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The Lasting Gifts of the Civilian Conservation Corps

In 1933, America was in the depths of the Great Depression. Unemployment stood at around 25%. As soon as he took office, President Franklin Roosevelt pushed for an employment program called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). He ran a similar program as governor of New York, and hoped a national program would get young men out of the city slums, give them something productive to do, and improve conservation and access to the country's natural resources all at the same time. Six weeks later, the first CCC camp was set up. The U.S. Army was mobilized to transport the workers and supervise the camps. Unskilled and unemployed men between the ages of 17 and 23, whose families were on government relief, flocked to sign up. The pay was $30 a month, $25 of which was sent to the worker's parents. The $5 that was left seemed quite enough, as food, shelter, clothing, and medical care were provided by the government. Later, a category for unemployed veterans was added, which opened the way for older men with families to participate.

Before the program ended in 1942, over 2.5 million men worked under the CCC. The program was a hit with the public from the beginning. Participants became healthier with regular meals. They also gained confidence, work skills, and travel experience. The money sent back home boosted the economy. The mayor of Chicago credited the program with a drop in the crime rate. As success was seen, the program was expanded and modified. But it was expensive, and support for the CCC waned as the economy improved. The need for manpower in World War II ended the need for the large unemployment program, but it may have died on its own anyway. The program succeeded spectacularly in its short term goals. In the long term... well, that's what this post is really about.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was largely built by the CCC. Workers from 23 camps built hundreds of miles of roads through difficult territory, plus bridges, buildings, fire towers, and campgrounds. They also planted trees and renovated historic architecture in the area. One of the CCC projects you can still visit in the park is the Rockefeller Memorial pictured here. Photograph by Wikipedia user Billy Hathorn.

Seventy+ years later, the stonework at Gooseberry Falls State Park in Minnesota still holds tight. The stone features referred to as "the wall" or "the castle" were built by the young men of the CCC. They were recruited as "unskilled" workers, but after this project, they had beaucoup stonemason skills.

Grand Canyon National Park saw a lot of improvements in the 1930s. CCC workers built the Community Building, constructed stone walls and roads, and cut and improved hiking trails.

Big Ridge State Park Lake

When the Tennessee Valley Authority (another New Deal infrastructure project) built Norris Dam in East Tennessee, the CCC followed and built three state parks to take advantage of the new Norris Lake. These were Cove Lake State Park, Norris Dam State Park, and Big Ridge State Park, pictured here. Photograph by Flickr user Mike_tn.

Fort Parker State Park in Limestone County, Texas, was created in 1935. The CCC built the park's facilities and constructed the dam that made Fort Parker Lake. They also rebuilt the nearby fort that the park is named for, in time to celebrate its centennial in 1936. You can still visit the reconstructed fort today.

Diablo Lookout Tower

The State of California had already designated thousands of acres as public lands for parks, but lacked the money to develop those areas for the public to actually use before the CCC sent thousands of workers in the 1930s. They built many structures that are still being used, such as the Mount Diablo State Park Lookout Tower shown here. Photograph by Flickr user Airplane Journal.

Reforestation is one of the lasting legacies of the CCC. Overfarming and industry had destroyed or damaged many forests in the early part of the 20th century. This led to erosion problems, flooding, and loss of topsoil. The CCC planted 3 billion trees across the country, including those in 101,154 acres of the Manistee National Forest in Michigan.

Manistee

The Manistee National Forest is just one of many that owe their present state to the CCC. Photograph by Flickr user lahvak.

Dr. Norman Borlaug

One of the many of the distinguished alumni of the CCC is 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. Another Depression-era program, National Youth Administration, enabled Borlaug to attend college, where he studied forestry. He helped finance his education by working for the CCC beginning in 1935. That job, working with young men who would otherwise be starving, affected his ambitions, and set him on the road to developing crops that would alleviate food shortages throughout the world. In his later life, he was credited with saving "over a billion lives." Photograph by Flickr user khalampre.

This is far from an exhaustive list of the projects the CCC completed that we still enjoy today. Your local state park is probably another that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps almost 80 years ago.

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Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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holidays
8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. KRAMPUS

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. JÓLAKÖTTURINN

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

3. FRAU PERCHTA


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

4. BELSNICKEL

A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. HANS TRAPP

Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. PÈRE FOUETTARD

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

7. THE YULE LADS

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 

8. GRÝLA

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
Keystone/Getty Images

It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


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Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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