HOPKINTON – Roy Rawlings’ new store was offering bacon squares for 33 cents per pound. The Bradford Dying Association obtained a bus in which to provide transportation for its employees. The ice on the ponds was thick and the snowfall chillingly regular. That was the talk of the town. Perhaps the people of Hope Valley were not aware or were too far removed from the social changes going on in less remote places to know that a revolution had begun.
One-hundred years ago, the 20s roared in. A war had recently ended, the economy was strained and unemployment had reached disturbing proportions.
“America’s present need is not heroics but healing, not nostrums but normalcy, not revolution but restoration, not surgery but serenity,” said President Warren G. Harding.
However, normalcy would never have the same face it once did and serenity would be exuberance merely masquerading as such. Our country’s leaders were embroiled in scandals and conspiracies. Politicians were becoming rich without lawful cause, some choosing to commit suicide rather than face the consequences.
The prohibition of alcohol made imbibing a federal offense, which introduced a new lucrative business in bootlegging and rumrunning. Bombs were exploding on Wall Street and the fear of communists and anarchists wreaking havoc in America brought about the arrest and deportation of many immigrants.
For the first time ever, women in all corners of the country were legally allowed to vote in presidential elections. This new freedom made a cozy foundation for females to shear off the constraints of decades past as easily as they sheared off their skirts and hair. Waist-length locks were snipped off in men’s barbershops, producing sporty “bobs”. Thigh-grazing dresses replaced the neck to ankle wardrobes of recently modest times. Girdles and corsets were tossed and replaced with flapper beads and silk stockings, hip flasks and cigarettes.
While men felt free to act brazenly instead of chivalrous and women painted and powdered themselves to extreme levels of sensualism, Dr. Sigmund Freud announced that his studies had determined that sex was at the root of nearly every problem humans experienced.
In a country that had just lost thousands of its citizens to war and half a million more to an influenza epidemic, life might have begun to feel like a flame in the wind. Rebellion toward unknown fates came alive as Americans danced the Charleston in illegal speakeasies while getting lit, lubricated, fried on unlawful hooch.
Gangsters and mobsters ruled the streets while blues and jazz rhythms provided the background music.
Author F. Scott Fitzgerald captured the new scenery in books like This Side of Paradise and the feeling of having broken free of an unsettling past fueled many Americans to forge ahead carelessly toward an uncertain future.
Chain stores were replacing small family businesses, making it possible for nearly anyone to have nearly anything they desired on installment plans. People bought new cars, new furniture and all they wanted but couldn’t really afford. The daily newspaper was two cents and ownership of a house could be had for under $10,000 but people also craved luxury and adventure.
Travel lodges began to pop up all over the country and road trips became a popular pastime. House parties and dances raged through the night, everyone suddenly feeling an urge to be ultrasocial. Yet this side of paradise was merely a desperate escape from days past or a thinly shredded hope for the days to come.
Before the 20s were over, the stock market crashed, plummeting the country into the Great Depression. The jazz and the booze, the blindly exuberant men and the loosely painted ladies which had evolved from their meek and mindful beginnings of a decade earlier, were deposited back into reality.
Only hindsight is twenty-twenty. It’s only after something becomes history that we can see it clearly. Sometimes history repeats itself. Other times we learn the first time around. But always, no matter the decade or the century, we seem to be seeking a serenity that lies just out of reach.