Richard Hoyt grew up on a farm in Wethersfield, Vermont. His grandfather was a stonecutter and acquired a disease called silicosis from all of the stone dust in his lungs. When he got sick, Mr. Hoyt’s grandfather had to quit his job, so the family decided to buy a farm. Richard Hoyt remembers hearing about the poverty in Fairmont, New Hampshire, a town across the river from the Hoyt Farm. Mr. Hoyt’s family took his to the World’s Fair in 1940, where he saw a television for the first time in his life. He told us that people who lived through the Great Depression are very cautious in their spending, for they are more accustomed to not having many excess things.
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This is Marshall Macpherson, Pat Tardiff, and Julia Schleppi, interviewing Dick Hoyt on May 15th, 2008, for the Wayland High School History Project. Mr. Hoyt please state your name.
Mr. Hoyt: I am Richard Hoyt, H-o-y-t.
Q: How old were you in 1929?
Mr. Hoyt: I was two years old, I was born in 1927.
Q: Where did you live during the Depression years?
Mr. Hoyt: I lived in Vermont, in a town called Wethersfield, and a little village, which is on a map here called Perkinsville, and it is right there. It was named after a man named Perkins who came from South Boston in the early 19th century and established a mill on the Black River.
Q: What were your parents’ names and what did they do for work when you were small?
Mr. Hoyt: Well my father always hated his name, but his name Perley, P-e-r-l-e-y, and his middle name was Luther, and he hated that one too. I think it was named for Martin Luther, you know Martin Luther. And my mother’s name was Irene, which was unusual for that time when she was born in 1905. My father was born in 1900. But her maiden name was Putnam, P-u-t-n-a-m, and my middle name is Putnam. My father was a farmer; he was born and brought up in Barre Vermont, which was a granite producing area. And my grandfather was a stone cutter in the stone sheds, and because of all the stone dust he contracted a disease called silicosis, which filled up his lungs with dust, and so he had to leave that, and the family decided to buy a farm and the farm they bought was in southern Vermont, Barre is northern Vermont and they came down to the south because the farm was there for sale. It was quite a good farm and my father wanted to be a scientific farmer, so he went to Mass. Agricultural College, which was the precursor of University of Massachusetts. And Stockbridge Hall there we had a big picture always in our hallway of his class all seated in front of Stockbridge Hall in Amherst.
Q: So how many siblings did you have?
Mr. Hoyt: I have one sister who is four years younger and she is still living and lives in Norwich Vermont. She used to work at Dartmouth College.
Q: How was your mother’s role as a homemaker impacted by the Depression, if at all?
Mr. Hoyt: Well we were never hungry because we raised food on the farm and butchered cattle and pigs for meat. But of course the meat had to be put up in jars since there was no freezing, and I used to hate it because it didn’t taste good. She was just a plain ordinary cook but she belonged to what they called the home demonstration club where a lot of farm women would get together and they would have a woman paid by the county and they would learn nutrition they would learn recipes and so on and she always took these women’s magazines, recipes, and things like that. But she had to cook on a wood stove and one of my jobs was to fill the wood box…the kitchen was nothing and we had a wood stove and no washing machine, she used to boil the clothes in a big boiler and the water came from a faucet, which was connected to a stream…
Q: So was all the food homemade? Or did you have any premade food like Spam or breakfast cereals?
Mr. Hoyt: No, we didn’t have Spam or things of that sort but there were canned meats. I think there were things like canned tuna fish and things of that sort. But most of the time my mother would bake the bread, but we would buy the flour, we didn’t grind it ourselves. Of course we had the pasta like we do today; we had the macaroni and the spaghetti, no fancy curly cubes like we have today though, and it was cheap. I tried to find out the prices of some of these things but I was so young, in 1935 I was only 8 years old, although I was pretty alert to this because I knew my folks were having a hard time financially. Everyone was. So we lived a very simple life, and the biggest problem I can remember of as far as poverty, we never saw ourselves as poor of course because we always had something to eat, was hearing tales about Fairmont New Hampshire, across the Connecticut River, which was fairly close. They had people eating out of garbage cans; you know just trying to scavenge, which you know is still happening in the inner cities in some cases…
Q: When you went down to the store, what kinds of things did you want to buy and how much did it cost?
Mr. Hoyt: Well bread was quite cheap, like the bread today; Wonder Bread or something like that. I don’t think they had Wonder Bread quite yet but almost then, and it was like dough. It was probably around 16 cents a loaf or something of that sort, but there wasn’t much money around. I should say how my folks got their money, which was from milking the cows and from the barn getting about 40 quart cans or 20 quart cans, which were all banged up but on the inside were clean, and the milk was put in those cans directly from the cows…Then the a big red milk truck would come along and they would load the cans on, and they would be taken to Bells Falls to a cooperative creamery, all the farmers would sell there milk there. So a milk check would come from the creamery every month to pay for the milk…
Q: So with that money from that milk what would you buy at the store?
Mr. Hoyt: We would buy cleaning materials like soap, foodstuffs like I mentioned. Milk you didn’t buy of course, we drank the milk directly from the cows, it was raw milk -unpasteurized. No wonder I’m still here because there was no treatment of the milk. I hated the milk in the spring time because it tasted to me like green grass…
Q: Did you have any snacks or candies you would beg your mom to buy?
Mr. Hoyt: You know there wasn’t the variety, but there were still these things if you could afford them. There was penny candies near the school were I went. There was this little store where she had all these junky kinds of candy. Some of it is still around today I noticed…We had ice cream, I wanted to be sure to tell you in terms of price, that one of the few prices I can remember, was my grandfather who lived about two miles away on a hill, my mother’s father. He would bring strawberries to Springfield and sell them from door to door people were dying to get them, and he sold them, practically for nothing because people didn’t have that much cash money. And every time I would go with him visiting I would go to the drugstore…Go in and buy an ice cream cone for 5 cents. A nickel for an ice cream cone. And it was good size. And that’s one item of food that I can remember…
Q: So what else did you grow and can back then?
Mr. Hoyt: Well the meat that was sometimes put up as mince meat chunks. There were these quart charts that we would can it in or these gallon jars, big ones. My mother canned these chunks of meats and when years later they had been there in the back of the basement, and one day the house had to be moved and so all of that had to be thrown away, all that work…
Q: Was there any vegetables or fruits that you canned as well?
Mr. Hoyt: We canned grapes, never made wine; we canned black berries, we’d go berrying…and we would get enough berries to put up several jars of blackberries, raspberries, as I said applesauce. Vegetables were mostly beans and corn. We raised the corn and then cut the kernels of the corn then canned it that way, then peas…the variety you have at Russels or what ever now is amazing, because we used to have a small stand, and that was the whole seed place.
Q: Did your family own a car?
Mr. Hoyt: Yes, we had when I was young a 1928 Chevrolet…Now in that car there was a self starter, it was late that there was a self starter in cars that you could turn a key or something and it could start, you had to get out and you had to crank the engine in the front…
Q: Since you were talking about clothes, how would you compare typical clothes to the clothes today?
Mr. Hoyt: Well the clothes of today are much more comfortable. I mean if you would dress up in those times in the 1930’s your suit was wool, was heavy, and there was a shirt which was kind of stiff, and the neck tie, people would always wear neck times if they were working. Everything was stiff and often black…
Q: What are your earliest memories of the hard times of the 1930’s?
Mr. Hoyt: The worst thing I remember is no central heat I think. I was always cold. When we went to bed we would heat up with a thing called a free stone, it was a rock in the oven or on top of the stove, and would rap it in cloths and take it up and put it in the bed and warm up the bed. I lived upstairs and there was no heat. We had a one pipe furnace with a great big register and grids and it came from down below in the cellar. A lot of people had stoves which they had in the living room, great big black stoves. My grandparents heated that way in the winter time. And the wind would blow like anything in Vermont there was no insulation in the houses at all. They just didn’t think of it, they didn’t do it, like you had walls and you had windows and that’s it. So I remember my sister and I, when we would go and get ready for bed we would stand in our pajamas and over the register where the heat would come up, and we would get warm, and then we’d run for bed and we’d have a whole lot of blankets over us. And it was same in every room my parents had it the same way. Our house was rather modern compared to some because it was built in 1926. My grandparents’ house across the way was built sometime in the 1800’s and you could throw a cat through the holes in the walls of that house because it was so open…that was the worst part…
Q: How did you spend most of your time as a kid in this era? What did you do for fun? What games did you play?
Mr. Hoyt: Well I had to work a lot, but we had a lot of fun, most of it was just fooling around. I did a lot of running, climbing, I remember running out of my house and just climbing half way up a apple tree, I just went running up the tree and hanging on the branches, hanging bottom side up and doing a lot of crazy gymnastics. We played soccer or a sort of soccer at recess at school. We played alley eyes, you know marbles, where you dig a hole in the ground with your heal to make a pot then you stand back and flick the alley eyes in. The idea was that if you won, you won the pot and you won the alley eyes and would have a pocket full of alley eyes. I was never really did that well at it, some people thought they were the popular people because they could shoot well, and the kids that were good in sports were probably the most popular…Later on we played badminton, you know hide and seek was a really big thing. I don’t know if it is today, and red light green light, and capture the flag and things like this. These games go on from generation to generation. There were the organized sports but you just didn’t really do that in the 1930’s. There were baseball leagues and all, and organized tennis. I never really did tennis because we were four miles from town and there were no tennis courts near, and my folks weren’t going to transport me…There was lots of pranks played in those days, the guys in high school that were older then I, There were outhouses, privies attached to houses, you know they didn’t have indoor toilets a lot…and they would take these privies that were outside somewhere and they would put them on top of a garage roof or something of that sort. A couple happened after and around Halloween time, they would put them on top of the church. It’s like they do at MIT where they put a car on top of the dome. At MIT the administration expects something awful to happen.
Q: Did you ever go to circuses or carnivals?
Mr. Hoyt: Yeah, they had traveling carnivals and they were the cheapest things, but I was just a kid, what did I know? I read a book recently called Water for Elephants, it’s an adult book, but it tells about the circuses and how they were all misfits, the lot of them, not just because they were midway and because they had the fat lady and an ugly man or a man from Borneo or something. But we would go to the Rutland Fair, and every year around Labor Day they would have a six-day fair that is still going. Of course they would have the big carnival, and people would be booked for that, and they would have high wire acts, the menagerie the elephants and the giraffes and all the animals. And I would come back, and the barn was four stories high and there would be a high extension ladder to the top sometimes and I would go up it and hang by one leg and one arm trying to be like the trapeze artists at the Rutland fair. I’m still here.
Q: What were the movies like? And the Radio Shows?
Mr. Hoyt: Alright movies, Shirley Temple, I saw Shirley Temple movies, I saw Treasure Island with Wallace Beery, and he was coming up the ladder with a knife in his teeth to get Jim Hawkins up at the top. Robert Louis Stevens in Treasure Island. We always read it in High School. It was quite an exciting one, I couldn’t get it out of my head for a long while, and I must have been nine years old when I saw it. It was violent, the pirates were violent. Some other movies, I think the three stooges were still going at that then I’m not sure. They’re still going now on re-runs I believe. The movies of course were all black and white, there was no color, and of course there was no television. Then there was radio, on the radio I would hear Jack Benny, and Fiber McGee and Molly. And there was Mr. First Nighter which was a drama show. And the way I heard it was, we did not have electricity in the house until I was in the eighth grade, there was electricity down the way but they had not put the poles through and it was slow going. One of the New Deal programs was rural electrification and that enabled us later on to have the electricity, and up to that point our house had had gas, which was unusual and we had thin pipes, and we’d make this gas by putting crystals into something and it would turn it into gas, and it would go through the pipes and you would have to twist this thing on the wall. This was modern in those days, barely anyone had them…
Q: Do you recall any of FDR’s Fireside Chats?
Mr. Hoyt: I do, they were always on the radio, and he had a mellifluous voice, FDR was not well liked in Vermont, because the dairy prices went down and you couldn’t sell things. So in the 1936 election there was only two states that went against FDR and that was Vermont and the other was Maine. There was 48 states then, 46 went for FDR and two for Alf Landon who was the governor of Kansas…
Q: What kind of music did you enjoy?
Mr. Hoyt: The music was very bland, not like today. For instance, Wayne King was the Waltz king and he played waltzes. But some of the early musicians that you’ve heard of like Tommy Dorsey and others that you may hear of some day if you study music at all, had some fast numbers too, that’s when Jazz was coming in…Well people were much more religious, there was a lot of religious music like hymns and things of that sort. We listened to one station, WGYN Schenectady in New York. Later on in the late 30’s Springfield had its own station WMBX. And I remember one time, my mother was a singer, and she went one time and sang on the radio, and we thought it was a big deal because we could hear our own mother on the radio.
Q: Do you remember the sports of this era? What was your favorite and Why?
Mr. Hoyt: Well there was always a sports section in the paper, in the Rutland Herald. The Red Sox were going and there was no such thing as the Patriots. There was football but I don’t remember and there was tennis, but no it was mostly baseball and boxing. Wrestling was not much. I was never much a fan of baseball, it was quite slow, but it’s different now, quite different. Of course everyone knew Babe Ruth those days. But you know when people wanted sports they played them themselves more then spectators…
Q: So do you remember the Hurricane of 1938? And how did it affect you if at all?
Mr. Hoyt: Oh yes, I certainly do. On the farm some of the apple trees were knocked flat and branches were lying around everywhere. Vermont got hit, which is unusual but the coast Connecticut and southern Massachusetts were hit much much worse. School was closed which was unusual because we never closed school very much, we were like Wayland in the winter. Even though it was rough we had to plow our way through.
Q: Did you have any heroes from that time?
Mr. Hoyt: My father, I thought my father was a great guy, but he was a very quiet man. And I guess my heroes would be people that I could respect, even that rough guy from town that could take pain, and his finger got cut off in machinery and he didn’t yell or anything. I always thought that was cool, being very stoic and not taking on. That was something in those days that people respected a lot. They do today I think, I’m not sure I ever lived up to it though. I don’t yell and scream and jump up and down but still I don’t whine, I don’t like whiners so, people complain a lot. But you wouldn’t know a lot of the people that I called heroes. I have the type of people in my mind but, considering public people I like current events while growing up so I liked scientific people like Einstein and others like him, people who had a brain. There was this one boy who lived in my community who was valedictorian of the high school class, eagle scout, he was good in everything, and I just wanted to be like him, he got all A’s and I wanted to get all A’s, and I did, up until my last year of high school. And then they fell down.
Q: On an average day, what did you do? Did you ever have any adventures?
Mr. Hoyt: I’ll tell you what, I hated to feed the chickens slop the hogs and bring the wood up from the cellar to the wood boxes. We were always taught to clear the table and help out everybody. We just couldn’t run off and do things, and I got used to that it was a routine. On a day around meal time I would certainly help set the table when I was younger. I had a quite few hobbies I collected stamps, coins, and pieces of wood. I had Morse Code all around my bedroom; I memorized it. I remember I was alone a lot because there wasn’t anyone on the farm. There was girl about half a mile away. I was quite friendly with until our mothers got into a fight.
Q: What was school like?
Mr. Hoyt: I loved school, of course. It was not a one room; it was a four-room school and then the “WPA” built an addition to the school. The school had four rooms the first and second grades were together in a room. The third and fourth grades were together in a room. The fifth and sixth grades were together in one room. The seventh and eighth grades were together in one room. The school I think was good, we had some good teachers. I was always interested in school, we were always doing projects. We had a good learning environment with reading, math, and science. The science class was pretty much focused on nature like identifying leaves. We use to have things like spelling bees and math races. When I was in eighth grade my class had a total of 8 kids. After that I went to high school and there were 119 in my class.
Q: Do you recall your first job that you had for pay? What was it like? What did you do with the money you made?
Mr. Hoyt: My first job was mowing lawns at 25 cents an hour and I got a raise to 30 cents an hour. I mowed lawns with a hand mower there were no gas powered mowers. Later I worked at the A&P super market and we had ration stamps and I was lucky because I could sometimes get things that were so scarce that you couldn’t even get with the stamps you couldn’t get them but I could get them because I had first bids…My first job was mowing lawns at 25 cents an hour and I got a raise to 30 cents an hour.
Q: Do you have any recollections of people in tough circumstances? How did that affect you?
Mr. Hoyt: Yeah there were a lot of people that were much worse than our family. People were eating out of garbage cans a few towns over. You could see it too, by the fact that people couldn’t fix up their houses or repaint them. Also their clothing was old and all wrinkled most of the time just hanging off of them.
Q: Was your faith strong as a young person? Was religion impacted by the Depression at all?
Mr. Hoyt: Well, we always went to church; it was a community church. Later on I sang in the choir, but I never believed it and I don’t now. I am much more rational when you talk about faith. I think a lot of people did turn to religion during the Depression, but I think a lot of people got turned off because they prayed and prayed and nothing would happen.
Q: How do you recall Franklin D. Roosevelt?
Mr. Hoyt: Well as I said before FDR was not a hero in Vermont, but I think my family saw that FDR had been good for the country. My father wasn’t a die-hard conservative as some Vermonters were.
Q: Do you remember the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt? What was she like?
Mr. Hoyt: Yeah I have a story about; she did not have secret service protection. One time she motored through Windsor, Vermont. We heard that she stopped at a gas station to get gas and the man who filled up the gas tank couldn’t believe it was her. She was like that; she drove herself, quite the independent women. My aunt was very anti-Eleanor Roosevelt, she use to make fun of her all the time, mostly about her teeth sticking out. But she was such an independent woman I’m sure if she were around today she would have been a hero.
Q: Do you recall ever seeing a “Hooverville” of homeless people? What was it like?
Mr. Hoyt: All the people around here actually weren’t affected that badly. Now that doesn’t mean people in Vermont weren’t affected by the Depression. Now people in Claremont where building houses to live in out of packing creates and anything that they could get their hands on, but I never saw that in my town.
Q: Do you remember any FDR’s plan to help end the Depression? If so, what were the programs you recall?
Mr. Hoyt: Oh yeah I certainly do, I used to read the Rutland Herald, the newspaper, and I’d read the comics and the paper. I recall headlines about the programs in the paper. I remember the CCC camps where mount Okemo ski resort is now. I also remember seeing the CCC boys. They were boys who joined the Civilian Conservation corps who cut trees in the woods, and worked in reclamation. The AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Act) they were attempts to help the farmers, but they didn’t help my father because they used it more outside Vermont. As I said Vermont was one of the states that didn’t vote for FDR so they didn’t help us too much.
Q: Did your parents think FDR’s New Deal was a good program?
Mr. Hoyt: I think they were ambivalent. They went back and forth between that question. On one hand they could see some good to it, but the preponderates of opinion of all the people around them were always bad mouthing FDR because the farms left and right where going under.
Q: Were any or your friends or family part of a New Deal program?
Mr. Hoyt: No, I didn’t really know anyone who worked on any of the programs.
Q: Do you remember any of the great construction projects of the period?
Mr. Hoyt: Yeah I sure do. I remember the Empire State Building, also the dams.
Q: One famous even of the late 1930’s was the New York 1939 World’s Fair, which was titled “the world of tomorrow.” How do you remember this famous fair if at all?
Mr. Hoyt: Well that was a very big thing for people at the end of the Depression. I didn’t go at 1939 but my parents took me in 1940. It was a wonderland for me and I think for me and lot of people. One thing I remember most was railroads on parade. They had all these locomotives on stage and it was amazing. I also saw my first television picture there at the General Electric exhibit.
Q: While the country was in the Depression do you recall learning about Hitler’s rise in Germany or the Japanese military advances in Asia?
Mr. Hoyt: Unfortunately I do. I remember very clearly. I can still see the headline saying in September 1st1939 Hitler’s troops marching into Poland. Also if you went to the movies they had movie tone news. You would see clips of what was going on in the far east, and some of the bad things the Japanese were doing. I remember people realizing that there was going to be a war.
Q: Do you think we’re still affected at all by the Great Depression?
Mr. Hoyt: Yes people like me are much more cautious with spending. We save our money more. I think we know what it means to be desperate. People who study the Depression really don’t understand what it’s like until you live through it. You just couldn’t do what you want to do.
Q: As you see it, how are kids different today than in your childhood era?
Mr. Hoyt: Well they expect a lot more, I think. Then I did or that even my own children did. They just didn’t get it. They expect the world with a fence around, they have gotten money. They haven’t had to want for anything. It does make a difference on how we view life. I think we had much more stick to our word. We just never gave up even if our chips were down.
Q: How are we the same?
Mr. Hoyt: People have a sense of fun, they like to have a good time. People have an interest in things. They like to be free and I hope people like to have an education.
Q: We’ve been hearing a lot about how badly the economy is doing these days. Oil prices are at record levels, food prices are way up, inflation is up, unemployment is up, war cost are close to a trillion dollars, and our national debt is over seven trillion dollars. What are the lessons of the Great Depression for us today? Have we learned these lessons?
Mr. Hoyt: We’re all in it together, I think we are open to learning. I think it’s the things that are being talked about is great. We hear this from newspapers, television, internet…etc. I think we might be getting some answers with this 2008 election. I think people cannot lie down on the job, but they have to keep on studying into the problems that you mentioned and to why they are. Even the economists are stumped if you line up the top economists they’ll all give you a different answers, and it’s confusing. That’s why we got to think for ourselves.