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Mason County Memories

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david k petersen

History Column Dave Petersen Ralph DePalma was referred to as the Dean of American Race Drivers and he was a visitor to Ludington in June of 1933. DePalma was an Italian Immigrant, having been born in 1884 in Italy and immigrating to this country with his parents at the age of 8. He first found a love for racing motorcycles in 1906 before switching to racing automobiles in 1909. You have to remember that this was the era when people thought if you went 60 miles an hour your blood would boil. It's hard to imagine a race car being built in that early age but that need for speed and the American love affair with the automobile is something that started early, took hold fast and became as much a part of our national identity as baseball, hot dogs and Mom's apple pie. DePalma's sponsor White Star Refining brought him to Ludington for this personal appearance, a film was shown of his record run at Lake Murock California where he drove 800 miles at an average speed of 112 miles per hour. A full length "talking" picture was also shown at the Lyric that was filmed in Death Valley. DePalma also had roles in 2 other movies, one called "High Speed" in 1920 and another called "Racing for Life" in 1924. DePalma was a racing pioneer, having entered the field when the automobile itself was in it's infancy. He won over 2,500 races in his career including the first Milwaukee Champion Car Race in 1911 and the Indianapolis 500 in 1915. He is however remembered most for losing the Indy 500 in 1912. With only 2 laps remaining he cracked a piston and along with his mechanic pushed the car across the finish line to claim 12th place. In other news of the day and that day being June 23rd 1933 a federal prosecutor was demanding that Wooden, Mills, and other Federal officials testify regarding the bank closings in Detroit. This was as you may recall the beginning of the Great Depression. In this time of great loss of jobs, income, homes, the State passed a 50 cent rod license law to take effect with the new Bass season, I guess you can give a man a fish and he can eat for a day but after the banks close and you lose your home you better have a 50 cent fishing license. The State Grange was also on the fast track to implement a State Income tax to take effect by 1935. The state did however give notice that property owners wo had not paid their 1932 taxes would be given an additional 4 months to pay without penalty or interest. The man who kidnapped Margaret McMath testified that a shadowy figure named Bill directed the kidnapping, in the early 1930's there was a rash of chold kidnappings for ransom, most notably the Lindberg Baby. Another article that day spoke of the Lindberg's donating the use of their home as a child welfare center. The steamer Nevada was on her regular run for Milwaukee and Ludington, replacing the Steamer Virginia while she was getting her boilers cleaned. A liquor runner in Iowa was being sought for the killing of a Federal Dry Agent. A landscape expert by the name of Raymond H Wilcox was in Ludington to work on the plans for a new State Park, he was quoted in the Ludington Daily news as saying "Michigan has a gem in it's State park at Big Sauble Point." Think we all can agree that is a sentiment that has never changed. A troop train was scheduled to bring in the firs group of Civilian Conservation Corp trainees to Big Sauble as well. 114 men were scheduled to disembark. Since there was no permanent road to the dam at that time the men would be taken out to Hamlin Lake and then ferried across to the work sites. Jimmie Mattern was missing, a round the world flier who disappeared was thought to have had a SOS message picked up on the "wireless" off the Siberian Coast, and powerful wireless stations were listening for more information on this mystery call. Not so long ago in one sense is the early summer of 1933 but look at the news, and the world as it was at that time, oh, and the weather, well they had a 70 degree day and no rain, they were faring a bit better then we are this morning as we prepare and batten down for the winter. If you have any photos or stories you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240 or davep@blackcreekpress.com

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