Secret Great Depression Benefactor Revealed
Ted Gup’s 80 year-old mother handed him a suitcase labeled “Memoirs” filled with letters dated the same week in December 1933, all addressed to someone named Mr. B. Virdot. Rita Braver tells has the story of a mysterious benefactor who in the Great Depression, sent gifts to those in need.
Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7096732n#ixzz16gjJSp8d
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By Gary Brown | Canton Repository | November 25, 2010
The giving spirit of B. Virdot lives again.
Three Stark County men have pledged to give $100 gifts — a total of $15,000 — to 150 families and individuals who have been hit especially hard by the economic times. They are patterning their generosity after a Canton businessman — known for decades only as B. Virdot — who in 1933 made gifts of $5 to 150 area families whose finances were strapped by the Great Depression.
And, as was the case with the man who inspired them, the trio of benefactors wishes to remain anonymous. The givers will be known to the recipients of their gifts by the revived name of B. Virdot.
“The Stone family is delighted that in another time of need there is another B. Virdot to reach out and help,” said Ted Gup, the former Canton resident who, in the recently published book “A Secret Gift,” revealed how he discovered about two years ago that B. Virdot was his grandfather, Sam Stone.
SERVED AS INSPIRATION
Articles in The Repository about that book, and about Gup’s Palace Theatre event focusing on the families Stone helped with his gifts, served as inspiration to the three men, one wrote in an e-mail to the newspaper.
The articles told how a man calling himself B. Virdot placed an ad... (read more...)
Seventy-five years later, Ted Gup learns the astonishing family secret about his grandfather’s generosity during the Great Depression
By Ted Gup | Smithsonian magazine, December 2010
The year was 1933 and christmas was just a week away. Deep in the trough of the Great Depression, the people of Canton, Ohio, were down on their luck and hungry. Nearly half the town was out of work. Along the railroad tracks, children in patched coats scavenged for coal spilled from passing trains. The prison and orphanage swelled with the casualties of hard times.
It was then that a mysterious “B. Virdot” took out a tiny ad in the Canton Repository, offering to help the needy before Christmas. All he asked was that they write to him and tell him of their hardships. B. Virdot, he said, was not his real name, and no one would ever know his true identity. He pledged that those who wrote to him would also remain anonymous.
Letters poured into the post office by the hundreds. From every corner of the beleaguered town they came—from the baker, the bellhop, the steeplejack, the millworker, the blacksmith, the janitor, the pipe fitter, the salesman, the fallen executive. All of them told their stories in the hope of receiving a hand.... (read more...)
CHRISTOPHER MAAG: Taken together, the letters from families struggling through the Great Depression create a larger story of a city and a nation struggling to accept a new notion: that without help they might not survive, no matter how hard they worked.
November 7, 2010 | New York Times
Kindness of a Stranger That Still Resonates
By CHRISTOPHER MAAG
CANTON, Ohio — The event was a reunion for people who were never supposed to meet, commemorating an act of charity that succeeded because it happened in secret.
Helen Palm sat in her wheelchair on the stage of the Palace Theater and read her plea for help, the one she wrote in the depths of the Great Depression to an anonymous stranger who called himself B. Virdot.
“I am writing this because I need clothing,” Ms. Palm, 90, read aloud on Friday evening. “And sometimes we run out of food.”
Ms. Palm was one of hundreds who responded to an advertisement that appeared Dec. 17, 1933, in The Canton Repository newspaper. A donor using the pseudonym B. Virdot offered modest cash gifts to families in need. His only request: Letters from the struggling people describing their financial troubles and... (read more...)
Chuck Leddy: “A Secret Gift is a wonderful reminder that economic hardship can bring suffering but can also foster compassion and community.”
Professor uncovers secrets of a caring grandfather
By Chuck Leddy | November 8, 2010
Ted Gup is a journalism professor at Emerson College and former investigative reporter at the Washington Post. Yet the most dramatic story of Gup’s life was a deep mystery hidden for generations within his own family.
One day Gup’s mother gave him an old suitcase filled with his grandfather’s letters and some canceled checks, triggering the investigation that would become this absorbing and inspiring book. Inside the suitcase were hundreds of letters from residents of Canton, Ohio, all sent in December 1933 to someone named B. Virdot. These letters “spoke of hunger and cold, of endless searches for work, of dead ends and growing frustrations,’’ writes Gup. Each letter asked Virdot to send financial help to lessen the ongoing ravages of the Great Depression.
Gup discovers that Virdot had placed a notice in the Canton newspaper offering $10 (a considerable sum in 1933) to 75 Canton residents experiencing financial hardship. He invited residents to send letters describing their need. Virdot apparently received so many compelling requests that he cut the gifts to $5 and helped twice as many families.
Gup... (read more...)
Carolyn Kellogg: “A gesture of generosity can deliver, along with small relief, good fortune that rings with hope.”
The Los Angeles times | November 7, 2010
A journalist discovers the anonymous generosity of his grandfather during the Great Depression.
On Dec. 18, 1933, an ad appeared in the Canton, Ohio, paper offering financial aid for 50 to 75 families to help them have “a merry and joyous Christmas.” The benefactor asked simply that the applicants write of their “true circumstances” — and, when the letters arrived, felt compelled to help twice as many. Before Santa arrived, $5 checks from B. Virdot — as the paper noted, a pseudonym — reached 150 people. Virdot’s identity remained a secret for 75 years, until his grandson, Ted Gup, opened a suitcase to discover a bankbook and the cache of letters.
They could hardly have landed in better hands. Gup, a former Washington Post reporter who now chairs the journalism department at Emerson College in Boston, dived into public records to trace what happened to the recipients of his grandfather’s generosity-and to their children and grandchildren. When he could, he interviewed the families connected to those long-ago, modest gifts. In telling their stories, the book becomes a portrait of endurance and recovery, as well as of a community in the throes of the Great Depression.
Before... (read more...)
Tom Perrotta: “What makes the men and women in his book seem truly of another age is that they keep to themselves feelings and stories we today would share. They make do and then move on. No doubt Sam Stone, who kept his gift and its recipients secret for so long, thought that his grand gesture was in fact very small.”
wall street journal | november 6, 2010
by Tom Perrotta
American history books make no mention of Rachel DeHoff. Neither does Wikipedia or Google. In all the catalogs of this country’s achievements, heroes and calamities, DeHoff, as inspirational a citizen as one might imagine, had no place—until now. A survivor of the Great Depression, a loving mother and among the first women to obtain a real-estate license in Ohio, DeHoff is one of the many admirable everyday Americans unearthed by “A Secret Gift,” Ted Gup’s tirelessly reported and lively book on those hard times, and the especially hard year of 1933.
Mr. Gup’s characters lived in or near Canton, Ohio (his hometown), and shared what until recently had been a secret: At a time when they were hard up, each wrote a letter in response to a December 1933 newspaper advertisement from a man named B. Virdot, who... (read more...)
You don’t need me to tell you that these are difficult times for many Americans. One in ten workers is jobless. One in five children lives below the poverty line. And yet, for most of us, these times are not to be confused with The Hard Times, the decade of The Depression. As I worked on my book, A Secret Gift, I interviewed at least five hundred people about their memories of those years, what they learned from such hardships, and how they were changed by them.
America was different then. Americans were different. Almost no one looked to government for help. Instead, they looked to family, to neighbors, to the church or synagogue. But mostly, they looked inward. They were proud, often too proud to admit the depths of their needs. They often hid those needs and their despair from those closest to them, not wanting to add to the burdens of loved ones. Early on I asked those who had been children in the Depression if they ever went to bed hungry. Now in their eighties and nineties, they often laughed at the question. Hunger for many was a constant. They often filled their bellies with dandelion salads or beans. Mothers were credited with miracles, conjuring up suppers from nothing. Many children did not know the word “breakfast” until years later when there was food enough for a morning meal. And even my presumption that they slept in a “bed” triggered amusement.... (read more...)