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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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By Bob Friedberg, '39
The Magpie, June 1939, v. 23, n. 2., p. 39.

BOB FRIEDBERG sheds light on the possible reactions of a Clintonite who has just witnessed one of the all too infrequent tragedies of a metropolis.

Frank straightened his well worn senior cap and squinted towards the end of the street. I followed his gaze to a crowd of people at the corner, next to the public school playground. One who lives in the city senses almost immediately that a hushed and curious gathering of that type means an accident.

I pocketed the notebook which I was carrying and, with Frank, ran towards the school yard. The grim, dry-eyed spectators indicated that this was no ordinary affair. I spied a white topped police car reflected in the noonday sun and, behind it, a policeman standing before the entrance to the playground.

Frank, sensing what the trouble was, grasped my arm and pushed through the crowd to the playground fence. A sickening sight met my eyes. What first appeared to be a mishapen bundle at the other end of the yard soon took the form of a human body. Mangled and crushed, the victim, a woman, rested under a few hastily arranged sheets of newspapers. There was little blood in sight; nothing but a dirty puddle, and a hundred scattered fragments of glass.

The playground had been built into a steep hill and leveled by excavating ground; a twenty foot drop with the fence as protection had been made at the top of the incline. It took but a glance to size up the accident. the person who had been killed had been walking on the sidewalk adjacent to the yard. A car, out of control, was seen by the victim at a time when the power of movement could no longer be of any avail.

"The automobile must have had tremendous force," I reflected. It had crashed through the strong woven wires, shooting half way out over the twenty foot wall. The woman, being between the car and fence, had acted as a buffer for the impact. Thus she had been thrown through the gap and into the yard, much as a slab of meat is flung out the back of a butcher's delivery truck.

As I speculated on what had happened, I singled my way out of the congregation and quite aimlessly wandered up the hill towards the spot where the body lay. As I walked, I wondered why I was so moved. Death is so common-place... It claims thousands daily. One needs but to pick up a newspaper and the toll will be recorded for the reader in print. Yet here was a single person killed and because I had seen the results with my own eyes....

I thought again of the newspaper covering the body. "Today's Times," I told myself. I pictured the "Times" as it would appear tomorrow with its fresh burden of news. I imagined the bottom of page twenty two. There, I could see a three quarter inch news account of the accident. "Only four lines to describe what I had just witnessed." I shuddered as I thought of it.

A look through the fence, down the embankment, showed that the body was now below me. What I had first thought of as a pool of blood was, I now discerned, spilled milk; its smashed bottle had scattered the pieces of glass which I had noticed before. The women had evidently been coming from the store. A light breeze ruffled the newspaper coverings but seemed to lack the strength needed to blow them away. I discovered that the papers had been weighted down by a loaf of bread. Another reminder of the woman's shopping expedition; and these familiar objects horrified me by the picture I associated with them. For I remembered... My mother! She had often shopped for my lunch before I returned from school. I whirled around, telling myself at the same time that it couldn't have happened to her. Fearful of going into the yard only to learn what I didn't want to hear, I rushed towards the house.

On my way, I swept past a neighbor; a stagnant brain recorded an image of Mrs. Carlson who lives above us. She looked at me... a blank, vacant stare. Half crying, thinking nothing but the worst, I mounted the building steps three at a time. When I reached the door, I found it locked. With a tremble, I remembered it was my mother's custom to lock the door only when she was leaving the house.

Frantically ringing the bell and fumbling with my key at the same time, I ran into the apartment, darkened by drawn blinds. Each step increased my fear as I felt nothing but ominous stillness throughout the house.

She was on the couch in the living room, sleeping. I dropped my pace quickly. Tiptoeing into the room, I bent down beside her. Was I the same son who had often raised his voice to her in anger? Half in tears, I crept away quietly resolving reforms for the future.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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