Wednesday, January 30, 2013
In Hoboken, New Jersey in 1938, as in other cities in our country, thousands of people were unemployed and literally starving. The position of Poormaster was created and poormasters were given a budget and charged with doling out the necessary aid to assist people in their towns.
Unfortunately, Harry Barck, the poormaster for the City of Hoboken, New Jersey was one of the worst examples of someone entrusted with this power. He was a cold hearted, stingy and mean man who went out of his way to further humiliate those he was appointed to serve; proud when he denied aid to the neediest of families, while filling the pockets of town officials and family members with the aid money.
Joseph Scutellaro was just one of the many unemployed, struggling to even feed his family. On February 25, 1938, Mr. Scutellaro followed the rules of the time and applied to Mr. Barck for aid, for money and for coupons for stale bread to keep his family alive. Instead of doling out the very barest of assistance as he was charged to do, Mr. Barck suggested that Mr. Scutellaro's wife prostitute herself to feed the family, rather then asking for aid from the city. Driven by frustration, anger and fear for his family, Joseph Scutellaro wrestled with Harry Barck in the poormaster's office, and either by accident or on purpose, Mr. Barck died from having a paper spindle pierce his heart. Despite his claims of innocence, Joseph Scutellaro was arrested for the murder of Harry Barck.
But this true story deals with so much more than a death, even if it was murder. It's the story of desperate people and horrible events during the Great Depression. With no one looking over their shoulders, poormasters had free rein in deciding how to spend the aid money. Some did what they were supposed to do and helped the very poorest of their townspeople; and then there were the Harry Barcks, not even doing the barest minimum to keep people alive.
Mr. Barck's death and Mr. Scutellaro's trial turned the national spotlight on the City of Hoboken and the plight of everyone in the country suffering just trying to exist. Joseph Scutellaro was saved from the electric chair when his attorneys, led by prominent New York Attorney Samuel Leibowitz, argued that the struggle between Mr. Scutellaro and the poormaster was a symbol of the larger social ills of the time.
We've all heard stories from relatives who lived through the depression, but Ms. Metz has delved deeper and unearthed a heartbreaking story of despair and greed during that tragic era. The position of poormaster disappeared in the 1940s, replaced with social assistance programs that still exist today.
KILLING THE POORMASTER is a hard book to read and even harder to put down. Well written, it depicts the gut wrenching desperation and corruption that occurred in Hoboken, and it should be on everyone's "must read" list.
Pub. Date: October 1, 2012
Harcover and eBook
Monday, January 28, 2013
I've been MIA on Monarch Book Reviews for quite a while and I apologize to my faithful followers.
Toward the end of the summer our home was broken into. The thieves took too many things to list, but most importantly, they robbed me of my sense of safety and comfort in my home. I spent many sleepless nights worrying over the "what ifs". Luckily I was away when it happened, but since the burglary occurred during the daytime, what if I had been home when they broke in? What if they came back? It took almost two months to deal with just the missing checkbooks, credit cards and other personal items, as well as the insurance company, not to mention the many many upgrades to our home alarm system.
We added motion lights outside and it took a while to get them to work properly, spending more than a few nights with so many lights on all night long, you could probably see us glowing on the moon!
Not long after returning to New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy hit our state with a vengeance. Unlike so many people, we were fine; just without power for ten days. As collections of donated items for the hardest hit at the Jersey shore began, I met a neighbor on my street who was accepting donated clothing. As chance would have it, her home had been broken into just that week as well as another on our same street. You can imagine how all the worry and what-ifs returned.
But through it all, I spent my time with books; lots of books! Books by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Sue Grafton, Camilla Lackberg, David Baldacci, Kathleen Grissom, John Grisham, Dana Haynes, Cara Black, Michael Connelly and many others. I made quick work of everything written by Robert Crais (love Elvis Cole!) and Ake Edwardson. Most were enjoyable, some were wonderful and some just okay. But I'm sorry I wasn't able to focus on my blog and send my regular book reviews out into the Ethernet for others to enjoy.
Needless to say, I'm glad that 2012 is over and that we're just at the beginning of a bright new year.
Hope you'll come back and join me for new adventures and book reviews in 2013!