DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, September 14, 2012

1939: It Was a Very Good Year?

We all have a favorite year or two. For my mother, one of those years was 1939. It wasn't because she and her family lived on a New Jersey farm and, even though the country was in the midst of its worst depression, at least had plenty to eat. And it wasn't because of the impressive New York World's Fair which promised a brighter future, although she did get to go to that.

My mother's favorite movie
My mother loved 1939 for the movies. She always claimed it was the best year ever for film. And there is much support for that contention. Gone with the Wind. The Wizard of Oz. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Stagecoach. Wuthering Heights. Of Mice and Men.

So, it's not surprising that movies play a large roll in the special exhibit 1939, now on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

If I only had a brain
In fact, the most popular display with all ages in the exhibit features the hat and boots that Ray Bolger wore as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Interestingly, the Scarecrow items are a replacement for what is acknowledged to be the most popular item in the entire museum - a pair of the red ruby slippers that Judy Garland wore as Dorothy. The ruby slippers were moved  to anchor the museum's new American Stories exhibition.

As would be expected, there is a display case devoted to the 1939 World's Fair and a wall explaining the Depression and the WPA, the government's reaction to correcting the poverty plaguing millions of Americans.

Faces of the Depression
Despite, or perhaps because of, the Depression, the burgeoning entertainment industry played a large part in trying to take people's minds off the bleak economic conditions. One wall features all the covers of Life magazine for a year. There are display cases with the new comic book hero Superman, records and sheet music, and then state-of-the-art radios and phonographs.

If you would like to check out the special exhibition, you have about a month to do so. It will be closing on Oct. 21.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Although I was born 13 years after 1939, at least one remnant of the Depression helped shape my childhood. During the Depression years, frugality was the order of the day, so my grandmother Daisy (for whom I was named) came up with an inexpensive between-meals snack which she called Pep. And what was this Pep you ask? It consisted of one piece of white bread, smothered with butter and then covered completely with sugar.  When I was little, my Nana Daisy would never fail to feed me my Pep when I stayed with her. And while nutritionists today would cringe at the concoction, they might change their tune when they learn about the most special ingredient in Nana Daisy's Pep. She always served it with a large helping of love.

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