PLEDGE NOW
Ted Gup on the Trail of Great Depression Secrets

Sam Stone, known as B. Virdot, sent checks to destitute families during the Great Depression. (Courtesy of The Penguin Press)

Investigative journalist and Emerson College professor Ted Gup joined On Point Friday and told the story of how he uncovered a stirring act of quiet charity buried in his own family history.

It all began with an old tattered suitcase his mother gave him that contained letters from the Depression Era. Gup found requests for help and records of gifts sent in return. They were threads of a story set in a time and place marked by deep poverty and desperation.

Gup told On Point host Tom Ashbrook:

If you went back in ’33 in my hometown [Canton, Ohio], you would’ve seen a town that had unemployment approaching 50 percent…You would’ve seen children in patched coats stooped over the railroad track, picking up, scavenging, little pieces of coal that had fallen from passing trains, and [using] them…to heat their homes that night.

Gup discovered that his grandfather, Sam Stone, had helped many such Ohio residents through anonymous donations.

Those acts of giving are part of an intriguing and until-now lost history. Tom Ashbrook also spoke with the sole surviving recipient of Stone’s generosity, 90-year-old Helen Palm of Canton, Ohio. She wrote to Stone when she was 14 years old. Back then, Palm used to make shoe soles for herself by cutting out the cardboard from an empty shredded wheat box.

Here’s an excerpt of the letter she wrote in 1933:

Dear Sir,

When we went over at the neighbors to borrow the paper I read your article. I am a girl of fourteen. I am writing this because I need clothing. And sometimes we run out of food.

My father does not want to ask for charity. But us children would like to have some clothing for Christmas. When he had a job us children used to have nice things.

I also have brothers and sisters.

If you should send me Te[n] Dollars I would buy clothing and buy the Christmas dinner and supper.

I thank you.

HELEN PALM

Gup’s book on his discovery is called “A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness–and a Trove of Letters–Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Feb 5, 2016
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas mingles at a campaign event at Robie's Country Store, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Hooksett, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Ted Cruz, Clinton and Sanders out of Iowa. Zika panic. Syrian peace talks fall apart. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Feb 5, 2016
A portion of the cover of Ben Ratliff's new book, "Every Song Ever." (Courtesy Farar, Straus and Giroux / The Publisher)

How to choose music in an age when everything is online and always there. New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff shows the way.

RECENT
SHOWS
Feb 4, 2016
Richard Dreyfuss as financier and Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff in a scene from the ABC mini-series “Madoff,."Eva Kaminsky/ABC)

Actor Richard Dreyfuss joins us on his new role as Ponzi scheme villain Bernie Madoff and a career of being Dreyfuss.

 
Feb 4, 2016
Although technological development appears to have rapidly increased in the last fifty years, the gap between the invention of the incandescent light bulb and the Apple iPhone was not as dramatically innovative as it might have been. (WikiCommons / Associated Press)

Is the golden age of American growth and innovation over? Gone for good? Big economist Robert Gordon says so. We’ll listen, and challenge.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Notes From New Hampshire, #4: Donald Trump — You Heard It First!
Friday, Feb 5, 2016

Jack Beatty recounts an evening rally with Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, and wonders if the billionaire businessman is really looking for an exit.

More »
Comment
 
Our Week In The Web: February 5, 2016
Friday, Feb 5, 2016

Spread the word — we FINALLY have both a new website (in beta) and a new newsletter. Sign up, visit and see what’s happening in the On Point digital universe.

More »
Comment
 
Notes From New Hampshire, #3: Jeb Bush — Cry for Me, America!
Thursday, Feb 4, 2016

Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) asked a New Hampshire audience to clap for him — and our own Jack Beatty was there to hear it.

More »
Comment