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The life and Times of
John & Helen Fuss

John Fuss Jr.

Chapter 5: Farming the Fuss Farm

Chapter 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.

Conditions worsened.  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 strengthened her 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.  When Dr. 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.  He also did some contract work for the state in rebuilding fences along sections of the Emmitsburg-Taneytown Road.  Times were very difficult and hard.

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 a metal box and placed it under one of the bricks in the brick floor in the basement for safekeeping.

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.  While he was entertaining his mother, sister, and brothers, along with 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 could win.

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 attack.

Read Chapter 7: The Move to Locust Grove Farm

Read previously posted chapters of the life and times of John and Helen Fuss

Do you know of an individual who helped shape Emmitsburg?
If so, send their story to us at: history@emmitsburg.net

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