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A Secret Gift: How One Man's…
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A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of… (original 2010; udgave 2010)

af Ted Gup

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
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The author's grandfather, Sam Stone, placed an ad in the Canton, OH, newspaper shortly before Christmas in 1933, offering cash gifts to seventy-five families in distress. Readers were asked to send letters describing their hardships to a benefactor calling himself Mr. B. Virdot. The author investigates a suitcase full of letters responding to these ads as he learns more about his grandfather's hidden past as well as the suffering and triumphs of strangers during the Great Depression. -- From publisher's description.… (mere)
Medlem:justella
Titel:A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression
Forfattere:Ted Gup
Info:Penguin Press HC, The (2010), Hardcover, 368 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek
Vurdering:
Nøgleord:Ingen

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A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness—and a Trove of Letters—Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression af Ted Gup (2010)

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I am not sure where I first heard the name Ted Gup. It could have been a Goodreads friend, or it could have been an article by that author written more recently. When I investigated his name more closely, I discovered he’d written a book, this book, in 2010 about discovering a suitcase of letters in his grandmother’s attic. I’d recently had that experience, finding a huge trove of WWI memorabilia behind a wall in my great aunt’s attic: notes and photos from the front and letters back describing a 1918 adherence to government rationing on meat consumption which led families to resort to eating woodchuck.

Gup’s experience was different. The letters he found were in response to an ad placed in a newspaper in the height of the Depression in Canton, Ohio close on Christmas 1933. The ad invited readers to send a letter to a Mr. B. Virdot describing their hardships. Mr. Virdot promised to send a gift to 50-75 individuals whose identities “would always remain secret.” “There is a question in my mind whether I would accept charity directly offered by welfare organizations,” he wrote. “I know there are hundreds of men faced with economic problems who think, feel and act the same way.”

Mr. B. Virdot was Ted Gup’s grandfather, who lied for years about his origins and his name. This book is the story of uncovering that history, and of finding and fleshing out histories of the families whom Mr. Virdot helped that Christmas in 1933. How many letters were delivered to the paper in response to the advert is not recorded. Initially Mr. Virdot had intended to respond to 50-75 letters but the numbers and the needs were so great that Virdot halved the amount to each family and doubled the number of recipients to exhaust the $750 dollars he had deposited in an account at Canton’s George D. Harter Bank. Some of the 150 letters are reprinted in this account along with a backstory of the individual asking for aid.
"...it was the smallness of B. Virdot's gift--a mere five dollars--that was its magic, not an act of governmental grandiosity but a gesture of human compassion."
I am reluctant to reveal the history of Sam Stone, as Mr. B. Virdot was known in real life, because his history is so tied in with American history at the turn of the last century and is the real mystery behind my fascination with this book. Sam Stone’s history began for his grandson only when he appeared in Ohio, at age thirty. The years before were shrouded in mist and this book reveals how that happened. It took years of research to uncover that history, crisscrossing the east coast searching for clues. The truth lies in a dark period in America when xenophobia, anti-immigration policies, discrimination, and suspicion were aimed at immigrants suspected of carrying the contagion of radicalism.

Sam Stone, writing in the newspaper ad as Mr. B. Virdot, had experienced hardship. Because of that, he opened his heart and his wallet to try and ease the lives of those he saw suffering around him. How did B. Virdot have $750 in cash to hand out at that time? Well, the truth of it was that he didn’t have much. His business as a clothing store salesman had suffered enormous setbacks, e.g., fire, theft, and collapse in 1929. But Sam Stone was grateful that his business had a good year in 1933, and he wanted to share the wealth. His grandson tells us that for the rest of his life “nothing, in his view, beat the hot dogs at Woolworth’s lunch counter.”

This story is significant for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly it allows one to wander years not so far distant in our nation’s history when people saw widespread deprivation first hand and suffered the indignities of poverty. “There is no romanticizing the wreckage it wrought,” Gup writes. “But it also rid us of our sense of entitlement and made us take inventory of our intangible wealth. The Depression was like a great anvil upon which our national character was beaten into shape. It forged an indomitable spirit we later recognized as ‘The Greatest Generation.’”

In one of the photos included in the book, and in one of the last family histories, Gup recounts his conversation with the youngest of the letter-writers to Mr. B. Virdot. Helen Palm was fourteen when she answered the ad placed by B. Virdot.
"My father does not want to ask for charity. But us children would like to have some clothing for Christmas…If you should send me Ten Dollars I would buy clothing and buy the Christmas dinner and supper. I thank you. Helen Palm"
Gup found Helen Palm, now Helen Kintz Grant, in a nursing home just outside of Canton. Upon receiving the five dollars, she said in 2010, “I went right down and bought a pair of shoes.” She’d been cutting out the shape of her sole from an empty shredded-wheat cereal box and inserting into her shoes. The rest of the money went to taking her family out to eat. ( )
  bowedbookshelf | Aug 6, 2016 |
I’m of two minds about this book.

Pro: It is thought-provoking and inspirational, a very personal insight into real people and their experiences in The Great Depression. If you don’t have grandparents, etc. who lived through it to tell you about it - and only know the little blurbs from high school history class – this will be a real revelation.

Con: It is just so darn long and repetitive. That makes me sound like an ogre, I’m sure, but I honestly thought the tale could have been told in half the number of pages – or less.
( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
A Secret Gift How One Man's Kindness in a Drove of Letters
Love hearing about the years of the depression in the US. This one starts out in 1933 and about Canton, Ohio where an ad in the local newspaper will aid 75 families.
The grandson finds all the letters and his grandfathers bank book and letters from others who wanted to be given a gift-for their families. The letters talk about the hardships and what they want for others in their families to make it a happy Christmas.
Surviving the years and how is fascinating for me.
I received this book from National Library Service for my BARD (Braille Audio Reading Device). ( )
  jbarr5 | Nov 24, 2014 |
I liked the author's style and felt his book dealt with the suffering of those during the Great Depression in a respectful way. The author's grandfather desired privacy in the giving of his gifts, and I find that admirable, but now, so very many years later, I felt this is a worthwhile story to know, an important piece of the history of our nation, and I'm glad the author chose to share it. It also seemed clear to me that the author included the descendants' stories with their permissions, and that makes all the difference to me. It is good to see the sensitivity of the grandfather has been passed on to the grandson. ( )
  Merryann | Jul 27, 2014 |
After his grandmother's death, journalist Ted Gup became the custodian of a suitcase filled with family papers. He was at first puzzled by a bundle of letters to a “B. Virdot” among the suitcase's contents. A little research revealed that his grandfather, the owner of a business in Canton, Ohio, had taken out a newspaper advertisement in the week before the Christmas of 1933 in the name of B. Virdot. He offered monetary gifts to families hit hard by the Depression. Gup tracked down descendants of the recipients of his grandfather's anonymous gifts of cash. He also discovered new information about his grandfather's family and their origins.

Reading this book during the Christmas season provided a reminder of the generosity of spirit that is too easy to lose in all of the “busy-ness” and commercialization of the season. It also provided insight into the effects of the Depression in the Midwest, where family on both sides of my family tree weathered the Hard Times. The author's grandfather had hidden some parts of his history and fabricated others. Although family history isn't the primary focus of the book, information about the author's research into his grandfather's past might suggest new avenues of research for other family historians with similarly difficult ancestors in their trees. Highly recommended for readers with an interest in Canton, Ohio, and its history, in the Depression era, in family history, or in philanthropy. ( )
  cbl_tn | Dec 28, 2013 |
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Other states indicate themselves in their deputies—but the genius of the United States is not best or most in executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors, or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors—but always most in the common people, south, north, west, east, in all its states, through all its might amplitude.
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It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us.
We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
What audience would ever know our story?
Beyond our windows shown the actual world.

We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
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The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.
—From "Pantoum of the Great Depression," Donald Justice
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For my mother, Virginia,

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It was Sunday, December 17, 1933, a cold and drizzly day, when B. Virdot's plan began to take shape.
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The author's grandfather, Sam Stone, placed an ad in the Canton, OH, newspaper shortly before Christmas in 1933, offering cash gifts to seventy-five families in distress. Readers were asked to send letters describing their hardships to a benefactor calling himself Mr. B. Virdot. The author investigates a suitcase full of letters responding to these ads as he learns more about his grandfather's hidden past as well as the suffering and triumphs of strangers during the Great Depression. -- From publisher's description.

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