5: Farming the Fuss Farm
6: Life in Emmitsburg During the Depression
The family moved to
their new home in March 1932, a few days after the sale
at the Fuss Farm.
John and Helen had several cows, chickens, and pigs to
fatten which helped to supply them with food. However,
there was little other income. John worked for farmers,
including Lloyd Dern, who had moved to the farm still
owned by John's mother and on which John and Helen had
started their married life.
Helen worked in
Emmitsburg cleaning houses. She cleaned
the large Nestor Mansion once a week and took her young
son along. Helen's life prior to her marriage had
been relatively easy, but the realities of the Great
Depression and the hard times that the family endured
had a profound affect on her. Adversity
faith in God and she became fervently devout.
The family had very
little money to spend. When John found work, wages
were $1.00 a day, for a ten to twelve hour
workday. As the Great
Depression deepened and wages went lower, they did not
have enough cash to buy gasoline for the automobile.
Selling the automobile was not a feasible option because most of
the others in the community were in the same situation.
So they walked to Emmitsburg, a distance of about a mile,
and carried their young son. These were trying times for
the young family.
During 1934, John
suffered an injury. While he was helping with a harvest,
his leg was accidentally punctured with a
pitchfork. The wound was deep and became infected.
Cadle was consulted, he confirmed its serious
nature. If the application of poultices did not
improve his condition quickly, John would have to go to the hospital.
Helen often recounted how she prayed
as she had never prayed before, because there were no funds available
for such an expense. One night, when things were at their
worst and she had spent a long time praying on her knees, a
large piece of some of the infected tissue came out
of the wound, and John soon recovered. She always
considered it a true miracle.
There was also work
available on the highways about this time. John worked
from time to time for the contractors when there were openings.
also did some contract work for the state in rebuilding
fences along sections of the
Emmitsburg-Taneytown Road. Times were very difficult and
John had some
money in the bank from his father's estate and his own savings.
Most of the people around Emmitsburg had deposited their
savings in a local bank which was later merged
with other banks in the county to form the Central Trust
Company. This bank invested heavily in real estate
as far away as Florida. As a result of the Depression and
declining prices, the Central Trust Company failed,
taking with it
substantially all of the savings of the
depositors. As a
result, John's life savings, including the legacy
from his father, were wiped out.
Many other banks
closed, and John and Helen lost their trust in the
banking system. Thereafter, as they accumulated some savings, they
decided not to put them in a bank. Instead, they put their few extra dollars in
metal box and placed it under
one of the bricks in the brick floor in the basement for
At this time, there were
vast numbers of unemployed people. A large group marched on Washington demanding food,
work, or something to live on. They often
traveled in groups and, due to the hard times, walked
long distances. Some of these groups passed by the
Fuss home because their house was along
the Emmitsburg-Taneytown Road.
One day Helen went to
the treasure trove in the basement, which must have had
fifty or so dollar bills in it. She found that water had
somehow seeped into the box and that their "life
savings" were thoroughly soaked. She
brought the bills upstairs and spread them out on the
kitchen table to dry. Suddenly a large band of 20 or 30 men
appeared at the door, asking for food or something to drink.
Helen was frightened because the money was spread out on the table inside and
she was afraid that one of them would look through the
window and see it. She quickly gave them a dipper
so that they could quench their thirst from the
hand pump which was located a few feet from the entrance
to the house.
While living at the Bishop
farm, John spent a great deal of time working away from
home. They had two or three cows to supply milk for the
family, and Helen began milking the cows. For social activities,
which were needed more than ever during this period,
they visited with relatives and
friends who lived nearby.
One Christmas, John
managed to scrape together some money for gifts.
was entertaining his mother, sister, and brothers, along
their families, he gave a small gift to everyone. The rest of the family knew
the desperation of the
family's circumstances, and I heard of John's generosity
many years later.
During this period,
several local contests were regularly held in or around Emmitsburg.
One contest held every fall involved husking a bushel
of corn. John was very fast at this task. He could husk an
ear of corn so quickly that he could almost keep one ear
in the air at all times until the bushel was finished.
He was generally unbeatable in this contest, but
sometimes he felt that harder ears of
corn were put in the basket handed out to him, so that someone else
Helen's father had been
in failing health for some years. On Father's Day 1932, John
and Helen and their son John visited Helen's parents in
the afternoon. As they were leaving, her father went to the
stable and fetched his horse, as was his custom. As the
family was departing, he waved good-bye and called to
Johnie. Then he fell from his horse, dead from a heart
Chapter 7: The Move to Locust Grove Farm
previously posted chapters of the life and times of John and Helen Fuss