Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Day the World Fell: a Research Paper on the Stock Market Crash of 1929

So I finished my research paper/historical fiction narrative!! If you want to learn more, check out the links to my Works Cited and Endnotes pages found at the bottom of the page. I hope y'all enjoy reading it!
Oh, and by the way, I'm working on editing Chapters Seven and Eight of The Mark of the King and I will have those up as soon as possible!
Happy Easter!! John 3:16
~Abbie




            I sat up on the thin mattress that lay on the hard floor of the gymnasium1 and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Mere seconds passed before my vision cleared, and I was able to identify the figures of my coworkers stretched out on the floor and cots around me. Like me, most had not changed from their slacks and button-down shirts2 when we, the fortunate few, arrived in a group late the night before. Or rather, early that morning.
            Careful not to wake the young man that slumbered beside me, I stood and tiptoed to the clothes rack in the corner which held our overcoats. As I reached for mine, the day’s date entered my head. October 29, 1929. My nineteenth birthday.
            After momentarily bemoaning the realization that I would not spend the day celebrating with my mom, dad, and two younger sisters, I slipped the jacket on over my wrinkled shirt. Locks of black hair stuck out in odd directions from my head, but placing a hat firmly atop them silenced their unruly behavior. Then quietly exiting the building with several other young men, I found myself in the streets of New York City.
            Not long after, the towering Greek pillars and countless windows that rose high into the morning sky of the New York Stock Exchange building loomed ominously overhead. Outside the doors, hundreds of men and women loitered about anxiously; some of them muttered things inaudible to my ears. Others simply shook their heads in dismay as they passed in and out of the Stock Exchange.
            Stepping past the sleep-deprived security guards on either side of each door, I picked my way carefully over the crumpled pieces of discarded ticker-tape paper that littered the cushioned floor.3 It proved rather difficult, as I pushed past concerned stock owners and businessmen who jostled each other about the seventeen4 trading posts in search of the latest stock prices.
            With no small amount of surprise, I noticed the doors to the Public Viewing Room were closed,5 leaving me to imagine the mayhem occurring between the board members within. These are not good signs, I mused.
            Wednesday, October 23, 1929,6 I woke up, readied myself for work, and drove my Ford to the New York Stock Exchange in a scheduled routine practice for many years. Throughout the morning and afternoon, business was busy, but no more than we usually encountered during an average work day. The last hour of trading, though, brought about an unexpected turn of events. From 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.7 a large crowd rushed in and sold 2.6 million shares.8
            The following day, 12.9 million shares traded hands.9 Inside the building, we fell so far behind we worked until 7 p.m. when the ticker finally stopped.10 Over the past year, the market experienced many climbs and dips, so no one thought twice when the stock levels stabilized over the course of the next three days; people seized the opportunity to buy cheap shares.
            Then Monday, October 28, tragedy struck. I arrived to work at the normal time, and began to go about my business. Hundreds of men sporting expensive overcoats and women wearing silk and velvet hats11 scurried around, trying to rid themselves of their investments as quickly as possible. The market fell, and 9.2 million shares12 passed from one owner to the next. In one day, I called countless people- millionaires and impoverished alike13 –with the same devastating news; every penny they possessed was lost. Over the telephone,14 some cursed, others wept audibly, and others grew unnaturally still.
I did not return home that evening; over a thousand orders for the exchange of Radio Corporation15 stock wired in from all over New York.16 Everyone employed by the Stock Exchange worked into the early hours of the morning to settle them. The only rest anyone obtained was either by sleeping at their desks, or by taking shifts at the gymnasium.
            After the instability of the stocks accompanying the previous week, the last thing we needed was another day filled with complete mania and chaos. However, seeing the Public Viewing Room closed off to outside eyes shut with it the slightest bit of hope I retained, and my heart quickly filled with dread.
I assumed my place at Post 6 and tried to appear calm and collected, despite my weary and downcast attitude. Over the tops of the people, I located Mr. Michael J. Meehan17 standing near Post 12. He appeared about as nervous as I felt. And he’s dressed like a man at a funeral.
The previous night, he traded jokes, gossip, and encouragement; how his demeanor changed from then to the man I observed standing across the room.
At 10 a.m.18 the gong sounded, announcing the start of the trading day. Instantly, people surged forward in a single, uncontrolled motion, shoving and yanking others aside in behavior reminiscent of their actions the day before. Their cries and shouts rose to the high ceiling and rebounded off the walls. Everywhere I turned, the scene was the same; a single chant chorused by a thousand panicked voices rose to the high ceiling.
“Sell! Sell!”
I punched and pressed buttons as people screamed and shoved dozens of paper slips in my direction. Men and women alike wore the same frightened expressions while they tried feebly to save what little money they still possessed.
The ticker machines spat out tape faster than I ever recalled seeing in the seven years I worked at the Stock Exchange. Miles upon miles shot out into the baskets beside us, where chalkies19 tore them off and then announced them on the large blackboard20 that bore the marks of the sales and the present prices of stocks. From there, clerks such as me contacted people over the telephone and radio.21
However fast the machines worked, it was not fast enough. The numbers on the blackboard continued their rapid plummet, and with them, our hope.
The stock owners whom I could help, I did, but there were many whose slips I threw into a waste basket underneath my desk. I’ll see to them later, I reassured myself.
In a fragment of a second, I glanced up at the clock. Ten minutes passed since the trading day began. Ten minutes. It felt like ten years.
The room became overwrought with distressing emotion; and as more people shoved, shouted, and shrieked, my mood soured. Instead of gently pressing the buttons, I jabbed them in desperation. People’s impatient demands filled the air, and my head spun from the overwhelming cacophony erupting around me. Then Frank, one of my coworkers at Post 6, bumped into me while reaching for a piece of paper from my client’s outstretched hand.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I growled and snatched at the paper, but he pulled it out of my reach and pushed me away. I stumbled into the desk wall separating me from the mob, disoriented and angry.
He grinned smugly and began calculating the sale. That was the final straw.
I leapt up, drew back my fist, and punched him in the jaw, hard. Momentarily, he rocked to the side, dropping the paper. Once he regained his balance, his full attention turned on me. He threw a fist in my direction, but I blocked it and tried to return another blow. Just then, a specialist for the General Electric Company pulled us apart22 and glared at us scornfully.
“Act your age!” he reprimanded sternly. “And do your job, Whittman,” he glared at me. “Remember who you represent.”
Shamefully, I returned to my position, as did Frank. What is Dad going to say? I scolded myself, remembering the sad look in his eyes after the last fight I instigated many years ago during school. Determined not to allow my temper to best me again, I took countless papers from people, completed the sales I could, and repeated the action again. And again. And again. Over and over until I no longer felt my finger tips.
Then it happened. After five minutes of repeatedly checking the blackboard, no change had occurred. No new prices were listed, either. Little by little, my fingers stopped typing, and the ticker tape machine slowed its rapid regurgitation.23
“Hurry up, boy!” a man in front of me shouted. His face was pale; his eyes large and overflowing with terror. He pushed back against the walls of people pressing him from all sides.
I shook my head, “I can’t; I’m sorry.”
“Why?” pleaded a desperate, middle-aged woman who leaned around the man. “Why can’t you?”
Already, she looked ill. Best break it to her slowly.
“The prices,” I explained hesitantly, though at the time I was uncertain myself of the reason. “they’re falling too fast.”
At that, the woman’s hand flew to her chest and her face blanched. She swayed, but steadied herself.
“I don’t know the current prices at the moment, therefore I cannot complete this sale,”24 I apologized bleakly.
The man groaned and pounded his fists on the hard surface of the desk.
“But,” I held my hands out in a gesture I hoped displayed coolheaded composure. “if you entrust your papers to me, I will put them away until the prices are steady and your stocks can be sold.”
The man paused, but eventually surrendered, and I stuffed the paper into the half-full wastebasket.
“Richard,” whispered Frank during a lull in trading. It was noon, and a few people vacated the Stock Exchange for lunch.
Wearily, I lifted my head.
“There go two more.”
“Two more?” I turned around, searching for I knew not what.
“See? There.”
My eyes moved in the direction his finger pointed, across the room to the stairwell that lead to the basement. Two gentlemen whom I recognized as New York Stock Exchange board members slipped away and disappeared down the hall.
Confused as to the significance of what I witnessed, I shook my head.
Frank sighed, “For the past fifteen minutes, board members have been sneaking to the basement.25 Look! Three are leaving now.”
I glanced that way again, and the man descending the steps was none other than vice president Richard Whitney.26
“They must be meeting about something,” I concluded.
“What do you suppose they’re talking about down there?”
“What everyone’s talking about,” I pursed my lips in a firm line and focused my attention on finding a buyer for a distressed man’s stock.
We did not see the board members again until an hour later when they resurfaced all at once and convened around the door.
Frank and I leaned forward and strained our ears to hear what they said in whispered voices.
“Now get your smiles on, boys!”27 announced Mr. Whitney, and the group dispersed.
“Smile?” I groaned and held my head in my hands, which did nothing to hide my displeasure. “The stocks drop faster than I’ve ever seen; we’ve sold over eight million shares.28 According to the radio, people are falling from buildings29 like flies, and I can’t say that I blame them. And he expects us to smile?”
“It’s for appearance, if nothing else,” Frank reminded, and I nodded.
 He’s right; appearances are important.
A little while later, the radios crackled to life. Momentarily, people froze where they stood to listen as a man’s voice broke over the static. Dow Jones, American Can, and U.S. Steel companies promised to pay a dollar a share to stock owners.30
I held my breath, wary of the outcome. But to my astonishment, the clamor died down. Little by little, men and women filed out of the Stock Exchange. An hour later, the crowds dissipated, and the doors closed for the final time that day.
As though in a daze, I glanced around me. The room was utterly silent. No one moved. No one issued the slightest sound. Around the edges of the room, chalkies lay on the floor and on chairs fast asleep. Several of my coworkers dozed where they stood, leaning against the sides of their desks.
I turned my gaze downward, and saw that I stood ankle-deep in crumpled pieces of ticker paper. Paper! Horrified, I ducked below the desk. There, lying on its side with its contents spilling out onto the floor rested the wastebasket. It does not matter, now.
  I scooped the paper wads into the wastebasket, as did the few clerks and security guards who remained awake, and together, we began the odious chore of tidying the main floor of the building. The sun set before we finished.
My stomach growled, reminding me I had not eaten anything all day. Not that I cared. I crawled behind my desk, and within seconds, my eyelids shut, and exhaustion claimed yet another victim.
The world transformed in the days that followed.
I worked the next two days at the Stock Exchange, and learned that Tuesday, the recorded sales numbered 16.4 million.31 But that number excluded the times the ticker ran behind; the sales made during those periods stand unrecorded.
The board members met again October 30 and agreed to close the Stock Exchange November first and second.32 This announcement by Mr. Whitney was met with much rejoicing from me and my fellow employees.
The first thing I did after they released us October 31 was purchase a newspaper for three cents33 from the paper boy outside the doors. My eyes scanned over the headlines and articles, and my heart sunk.
The New York Stock Exchange itself lost $50 billion.34 Instantly I feared for my job, and then I read another article. Three million35 American families lost their life savings immediately after the market crashed.
Tears welled in my eyes and ran down my face. I put the paper down and stared at the world around me. Grey clouds covered the dreary sky, bringing with them the possibility of rain. How fitting. Young men lined the streets, each selling their cars for money. I stared at my Ford. So long had I saved my earnings to buy the automobile, but in my heart I knew what must be done. On a scrap piece of cardboard, I drew a sign and propped it on the car’s hood. Within half an hour, a man bought it for $100, and I watched him drive it away and out of sight.
I crossed the street, and handed five dollars to twenty men. It wasn’t much, but it was five dollars more than they owned before.
Months flew by in an agonizingly slow pace. The crash of the stock market, nicknamed “Black Tuesday” by the people, devastated not only America, but countries all over the world.36
Everywhere, people searched for something or someone to blame; everywhere people scrounged for pennies to feed their starving families.37 Most blamed the Federal Reserve for allowing funds to run low.38
But I disagree.
People borrowed money from the banks-credit purchasing, they call it- to invest in the Stock Market. They believed they would pay the banks back when their stocks rose, and with them, their fortune. The banks, in turn, loaned money they did not possess, and when people lost everything when the market crashed, the banks lost everything as well. Eleven thousand banks39 closed across America as a result, plunging the nation into the Great Depression.
Whatever the cause, forever until the day I die, I will always remember my birthday as the day the world fell.