Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Shopping in Gadsden in December 1940

These nine photographs were taken by John Vachon in Gadsden, Alabama, apparently on a Saturday in December 1940. Vachon was one of a number of photographers who traveled America from 1935 until 1945 documenting conditions and activities during the Depression and WWII for the U.S. Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information. He worked for the OWI in 1942 and 1943. Almost 8300 of his photographs can be seen here. Vachon was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1914 and died in 1975. 

John Vachon 8c51722r.jpg
John Vachon in 1942

In the 1940 U.S. Census Gadsden had a population of almost 37,000. Many seem to have come downtown that December Saturday to take in the shopping opportunities; no doubt many others from surrounding Etowah County were there too. 

We can see some specifics in a few of these photos. On the right of the fifth photograph a temporary "Grant's Toy Land" sign hangs above the store's permanent sign. Grant's was a variety store chain that operated in the United States from 1906 to 1976. A Texaco sign is visible in the next photo, and in the one below that we see signs for a shoe store, loan operation and a law firm. The county courthouse is prominent in two photographs. The streets and sidewalks are crowded with cars and people. One of Vachon's photos has an artistic tilt to it.

These photographs caught my attention because I was born in Gadsden and over the years visited my paternal grandparents there many times. I remember my grandmother taking me to that Grant's store when I would stay with them for a week in the summers in the late 1950's and early 1960's. I also have numerous other ancestors buried in cemeteries in the area. 

My grandparents and father [who had turned 14 in August of that year] may have been in the crowd. This Christmas was probably another sad one for them. My father's older sister had died just before Christmas in 1939 at the age of 18. Of course, by the Christmas following this one the United States would be at war. 

All of Vachon's Gadsden photographs are available at Photogrammar a site maintained by Yale University. The site features photographs taken by photographers for the U.S. Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information between 1935 and 1945. 

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