My mother, Dorothy A. Suydam, was born in Libertyville in 1902, and lived on North Milwaukee a couple of houses north of the county farm. She graduated from LTHS in 1921, a member of the first class to spend all its four years in the building, which was built in 1917. As kids, my brother Don and I heard many stories about the early days from her and various aunts and uncles. We had feelings of roots and the past.
My father, Clarence W. Boyd, was born in Libertyville in 1900, and grew up on a wheat ranch in Ellendale, North Dakota. He got his mother's permission to enlist in 1917 and served in France as a truck driver in an army transport unit. When queried, he always said that the army or almost anything was better than living in North Dakota. Just before WWII we went to North Dakota to help his half-brother Harry Young take in the wheat harvest, because a lot of men were already in the service. Then we had some idea of what he meant. The heat was extreme, the work exhausting. The hands slept in screened tents, and showers were taken under a water-filled barrel. We ate outdoors on rough tables. Life inside the house was only slightly more grand. My brother and I slept in the barn loft on piles of hay. To this day I remember the heat and the dust and the itching from the hay.
After the war my father came back to Libertyville where his mother, Kitty Boyd Young, was living. He worked for the railroad at the switch tower in Rondout for a while, then joined the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois as a lineman in 1922. From the late twenties until his retirement in 1965 he lived and worked in Libertyville. Between our parents they knew directly or about the majority of the thirty-eight hundred people in town.
The Libertyville of the thirties must have been a fairly typical American small town. Many people grew up on working farms. Many like my mother had chickens, cows, corn fields and large gardens. Many like my grandfather, Fred Suydam, worked at Great Lakes and the five children were expected to pitch in with the chores. Most of the men earned their livings with their hands and a fair number owned or worked in local businesses. There were doctors, lawyers and whatever, but no extremes of rich or poor. It was fairly close to being classless, at least in the minds of children.
Hispanic families were the Ayalas, the Padillas, the Salgados and the Porrases. The Ledesma and DeGrazia families from Rondout had children in high school. I don't recall ever feeling or hearing anybody say that the Hispanics were somehow different. There were only a few Jewish families. One was the James Flegelmans who owned a furniture store and lived on Sunnyside. Anti-semitism was freely expressed as were feelings about Catholics and Protestants.
The educational level was different in those days. There were few college graduates and a lot of people from our parents' generation hadn't finished high school. One man, a college graduate, was referred to as "the educated fool" because he couldn't or wouldn't do the simple mechanical tasks that most people took for granted. Today we would say that such a person "isn't handy."
For most kids it was good to be in a small town where you knew a lot of people, if not personally, by repute. There was a sense of roots and belonging, whatever the negatives. "What will people think?" was a frequently heard expression and the new or unusual tended to get short shrift. It was the small town described by classic American writers.
Even small children in the thirties knew about the Depression. Plenty of people scraped by as best they could. There were "tramps" at back doors asking for food in exchange for a chore. Freight trains were covered with hoboes on their way to greener pastures. There was a WPA project at Butler Lake and the children of men who worked there took plenty of ribbing. WPA jokes were many. It was known as "We Play Around," but later understanding was that many harsh comments sprang out of the fear that "we may be next."
Almost all the village streets were paved. There was village water and a sewer system. Almost everybody had a phone and at least one radio. The Depression forced early closing of the schools in the late thirties. Delighted kids who tried swimming at the gravel pit that May discovered that the water was too cold for comfort and warmed up along the rail siding by throwing stones at windows in the abandoned factories. Many houses still had wells in their backyards. The wells were worked by hand pumps which needed priming. Some houses had pumps at the kitchen sinks. There were many barns leftover from the horse days, with cars now on the main floor instead of horses, and hay lofts on second floors which were choice spots for play. Many of those lofts had full sliding doors, as did the main floors.
The occasional unused outhouse was still to be seen even into the late forties, but their number was reduced every year by Halloween pranksters and the ravages of time and by folks who wanted these oddities to be gone. Many houses still had cisterns to store soft rainwater from the roofs. In the thirties there were still milkmen and icemen whose wagons were pulled by horses. Route men came from companies like Jewel Tea, Raleigh and Fuller Brush. Even in the Depression, school kids went on bus trips to visit the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry with its many wonders which included a working coal mine. A tour of the Art Institute was always introduced by exhortations to silence. My memory includes the World's Fair of 1933. The famous race driver Barney Oldfield was a star attraction on a track built for the fair. My mother told the story of being on a train on the way to the fair and my telling a male passenger that I was going to the fair. As he left the train he said to me," so long, Bud." I asked my mother how he knew my name and that got quite a laugh from the other passengers.
Early in the Christmas season lucky kids would ride into Chicago's Loop on the North Shore and head to Marshall Fields with its multistory holiday tree and splendid model railroad layout in the toy shop. Lunch would be at a cafeteria offering wonders not seen at home. There was always a stop at Andes Candies or DeMet's to pick up stuffed chocolates and other sugary goodies.
In the thirties we saw the tramps, Memorial Day parades with the few remaining Civil War vets riding on floats, our fathers marching in American Legion uniforms on Armistice Day, urged on by the municipal band and other sights which remain in memory. There was no street crime, no drugs except alcohol, no burglaries. From here it seems like a golden age.