Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The scene: my house. The year: 1940.

It was like Spring Break for history nerds (History/English double major here WHAT WHAT) the other day when the US government released the Census Records from 1940. For a city as past-obsessed and navel-gazing as San Francisco, it was truly a gift like no other. We all immediately set out to find out WHO WAS LIVING IN OUR PLACE IN 1940. Burrito Justice is already on this, of course, since he is to San Francisco mapping and history on the Internet what I am to snark and reality shows.

Look, here's a sample sheet from my neighborhood:

I know, hard to read, huh? You can go look them up yourself if you want. Anyway, from this sheet we can see that Samuel and Effie Boukard lived at 127 Stanyan in 1940. He was an automobile salesman and made $500 in 1939. That's not very much, even by 1939 standards. Better step your game, Samuel Boukard!

So obvi, I immediately went and found the people that lived in my house. Now, if I just go off and use their real names, it'll take you about 5 minutes to cross-reference them with the 1940 San Francisco City Directory and then you'll know where I live and that'll be uncomfortable for all of us because for all I know I'll come home one day and you'll be sitting on my front step smiling and running your fingers over the blade of your razor-sharp scimitar and mumbling "My pretty, my pretty" to yourself. AWKWARD. So I have to change their names, but other info is accurate.

I had a whole family in there! Let's call them the Feldmans. Dad Max was a 58-year-old immigrant from Russia and Mom Annie was a 56-year-old from Lithuania. Annie tells the Census taker they have 4 kids at home, ranging in age from 28 to 16! Now, I know my place because I live there, and it's spacious enough, but not spacious enough for 6 people. "OY!!" Max says. "ALWAYS SO MANY OF YOU UNDERFOOT!"

Max is a "homepainter" and made exactly $0 on 1939. At least that's what Annie told the Enumerator! For all these guys know, the Enumerator works for the IRS. Max is making his money under the table, you know it. Then, as now, I bet you anything homepainting is a cash-preferred business.

Oldest daughter Sofia is a "book-keeper" for a "Home Owner's Loan Corporation." Other daughter Rosa is a restaurant cashier. At least someone's working for the family!

Then we have the strange case of the youngest son Leo, who was 16 in 1940. Annie tells the Enumerator that he's living at home in my house. But wait! According to the City Directory, he lives over on Russian Hill with Maria Feldman, who doesn't appear on the census form! What the hell! Who's Maria and why has she spirited away young 16-year-old Leo!?

Maria is obviously the slightly crazy free spirit who couldn't take Max's oppressive rules and rigid guidelines. So she moved out and got her own place. Then one day Leo skips school to hit a San Francisco Seals game (that 1940 team had the awesomely named WIN BALLOU) and Max hit the roof. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING, YOU LITTLE SHMENDREK!? GOING TO BASEBALL GAMES INSTEAD OF SCHOOL!!" So Leo says "Fine! I'll go live with Maria then!" and slams my front door and storms out. Max looks at Annie and sighs wearily.

(Incidentally, the real Max died in 1970, at the age of 87, still in San Francisco. Mazel tov, Max.)

UPDATE: WBTC did hers too.


GG said...

Nice job! I like the made-up story. Burrito Justice should curate a book of short stories by different SF writers based on facts found in the 1940 Census.

Tamagosan said...

It took me a while to find our enumeration district (ED!) and frankly I gave up and let my better half do the hunting and hand me the PDF on a single page. I would make up stories about the people like you have so entertainingly done, but I can't get over the fact that the occupants were paying THIRTY-FIVE DOLLARS rent. I think that's like 1/200th of the interest I pay on the mortgage. Yay!

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