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LET’S ALL YELL AT THE MICKEY MOUSE MATINEE

In Santa Rosa during the 1930s and under twelve? If so, then you were at the California Theater every Saturday at 12:30 for the pandemonium known as the Mickey Mouse Club.

A quarter century before the Mouseketeers donned their plastic ears and gleamed sparkling smiles on our TV screens, hundreds of movie houses nationwide were filled to capacity with small children on Saturday afternoons. They would watch a movie and some cartoons, but mainly they would sing and yell. They would get to yell a lot – pause for a moment and imagine being in a theater with around a thousand kids, all their little volume knobs cranked up to 11. Maybe 12.

Gentle (and cynical) Reader might presume this was a marketing ploy by the Disney Empire to exploit our children, but the company actually had a light hand in its doings. According to an article on the Mickey Mouse Club origins by unofficial Disney historian Jim Korkis, a movie theater owner seeking to boost attendance broached the idea to Disney in 1929. It proved such a hit Disney Studios hired the guy to create a network of licensed theaters across the country. At its peak, there were over 800 clubs and over a million card-carrying Mousers.

For 25 bucks a year, participating theaters received a manual and a bimonthly newsletter with promo ideas. Disney also sold theaters all sorts of Mickey Mouse Club swag at (or near) cost; buttons, masks, custom membership cards and posters and for $16.50 a theater could own the official club cartoon, “Minnie’s Yoo Hoo,” a sing-a-long with Walt Disney himself providing Mickey’s voice (spoiler alert: The tune is pretty catchy and Walt’s voice is pretty creepy).

Theater owners found they had a ready audience; In November 1931, the Press Democrat ran a small “coming soon” notice and “[California Theater] Manager Gurnette is already being besieged by a small army of youngsters wanted to know all about the Mickey Mouse club – what it is, what it means, and for the boys and girls who join, etc.”

Disney also encouraged theaters to partner with local retail businesses. In exchange for donating contest prizes and other goods (historian Korkis says local bakeries would donate a free cake to be shared by club members with a recent birthday and florists sent flowers to sick ones) the merchant would display a window card announcing it was an “Official Mickey Mouse Store.”

In Santa Rosa, Rosenberg’s department store was the only place boys and girls could get their free membership card. Before the theater club debut, Rosenberg’s took out two half-page ads in the PD promoting the first club meeting, promising Santa Claus would greet the kids at the theater and then take up residence at “Toyland” on the store’s mezzanine.

A reported 1,500 children packed the California Theater on Nov. 21 for that first gathering, which was free for any child who had filled out the membership form (admission thereafter was 5¢ for anyone wearing the official club button). Petaluma followed suit three months later with a club at the California Theater in their own town.

Press Democrat, November 20, 1931

 

The shows could fill the entire afternoon with a mixture of films and live doings on stage. An American flag would be brought out and everyone would sing a verse of “America.” They would recite the Mickey Creed: “I will be a squareshooter in my home, in school, on the playgrounds, wherever I may be. I will be truthful and honorable and strive always to make myself a better and more useful little citizen. I will respect my elders and help the aged, the helpless and children smaller than myself. In short, I will be a good American.”

Everybody would join in for five or six “peppy songs and yells” which usually started with “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here” and ended with “Happy Days are Here Again.” There would be a new cartoon and a chapter from a serial which was most often a western, although they also watched “The Lost Special” starring Santa Rosa football hero Ernie Nevers. Once at Petaluma there was a “Backwards Party” where a cartoon was shown in reverse “those who have seen this novelty claim that it is exremely funny and some of the craziest noises are heard.”

Every week there would be also shown a short feature movie approved by the California PTA. The first approved film shown here was an Amos ‘n’ Andy comedy – which is to say it starred two middle-age white men in blackface.

In the mix were also contests, drawings, “stage stunts,” musical and dance performances by other kids and everything wrapped up with Minnie’s Yoo Hoo.

In less than three years, the Mickey Mouse Clubs had become as large as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts combined. What caused this explosive growth? Certainly a part of it was Mickey Mouse mania; kids couldn’t get enough of Mickey and Minnie but aside from crude handmade stuffed dolls, there were no toys, games, or other Mouse stuff to buy until Christmas 1932. Let me restate that again, in italics, so it really sinks in: For four years, the Walt Disney company owned the most popular cartoon character in the world but had no idea how to merchandise it. Tempora mutantur.

The other appeal of the Clubs was probably that they were not rigidly organized like the scouts – it was more like the lodges and social clubs that most parents belonged to. The children elected their own officers, among them a Chief Mickey and Minnie Mouse, a Master of Ceremonies, a Yell Leader and others. (The 1932 Santa Rosa lineup is found below in a footnote, which will probably give some genealogist a case of the vapors.)* Although there were adults involved it was more like boys and girls were putting on the show themselves and not unlike what we saw in the “Our Gang” shorts, with adorable tap dancing girls and Alfafa’s unfortunate warbling.

Both the Press Democrat and Argus-Courier would occasionally describe programs. In Santa Rosa, Esther Walker’s downtown “School of the Dance” usually had students as young as five performing and George Trombley (founder of the Santa Rosa Symphony) would bring up one of his music pupils for a solo. Trombley also formed the Mickey Mouse Orchestra with apparently any child who could read music, and the ensemble varied between 25-40 members. In Petaluma the grownups involved were “Kathleen Budd’s Kiddies” (she was a high school student who taught dance) and Percy Stebbing at the pipe organ.

The contests were traditional birthday party fare except the audience got to cheer for the contestants. There were races with silly handicaps such as rolling a metal pie plate across the stage. There were competitions for the best harmonica player and the best Hallowe’en costume. There were games to see who could accurately drop the most beans in a milk bottle (“from the looks of the stage, not very many hit the bottle”), eat a bowl of ice cream the fastest, whistle with a dry mouth (“everybody gets a big laugh out of seeing the boys and girls spray cracker crumbs when they try to whistle”) or chew the biggest jawbreaker (maybe that’s where Dr. Henry Heimlich, who was young enough to be a Mouser at the time, got his inspiration).

Roller skates were the most common prizes given out each week, probably also courtesy Rosenberg’s. There were also drawings for more valued items such as electric train sets and bicycles.

Tommy Ware with the bicycle won in a Mickey Mouse Club drawing. Photo at his home in Santa Rosa, July 13, 1933 and courtesy Sonoma County Library

 

The peak for both Santa Rosa and Petaluma clubs came at their one-year mark during the winter of 1932/1933. In Santa Rosa there was a special matinee at Thanksgiving and Christmas (“be sure to remind Mother that the place to leave you is at the New California theater while she does her last minute Christmas shopping”) followed by “Mickey’s Revue” at 9PM – a variety show put on by the kids with the Mickey Mouse Orchestra.

Petaluma saw 900 kids at their first anniversary, but they had really turned out a few months earlier for the special Friday morning show before Christmas in 1932. Members of the orchestra from Santa Rosa were guest performers and 1,200 children descended on the theater, some squeezed in two to a seat. The Argus-Courier reported there were policemen and firemen on duty; “a few kiddies in the gallery started throwing hats to the orchestra floor and there were several other actions that the police had to curb” and there was a precautionary firehose attached to the nearest hydrant with a fire engine standing by.

The Petaluma club sputtered out by late 1933, as did many of the clubs around the country. Disney would no longer license new clubs and stopped underwriting membership materials. The company did not foresee there would be blowback from non-club theaters in the same community. Later a Disney representative explained to a theater owner “…We ran into all kinds of difficulties and controversies over the Clubs and finally decided to do away with any connection with them. A great many theaters are still running such clubs, but they are doing so entirely on their own, and without help or references from us.”

What happened in Santa Rosa is less clear. The California Theater had long interchangeably advertised the Mickey Mouse Club and a Mickey Mouse Matinee for Saturday afternoons, and in the middle of 1933 the club was no longer mentioned specifically. The Mickey Mouse Matinee continued into 1935 when it became the Popeye Matinee, that being the year when the muttering sailor eclipsed the squeaky rodent in popularity.

It’s unknown whether the onstage activities and audience participation continued here after 1933, although they probably did – because the Mickey Mouse Club was resurrected by name in 1937, both at the California Theater and as a radio show on KSRO.

This is not the place to extol the glories of KSRO in that era, except to say it was truly community radio. Everything heard at 1310 on your dial was locally produced live – from the “Man on the Street” interviews to “Italian News with Joe Comelli” to “KSROlling Along” to the “Redwood Empire Quizzing ‘B.'” The bulk of the airtime was music on records, but there were hours of talk and interview shows every day. Anyone who had something to say or could play an instrument could find a few moments of AM radio fame. If there were kids performing at a downtown theater it was only natural they’d be invited to KSRO.

The 30-minute show aired Fridays at 4:00 and was sometimes sponsored by the Sonomaco Ice Cream Company. There were often contests (where the prize was an ice cream brick) and George Trombley sometimes conducted a juvenile orchestra. Performers were rarely mentioned, although “Three Fiddling Bobs” and Healdsburg ventriloquist Charley Perry with “Dummy Dan” seemed to be popular regulars.

The Press Democrat promoted KSRO with a daily column so it’s a bit surprising that more wasn’t written about the program. What did appear were stories about the kids pissing off station management:

Perhaps I shouldn’t mention it, but yesterday about a quarter to three the Big Boss of KSRO, himself [presumably Ernest Finley] stepped into the studio and saw the gang of youngsters assembled. I guess it was the first time he had ever seen the Mickey Mouse Club performance… anyhow, the sight of children draped all over the furniture for lack of chairs may be the means of another load of chairs being added to the studio.

A month later, the station manager found “about 100 kiddies making rough-house around the place” and threatened to not broadcast the show unless the children arrived only a half-hour before the show and sat quietly until air time. (“Boy! Was he burned up!”) Apparently the gang headed for the station as soon as school was over at noon, and hung out in the studio for the four hours before the show to ensure they’d be on it.

The California dropped the children’s matinee in 1938, and KSRO announced it was reorganizing the club itself, with a membership application form printed in the PD. The Mickey Mouse Club was cut to a 15 minute program in 1939 and then cancelled two weeks later. There were 1946 plans to revive the club at the California Theater but nothing came of it.

Today the 1930s Mickey Mouse Club is lost history – even the Disney Corporation, which venerates its mousy past, says little to nothing about the club. But it was celebrated by an enormous number of children in the early ’30s, and I’ll bet there still would be more than a few smiles of recognition at any large senior center or retirement home upon hearing the unforgettable chorus of Minnie’s Yoo Hoo.

 


* 1932 Mickey Mouse Club officers for Santa Rosa: Chief Mickey Mouse (Bob Quarry), Chief Minnie Mouse (Nancy Hesse), Master of Ceremonies (Charles O’Bear), Sergeants-at-Arms (Evelyn Henshaw and Bonnie Jean Harbald), Yell Leader (Bobby Vulkerts), Color Bearer (Wallace Constable) and Courier (Bruce Karn).

 

Undated photograph and location unknown

 

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SANTA ROSA, WHERE THE REVOLUTION (ALMOST) BEGAN

History is mainly a series of unfortunate events, as the great philosopher Lemony Snicket tells us, and this week Santa Rosa has endured more than its share of history. Sometimes, though, there are events like this one, which begins with a truckload of awfulness but everything turns out okay in the end – and that’s the sort of history story we might all welcome right now, lordy knows.

Once upon a time it was March, 1933.

The whole world was in a handbasket and going fast; Japan pulled out of the League of Nations, ultimately dooming the last hope of maintaining world peace. In Germany, each day found the Nazis grabbing more control, with U.S. newspapers printing photos of “Hitlerites” pasting boycott signs over the windows of Jewish-owned stores. As Franklin Roosevelt had just taken office none of the New Deal reforms were yet in place. It was the darkest time of the Great Depression and since Prohibition was still a thing, no one could even drown their misery in a damn beer.

In Graton a hundred farmers attended a meeting of the newly-formed Farmers’ Protective League. The objective was to convince these apple, prune, cherry and berry growers they should organize and protest, but leave their pitchforks and guns at home.

All/most of them had mortgages which were underwater, and their common enemies were the banks. Land values had plummeted and farmers weren’t getting much for their crops. Bankers were unsympathetic and foreclosed on farms which had been in families for years or decades or generations, selling the properties at auctions for rock-bottom prices or stashing them away for the institution’s real estate portfolio. (Remember that the family in Grapes of Wrath weathered the dust storms but couldn’t survive their bank eviction.) Nationally, around one in ten farms had been seized since the start of the Depression and meetings like the one in Graton were being held all over the country.

“When they attempt to foreclose we’ll say ‘no!’ but not by rope or shotgun,” said Rev. Charles Phillips, the priest at St. Sebastian’s church in Sebastopol and the organizer of the League meeting that day at the Community Hall in Graton. “Our strength will be in numbers. It is a question of understanding and brotherly love, not of cold blooded murder.”

The pastor was not being melodramatic; there was more than a whiff of violence in the air over this issue, and maybe even rebellion. Wilfred Howard, who was elected president of the League, said farmers would do something “even if it meant revolution.”

“Iowa” was then a rallying cry much like “Lexington and Concord” had been in 1776. In that state a “farmer’s mortgage holiday” movement began which quickly spread to at least ten states. The largest group there warned “open revolt” was possible and the same day of the meeting in Graton, 2,500 Iowa farmers marched on the state capitol building threatening they would “forcibly adjourn” the legislature unless something was done. “You can’t make peasants out of us!” warned the president of the Iowa Farmer’s Union.

Those activist farmers were remarkably successful in shutting down foreclosure sales. When an auction was scheduled, the farmer’s neighbors would attend en masse and crowd out other bidders, buying livestock and farm equipment for a few pennies in order to give it back to the foreclosed farmer. Outsiders were also scared away by nooses hanging on barn doors and farm gates to show the locals “meant business.” And in the most widely reported incident, on January 4, 1933 in Le Mars, Iowa, the “Council for Defense” beat up the sheriff, forced the judge to issue a statement calling for a mortgage holiday, and dragged the representative of the mortgage company down the courthouse stone steps while threatening to lynch him.

The focus of the Graton meeting was the pending foreclosure of James Case, who had a fifty acre farm on Mirabel Road outside of Forestville where he grew cherries and apples. A 70 year-old retired Methodist minister, Case had lived there for over two decades; his farm was called a “showplace” and he was respected for Burbanking a cross between Gravensteins and the sweeter Jonathans.

(RIGHT: James L. Case in a detail from a 1920 family photo)

Case had a $14,000 mortgage with the Analy Savings Bank in Sebastopol. In the autumn of 1932 he turned over to the bank his entire earnings from his crop of 7,000 boxes of apples, but still couldn’t meet the full interest-only payments on the mortgage, much less pay for insurance and taxes. For reasons which seems legally fishy (at least today), the bank placed the farm in a sort of pre-foreclosure receivership, paying a man named Frank Close to become the farm manager. More about Mr. Close later.

The Press Democrat interviewed bank president Arthur Swain, and the article should have included a trigger warning: Mr. Swain came across as a more horrible person than even villainous banker Henry Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

In Swain’s view, Case had no one to blame but himself because he was too stupid to not foresee that someday an unprecedented economic catastrophe might decimate crop prices. Rather than irresponsibly investing in the future of his farm, Case should have given every spare dime to the bank: “…instead of reducing the loan when good years came along Case has seen fit to use his money elsewhere,” and even increased the loan by another $1,000.

“Case refused to do his part when the opportunity was given him,” said Swain. “So it is in the hands of the law…unless the borrower is willing to do everything in his power and to act honestly and fairly, we are driven much against our will to resort to our legal rights.”

So what was Case doing that was dishonest and unfair? Swain offered him a second mortgage which would be secured by his farm machinery, but Case didn’t accept the deal. When Swain learned Case was giving some of the equipment he owned to his son, the bank moved swiftly to foreclose.

Then to demonstrate he was utterly tone deaf to the outside world, Swain concluded his interview by boasting about how well his bank was doing.

Swain’s loathsome interview appeared just before the big July 9 gathering at the “doomed Case ranch,” as the Farmers’ Protective League was now calling it. Around a thousand were expected to attend the all-day picnic and rally, with signs advertising it on all roads leading to Forestville. This was now national news with at least one reporter from as far away as Kansas.

American flags hung from the Case farmhouse porch as the crowd gathered. A telegram from the governor was read in support.

The main speaker waved the edition of the Press Democrat with the Swain interview at the crowd. “His story makes a case for us instead of himself! Swain says the bank will be fortunate to sell the ranch now for $14,000, the amount of the mortgage!”

J. Stitt Wilson, the former Socialist mayor of Berkeley, urged the audience to rise up. “The sale must be stopped! They did it in Iowa and you can do it here!”

“Yes! Yes!” roared the crowd, according to the Press Democrat.

Wilson declared this was not going to be a radical action, but true “Americanism,” not unlike the Revolutionary War. “Human rights and human laws transcend any law, and if necessary, we will break every law to reach our needs. But there is no law that can prevent hundreds of thousands of farmers from the San Francisco bay north into Mendocino county mobilizing and giving notice that no foreclosure will be permitted.”

What would happen in the next few days would be a turning point in American history, Wilson proclaimed. “Your children may return here to place markers under these very oaks to commemorate you courage.”

The rally was on a Sunday, and a full week stretched ahead before the foreclosure auction. Every day, tensions rose.

League president Wilfred Howard sent a telegram to the governor asking him to intervene, as anything might happen. “Our League can no longer be responsible for what will result. The aroused public sentiment is something that can no longer be held in check.”

Banker Swain – who apparently found a great sale on shovels and decided to dig himself a deeper hole – agreed that the Case foreclosure was now a Big Deal, but any compromise by the bank would destroy the nation: “The whole capitalistic system is involved in this controversy…this agitation is beginning to destroy business confidence…should these agitators be successful in taking the law in their hands, the results would be disastrous. Are we to allow a few radical socialists to run our banks?”

Also: FDR asks Henry Morgenthau, head of the new Farm Credit Administration to look into the situation. Howard sends Morgenthau a telegram pleading for the government to intervene. Morgenthau calls Swain. And just three days before his farm was to be sold at auction, James Case hires an attorney.

As the clock ticks down, Case’s new lawyer requests to postpone the auction for a week until he could appeal to the Superior Court. But there is a hitch – no Superior Court judge was available to approve or deny. Donald Geary was on vacation and Hilliard Comstock was presiding at the Superior Court in Ukiah.

It is Friday July 14, 1933, and there are THREE THOUSAND people jammed shoulder to shoulder in front of the courthouse in downtown Santa Rosa. The Press Democrat describes there is “grim determination and anxiousness” in the crowd, “somber, serious, not a smile on a single face.”

From the top of the courthouse steps a lineup of speakers holds the rapt attention of the crowd. Ex-mayor Wilson declares the moment of crisis has arrived: “This is a historic meeting with national significance…we have fired the shot that will be heard around the world,” he vows. “We must lift this crushing and horrible nightmare of law pressing down people…we aren’t destroyers, but preservers, preservers of the liberty that flag represents” he declares as he dramatically points to the American flag above his head.

J. Stitt Wilson addresses the crowd from the Santa Rosa courthouse steps. Detail from Press Democrat photograph, July 15, 1933

 

As Wilson finishes, there is a “moment of intense silence” as everyone waits for the auction to begin. Then, according to the PD:


…A man pushed his way through the crowd and forced his way to Wilson’s side, whispering in his ear. There was a hurried conversation and Wilson turned and faced the great crowd before him and cried: “I have an announcement to make. Judge Comstock has signed a restraining order. The sale has been postponed. There will be no foreclosure sale on the Case property today!” Someone called for three cheers, then Wilson shouted, “Let’s do it again: Three cheers for Judge Comstock!”

With the tension broken, everyone joins in singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, because naturally.

Afterwards Judge Comstock explained to reporters that his ruling was based only on the merits of the case, and it could have been resolved earlier if James Case had not waited until the last moment to retain consul. It turned out that the bank had accepted a $771 payment from the farm’s cherry crop after “notice of breach” was served, so there was no accounting as to what Case really owed.

Comstock insisted he wasn’t intimidated: “I want it understood that I deplore such a demonstration as this — a demonstration that makes Sonoma county farmers, who will soon be rich men again, the objects of pity or contempt in the eyes of the nation. Our hops and grapes alone will save us. But there are my own people. I know them and I know they would not have used violence.”

But this is not yet the happy ending, and there were new depths to which Mr. Swain and his bank would sink.

The day after the foreclosure was halted, the Press Democrat published a document that Swain was prepared to give James Case once the bank had the deed to his farm. He would have a three-month option to repurchase his property for about $14,000 (after a few adjustments) – although if he had a spare $14 thousand laying around he would not have been in such a pickle in the first place.

But even if he did manage to scratch up all that money somehow (reminder: no money to borrow during the darkest time of the Depression) there was a catch-22 to the agreement – he would have to turn over “the full possession of the ranch and the right to the bank’s representative to gather and market the crops.” In other words, his place would be in permanent receivership with him paying someone (of the bank’s choosing) to manage his orchards.

If that smells a little fishy, a great deal more stink was discovered at the Superior Court hearing a week later. Banker Swain was also president of Sebastopol National Securities company, which actually held the Case mortgage. Frank Close – the guy who the bank had earlier hired – sold the entire cherry crop from the Case farm to the Securities company (the price was never disclosed). That company in turn sold the crop for $771, which it placed in the bank as a partial interest payment.

Much of the court doings were tangled up with the confusion of Swain having two hats but one head. Although investor Swain insisted in court that Close was an agent for the Securities company, at the time banker Swain made it clear that he answered to the bank. The $771 was first deposited in Close’s bank account, then one of the Swain personalities apparently thought that might look bad and transferred it to the Case mortgage account.

It also came out in court that Swain had a side deal with Close to sell him the entire farm for $15,000 after foreclosure.

After a full day of testimony, Judge Comstock ruled: The temporary injunction against the foreclosure was made permanent. You can’t say someone is in breach of contract and then accept money from them as if it were business as usual.

Comstock also remarked that he thought Swain was duplicitous – that the repurchase offer he made to Case wasn’t done in good faith, and he intended to sell the farm to Close all along.

Case and his supporters were jubilant, both for him personally and what it would mean for other farmers now that a Superior Court judge had set such a precedent. “This day has shown that the faith of the farmer in the courts of California is justified,” a grower in similar trouble told the Argus-Courier.

The Petaluma newspaper also burbled over what had happened: “…Superior Judge Hilliard Comstock, young, progressive, alert and courageous, has ruled against one of the most powerful financial institutions in Sonoma county…he administers the law as he interprets it, regardless of the power of those disappointed by his rulings.”

Despite losing the decision and being personally slapped down by a judge, Swain continued to explore new ways to act like a cartoon villain, swearing he would get his hands on the Case ranch yet. “Appeal? Of course we’ll appeal! And we will be backed by financial, real estate, and business interests of the state in doing so.” The next month the Analy Savings Bank did appeal the decision and filed another breach notice against Case, but before they came to court FDR’s New Deal programs (such as the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act and Farm Credit Act) had programs in place to help poor farmers.

James LaDue Case continued to live on his farm until 1947, when he retired and moved to Sebastopol. He died there in 1951 at the age of 88, outliving his old nemesis Arthur Swain by a dozen years.

The en…oh, wait, there’s more.

If you’ve lived in Sonoma country for a few many moons, you’ve probably heard about the Case foreclosure before, but told with a different slant. In that version, the hero of the day was Press Democrat editor and publisher Ernest Finley.

This alternative history seems to have originated in an August 3, 1975 feature in the PD about his family. “Ernest L. Finley–A Man of Vision,” written by Sheri Graves Gayhart, spreads it on thick. “Sonoma County farmers had little hope of saving their lands without the personal interest and support of a man as strong and influential as Ernest L. Finley.”

“Fighting for what he believed was right, he turned a grim situation into what was perhaps his finest hour,” the writer exclaims, going on that Finley was working “…behind the scenes, quietly, with no fanfare and no publicity” to negotiate an ethical solution. In this telling, Judge Comstock was little more than a bureaucrat who “ultimately decided the issue on the basis of a legal loophole.”

Versions of the story which have subsequently appeared in the Press Democrat have dialed it back somewhat but still followed her lead, downplaying Comstock and putting the spotlight on Finley.

Trouble is, author Gayhart didn’t mention where she found her facts and the newspapers of the day do not support her interpretation.

As far as I can tell, Finley apparently mentioned the James Case situation directly only once in an editorial, while the PD ran a handful of generic editorials and cartoons on the hot topic of farm foreclosures during those months.

Finley’s only direct involvement implied in the 1933 PD was a July 15 front page photo of Finley with Swain’s hand on his shoulder as they pose looking over the bank’s refinancing offer – the deal Comstock called dishonest. The photo caption states approvingly that Swain’s proposition was “considered most liberal.”

Unless new information surfaces about Ernest Finley’s actual involvement, I’m calling this out as a kind of “stolen valor.” Hilliard Comstock faced the sort of decision that few of us will ever have to confront. Swain indeed represented powerful business interests which did not want this sort of precedent to stand, and given time, probably would have destroyed Hilliard’s reputation to further that goal. The mob of 3,000 outside the courthouse were a more immediate threat and their actions could have gone in any of a number of directions – a riot, an attack on the courthouse, even sparking a national populist uprising which could have squelched the New Deal reforms before they took root.

The story of James Case’s farm is probably the most significant event in our history from those days, but it’s not important for anything he did, or any telephone calls Ernest Finley may or may not have made. It should be remembered for what Hilliard Comstock had the courage to do, standing up alone for the principle of the law, come what may.

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