The current era’s Great Recession gets compared to the Great Depression, but how alike are the times and the people?Children visiting the Asotin County Library in Clarkston can play in a miniature “Hooverville” to start learning how. The burlap and tar paper box houses represent the shanty towns inhabited by those who lost their homes in the Depression. When the market collapsed in 1930 unemployment insurance, food stamps, Social Security and other forms of government help were unavailable to the masses. Many came to blame President Herbert Hoover for the collapse and lack of relief.
Mini-Hooverville is part of “Hope in Hard Times: Washington During the Great Depression,” a traveling exhibit featuring local artifacts, films, music and book discussions to help bring the period into perspective. A free reception Friday will open the exhibit. Seattle musician Carl Allen will perform the music of Woody Guthrie. Area teens will perform short acts from radio shows and serve hors d’oeuvres.
The Depression theme was chosen “partially because of the economic downturn we’ve been experiencing,” says librarian Jennifer Ashby, but it is also designed to show “people’s resilience and how they coped.”
For some people, coping meant playing Monopoly, which appeared in 1935; for others it was a trip to the hairdresser. One of the items on display is a machine that gave hair permanents, which is on loan from the Asotin County Museum. In another 100 years, it might be construed as a torture device with its metal clamps attached to dangling electrical cords. Scalp burns were common, a sign states.
People also coped by focusing on the Dionne quintuplets. The five identical girls born in Canada in 1934 drew fascination worldwide. A homemade scrapbook about the quints is on display. That same year, outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed in a shoot-out. One can see the car they drove in an exhibit of Franklin Mint model cars from the era.
Also in 1934, Ritz crackers appeared and soon became a main ingredient in mock apple pie. The pie, made of crumbled crackers, sugar, lemon and cinnamon, allowed people to feel they were indulging in a fruit too expensive to buy, Ashby says. Making mock apple pie will be one of the activities at a family program Feb. 23, where people will be issued Depression-era identities and circumstances.
People can delve deeper by attending film showings and book discussions. They include PBS documentaries like Ken Burns’ “The Dust Bowl” and the young adult novel “Out of the Dust,” told from the perspective of a 14-year-old farm girl whose family is struggling to survive.
Toys, tools, clothes and other items on exhibit are on loan from area museums and private individuals. Other historical materials are from Humanities Washington, which is sponsoring the exhibit traveling to eight Washington communities over the next two years.
“Hope in Hard Times: Washington During the Great Depression”
Through March 28
Asotin County Library, 417 Sycamore St., Clarkston
All events are free
Jan. 17 — Book discussion “Grapes of Wrath,” 7 p.m.
Jan. 18 — Opening gala reception with the music of Woody Guthrie by Carl Allen, 5-8 p.m.
Jan. 31 — Screening of “Riding the Rails,” with discussion by historian Carole Simon-Smolinski, 1:30 p.m.
Feb. 5 — Presentation by Janet Oakley, “Tree Army: The Civilian Conservation Corps in Washington State, 1933-1941,” 7 p.m.
Feb. 12 — 7 p.m., Screening of “Grand Coulee Dam,” with discussion by Carole Simon-Smolinski
Feb. 23 — 1:30 p.m. family program with activities for all ages
Feb. 26 — Screening of “The Dust Bowl,” Part 1, 7 p.m.
Feb. 28 — Screening of “The Dust Bowl,” Part 2, 7 p.m.
March 11 — Screening of the documentaries “Seabiscuit” and “March of the Bonus Army,” 7 p.m.
March 21 — Book discussion “Out of the Dust,” 7 p.m.
March 23 — Bluegrass music by Hard Travelin’, 1:30 p.m.