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Part 8: Things Boys Got In Trouble For in the Early 1900s

I found this list of habits and offenses that could categorize a kid as a delinquent back in the 1920s. The list was in a pamphlet at the Wilson Library. We'll get to that research soon. Habits: Chew tobacco, smoke cigarettes, frequent picture shows, keep late hours, steal, lie, run away, gang, drink, profanity, sex.

Offenses: Truancy, incorrigibility, manufacture of whiskey, vagrancy, concealed weapon, larceny, auto theft, sex offense, forgery, drunkenness, dependents, assault, trespassing, adultery, store breaking, selling whiskey, robbery, receiving stolen goods.


As mentioned, one of the most profound things that happened as a result of pitching my story to the Hidden Brain podcast last year is that I was reunited with my father's belongings.

I discovered the journal at the bottom of one of the water damaged boxes that I picked up from Larry Bastian in Porterville, California. I’ve organized the letters, recording contracts, sheet music, menus from the various diners my father managed, photographs, lists of wives and girlfriends, places he lived, albums... besides all the other stuff, it was the notes from his journal that have taken me months to go through, and given me a much deeper understanding of my father's childhood and the events that shaped his life.

I haven't been able to throw anything out that belonged to my father, not his "shut off" notices, his lists of contacts, old address books...he even has Dolly Parton's P.O. Box in his notes. Am I a hoarder? I should probably see someone about this. Anyway, perhaps this blog will help me begin the processes of letting some of Riley's stuff go.

I've curated the entries because Riley mentions some things in separate pages that inform and keep a better timeline. Also, his historical notes are vast so I've cut some for time's sake. In the last blog entry, we discussed how things went downhill for him when he was a kid, and I wondered if it had anything to do with cracking his head on the pavement at around age 11, which you'll read below. The life events, head injury, stole a bicycle,(caught and arrested) robbed a strawberry plant of a bag of silver (never got caught), psychiatrist, boy's prison might be connected.

He writes about important events (it's detail and scope would keep me typing into my golden years) in history, as well as personal events. The entry below is looking back on 1927, his words in Italics and bold:

America experienced a RED SCARE-- one of many since the Russian Revolution. Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested, charged with, tried for, and convicted of murder. They were sentenced to death. The radical and liberal press here and abroad denounced American justice. Gov. Fuller and a Board of Review were adamant, and both men were electrocuted on AUGUST 23. Place: Massachusetts. Crime: Murder of a South Braintree paymaster.

Riley writes about the warning signs of the economy crashing before The Depression several times in his journal:

Throughout the year, conservative economists warned against economic optimism, but their warnings fell on deaf ears.

And again:

Oct. 21, 1928. 10 years old Some memories

Conservative economists issued more warnings against the overly-optimistic economy. Nobody listened.

In Aug., Ralph Peer set up portable recording equipment in Bristol, Tenn., where he recorded for the RCA Victor company several hillbilly artists, including The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

Carter family released: WILDWOOD FLOWER


It was a very good year for Bessie Smith, both artistically and financially; it also marked the beginning of her decline, brought on by a combination of changing musical tastes, the Depression, and her heavy drinking.

Back to his personal life here:

My mother suffered from a form of Epilepsy. My father had what they called a "leaking heart." He owned a grocery store, which he lost in the 1929 stock market crash. He then worked as a butcher, and a soft-drink driver, deliverer and salesman for the Nehi-Coca Cola plant.

Grandmother Tyndal owned grocery-meat market stores, a brickyard, and several houses.

Grandfather Tyndal worked at a lumber company as far back as I can remember, until he retired due to a fall.

Except for Louis, all their sons drank heavily. Bootleg whiskey, called "white lightning."

My brother, William, set-up a still and made the whiskey.

Dad mentions that his aunt's husband, Kirby, worked for the county as a prison guard, and that his uncle, Louis, Jr. was a deputy sheriff, ran for sheriff, and so did his uncle Lindwood Tindal (for spite), and both lost.

For a long time, a woman named Lenoir lived with us. First name forgotten, but she had a son who was a policeman in Los Angeles.

I hated school. It was boring...

Dad repeats his feelings of restlessness in school at Cornelius Hornet Grammar School, and then Hemingway.

I was also in trouble. Wanted more attention than I got, I suppose. Stole a bicycle. Got arrested. Robbed Strawberry plant of a bag of money, all silver (nearly $100.), but never got caught. Burned school a lot. Was sent to a psychiatrist in Kingston, where father's sister lived. Then, finally, was sent to Rocky Mount, to the Eastern Carolina Training School for Boys.

I'm wondering what Psychiatry was like back then in North Carolina.

My father told me a story when I was a little girl, after I got caught stealing another kid's candy. I was in the third grade at the time. He told me that when he was twelve, he broke the windows of his grandmother's store (Martha Tindal) and handed out food to the poor people in Wilmington. It always seemed like a "Robin Hood" type of an event to me. Dad was the hero. He also said this is what made his family decide to send him to a "Boy's Home." He'd refer to the place as a "Boys Home in Rocky Mount." I was too young to imagine such a place. It didn't sound so bad when I was a kid. I understand more now.

As I mentioned, I decided to begin researching this "boy's home." I registered as a researcher at the Wilson Library at UNC, and traveled to North Carolina three times starting in the Spring of 2016. In the next blog, we'll dive into this institution and what happened to my father in the Eastern Carolina Training School in Rocky Mount.

© copyright 2019-2022 Stacya Silverman. All rights reserved.

1 Comment

I'm sharing your blog. I know many people will share my interest.

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