January 1937, saw the worst natural disaster in Northern Kentucky history when the Ohio River crested 17 feet above flood stage, to 79.99 feet. The Great Flood of 1937 did considerable damage in the Covington area, resulting in millions of dollars in damage. Fortunately, we were safe from the waters on Banklick Street.
My brother, Edwin, was selling newspapers at 8th and Madison, on the sidewalk in front of the Montgomery Ward store. Clarence had sold papers there before him, and I was soon to inherit this important business. The Moore boys had a monopoly on that corner for almost 10 years before I retired in 1940.
We sold the Times-Star, one of three major newspapers in Cincinnati; they put out a Kentucky edition also. The paper was Republican, and the Cincinnati Post was the Democrat paper. Dad was a strong Democrat and could never understand why we didn’t sell that paper! Whenever a major story broke, an “Extra” was printed, and the papers were rushed to the corners where boys were selling, and a bundle would be thrown to the boys. We got busy and started shouting, “EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!” In my years of selling, some of the big stories were the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 at Lakehurst, New Jersey; France surrendering in 1940; Los Angeles flooding in 1938; and the German invasion of Poland in 1939.
I started selling newspapers some time in 1937, and I have one picture of me, with a big smile, taken about the time I started. You can see the Montgomery Ward sign on the window behind me. When I started selling papers, they were 2 cents, and I made 1 cent per paper sold.
Thurston Moore selling newspapers in the late 1930s.
In those Depression days, you didn’t receive many tips; every penny counted to most families. However, during the years I sold papers, they were raised to 3 cents, and then more tips were given because the change of only 2 cents to the customer wasn’t quite as meaningful as it was when they were getting 3 cents in change. I had some customers to whom I delivered papers, and I always left the reserve stock on the ground at the entrance to the store, with a rock on them so they wouldn’t blow away. We never had to worry about anyone stealing a paper, and oftentimes when we returned there would be pennies there for papers that had been picked up.
Another boy worked at the corner, too, selling the Post. They changed often, but we were always good friends. Sometimes we would “pitch pennies,” a game of chance, where we pitched a penny on the sidewalk against the building, and the one who got the closest won the penny. We never had much money, and when one of us lost three or four pennies, we quit.
Kids pitching pennies in the late 1930s.
During the school year, I worked after school, Monday through Friday, 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, our hours were 11:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. In the summer, I worked full hours each day. On a good week in the summer, I earned between $4.50 and $6.00, which helped pay for my clothes and gave me a little spending money. I usually held about six papers under my right arm and held one up with the other arm when I was hawking them, trying to get peoples attention. In the hot summer, the ink often came off of the paper onto my arm, and you could read sections of the paper on my skin!
There was one day when you could hold only one newspaper. That was April 25, 1940, when the Times-Star published their 100th anniversary issue. That paper had 318 pages, and all the newsboys really worked hard that day, but it was worth it. I don’t remember if the price was the same or not – I think it was. But I do know we made good money and sold more papers that day than any other time. People who didn’t usually buy a paper, and even the Post customers, were buying that day. Everyone had to have that once-in a-lifetime edition. Oh, how I wish I had kept a copy!
When sales were good, I spent 15 cents each day on “goodies,” such as a nickel for a Coney Island (hot dog with chili) at Dixie Chili and a nickel at Monarch’s ice cream, where I could get three dips. You could get the ice cream on a cone or on a paper plate. I always got the plate because you got much more. When they dipped it out and put it on the plate, they never scraped ice cream off the edges of the dipper, but instead piled it high on the plate. Those were the days!
Dixie Chili was founded in 1929, and was a favorite spot of Thurston Moore’s as a child.
The other nickel was for donuts. The Covington office for the Times-Star was on Scott Street at the corner of an alley. We checked in each evening at 6:30 in the room behind the offices, where the entrance was in the alley. We turned in the papers we had left and gave the man the money we owed. Oftentimes we were short, which was fine, as long as we made it up on Saturday. When we left, we stepped outside directly in front of the back door to a bakery. Now what boy could miss that temptation!
On my full days, I had to buy lunch, and most of the time it was at White Castle, which was on Madison, between 8th and 9th. In those days, White Castles were only 5 cents (sometimes they had coupons – 6 for a quarter!), and they also served baked beans in a little brown crock for a nickel.
White Castle in the late 1930s, where Thurston often enjoyed lunch while working full time selling newspapers.
I had many regular customers. One man, whom I always thought of as the “gambler,” bought the final edition with the race results, which came out at 5:30 each evening. He called me from across the street and I took him the paper, and he always gave me a dime. Then he went into the saloon where, in the back room, gamblers made illegal bets on the horses. I always went there, too, with the final edition, and sold several copies. I thought that dark, smoke-filled room was fascinating. The “gambler” lived about a block away in an apartment, and one time he invited me to stop by. I wish I could recall that time.
Another customer was the furniture salesman at Wards, and he always got a paper as he left work, never paying me or saying a word. He paid up once a week – I think. L.B. Wilson owned the Madison and Liberty Theaters, and once a week he showed up and paraded up and down in front of the theatres. He was a short, stout man, impeccably dressed, and always gave me a dime.
I had some regular customers I delivered papers to. My favorite delivery was to the projectionist at the Madison Theatre, across the street. This meant I got to go into the theatre and up to the projection booth, so I was able to steal a few minutes each time and watch the movie. The owner of Dixie Wholesale Grocers on 8th Avenue was one of my best customers. Each Saturday, he gave me a quarter for the week’s papers, and at Christmastime he always gave me several dollars.
I lost a good customer one time when I was walking down 9th Street. I had just turned to go up the steps to his house, when I heard screaming, and my customer fell out the door with a knife in his back. I was scared and didn’t know what to do. I just stood there in a daze. I don’t remember after that; I only knew I just lost a good customer.
And, on the subject of crime, in my years of selling papers, I witnessed several thefts in Montgomery Wards. The racks of men’s clothes were just inside the front door to the left, and this was always the destination for the thieves who ran in, grabbed suits and ran out. Oftentimes I could spot these thieves as they entered the store, but was in no position to tip anyone off.
There was a beautiful young lady named Billie, who had red hair and worked at the candy counter in the store. I don’t remember if she bought a paper or not, but I was in love with her. Every Christmas I gave her a box of chocolate-covered cherries. I think they cost 25 cents. When I think of her now, I can’t but help have compassion for Charlie Brown, who admired the little girl with red hair from afar. I had a tiny snapshot of Billie that I kept long after Georgianna and I were married. Georgianna laughed at the thought of my childhood sweetheart, who was probably three times my age! Georgianna said she just knew she must have bought candy from this lady, too, and that she and I must have passed each other on many Saturdays as her Aunt took her shopping at Montgomery Ward.
Oftentimes Dad would shadow me when it was dark on my way home. It was about an 8- or 9-block walk, and I knew he was there to protect me, but I never let him know I knew. On one hand, I thought I didn’t need a protector, that I was big enough to take care of myself. On the other hand, it was a pleasant feeling knowing that Dad cared. I should have shared my donuts with him.
Don’t miss the next chapter: Freak Shows