Column – 1928 headlines include bootlegging and economy

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The year is 1928. Calvin Coolidge is the president. Prohibition is in full force. Ford is making Model Ts. And the first regularly scheduled television programming is starting. In May, the animated short “Plane Crazy” was released by Disney Studios in Los Angeles, featuring the first appearances of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

Bootlegging was a fairly common crime in Suffolk, according to several articles—including one with the headline “Bootlegger in hands of cops.” According to the article, a young boy was alleged to have been caught in the act of making contraband. A 17-year-old bootlegger was caught in the act of bottling the contraband in the “shadows of the evening” and apprehended with a bottle of the liquid in his jacket ready for sale.

Suffolk was a growing city in 1928, as seen in a story entitled “Variety of business before City Council sessions here.” According to this article, Council was to consider annexation of part of Lakeview Heights. The annexation was brought to the attention of the City Council by residents of Lakeview, who desired that a strip near the Norfolk and Western Railroad and adjacent to Lake Kilby be taken into the city. No action was taken at this meeting, however.


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It would seem downtown business was also booming, as Suffolk was about to get a new theater. A piece that ran in May 1928 described the theater plans in detail under the headline “New plant to give Suffolk fine theater.” The property known as the Fotosho building, located on North Main Street, was transferred to the Suffolk Amusement Corp. for a period of 20 years at a total rental of $124,500. The name of the new theater was to be changed from the Fotosho, by which it had been known since it was used for the present purpose, to that of “Roxy.”

Suffolk agriculture has always been important; however, it wasn’t all peanuts and cotton. In a late spring article, the price of peas and cabbages is discussed. The story, entitled “Heavy Shipments are leaving the city daily,” discussed the “fine quality” of the produce but the low price due to drop in price in other states.

On July 7, 1928, the first machine-sliced, machine-wrapped loaf of bread was sold in Chillicothe, Missouri, using Otto Frederick Rohwedder’s technology. Thereafter, the idiom “best thing since sliced bread” came into use for various nifty, useful and practical inventions.

In Suffolk on July 7, the first cotton bloom was presented. W.H. Watkins of the Ferry Point section of Isle of Wight County brought the first cotton bloom of the season to the News-Herald office and as a consequence received a year’s free subscription to the paper. Do farmers still celebrate the first cotton bloom?

Later in July, St. Mary’s Catholic Church purchased the property that would become its rectory for $100 and other valuable considerations. This note of history was detailed under the headline “Catholics own their rectory.” The Rev. Father J.V. Brennan, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church at the time, made the purchase.

Crime also made the headlines back then. A short piece in late July entitled “Auto speeder pays the price,” notes that Police Justice S.E. Everett placed a fine of $14 upon a man, charged with speeding, when he was arraigned in police court. I wonder how fast he was going; sadly, the article didn’t mention the speed.

At the bottom of that page, however, there was a nice large advertisement for a new Chrysler “75” Royal Sedan for $1,535 from the Briggs Motor Co. on West Washington Street. The sedan had many options, including a rumble seat. Another ad on the page listed a sale on corsets from McKays on Main Street. They were selling for $2.95.

In October 1928, it seems the city joined the world in the detailed following of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin hydrogen-filled rigid airship. Each day, the logs of the adventure ran on the front pages of the paper. The airship offered the first commercial transatlantic passenger flight service.

In Boston, on Oct. 12, an iron lung respirator was used for the first time at a children’s hospital.

A couple days later, Suffolk’s big news was a fire at Washington Square in the rear of R.R. Allen and Son hardware firm shortly after 2 a.m, according to the story entitled “Washington Square Property is visited by a disastrous fire early this morning.” Firemen had six streams on the burning building, bringing the blaze under control shortly before 4 a.m.

Scanning through the front pages of 1928 shows a snapshot of a city on the edge of growth with no idea that a year later, the world would be thrown into the Great Depression.