High Anxiety

The New Yorker profiled authors, composers, civic and world leaders and other notables in its early years, but every so often it would turn the spotlight on a member of the working class.

May 7, 1932 cover by William Steig, the first of 117 covers he would contribute to the magazine over his long life and career.

“The Man With The Squeegee,” a profile written by journalist (and later, playwright) Russel Crouse, detailed the life and work of Stanley Norris, a son of Polish immigrants who daily defied death as a window cleaner on Manhattan’s skyscrapers.

Profile illustration by Hugo Gellert

Below is an excerpt that includes a couple of Norris’ harrowing experiences high above the city streets:

LOOK MA, NO HANDS!…Just two leather straps separate this brave window washer from oblivion in March 1936; a lone worker confronts his task in 1935; window washers in 1930; window washers on the 34th street side of the building, January 1932. There are 6,400 windows on the Empire State Building, and each worker averaged 76 panes per day. (retronaut.com/cnn/considerable.com/reddit)

During the 1930s one out of every 200 window cleaners in New York City fell to their deaths annually. In the previous decade, more than 80 fell to their deaths. In another excerpt, Norris recalled one of those unfortunate deaths.

 *  *  *

Vintage Whines

E.B. White enjoyed both wine and spirits, but like many of his fellow Americans he was growing sick and tired of Prohibition, and in his “Notes and Comment” looked abroad for a better way to live.

White concluded the entry with this observation…

…which referenced the sad grape “bricks” folks could order by mail…

Grape growers sold these bricks with a warning that they were not to be used for fermentation — a warning that kept them within the law. Naturally both seller and consumer understood that the end product would likely be something stronger than grape juice.


Where White did procure his cocktails is revealed later in “Notes” — he tells us of an encounter with a night-club host while out walking with his wife, Katharine White, and toddler Joel.

SOMETIMES E.B. JOINED THEM…Katharine White taking baby Joel for a stroll with the White’s beloved Scotty Daisy in New York City, 1931. (brainpickings.org)

 *  *  *

News Stooges

In “The Wayward Press” column, Robert Benchley (writing under the pseudonym Guy Fawkes) took the newspapers to task for their tasteless reporting on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and their general sullying of a once proud profession (Benchley himself was an experienced journalist):

TRAGEDY SELLS…The kidnapping of Charles and Ann Lindbergh’s infant son, Charles Jr., dominated headlines across the country in the spring of 1932. This March 3 edition of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Evening Independent ran this headline just two days after the boy’s disappearance. The body of Charles Jr. was found on May 12, 1932. (Pinterest)

 *  *  *

Rising Stars

The pre-Code drama So Big!, based on Edna Ferber’s 1924 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, featured two iconic Hollywood actors, but in 1932 only one of them, Barbara Stanwyck, was a bankable star. The film also featured the soon-to-be-famous Bette Davis, who had a much smaller role but was nevertheless grateful to be cast in a prestigious Barbara Stanwyck film. For critic John Mosher, the film proved to be a breakout role for Stanwyck.

SO BIG!…Barbara Stanwyck (left) was a marquee attraction in 1932, but Bette Davis would soon emerge as another major star in the Warner Brothers universe. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Clothes spun from cotton have been around for thousands of years, but this B. Altman advertisement suggests they were relatively novel for summer wear, at least among the upper orders. Both men and women wore wool bathing suits up until the 1930s, so perhaps there was something new about this cool, casual material…

…no doubt the landed gentry helped keep the Davey Tree Surgeons in business during the Depression, but in those lean times it didn’t hurt to reach out to those with modest means…

…they did something right, because this 141-year-old company still thrives today, the ninth-largest employee-owned company in the U.S…

…launched in 1906, the RMS Mauretania was beloved for her Edwardian elegance and style, but as sleeker ships came into service in 1930, the Mauretania was removed from Atlantic crossings and relegated to running shorter cruises from New York to Nova Scotia and Bermuda…

OLD RELIABLE…The RMS Mauretania was the world’s largest and fastest ship after it left the Port of Liverpool in 1906. The liner was scrapped in 1935-37, much to the dismay of many of its former passengers, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Wikipedia)

…with Mother’s Day around the corner, one company suggested a silver cigarette box as a suitable gift…

…on to our cartoons, Otto Soglow marked the upcoming holiday with this choreographed group…

Denys Wortman gave us another side of motherhood…

…other women were busy organizing political gatherings, per Garrett Price

…and Helen Hokinson

James Thurber gave us a dog in distress…

Robert Day illustrated the dilemma of two bootleggers…

…and Barbara Shermund takes us out…

Next Time: Under the Boardwalk…


Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

One thought on “High Anxiety”

  1. As a child I use to watch with incredulity the window washers who would come around to wash the windows of my parents’ offices in midtown.I could not believe that that was all that was preventing them from falling,2 straps hooked onto 2 studs that stuck out from each side of a window.I used to wonder how such a thing could even be legal in this day and age.


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