Camera Rolls: 102:27-30
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Frank Tracey, Jr. , conducted by Blackside, Inc. in 1990, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Frank, I'd like to start out by asking you to describe your father to me. What kind of man was he?
He was a feisty person, he was short in stature and—
I'm sorry, could you start by saying "My father," so we identify who.
Well my father was short in stature, and weight was about average I would imagine, and he was feisty. He had a mind of his own and had a short fuse a lot of times, I understand, and—
What about your mother, can you describe your mother to me?
Yeah, my mother's a caring person and...there's not much more I can say other than that. She had ten kids and she liked Truman I suppose. We got along very well, very little dissension with—with my mother.
When you, at the time there were only, could you describe what your family was at the time in 1932?
1932 there were just six in the family at that time. [coughs] And that was the year we went to Washington D.C. and the bonus army.
How did you find out you were going to Washington D.C., do you remember?
No, I was very young at the time, nine years old. Father came home one day and said we're, said to my mother, "Pack up the kids, we're going to Washington D.C. for the bonus army," and they herded us into the car, and he painted some signs on the side of it, and we waived goodbye to the neighbors and took off. That was, that was it.
How did your mother prepare for this, what did she bring along?
Like I say, I don't recall. I imagine we took extra clothing and, I don't think she had any idea of what she was really getting into, and I don't really recall whether we took, you know, cooking utensils or anything with us at the time.
Do you remember your trip to Washington? Can you give me your impressions of that trip?
I don't remember so much, I remember leaving the neighborhood and just traveling. And of course, you know, with five kids in the backseat traveling all that distance, I don't recall much of the trip itself. I know when we got to Washington D.C. we was [sic] in a big field at the time, with a few tents up, and some lean-tos, and some shacks. That's about all I remember.
Can you describe the camps to me, you know, the smells, the sights, the sounds? If you could go in a time machine, what, what would it look like?
Well, it was a hodge-podge of tents and shacks and no structure to it at all, I mean, you didn't have roadways or streets or anything like, it just had wherever there was a spot to set up a lean-to or a tent or something, it was done in that manner. And being nine at the time I was only so tall, and of course I was in amongst a lot of adults, and there wasn't much to do. Just we lived in a tent, I guess you'd call it a six-man tent, and we stayed around the tent most of the time. And we'd wander off, but not far—
OK, can we cut for a second?
What I wanted to ask you about was where, where was your—now you don't have to be specific about the place—but where was your campsite located?
We were right next to the river. I guess the river was maybe fifty yards from our tent, and of course there was a bridge going across the river in the area we were tented. There was no shore to speak of, there was a stone wall next to the river that we could sit on the stone wall, sit on the edge of it and our feet wouldn't touch the water, we were that high off the river on the wall. As a matter of fact there was a boat that moored right there along the wall and we got on that boat one time and walked around. I guess it was another veteran that came up in his boat, I suppose, to join the army.
What, do you remember what the mood of the veterans were, what they, how, what, how determined were they? Were they angry, were they upset, what was their mood?
I would imagine in, from listening to my father, they were upset, they felt that they were entitled to the bonus and they decided to make an issue of it I suppose and they went to Washington D.C. to see what could be done. [coughs] As for the men in the camp, I guess they had a common cause. They all felt that they were entitled to something and, I guess Congress wasn't moving on it so they decided to show some force or strength in uniting together and going as a common cause.
Could you tell me, you told a really nice story about working for the Red Cross worker, could you tell me that story?
Could you just move your glasses back up a little bit sir?
There was an aid station there and there was a woman in charge of it. I don't know whether she was a nurse or not, but it was Red Cross - I assume it was a Red Cross station - and just to have something to do, she gave us these small bottles we would take and she'd put a little water in the bottom of it, and then we'd take these real fine gravel, pieces of gravel, maybe four or five or six of 'em and drop 'em down in the bottle and put the cap on it, and shake the bottle back and forth to clean out the residue inside. 'Cause they were bottles that were discarded in dumps or some other places I suppose, and after we'd get them cleaned out she'd take and boil them and sterilize them, and then they would put medication in some them for people that needed any type of medication that they could furnish. 'Cause you know you were living down there day in and day out and people would get cut or bruises or bumps or maybe a little dysentery, I don't know. But, that was the purpose of it, and everybody seemed to cooperate together with one another. I don't recall of any squabbles that anybody ever had.
There were reports of Communists in the camp, do you remember anything like that?
Physically, how would you get water? How, how would you get—
We used to carry the water, and we had five gallon containers, and there was a central location where there was a spicket I suppose, and we would go take the containers up to where the spicket was and we'd fill these containers up. And then one of my sisters or my younger brother would carry the water back. We used to take a board or slat and run it through the two handles so that two people could carry at the same time and then we'd carry it back to our tent where mother used it for cooking, and washing, and different things.
Now how, how did you prepare your food?
Well, we had the tent and outside the tent there was a small stove, which was a wood stove with a chimney, and there were crates that were piled up alongside the stove that my mother would break up or the kids would break up, and then she'd throw that in the stove and she'd cook on top of that with some pots and pans or skillets or whatever.
There'd be a lot of soup, I know, 'cause you had a lot of mouths to feed, so there was plenty of soup.
The men would pass the time—how would the men pass their time?
Well if they weren't down at the Capitol, demonstrating down there, there were areas that were set up, I recall one long tent that had the sides rolled up and there was tables, a whole row of tables, and guys would play chess or checkers or cards, and people would stand around and watch or they would get into a game of checkers. And I've played checkers as a kid with adults on several occasions. It helped to pass the time.
OK, let's cut for a second.
Could you go on [coughs], excuse me, and tell me what the environment of the, what the climate was, what the temperature, the look of the camp was during those hot months?
Well it was hot and dry I recall. I don't recall it raining very often. I imagine we did have some days where it did rain, but I don't recall off hand. The thing stands out of my mind most of all was that after walking over these areas day in and day out with all these people that finally the dust, the dirt had started to pulverize like got in very fine, fine dust, and it would get hot when you walked acrossed [sic] it in bare feet. Because we didn't wear shoes that often when we were there in the camp. It was casual dress, I mean, pants and shirt. No need for shoes because it wasn't dress up time. It was kind of a relaxed atmosphere for the kids, but I do recall that, yeah, the dust being hot under your foot and being very fine and pulverized. So I don't recall it raining and getting mucky and wet, but it was hot and humid sometimes. We'd roll the sides of the tent up during the day and let the air circulate through the tents.
Hold on a second.
What kind of shacks did people have, what did they make them out of?
Corrugated metal, wood, canvas—
Could you start by saying that the shacks that people build or some way of identifying it?
Basically it was just some place to get in out of the weather, and a lot of them were just small where they would just have enough head room to get in and maybe sleep on the ground in a blanket or something. But they, they were assorted sizes and of course they'd go out and scrounge out some corrugated metal or something and make lean-tos out of that. But like I say, any place that they found a spot where they could set up something they did, and that was their home away from home, for the evenings anyway. I imagine they did a lot of walking down to the Capitol to demonstrate.
Can you just say, "They made their shacks out of..." Can you start out by saying that, that they, 'cause I need you to say the word shacks or the places that they stayed just to identify what we're talking about.
Well they were shacks, I mean, they weren't constructed out of two-by-fours like you'd build a house. I mean it was just any piece of wood they could get nailed together and that would hold up. And they were, they were just shacks made out of any material that they could—
Can you, can you describe the shacks again, but tell me about the signs and that sort of thing?
Well, they were all different sizes, assorted sizes, and they would paint signs depicting where they came from, the state they came from or the city. And of course they had slogans, and they had different sayings that they wanted the bonus and they were entitled to it, and there was different slogans that they had painted on anything that would suit the purpose of the sign. And that was about the size of it.
Can we cut for a second?
How, what kind of expressions did the marchers, did the bonus people make about Hoover?
Well, he wasn't well liked I'll say that. They felt that he was responsible for not getting the bonus and so they were—had to pick on somebody and I guess he was the most logical person, and they didn't care much for him.
Could you, could you start out by saying "The president," or include the president in your response? So people know who you're talking about. So Frank, what was the, the expression toward the president at this time?
Well they felt that the president was at fault that they—didn't push for the bonus that they wanted to get, and they thought that they were entitled to, and I suppose being the Commander-in-Chief, they felt that he was responsible and something should have been done, and they felt that perhaps he wasn't doing enough.
What kind of—if you were sitting on the bank of the river on that wall, what would you see down the Potomac?
There wasn't, just, just the river itself. There wasn't much to see, just the water rolling by. And this one particular boat that I mentioned before was tied up at the wall there and that was the extent of it.
Would you see people like washing in the river and stuff like that?
No, because like I say, we were at a point where the river came right up against the wall. There was no shoreline to speak of and so whether they used the river to wash in or not I have no idea.
How did you get clean?
Well we carried water down to the—
I'm sorry, Sir, could you start that again?
Just start your answer again. How, how did you get clean?
We would carry the water in the five-gallon cans down to the tent, and of course my mother would heat the water. And we would take galvanized tubs and, well one particular tub, and set it in the tent and she'd pour the hot water in there and mix it with the cold water and we would get in these tubs to take a bath. That's how we bathed. There was no central showers anywhere that I knew of, and that's how we took our baths.
Could you tell me your story of the eviction, and please include the reaction of your father and mother?
Well as I recall,
my father was away from the tent, and came back and told my mother that they were going to march on the Capitol. They were going to march in force. And of course my mother was a little upset about it
** because word got around that they were going to call out the army and disperse the people at these camps and get them out of Washington D.C.. So she was kind of upset about that, and loaded us all in the car and we went up the hill to the bridge, started to go across the bridge and when we got almost to the other side, there was the army with their horses and their soldiers with their bayonets and the tanks. And old Doug MacArthur was standing out there in front, said we couldn't go over. That we had to disperse and leave Washington D.C. So we stayed there for a short period of time, I guess, and my father I guess got out and conferred with other men to see what they were going to do. I remember my father came back to the car, and we turned the car around, and we came back and tore down our tent, and loaded up the car, and left the area. We drove to a spot, I don't recall where it was at. I do know that there was an outdoor swimming pool and a bathhouse that was adjacent to the pool. No lights. We stayed there at the—I guess it was a park—all night, slept in the car and in the morning my father had gone and conferred with somebody else. And when he came back, he says, "Well, we're going home." They'd decided to disperse, and that was it. So we started back towards Pittsburgh.
I'd like to ask you about your own personal reaction when you saw that bridge.
Well, everyone was excited because my mother was a little excited. And she was apprehensive, I suppose you could say, didn't know what was going to happen because most of the men were pretty well upset. They figured they had to make a stand and they were going to make a stand, and I guess they were going to defy the army. And the army was going to have no parts of it I suppose. My mother knew this, and she was concerned about the kids because there were six of us in the car, and I guess she was worried about our safe being. But
when we started across the bridge and I saw these soldiers, and I'd never
** ...I've never seen tanks and soldiers on horses and soldiers with bayonets before, and so, my father was pretty headstrong and I didn't know whether he was going to try to go through them or not, but it, it was frightening. I remember very well. It was something I'll never forget.
Thanks, let's cut.
I want, could you tell me that story about going to the dairy?
Well, the people in Washington D.C. would supply things to the bonus army, the different companies, and one day I had an opportunity to ride in the truck. I think my father was going down to a dairy in Washington D.C., where they would donate milk, and all we'd have to do is load it on the truck and take it back to the camp, and of course it was distributed throughout the camp. And I recall going down there and we pulled up to this dairy and there was a loading dock there with these cases of milk stacked one on top of another next to the building on the dock. And got out of the truck and walked up to the loading dock and this one man gave me a bottle of chocolate milk, and he said, "Here son, here's some chocolate milk for you," and I was delighted to get that. Opened the lid and took a gulp of the chocolate milk and found out it was sour. [laughs] So, I remember that quite well. But the people down there were good to the men or the people in the bonus army. We'd get baked goods and stuff. If you recall years ago that, like I said before, that they didn't have preservatives in food like they have today, and any bakery goods that you got was always half-price if it was a day old. And I guess they would go down and they would buy up some of that and bring it back. So, there was, I don't recall ever going hungry and never missing a meal.
Of course my mother cooked for us,
** and there were field kitchens where they cooked for the men who were by themselves.
** I'd see them line up with their mess kits and get their portions dealt out to them.
OK, that's great. There was a guy who built a wooden doll, can you tell me about that?
Well, in the evening there wasn't much to do, and around dusk, you know, they would gather around and swap stories. One thing I remember that the man had a big spike about that big—
—and he claimed that he could bend it into a horseshoe. And they would, the fellows standing around didn't think that he could do it, and they were taking bets on the side. And this guy grunted and groaned, and finally he took this thing and—had two handkerchiefs, one on either side—and he bent that thing into a U, looked like a horseshoe. The other thing I remember that there was a father that did some wood carving, and he made a little mannequin about so tall—
—that had the arms that swung back and forth, and the knees were jointed, the legs were jointed so that they would move back and forth. And he took this little board and he would slip it on the seat he was sitting on under his leg, and he took this little mannequin that had a stick that he held it with. And he would tap on this board, and he'd get this little mannequin to dance. And he would dance and his feet would bounce up and down, and the arms would swing back and forth. And that was quite entertaining. I enjoyed that. I remember that very well.
OK, let's cut. That's great.
What did your, what special thing did your father do to, to get his point across?
After, well of course, like I said, he wrote on the side of the car when we left our neighborhood and said that we was going to Washington D.C. for the bonus army. [coughs] When we got down to Washington D.C. and set up the tent, he decided to make a sign and then have a photograph made of the sign with my mother and my brothers and sisters standing out in front of the tent so that he could make a point that his was his issue and this was a reason for him to be in Washington D.C., that he wanted his bonus. So he had a postcard made up and had several of them printed, and they were passed out, and anybody that wanted to contribute any money towards the postcard and help out by[?] was gladly accepted any contributions. So that was the extent of it.
OK, so what, Frank tell me, what special thing did your father do?
Well when we got to Washington D.C. and set up the tent, and he decided to make a sign because [coughs] I think everybody was making signs on why they wanted the bonus, and my father had lined us all up in front of the tent and had this little handmade sign made, and set out in front of us, and had somebody take a shot of it, and he had copies made of it. And this was his reason for the bonus, and this was his way of saying it. And it shows my father, and my mother, and my brothers and sisters all in a row there. I'm in the middle. And it showed us our lifestyle, and how we cooked on the stove. You can see a picture of that on the right here. This stack is the stove that my mother cooked on. Over here on the far left where the two pans are, that's used as a kitchen where she washed the dishes and the pots and pans out there. There's a fence in the background with two galvanized buckets sitting on the, hanging on the wall. The larger one was the bathtub. And of course there's the ice box that's sitting there underneath the little piece of canvas - lean-to like - and when we were lucky enough to get ice, that kept the things cold. So that was our style of living, and of course here in the far right is the car that we drove to Washington D.C. in. And you can see a flag in the background there, American flag. There were a lot of those out because it was the patriotic thing to do I suppose. And we used to take these and pass them around and this was my father's statement on why he wanted the bonus. It says that, "Pittsburgh, PA, this is my six reasons for wanting the bonus."
What does it say on the back?
Well, they had this printed on the back and I hope it doesn't offend any Christians, but it's the 23 Psalm with Hoover's name on it and it reads: "Hoover is my Shepard, I am in want; He maketh me lie on the cold ground; He disturbeth my soul; He leads me in the path of destruction for his party's sake. Yea! though I walk through the shadow of depression I anticipate no recovery for Hoover is with me; He prepareth a reduction in the presence of mine enemies; He annointeth mine small income with taxes; my expenses runneth over. Surely unemployment will follow me all of Hoover's term and I will dwell in a car on the road forever. Amen."
Great, let's cut.
Frank, earlier on, before you went on the march, you said you moved into the city.
What, what did you notice when you moved into the city, what did you see?
Indoor plumbing—if that [coughs] counts for anything. When I was very young we lived on a farm and we had no conveniences at all. And that includes electricity or running water. We had a well with a pump and no central heating.
I mean when, when your father, you said your father was always working but you noticed something. Could you describe what, could you start by saying that, "My father was always working..."
Well my father had a job all during the Depression. He worked in a movie theater and he ran the machines that projected the pictures on the screen. So therefore he worked when other people weren't working. I did notice a difference when we moved to the city that there were people that weren't working and were out of work because there was no jobs to be had. And they had to scrimp and save to get by. Of course we did too, with six kids it wasn't an easy matter. And money didn't stretch that far in those days so therefore you was very conservative in what you did, and in your dress. Our basic food was a lot of soups, I recall, because that was the cheapest way to go and, like I mentioned before, when we were in Washington D.C. we walked around without shoes, and we did that too after we moved to the city. In the summertime, you ran around in your bare feet a good bit of the time because you saved the shoes for dress up or for school. And people had dress clothes and they had play clothes, and you never played in your dress clothes and you never went to school or church in your play clothes. But it was, I recall, there was one or two families that did without electricity because they couldn't pay the bill, and had their service terminated. So it was...it was tough living. I didn't notice so much as a kid, I, my parents used to talk about it and I'd hear older people talking about trying to find work and not able to.
I wanted to—
Scott, we're out.
Frank could you describe from a kid's perspective what you saw happening that moment when you knew that the evictions were going to happen?
Well, like I said, we got in the car and went up on to the bridge and were going to go to the Capitol, and they were going to demonstrate there in mass. And when we started across the bridge there on the other side was the army, with Douglas MacArthur there and there were soldiers on horseback and there were soldiers standing on the ground with their rifles with the fixed bayonets, and tanks. This is the first time that I ever saw that many soldiers - live soldiers - I'd seen a picture of my father's army outfit when he had one taken and framed and hung in our house. And of course being a youngster and being small, those tanks looked awfully large. Today, being almost six-foot tall, they wouldn't seem near as bad as they did then, but it was a frightening experience. It really scared the hell out of me. I knew that there was something amiss and I had no control over it. I didn't know what my father was going to do, and luckily it worked out for the best that my father turned around and went back and we left.
Now, what, what was your mother's reaction? What did she scream?
Well, knowing my mother, when we started across the bridge and she saw those soldiers, I can imagine - I'm not sure that this was her exact words, but I would imagine she says, "Oh my God, Frank, what are you going to do?" And knowing my father, that's all he needed. He probably says, "I'll drive right through the 'bleep bleeps.'" And he would have, he would've tried, I think. He was that type of person, he had a cause and he decided that he was gonna see it through to the end. Luckily for us, my mother persuaded him to think otherwise.
OK, let's cut. We're done.
Frank, how did you find, how did you know beforehand that you would be evicted? What happened?
My father had been away, and he came back to the tent and he was talking to my mother, and I overheard them talking, and he was saying that they were going to march on the Capitol, but there was a chance that they were going to call out the army and have the army come down and disperse the bonus army people and have them leave town. And of course my mother when she heard this she became excited and didn't know what was going to happen, I guess. But that was it. They knew that they were going to call out the army and they were going to stop them from showing a mass of bonus army people at the Capitol, and they were gonna put a stop to it. And they felt pretty sure that it was going to happen, and the way things turned out it really did. And that was it.
That's great, let's cut. OK, you wanna-
Frank can you describe that photo once again?
[coughs] This is a picture of our family. My father's standing there next to my mother, and my sister Virginia is next to her. I'm in the middle, and my sister Margaret and Ethel, brother Howard, and my sister Ruth. And that's the sign that my father had made up and states that we're from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and states that we're, this is the reason for, this is six reasons for my wanting the bonus.
OK, Eric come on over and take a look at-
Just, just describe that photo.
This is a photograph of the [coughs] family when we went to Washington D.C.. It was a postcard. You see my father, and my mother next to him, and my sister Virginia, and of course I'm in the center. My sister Margaret, Ethel, brother Howard, and my sister Ruth. And of course in the front is the sign that says "Pittsburgh, PA" and "Here's my six reasons why I want the bonus."
OK, now sir, could you flip, just flip the card over, and just so you can read it?
[coughs] This is the thing they had printed on the back of it, which is the 23rd Psalm.
Third slate. OK, just talk about that, just, move your hand. "This is the postcard," or something like that, "that my father made up."
This is the postcard that my father made with [coughs] the family standing out in front of the tent with the sign in front of us.
OK, now, could you flip it over to the other side?
And the back he had printed words that are the 23rd Psalm, which he injected the words of Hoover.