Love letters from the 1930s reveal a uniquely Akron romance | Chapter 5

by Jami Meeker

Editor’s note: This is a shortened version of a much longer work by Jami Meeker, which the writer hopes to publish in the future. It appeared in print editions of The Devil Strip in five chapters between August and December 2020. For earlier chapters, visit thedevilstrip.com and search for “Margaret” or “Eddie.”

Additionally: This section includes some material that is explicit by 1935 standards and that may be considered explicit by some 2020 readers. Please take note. 

Read previous chapters:

Back in Akron, Margaret continues to work the comptometer for B.F. Goodrich. She keeps an eye on their household finances and keeps Eddie up to date on the lives of Mary Louise, Anna Belle, Leo, Agnes and others. Contrary to what I’m sure Margaret believed would be the case when she and Eddie married, she has not left her parents’ home. While she does visit the new apartment she and Eddie are renting at 327 Portage Trail in Cuyahoga Falls, she sleeps there only occasionally. Her daily home remains the chaos and crowd of the house on Kenyon Street She pays room and board to her mother. She helps her with the younger siblings. The hours she spends at B.F. Goodrich can be as long as any of Eddie’s workdays, leaving her every bit as tired and longing for a letter to read. 

Discovering unexpectedly that she is now out of place in the house she has called home all her life compounds her misery. ”I get shoved around like an old shoe,” she writes. Mostly she keeps herself busy to forget for a day or two how much she misses Eddie.

Moving backward through the decades I remind myself that the year is 1935. Eddie and Margaret are 29 and 25 years old, and newly wedded. Margaret often abandons all modesty when expressing her loneliness and dissatisfaction. For the most part, Eddie is more reserved except for one or two occasions when his desire for Margaret overwhelms his restraint.

***

Eddie to Mrs. Edw J. Beeman from Washington, D.C. – Saturday, 7/20/35

Dear Marg.

Was so glad to hear from you. Don’t think I’ve neglected you & I’m sorry I had to break my promise to write every day. We’ve been terribly busy & tired at the end of the day. Will have so much to tell you when I get home. Met so many interesting people. 

Did not receive my paycheck until last Tues. in New York. I was almost broke & it was a good thing that Hankey was well healed. He has been carrying me until we got in here where our expense checks awaited us. 

You will notice the paycheck is $5.00 short. They must have taken my insurance out. I’m going to write & find out what the deduction is. I’m pretty sure its insurance. I will send my North Carolina address later. And to the sweetest girl in the world I’m sending

All my love

Eddie

***

Eddie to Mrs. Edw. J. Beeman from Winston-Salem, NC – Thursday, 7/25/35 

Dear Marg.

I had to get some stationary off Geo. Hankey & this was all he had. How have you been? Please don’t think I’m neglecting you. Far from it. Just writing that I’ve been busy is putting it mild. They sure sent us out on a big job & I never knew you could run into so many complications. I appreciate the faith they have in me.

Had a nice trip down from Washington & if by the time I get home, I develop a southern accent you’ll have to pardon it. I forgot to tell you we met Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf of the N. J. State Police. If you read any papers during the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby & the subsequent trial of Hauptman you will remember his name. He is very interesting & stern. He is head of the State Police. 

Tell Mary Louise I was going to stop in & see Marie Oyler but found that all the big stores in Washington are closed on Sat. during July & Aug. Will try to see her on the way back. Also, tell her I called up Ryan Gillen while in New York & he asked about our family.

My honey, sweetheart, darling, I miss you so much, but maybe we will be rewarded. While in New York Gordon said to me, “If you fellows do a good job there’s something nice in store for you & if you don’t you better not show your face in Akron. I’ll have Iasar’s & Pott’s men waiting for you.” So pray honey & pray hard that we do a good job.

Gordon showed me a great time while in New York. The first night we had dinner in the Palm Room of the Hotel Commodore & took a taxi from his hotel the New Yorker. Mischa Raginsky’s orchestra played during the dinner hour I’ve often heard him over the air. The second nite we went to Jack Lyon’s Chop House in Radio City Music Hall. It is absolutely beautiful. I’m sending you my weight showing you I’m still healthy. 

Well my dear I’m so tired I can hardly stay awake. Am hoping to be home within the next two weeks. So my dear, if you’ll excuse me, I promise to think of you so hard for the next 10 or 15 minutes that I’ll dream of you all nite with

All my heart & love

Eddie

Gordon promised Eddie and George that returning to Akron after a job well done will earn them “something nice,” but a job poorly done will bring them up against “Iasar’s & Pott’s men.”  Who are Iasar and Potts? Ray Potts was a Summit County Sheriff during the Prohibition era. He used his office to swell his bank account to the tune of a $1,000 a month, which today is around $19,000 when adjusted for inflation. Following a federal investigation led by Eliot Ness, a grand jury in July 1935 handed down an indictment against Potts and 32 others, including almost all of his deputies, on charges stemming from a protection racket for Ohio bootleggers. The trial concluded swiftly in January 1936 with the jury finding Potts guilty of conspiracy to violate the internal revenue laws. He received a two-year sentence in federal prison along with a $2,500 fine.

Leo Iasar was known as the Corn Sugar King of Summit County in Ohio. Following his own federal investigation and trial in 1931, he served 11 months of a 16-month sentence for conspiracy to violate the prohibition laws, specifically to provide corn sugar to illegal still operators. A few years later, his name figured among the 32 others indicted along with Sheriff Ray Potts. While Potts was too arrogant and self-important to believe a jury would find him guilty, Iasar knew better and fled the country. He lived under an assumed name in Montreal, Canada for five years before returning voluntarily to face the charges. He pleaded guilty to avoid a trial and received a sentence of one year and a day in federal prison.    

So, even if Eddie and George did a poor job during their time on the east coast, it appears neither Potts nor Iasar had any men left by the time the pair returned to Akron. 

 Eddie drops another name from law enforcement history. As superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf led the investigation in the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby boy. Although his detective work did lead to the 1934 arrest, conviction and eventual execution of the kidnapper, the investigation took four years to complete. By the end, the city replaced him as superintendent. Col. Schwarzkopf left the police force and eventually returned to the military. His better-known son of the same name commanded the coalition forces in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm following Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

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***

Eddie to Mrs. Edw J. Beeman from Winston-Salem, NC – Tuesday, 7/30/35

Dear Marg.

How is my darling? Am so terribly busy but we’re finally getting to the end of our journey. Expect to be home toward the middle or end of next week. 

Could you send me $10 or $15. I don’t like to ask them at the office for it. Our expense checks are very slow in reaching us as we are a long way from Akron. I just want to be sure of having enough to carry me. Will you send it in care of Edw J. Beeman, Hotel Claridge, Broadway at 44th St., New York NY & mark the front of the envelope “Please Hold.” Will write you later my dear.

All my love

Eddie

***

Margaret to Mr. Edw J. Beeman from Akron, OH – Wednesday, 7/31/35

Dearest Eddie,

I’m so glad you sent me your address as I’ve been very anxious for you to have some money as you will see from the letter enclosed. I’m getting your paycheck from the office. Oh my darling hurry home I need you so much it’s he— without you. Every bone in my body aches for you. Take good care of yourself and come home to me soon.

I cleaned the car. Washed the covers on the seat & the doors and were they dirty, also washed the outside. When you come home I’m going to learn to drive so if I’m ever left with the car I can get around. 

Everyone here is fine. Bear in mind my dear to try to get some time off around the sixth of Sept. or ask Mr. Kalb to send you on a short trip and I’ll go with you. I’m not going to take a vacation this year if I can’t be with you. 

Well dear I’m so blue and tired that I better stop writing because I do hope and pray that you are doing a good job on this mission. I’m going to Confession and Communion this week-end for our future. So good-night my dearest husband you have

All my love

Margaret

11:00 AM Thurs

I love you—

Mindful of Eddie’s requests, Margaret wrote “PLEASE HOLD” on the front of the envelope and included some cash. 

*** 

Margaret to Eddie from Akron, OH – Saturday, 8/10/35

Dear Eddie:

Did my heart miss a beat when I got your wire I thought maybe you were coming home. 

Did you get the twenty dollars I sent Aug. 1st? Write me if you didn’t and I’ll check up on it.

Well my dearest how are you? I’ve been offering my trip to the dentist to the Poor Souls so you will make good on this trip and all your trips. I’m finished now but have one sore mouth also a neat little bill. I was in the dentist chair fifty minutes last night.

Mary Louise is going to Cleveland next week for her vacation.

All Akron is in a up-roar over the National Soap Box Derby which will be held tomorrow think I’ll go.

You’ve We’ve had rain nearly every day since you have left. So please bring some sunshine with you when you come home which better be next week. 

I was up at the apartment this afternoon and found that Bradley’s had moved.

I don’t know much news, the days go and come and they are all the same. Mack got sore and was going to quit his job but he still working at B&W. Agnes has a vacation next week don’t know where she is going. Mother & Dad are going to Canal Fulton for Granny Birthday dinner tomorrow so I’ll be chief cook here. How would you like a good cook? Look me up when you come to Akron.

Shall I get your pay check Thursday or will you be home? Cecil Smith & Dorothy will be in Cleveland. They are coming to Akron next week. Hope you are home so we can entertain them.

Well my dearest I’ll say Good-night. I love I love you, keep smiling and hurry home.

All my Love

Margaret

I’m sending this letter “special” as I think you will receive it quicker than Air Mail. 

Margaret and Eddie have an uncanny knack for the casual mention of special places, people and moments in history. Here she remarks on the “up-roar” spreading across Akron over the running of the National Soap Box Derby. The event’s correct name is All American Soap Box Derby, but of greater note is that Aug. 11, 1935 was the first running of the Derby in Akron, where it has run every year since. Chevrolet, the sponsor of the gravity race, worked with city leaders and the Works Progress Administration in 1936 to establish a permanent race site in southeast Akron to be called Derby Downs. For the 1935 race Margaret planned to attend, roadblocks halted traffic as young boys hopped in their soap box cars and rolled down the steep hill on Tallmadge Avenue. Fourteen-year old Maurice Bale, Jr. won the day.

After another month of travel, Eddie returns home the third week of September. The absence of more letters from that autumn suggests he does not leave town again until the second week of November, then spends most or all of December at home. 

***

Eddie to Mrs. Edw. J. Beeman from Columbus, OH – Tuesday, 1/14/36

Dear Madam 

The man you call your husband who is very punctual in sending you letters daily when he is out of town arrived in Davey Town this day & is not as you suspect a guest of the Warden of the State Prison. He is hoping to see you over the week end.

The Management

P.S. Yes M’Love

Columbus must offer more cheer than the dead towns Eddie visited in November. Perhaps a bit of Christmas joy lingers in the air and lightens his mood. Whatever the reason, this playful letter shows one of the sides of Eddie I imagine Margaret loved most. He includes a puzzle in the form of torn up bits of paper each bearing a word and a number. When arranged in numerical order the message reads: I’ll see you soon my dear and miss you already Eddie.

***

Margaret to Mr. Edward J. Beeman from Akron, OH – Wednesday, 1/15/36

6:00 P.M.

Dear Sir

Thank you for locating my husband. He is in good health I hope. Tell my husband I’m preparing a chicken dinner in his honor Sunday Jan 19 that will make Smithville look sick.

Dearest husband in the world,

I felt so blue last night I had to have a good cry before I could go to sleep. Did you hear “Stella” with Fred Waring sing, “Alone.” Keen! Saw Kelly today when I was in the building paying your insurance. I had this afternoon off because of a mean headache I wanted to get rid of before tonight when Mary Louise has her bridge club. I’ve got the house cleaned and looking beautiful. Got flowers on the kitchen table so they will say oh! the minute they come in. A half smoked cigar is on the dresser and a pipe on the smoking stand. This is to keep the place alive with you. I slept on your half of the bed last night but it’s not comfortable without you. I’m waiting for Mary Louise to come for supper. Mrs. Richards told me Earl & Helen moved today.

  After today we only owe 9.18 Furniture, 12.50 on the car, ? Polsky. Swell! So Honey here’s to new clothes and Radio. 

My sweet I wish you were here but since you’re not here’s a good-night kiss X. Hurry home Sat. I’ll be waiting with open arms & stuff.

Your bride,

Margaret

(over)

Mary Louise just came with a telegram from Myron. It’s a boy born Jan 15 A.M. We sent him telegram this P.M.

We better get busy?????

Cecile is fine.

Margaret

Margaret diligently paid $15 each month since July to pay off the furniture in less than a year. I wonder where that bill might stand had Eddie been in charge of the payment schedule. In today’s dollars, their monthly car payment was $229.66.

The Smithville Inn Restaurant in Smithville was famous for its chicken dinners. For Margaret, out-doing the best is the only fit way to celebrate Eddie’s return home. And there’s nothing like a telegram announcing the birth of a baby to clear the air and sweep everything aside, including the blues. Given the context, “get busy” implied the same activity in 1936 that it implies today.

*** 

Margaret to Edward J. Beeman from Akron, OH – Wednesday, 1/22/36

Dear Eddie

It’s now 8:50. Marybee here and we have the table pull up in front of the oven as we just got home and it’s 6 below here and terrible wind along with it. Bert called me at the office and told me I had a letter. I could hardly work this afternoon thinking about it. Hurry and come home honey I miss you so much and need you. How is Ozzie? Here a big kiss for him X. Portia OK but has tears in her eyes most of the time. She misses Ozzie so very much. Darling I love you, I love you. Wish you were home but life is what we make it so do your job swell and don’t worry about writing to me. I know you are very busy. I saw Kelly Sunday. He said he was going away and would get home in time to see his oldest son get married. Also stopped at the Walter Haas Sunday night as you know. Kelly told me Walter was going to meet you. 

Wasn’t that chicken dinner good we had Sunday? I looked for you Sat. and felt like crying when I woke Sunday morning without you beside me. 

Aren’t you glad Myron baby is a boy? Myron wrote to Marybee Tuesday and said the doctor took xrays and told Myron they would have to operate to save the baby and Cecile. Myron was about crazy till it was all over with. Marybee & I are going over on the bus Sunday. He wants you and Marybee to be Godparents. Your new nephew name will be (Frederick William Beeman) “Keen”

I’ll write you Sunday about everyone so keep me posted where you are if you want news.

Speaking of news Marybee is moving with us next Monday as she wants to leave where she is now (reasons I’ll tell you later). So I told her to come here and we shift around till Spring and find a larger place. So you see honey you will have to hurry home to your women. 

What’s the difference between Stick-up and Hold-up—Fifty years. Nice?

Mrs. Fisher is waiting for you to come home with some jokes…

Mother has been very bad again. She couldn’t move three days. We were over home tonight and she seems better. She had us scared plenty Sunday. Tommie is getting bigger and prettier every day.

Can I get you pay 31st if you’re not home I’m trying to clean up our debt so you can go to New York and buy your Spring outfit. 

Don’t work too hard Honey and be sure to get your sleep. Have you lost any weigh. I have a B.M. every day. Marybee is eating potato chips & I’m eating popcorn.

Everything was grand at her bridge club we served shrimp salad and hot biscuits. Everyone raved about the place and a very clever living room.  I guess we know our stuff.

You know dear I could go for one or too right now but I’ll save it because I know how nice it will be when you come home.

I’m a working gal, to bed I go to dream of you and Edward Jr.

Darling I’m pretending I’m kissing you, Hmm that was nice.

Goodnight my sweet

All my love,

Margaret

Margaret introduces a couple of new names, Bert and Tommie, of whom we will never hear again. She also mentions Ozzie and Portia. Delicately put, Ozzie and Portia are not people so much as they are parts of people. 

In a little more than 10 years, Margaret will give birth to Edward Jr. If ever she did revisit these letters after Eddie’s death, it must have brought a smile to her face to read a mention of her only son in the closing lines of this letter. 

*** 

Margaret to Edward J. Beeman from Akron, OH – Wednesday, 1/29/36

10:00 A.M.

Dear Eddie,

When are you coming home? I can’t go on much longer without you. Your letters have helped but I’m so lonesome for you. I’m going to hug & kiss you for 5 hrs when you come home. 

Marybee & I moved her things Monday night and put them away Tues night. God knows where. We will have to move soon because we are very crowded.

Had a good time Sunday in Y. Stopped at Manley’s, Myron & Marybee had a good laugh when we left. Myron is so happy about the baby that he’s nervous. When we go to Y. we called Myron and asked for Freddy (the baby). He said we had the wrong number, so we had a good laugh at our little joke. 

How is work stuff going? Are you showing J. Gordon Gaines that Mr. Ed Beeman is the best man in his organization. You didn’t tell me yet if I may collect your pay Friday.

Excuse this writing I’m pretending I’m working.

I’m so sorry I couldn’t send you some money but it took $4.00 to fix the car. I have about .50 now to last me till Friday. Marybee & I are going to Annabelle’s for dinner Thursday night. Honey I want you to have this letter before you leave St. Louis. So Good bye I love you more than ever.

Margaret.

The letter is stamped: DELIVER BY AIR MAIL Special Delivery. Margaret used 15 of her 50 cents to make sure Eddie receives the letter before leaving St. Louis, which leaves her with 35¢ (about $6.40) through the end of the week. Either Eddie did learn to “get by” or, following George Hankey’s lead, Walt Haas was well-heeled enough to carry him until the next payday. 

Both Eddie and Margaret worked long hours with pay cuts instead of raises. Yet, their complaint is not that they never have enough money between the two of them to make it from one week to the next, but that Eddie’s job deprives them of time together. He left Cuyahoga Falls 17 days ago and his next message drops the dismal news that he’s still about 10 days from returning home. 

*** 

WESTERN UNION

Received at 110 PORTAGE TRAIL, CUYAHOGA FALLS, OHIO. TELEPHONE WA 4615

4KR N 36 NL

STLOUIS MO JAN 30 1936

MRS EDW J BEEMAN

327 PORTAGE TRAIL CUYAHOGA FALLS OHIO

GET PAY CHECK FROM MISS SHENAULT AT OFFICE WILL WRITE LATER VERY BUSY EXPECT TO GET HOME ABOUT TEN DAYS ASK MYRON TO WAIT MY RETURN FOR CHRISTENING OF BABY LOVE TO YOU AND MARY BEE

EDDIE

807A 31

It is safe to assume that Eddie felt deeply honored when Myron chose him to be the godfather of his first-born son and he would do everything he could to avoid missing the christening. 

*** 

Eddie to Mrs. Edw. J. Beeman from St. Louis, MO – Wednesday, 1/29/36

Honey baby, darling, dear:

How are you? I’ve been so terribly busy. Working until 1000 P.M. & making out reports until 200 A.M. but I’ve been thinking of you constantly. You are in my every thought. I’m soon going to bed along with you & Portia in spirit & I’ll kiss her & pet her with all that’s in me. Darling when I get home I’ll kiss her all through the night & hold you close. Our bodies will meet & cling together in an all night embrace. Take care of Portia & my girl friends, for when I get home they will long remember the greeting they will get. Honey don’t think I’m goofy but I’m so lonesome for your arms, lips & body & remember my faithful love I’ll keep on loving you with all the strength that’s in me.

I’m counting the days until I can be beside the one I love with

All my love

Eddie

For those readers still unsure, Ozzie and Portia are not people in the strictest sense of the word. For those who can yet think about something else, Eddie has not yet left St. Louis and Hotel York.

*** 

Eddie to Mrs. Edw. J. Beeman from Chicago, IL – Friday, 5/08/36

Dear Marg.

I’ve not forgotten you. As usual so much work. Anyhow dear I’ll be seeing you sometime Tuesday. I’ll call you as soon as I get in. 

All my love

Eddie

This is the last of Eddie’s one-cent postcards. It appears Eddie was home for much of March and all of April. Perhaps Eddie was correct when he wrote on February 27, “Keep your chin up, this can’t go on forever.”

*** 

WESTERN UNION

Received at 110 PORTAGE TRAIL, CUYAHOGA FALLS, OHIO. TELEPHONE WA 4615

26KR N 7

COLUMBUS OHIO 313 P MAY 12 1936

MRS EDW J BEEMAN

DWR 327 PORTAGE TRAIL CUYAHOGA FALLS OHIO

WILL BE HOME ABOUT NINE OR TEN

EDDIE

332P

This simple, seven-word telegram brings an appropriate close to the letters from 1935 and 1936. Eddie will be home.

***

Margaret and Eddie have told a story to me. It’s a love story, a family history, a time capsule in envelopes. It is at times charming and quaint, mundane and quotidian. At others, it is joyous and glorious, mournful and heartbreaking. What have they taught me? 

Eddie appeared in Margaret’s life as suddenly as one diary page turns to the next, but she waited, stubbornly, two years for him to find a reason to stay. In that time her confidence faltered now and then; at one point she admits to losing hope. But her faith never wavered. To lose hope but not faith requires a strength of spirit I’m not sure I understand fully. 

Eddie spent those same years waiting to resolve his own indecision, looking to the past and too often longing for its return. He and his school friends had gone their separate ways, but Eddie found the new ground under his feet unfamiliar and the path into adulthood difficult to follow. Self-doubt hounded him.His older brother Myron’s early success could have set an example for him but served more as a reminder of his own shortcomings. These insecurities slowed him to a near standstill, yet he found the determination to move forward. 

More so than the depth of their love, their letters have reminded me that few gifts in this world are equal to the value of friendship. Through the absences, through the months when he had no money to go dancing, through the jitters when he had no schedule to keep to, their friendship endured. It bound them to one another. Inevitably such friendships become love. 

We take away from their letters what we bring to them. As I read the story they tell, I want to understand something about my present from looking at their past. Lessons abound in their letters. They teach patience in the face of trials, trust under the peril of betrayal, faith in the absence of evidence, honesty with oneself, and humility before others. I should want to celebrate their triumph and joy, despite knowing in advance the sad ending to come. But it is their sorrows that resonate more fully with me. Although I have more Eddie in me than Margaret, I’ve learned from her that it’s all right to sing the blues, as long as I take note of when the next song begins. It begins now. 

In my younger days when I fancied myself a visual artist, I always had trouble knowing when to stop drawing, when the work was complete. That same fog clouds my vision today. I can’t see the final page for what it is. Margaret pointed it out for me. She came to me in a dream, hugged me thirteen times, said, “Good-bye” and left the room. My daughter came in moments later with tears in her eyes. Her great-grandmother has given the same good-bye to her. Margaret let me know I have lingered too long with her and Eddie. It is time to move on.

“A friend like you is a great incentive to anybody & I’m going to try my best to get the worth-while out of life.” — Edward Joseph Beeman, 1/18/1933