From: Robert J. Hastings (1972), A Nickel’s Worth of Skim Milk: A Boy’s View of the Great Depression. University Publications, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
George Washington Hunter and his wife Laura Jane Nase Dial Hunter lived in a two-story Victorian home at 1400 North State Street in Marion, IL. Their home was destroyed by a hailstorm on May 1, 1930. The home received so much damage that it could not be rebuilt. George Washington Hunter, and his son Lloyd Palmer Hunter, hauled the salvageable lumber to a farm about 6 miles south of Marion and rebuilt a smaller farmhouse. George Washington Hunter died in this home on January 3, 1937.
Robert J. Hastings wrote of Mr. Hunter and this storm in the opening chapter of his book, A Nickel’s Worth of Skim Milk (SIU-C Press, 1972) (SIU-C Publications granted permission to reproduce these pages for the website).
A low, sullen yellow cloud had been threatening northeast Marion for nearly an hour. It was May 1, 1930, a prematurely warm day. Many of the neighbor women, who could recall the devastating hailstorm of 1918, were calling their children, closing windows, penning up baby chicks, taking wash off the lines, and debating whether to go to a neighbor’s or risk the storm alone.
On one side of the ninety-foot lot at 1404 North State where our home stood, Dad had built a neighborhood grocery in the 1920’s, and in 1930 Mom kept the store while Dad worked in the mines. Next door, at 1400 State, stood the big, rambling, two-story Victorian frame home of an older couple, Mr. and Mrs. George Hunter. Mrs. Hunter kept calling to Mom to bring me and my grandmother, Sarah Gordon, who was visiting us. (I was not quite six, and would not enter school until the fall.)
Mom hesitated because the “bread man” with his bakery truck was due, with fresh loaves to exchange for our day-old bread – some of it the “twin loaves” popular then – and she wanted to pay him the difference. Finally he came, hurriedly made his delivery, and spun his tires as he headed out of our driveway down the Spillertown hard road, hoping to outrun the cloud. We learned later that he was caught by the hail and had to crawl under his truck for safety when the hail beat through the canvas top.
Mom had already closed up the house, and as soon as the bread was delivered she locked the store and we ran to the Hunters’ – and none too soon! We were barely inside, standing in a small entry at the bottom of the stairs, when the hailstorm hit. There was little wind, and practically no thunder or lightning. Just darkness and the roar of ice tearing into the shingle roof and shattering the windows.
The elderly Mr. Hunter sat in a rocking chair next to a north window of the living room, holding an old quilt against the pane in an effort to keep the hail out. Around him the other windows gave way, and water poured in, cascading down the staircase to where the rest of us huddled.
“George, let the window go. You’ll get cut. Come over here. George! George…” But George held his ground, even though he finally lost the battle as the window he was trying to save gave way.
Suddenly the storm was over, and the sun broke through. When we forced open the front door against the hailstones that had piled up on the porch, we beheld an unbelievable sight. What had been just a few minutes earlier a spring day with green grass, trees in full foliage, and lettuce and radishes growing in the gardens, was now the most beautiful winter scene imaginable! The trees, completely stripped, stood naked against the sky as in January. White, glistening hailstones covered the ground like new-fallen snow.
Windows were smashed; big, gaping holes yawned from the rooftops. And as the hail melted, fresh water poured in. The Hunter house was so badly damaged that it was torn down and never rebuilt. Our house needed a new roof, some windows, and wallpaper. After a quick survey of the damage, grandmother Gordon, who had prayed aloud during the storm, quietly gathered hailstones from the back porch and made herself a cup of ice water.
I never forgot the picture of the feeble hands of old Mr. Hunter trying to save a single window from the furious storm. It has become to me a symbol of the heartbreaking efforts of millions of Americans, young and old, who in the next eight years would be trying to weather another storm, the Great Depression. In 1930 Marion, along with the rest of the nation, was reeling from the first onslaught of the worst economic debacle in Western memory – certainly the worst in the history of the United States.