23 February 2012

Feedback and other tidbits

Did you notice I took a breather for a few months and didn't post anything? Sorry about that. Life gets in the way of hobby projects.

I've had some interesting feedback on this letters project.

"This is a fascinating project and blog and a great example of online community history at work... Thanks for sharing." This came from a comment from Pauline Cockrill, a community history officer with History South Australia. She was thanking me for acknowledging my use of a photo of Sturt Street School on my post Who was George WWB Hughes?

Geo. W.W.B. Hughes (front row, far right)
is pictured outside
the Shakespeare Hut in London c. 1918.
I was also contacted by email by a researcher from King's College in London. A photo of George WWB Hughes outside the Shakespeare Hut in London in 1918 caught her eye. She is part of a team researching the commemoration of Shakespeare in 1916, especially in London and Sydney, and is looking for first-person reminisces about the Shakespeare Hut. George spent a lot of time there during the First World War, but I don't have his letters from that era, so I'm not sure how helpful I can be. We'll see what turns up. This researcher and her colleague were very complimentary of this blog, calling the project "fascinating".

"Fascinating" seems to be a recurring theme.

I thought it was also interesting to note that my post about the RMS Niagara was useful to blogger Nick Pelling on his blog Cipher Mysteries. It was able to help him determine that the British ship Niagara made a regular stop in the Hawaiian Islands, even though Hawaii was a U.S. port.

Why do I mention these things? Because knowing that people are finding use in some of the things I'm posting is motivating. So if you have any feedback or if you find any information on this site useful, let me know.

Music Festivals

Now, on to the content of letters No. 15 and 16. There isn't much that isn't put into context by the post Noel's arrival in Chicago, but there are a few tidbits that I find interesting.

In letter No. 15, George mentions a music festival that Noel attended. It's a quick reference. Just three sentences: "We were very interested in your picture of the musical festival. It must have been a remarkable sight. It was good of Larry to take you to it."

Out of curiosity I did an internet search for music festivals in Chicago in 1931 and found that the music festival in question could easily have been one of those put on at the suggestion of Mayor Anton Cermak. According to Wikipedia:
"In 1931, Cermak suggested free concerts to lift spirits of Chicagoans during the Great Depression. The Depression and the proliferation of new technological innovations such as records, radios and sound films led to a declining demand for live music and a shrinking job market for musicians. That year ...  the Chicago Concert Band Association offered to organize a seventy-person concert band to give free summer concerts if the Park commissioners would build a band shell that had electric lighting and dressing rooms. ... The opening of free concerts commenced on August 24, 1931." 
What is significant about these concerts is they started a great tradition of summer music festivals in Grant Park. It's fun to imagine that Noel might have attended one of those and even sent a photo back to his family. The timing of the letters is right.

Typing skills

In that same letter, George mentions, with a bit of surprise, that Noel is earning money by doing typing work. Not that George didn't know that Noel was a trained typist.

Among Noel's papers, I found a transcript from Stott's Business College in Melbourne, which Noel attended from 1926-27, studying bookkeeping, shorthand and typewriting. The transcript listed Noel's typing speed at 50 words per minute at his time of course completion. According to Wikipedia, 50 words per minute is in the average speed range for a professional typist. Not anywhere near the fastest, but still in the range of average.

I think the value of Noel's typing skills was firmly impressed on him by his work experience in 1931. I know that Noel's son, my father, learned to type in school, and he then, in turn, made sure that my sister and I knew how to type. This is long before the age of keyboarding, when the primary use of typing would have been secretarial, and my father was in no way trying to push us toward secretarial careers.

The Queen Carnival and Wirth's Olympia

Finally, the Queen Carnival Competition is nearing an end in these two letters. I can only wonder what it was like for Noel to follow the competition via letter from afar. As I've mentioned before, it's not obvious from the letters, but Kath Lilford was Noel's girlfriend at the time and he had every intention of going back to her after college, which explains the detailed coverage in the letters.

I love the reference in letter No. 15 to little sister Edith, who was only 11 at the time. I can imagine her excitement at being involved in such an affair. "Edith is tickled to death because she is to help Kath. in the Queen Crowning ceremony. She is to be either the Crown Bearer or a Page to Kath."

I was also curious about the mention of Wirth's Olympia as the venue for the Queen crowning. From what I could learn through searches, the site was across the street from the Melbourne YMCA (on a site also now part of the Arts Centre complex) and the home of Wirth's Circus, billed as the "Greatest Show on Earth".

In North America we think of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus when we hear the title "Greatest Show on Earth". I can't help but wonder how the two circuses would stack up.

No. 16 -- 5 Oct 1931

Mr. N.A. Hughes,
C/o Y.M.C.A. College,
5315 Drexel Avenue,

My dear Noel,

I am enclosing a couple of letters from the kids which I know you will like to read. I told them there was a mail leaving today, so last evening they stayed home from Church to write you a note.

Everything is alright at home. Keith's eye is better again; mother is well and so are the kiddies. Uncle Will was along for Sunday and stayed with us overnight. He is having a pretty bad run in his business and has hardly sufficient to keep body and soul together. As far as I can judge, he is not likely to do more than meet his own personal expenses. His landlord has been particularly generous and not pressed him for payment, although he is months in arrears with his rent.

Certainly the
interest in the Queen Carnival has been steadily increasing and if we can stage the thing properly,
it ought to be a good affair.
You have no doubt heard about the success which has attended the Queen Carnival Competition. All of the Committees in connection with the Queens have been working hard to secure money to increase the voting for their respective Queens. Just now the figures are exceedingly interesting. The Junior Queen, (Miss Davis) has sold 11470 votes, the Viking Queen, (Lil. Langham) 11767, and the Queen of Youth, (Kath. Lilford) 12282. Kath is therefore leading by a few votes. There are other functions to be held this week and we have arranged for all the tickets sold for the Crowning Ceremony, to count also the final returns, provided they are paid in by 8.15  on Thursday night next, when the Crowning Ceremony will take place.

We had a picnic on Saturday at Mr. Crosby's place at Tremont, and £10 or £12 was raised for Kath. Lilford. There were 60 people present at the picnic. It rained heavily, but this did not interfere with the enjoyment of the occasion, and a thoroughly happy time was spent.

The Athletic Club held their dance on Saturday night, and I understand there were about 250 present. The presentations in connection with the premiership and other presentations were made. It was a good affair and I think all the folk enjoyed themselves.

We have had quite a number of additions in Educational Classes in the past three or four months, particulars of which you will find on the enclosed folder.

The Montague Boys' Club has been doing good work, especially since the formation of the Mothers' Club and there is every indication that this interest on the part of the parents will be productive of fine results in the life of the club.

Clipping from The Argus (2 Oct 1931), Page 2
We had the Vikings' Father and Son Social on Thursday, but this year there was not quite the same degree of interest as in other years. Mr. Hanson, the Director of Education, gave the address.

Frank Badger is in Melbourne just now. He is likely to move on to Brisbane within the next few days, where he will be continuing his work for the Electrolux Company. Frank has been out of the Y Movement since last January, and has been touring Tasmania in the interests of his Company.

Ivor Burge is to be married on the 7th November, and Harry Rowe will be married on Saturday next, the 10th inst.

Mr. Crosby has been very busy in connection with the work he has been doing for the Queen Carnival, and the Suburban Auxiliaries. I think that we are likely to reach somewhere in the neighborhood of between £200 and £300 as the financial result of the Queen Carnival. We are hoping that the function on Thursday night in Wirth's Olympia will be of such a character as to increase the financial returns very considerably. Certainly the interest in the Queen Carnival has been steadily increasing and if we can stage the thing properly, it ought to be a good affair. We are endeavouring to get a parade of all our activities and hope to have several hundreds of men and boys who will participate in it.

I must close off now. As the mail leaves this afternoon I thought I would drop you this note to say that everything was alright at home and to wish you the best of luck in your work.

We are all looking forward with pleasurable anticipation to the arrival of your letters telling us of your college work.

With warm love from all,
Your affectionately,

16 February 2012

Noel's arrival in Chicago

My cousin Margaret recently sent me a copy of a few letters that Noel had written to his sister Edith in the 1980s. In them was a piece titled "A LOVE STORY: Noel Hughes - Kathleen Lilford". 

The piece was Noel's attempt to explain what had happened to his relationship with Kathleen, the girl he left behind in Australia. I'll reprint the entire piece when it is relevant. Right now I simply want to excerpt the part about Noel's journey to Chicago and what he experienced on his arrival. It is one of the few written first-person accounts I have from Noel and it adds a lot to the letters.

Up to
this point
had been easy
and exciting,
but now the battle begins. Noel needed money.
was not enough
to carry him
for six weeks.
On June 19, 1931 the Hughes Family together with Kathleen gathered at Spencer Street Railroad Station to bid Noel "God Speed" and a successful college future.

Even now in 1986, I can still visualized the group, and Kath in particular, standing there as the train pulled out of the station. Little did I realize then that the great adventure was going to extract its toll in many ways. Life was going to be a battle -- sometimes existence was more important than education. The great depression was choking the world. I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. I am getting ahead of myself.

It was an exciting experience sailing across the vast Pacific Ocean. Dad had through the Y.M.C.A. and other contacts alerted friends of his son Noel coming and in Fiji, Honolulu, Vancouver he was welcomed and shown the sights.

En Route to Chicago Noel was to attend the World Conference of Y.M.C.A.'s in Toronto and Cleveland. When the S.S. Niagara left Honolulu a large delegation of young people from Hawaii were on board also to attend the Conference. Noel joined them in all their activities and learned their Hawaiian Songs. This turned out to be very advantageous to him. The group in return for singing Hawaiian songs in Vancouver, on the train to Banff, Lake Louise Chalet, the Banff Spring Hotel, were entertained at these resorts and a special car was added to the train for their exclusive use to Toronto.

Noel was in Toronto for one week, and then taken by auto via Niagara Falls to Cleveland. At the conclusion of the Conference he proceeded alone to Chicago where Larry Bowen a friend of Dad met him. Larry was a Y.M.C.A. Secretary and took Noel to the Lincoln-Belmont "Y" where he was given a room without cost for the six weeks before the College Dormitory would open. This was a "godsend" for all Noel had in the world was $30.00.

Up to this point life had been easy and exciting, but now the battle begins. Noel needed money. $30.00 was not enough to carry him for six weeks. The College came to his rescue and gave him part time typing. Noel earned enough to sustain himself until the College opened.

The College had granted Noel a foreign Student Scholarship which covered tuition only. He would have to find income to provide for expenses, food and rent. Also, it was determined Noel lacked one year of high school credit for admission, so the scholarship was conditioned on his successfully earning the necessary high school credits and carrying a reduced college course load. Noel had two years to remove the condition.

Noel attempted to obtain part time employment, but it soon became obvious that being a foreigner was against him -- times were bad -- he was not even considered, in fact discriminated against. The College was his only source of employment -- janitor work very early in the morning to pay the rent, washing dishes in the cafeteria for meals in the evening. In between times college study, going to evening high school, seeking baby sitting or house work for residents of the community to obtain badly needed money for incidental expenses.

His experiences seeking work, and the limitations placed on Noel by the College discouraged him tremendously. From the very beginning failure was staring Noel in the face, but he had to go on and try to fight it out, and if successful it would take several additional years to graduate.

No. 15 -- 29 Sep 1931

Mr. N.A. Hughes,
C/o Y.M.C.A. College,
5315 Drexel Avenue,

My dear Noel,

Since I last wrote to you, your two letters of the 14th and 23rd August have reached us. We are very delighted to hear of your doings. According to your fist letter you had arrived in Chicago a few days before and you were then staying with Larry Bowen at Lincoln Belmont Y. We were naturally interested in your reactions to the size of Chicago, although presumably your contact with other large cities had to some extent prepared you for the experience.

It was very good of Larry to meet you and to care for you as he did, and I must write and express my appreciation of his goodness.

I knew there would be difficulty experienced by you in locating a job, especially before your arrival at Chicago. The Associations are all having a difficult time between the stock crashes, failures of banks and the general business depression. Conditions must be pretty difficult for many of them, and in view of this I did not anticipate you would be rushed with jobs. Letters I had received had indicated in practically every case that there would be some trouble experienced in placing you satisfactorily. Then again, Convention time is hardly the time to expect attention when everybody in going "eyes out" and the local staff men are burdened with a thousand and one details.

I am glad that you had such a happy time with the folk with whom you were billeted at Cleveland. It is the general experience that Convention delegates get little opportunity to meet the friends who billet them, apart from the fact that they see them late at night, and have breakfast with them in the morning.

I thought the humidity of an American summer would give you a taste of real heat. We in Australia do not understand the degree of humidity which American people face in their summer heat.

I am very delighted that you met a number of the man, such as Pontious, White, Rhodes and others. They are a good bunch of fellows, and I am sure contacts with them will be of service to you in the future. I hope you will let me know the complete list, so that I might drop them a line as opportunity offers.

You must not allow the complexity of the American Y to blind you to its real worth. Many huge institutions have to show some degree of commercialism if their big service departments are to be maintained effectively.

It is good to hear that you met Dr. Jenkins and that they are helping you in the matter of employment. They are the people who could probably do most for you in that direction.

I am sorry to hear that Vic. Jones and Tom Laing had some difficulties regarding the grant from National funds for Conference purposes. No doubt they have communicated with Trainor on the matter.

I was interested in your account of the journey from Toronto to Cleveland. People would find it difficult to imagine that you could make the trip on such a small expenditure. I am glad you were impressed with the Niagara Falls. They certainly cause one to feel surprised a their extent and magnificence.

Your letter of the 23rd cheered us, as we were beginning to wonder whether you would strike a job that would be of real value to you. I think I tried to impress you on a number of occasions that you would find a great difference in the cost of living in America compared with Australia. I think you will find, however, that once you learn the lay of the land, you will be able to save money in quite a number of directions at present unknown to you. There are many directions in which a knowledge of the stores will help you to reduce your living expenses. You are certainly doing remarkably well to keep your meals down to 80 cents a day. I suppose you are eating at the Y Cafeteria. It cheers our hearts to know that the Association folk stood by you so loyally and helped you reduce your living costs.

We were very interested in your picture of the musical festival. It must have been a remarkable sight. It was good of Larry to take you to it.

I did not imaging that you would find your typing experience to be so useful to you. It is good to know that you have been able to capitalise it in the way you have. I think you will discover that everything that you do can be used as a means of earning money, and in a large centre like Chicago you will have opportunities to do work which in Australia would be practically impossible to find.

Naturally, we are anxious to hear what type of job you ultimately secure. It would be great if you had the chance to work at the desk at the College as it would bring you into close touch with practically all sections of the College work and with all of the students and faculty. With what you could earn in that direction and in others, it might be possible for you to see your way to almost complete support.

The other suggestions concerning the Oak Park Y and Lincoln Belmont Y would be of very definite value to you in your practical Association training, and it would be well if you could perhaps extend your experience beyond desk work, so that you could command a much better job in succeeding years. The apartment job does not impress me as being of much value to you apart from its money value. No doubt you will discuss all these matters with Clive and Larry, and in the long run find something that will be of definite help to you in your professional work.

I am looking forward with interest to the receipt of the printed matter concerning the Conferences. Some material arrived at the National office a few days ago, but it was of a very scattered nature, and it did not convey anything like an adequate idea of the discussion and findings.

Thank you for your good wishes regarding my birthday. Joyce was awfully tickled to get the letter from you. She will no doubt be writing to you within the next day or so.

Now just a little news in other directions. I had a letter from Alec. Moodie, written from New York, in which he mentions that he expected to see you in Chicago in about a week's time from date of writing.

I also had a letter from Sid. Peck in which he enclosed your letter to him, expressive of your thanks for the letter he had sent to you.

R.L. Ewing of New York also wrote to me and mentioned having met you at the Conference and of the suggestion he made that you should return to Chicago, as he thought there would be better opportunity for you there.

There is another mail form America arriving tomorrow, and I expect to hear from some of the other American friends to whom I wrote concerning yourself.

The folk at home are all well, I am happy to say. Mother is keeping in excellent form and so are the two kiddies. Ruth was home again for the weekend. She is keeping well, although exceedingly tired from the heavy work at the hospital. She is still showing great keenness in it and I think she will make a success of it. Keith had an accident at cricket on the 19th September. He went down to the first practice and a fast ball glanced off his bat and hit him in the eye. It was badly gashed just below the eyebrow, and necessitated some stitches by Dr. Ashton. However, the eye is practically better again apart from some discoloration. He had a beautiful "peeper" and looked as if he had been in a first-class fight.

Rex's job is still holding  and I think he is beginning to realise that he must hang on to it, no matter what kind of treatment he receives.

Mr. Harrison has changed his job recently, but it doesn't seem to be much of a catch and I imagine he is not doing particularly well just now. Mrs. Harrison has had to take a job in the country so as to help keep the pot boiling.

In the Association we have had a particularly busy time with the Queen Carnival competition. So many functions have been help in the interests of the three Queeens that it has been impossible to keep touch with more than a few of them. The crowning Ceremony takes place on October 8th, and just now we are all busy in making the necessary preparation for the function. We are hoping that it will prove a great success, although there is a tremendous amount of detail to handle in connection with it. We have taken Wirth's Olympia and we want to make it a first-class affair. You will be interested to hear that the score board shows the following positions:

Queen of the Juniors - Miss Davis - 4207
Queen of the Vikings - Lil. Langham - 6852
Queen of the Youth - Kath. Lilford - 6339

The score board does not denote the actual position, as during the past week a considerable number of functions have been held, the returns from which are not complete, and consequently the votes have not been added to the scores. I think Lil. Langham is well ahead at the present juncture, because of the Garden Party held at Mr. Crosby's house on the 19th inst. Kath. will take a leap forward after next Saturday when a motor picnic will be held at Mr. Crosby's home at Tremont. The Juniors are also putting in strenuous effort and it looks as if we shall have a very exciting time next week as the returns from all of these functions are added to the score.

Edith is tickled to death because she is to help Kath. in the Queen Crowning ceremony. She is to be either the Crown Bearer or a Page to Kath. Of course, each of the Queens will have their retinue of attendants.

Financially, things have not improved at all, although we had a bit of a lift from the Dormitory during Show Week. Financial returns in practically ever department have shown a bit of a slump and we are facing a very serious position in the general account. We are hoping that we may get some relief in reduced interest charges, on our overdraft and debentures, legislation for which is being enacted and we hope we will benefit from it. This may make a considerable difference to us next year, but will hardly affect our position this year. We are commencing to look forward to the summer period, and now that the better weather is coming we anticipate increased interest in our out of door clubs and camping.

A great deal of useful work has been done at camp Manyung and regularly parties have gone down each week to effect improvements in the property. Two bunk houses have been erected and over 200 trees have been planted on the property. Other improvements have also been made.

Last week seven fellows spent the entire week at Shoreham doing a thousand and one odd jobs in preparation for the junior camps. A scheme for beautifying the property has been approved, and trees have been planted and a whole lot of other useful things done which should enhance the camp property.

I have one or two people interested in the amplifier, but it seems almost impossible to effect a sale. The Vikings were interested in it, but I do not think it would be wise for them to attempt to buy the machine, as their use of it would be limited and as the summer months are approaching there would not be much chance to raise money by picture shows to pay for it. There are two others who are nibbling but whether we will be able to dispose of it I cannot at present say. I am very sorry that so much money is tied up in this machine. With the drastic reductions in radio goods I am beginning to doubt whether we can hope to secure anything like £40 for the machine. However, I am not going to sacrifice it, but will do my best to get the highest price possible.

We had a Rotary Boys' Work conference at the Y building on Saturday, 19th September, and had 27 men present, representing seven Victorian Rotary Clubs. We outlined our work for the year and also made a number of important decisions affecting our work. I hope you will get into touch with the Rotary Club Headquarters at Chicago and will let me know the result of your visit.

I think it would be good for you to ask Mr. Vernon to send me several copies of the College catalogue with the other pamphlets, giving information to students so that I might pass them on to the fellows who are thinking going to America for additional training.

By this week's mail a letter arrived from the Delta Pi Alpha Fraternity of Chicago College, which I am sending here-with. Presumably the writer did not know that you were then in Chicago.

This week you will be commencing your studies, and I imagine there will be much excitement occasioned by your entry to school life. I am hoping that you will get a reasonably good classification, so that you may not have to make up too much in back studies. It would be a good help to you if you could face your first year's work without too may arrears to be made up.

I have not written to the College authorities regarding yourself, because I felt that it was not right for me to use my position in any way to secure additional recognition for you. I will, however, write them shortly. By now you will have had your entrance status determined, and your plans laid out for your school work.

What has happened to your diary? Did you find the job too much of a "fag" to continue it? If you are wise you will keep a diary. It would not take you long to make your daily entries at the close of each day, while impressions are vivid, and it will keep a record which you will look back upon with a great deal of interest in after years.

Well, I must close now. We wish you every blessing, my boy, in your work. Keep in touch with Church life. Settle at one Church in your neighborhood and do your best to help out in some direction in Church life. Don't forget that your effectiveness in the future will depend very largely upon how close your keep to Christ.

With warm love,

Yours affectionately,