again "because Miss Borden was very mean to her mother and father."
Deathless words from President Collidge: "What we need, and all that we need, for national protection si adequate preparedness."
That year, eventhe skies were turbulent. People were flying every which way. Lindbergh is the one we remember, but what about Nungesser and Coli, who vanished trying to beat him on an east-west flight? What about Chamberlin and Irvine, or the Italian Pinedo who flew 25,000 miles in long hops? Or the goodwill tours by American military squadrons, five months after Lindbergh, by the newborn Pan American World Airways?
It was all the rage. Lindy gave Henry Ford and his son Edsel their first plane ride. Air races everywhere, stunters, mass flights to Hawaii. Someone set an endurance record of 51 hours. The word "crash" wasn't yet in use. Planes "fell." They fell almost every day, somewhere. Even Adm. Byrd's plane fell on a French beach so that he had to complete his tardy Atlantic crossing in a rubber boat. The army experiemented with a six-machine-gun fighter.
The restless spirit of 1927 came out in strange ways: a suicide fad among college students eager for what one called "a glorious adventure." Hardly a often followed by a roommate or friend. For some others, death was not a glorious adventure.There were 16 lynchings in '27, Tong wars in most Eastern cities, gang murders in Illinois.
Celebrities were getting to be news whatever they did. Thomas Edison had his 80th birthday Feb. 11. Babbe Ruth signed for $70,000. Mae West got 10 days in the workhouse for writing and starring in "Sex" on Broadway. Jack Dempsey knocked out Jack Sharkey in July, lost to heavyweight champion Gene Tun (Ten radio listeners died of heart attackes.) The Prince of Wales and his brother George visited Canada. Nicholas Longworth of Ohio was elected Speaker of the House.
Lita Gray Chaplin divorced Charlie . . . Fannie Brice divorced Nicky Arnstein . . . Sean O'Casey, still wearing his sweater, married Eileen Carey, an actress in one of his plays . . . William Marconi got married in Rome . . .
In March, a Toronto publisher got 60 days for calling God "an irate old party."
Oh, we are a peculiar race. Even though things made sense at the time. John D. Rockefeller called for higher college tutitions to keep the scum out. The trustees of Princeton barred cars from th campus, and the entire senior council resigned. Gary, Ind., students struck, demanding that black students be segregated in a separate building. The city council agreed. The mayor of Chicago did his best to get rid of some books that Queen Victoria haddonated to the city library years before. Evidently he felt threatened by this foreign encroachment.
In England, so many people were now living in small flats that cattle were being bred smaller specifically so the joints would fit into tiny ovens.
In Mexico, the Virgin of Guadaloupe appeared and drew vast crowds.
In Siam, the king was given another white elephant. He now had four white ones and three pink ones.
In Michigan, Henry Ford was in a car accident.
In Los Angeles (only the fifth largest city behind, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit), armed men blew up the controversial aqueduct.
And in New York, leaders of the Izaak Walton League got into a terrible fight because President-Coolidge insisted on fishing with worms.
The past was still very much with us: floggings of liberals by hooded Klansmen, a Texas law forbidding blacks from entering primary contests, doctors murdered by irate parents of children they had vaccinated.
But for those of us born then, 1927 was the beginning of time, and the people we would become were shaped at first by things that happened from that point on.
The stock market for instance: It was running high that year but hadn't yet taken off into the blue. AT&T rose from 150 to 185, General Electric from 83 to 146, IBM rose from 54 to 101, Radio Corp, from 53 to 100, U.S. Steel from 114 to 160. The year's closings were a bit down from those hghs. A year later the madness, and a year after that the Crash.
We were all affected, of course, though we didn't know it at the time. I think we had a slight edge on children born in the hard '30s, because we at least, through our parents, had had a taste of the good times and could believe the Depression wasn't the natural and permanent stage of things.
Also, I suspect my generation picked up from its parents a powerful cynicism about the written word. Treatles, Morality by contract. The "scrap of paper" Hilter so scorned.
To us, world leaders were posturing, overstuffed figures in stiff collars and pince nez. (Who in God's name invented the pince nez? And was there ever anyone anywhere who didn't look ridiculous with one?) Their works - the League of Nations, the disarmament conferences, the endless pacts - we saw brushed aside by people who certainly weren't gentlemen and didn't even want to be.
What with the treaties and the Crash - that shattering repudiation of paper profits - no wonder we lost our respect for papaer. Why, even the size of the dollar bill was reduced by a third in 1927.
Disdaining the power of words, we grew up with a profound faith in action. We laughed at Chamberlain and his wing collar and those papers he so smugly waved at us getting off theplane from Munich. Hitler and Mussolini and Hirohito - who became Emperor in 1927 - were men of action to us, and it was by action that we stopped them. We patronized Einstein as a cute little absent-minded professor - until his blackboard scribblings suddenly turned into something we could understand, a bomb.
Has my generation overdone the action thing? The ICBM statesmanship, the TAC squad law enforcement? Is this what a new generation, born in the wreckage of World War II and Korea and other fruits of our action, is telling us with its rediscvery of patience, self-searching, stillness?
So, as Kurt Vonnegut would say, it goes.