The City So Nice, They Named It Twice

McKenzie Covrig, guest writer


I glanced out the sixth story window and was greeted by the Empire State Building rising up in the distance among the apartments.  Little figures danced on the tower in the mid-afternoon sun, swinging beams and placing cables amongst an unheard clamor.  Fading sunlight shone through the glass onto the school books etched with my name, Marie Anna Adler.

The chattering of my best friend, Ruth Kleeman, brought me back to our present conversation of new cartoons and radio shows.  She had just turned fifteen, now the same age as me, and we had been to the cinema to celebrate. Currently, we were supposed to be reviewing our multiplication tables and grammar, but after seeing the first cartoon with sound there was much to talk about.

“That was revolutionary!  Ruth gasped about the cartoon, “Gee! What if all movies had sound?”

I replied agreeably, “It would be amazing!”

“Well I heard,” Ruth began, “that producers are realizing talkies are the new thing.”

“Really!?” I exclaimed, “Do you think Charlie Chaplain will make a talkie too?”

Our conversation continued ranging from Micky to Hoover and eventually ended on the known status of my older sister Lucille, more widely known as Lille.  She recently turned nineteen, but had considered herself an adult long before that.  To her, boyfriends were considered “moldy” and she preferred “acquaintances” instead.  Lille wanted to move out into her own apartment, but she tended to spend all of her money on parties. Currently, she was keeping up with the flapper style and unbeknownst to mother, even developing a taste for bootlegging.  I thought she was crazy and insane. Ruth adored her.


About an hour after Ruth went home, Father exploded from the front doorway ecstatically shouting, “Our shares have risen even higher than yesterday!”

Mother appeared out of the kitchen excited by the news, and now thinking of how to use the new wealth.  I was excited about going to more “theaters that had grown nearly as glamourous as the movies themselves” (Kallen).

Father was a climbing banker from Oklahoma when he received a job offer from a firm in New York. We moved when I was three into a small apartment in Brooklyn. On the side, Father took up speculating and earned enough to buy us a town home off of our current street.  To him “business is the finest art, education, philosophy and even religion” (Kallen). He continued to speculate and used that money to replace our old appliances, buy us the latest fashion, and hire a cleaning maid.  Needless to say, I was living the high life.


On August 27, when the Kellogg Briand Pact was signed, Father received a letter from Uncle Eddy.  His family was facing a starkly contrast future than mine.  Their farm in Oklahoma was facing financial hardships with cheap produce prices and an overabundance of crops. They weren’t able to break even.  The more they planted, the more the dirt lost its fertility, and soon they began to lose their crops along with the top soil.  It got so bad, Father had to wire out money to keep the family farm afloat.  Even so, with the steady rise of stocks, the extra cash we sent wasn’t much of a hindrance.


On that same day, Lille picked me up in her borrowed Mercedes-Benz SSK from a new “acquaintance”.  Its silver chrome and liquid cream siding gleamed as I slid into the passenger side.  Lille drove the Mercedes-Benz smoothly onto the busy street and chattered about a quick stop by a friend’s place.  I sighed and agreed to stay in the car while she visited.

We left the delightful part of town and soon came to the more unpleasant side.  I had never visited this area and Lille only came when I wasn’t with her, which was usually at night.  She parked the Mercedes outside a crummy store with the peeling letters of Finny’s Fine Dinning.  Something told me it was a speakeasy.  Lille swung the door open and strutted inside, her bob bouncing, while I slumped down in the seat.

Across the street was a steel factory belching thick, black smoke into the sky dusting the area in a gray snow.  As the shift bell rang scores of workers flooded out of the black stained doors.  Some coughing, others trying to wipe the soot off their faces with dirtier shirts.  I felt sorry for them, but Fathers words brought some ease to my mind, “If they just bought stocks they wouldn’t need to work there.” Even so, the sight of these workers, mixed with some women and children ate at my mind, Isn’t this a time of prosperity for everyone?


As fall passed, and the days began to fade, so did the gleaming city of New York.  My prosperity question kept interrupting my thoughts as I passed building workers previously ignored, hungry street children now running in my sight, and factory workers noticeably shuffling after their long shift.  I had always felt for stray and hurting animals, but why not these people?

The day I finally understood was when I realized the true situation.  Lille usually arrived home late, but this time was different. She never came.  Father and Mother had both just voted for Herbert Hoover and were listening eagerly to the radio for any new tidbits.  I was lying beside the fireplace pursuing the latest women’s journal.  Bedtime arrived and still Lille wasn’t home. I wasn’t worried.  She sometimes came when we were all asleep, mainly to antagonize mom.

In the morning, we received a knock on our front door.  A smartly dressed policeman filled the doorway with his cap in hand.  At first he asked if we were the family of Lille, and father hesitantly nodded.  Father thought Lille had gotten into trouble.  Mother began to fear for something worse.  The officer fumbled with his cap and began to speak.  He told how they had found her lying beside a park bench, dead from alcohol poisoning, presumably abandoned by her speakeasy “friends”.  No one knew who she was, but a passerby recognized her from his daily walks.  The officer had been knocking on doors for most of that morning trying to find her family.

I was shocked, rooted to the ground. Never had I thought this would happen to Lille.  Father was speechless, mother gasped and then started to sob.  The officer mumbled a few more words meant to be comforting, but I was too shocked to hear.  Our rebellious Lille was gone and none of her friends had been true.


As I sat on the edge of my bed and stared out the window, a conclusion began to form in my mind.  The roaring Twenties, the time of prosperity, all of it was nothing but a sham.  People believing all was well when it wasn’t, ignoring the ones left out, partying till they dropped.  New York boasted the best life, but really it just sugar-coated lives full of selfish grabbing and light friendships.  Sadly, it took Lille’s death for me to realize our nation’s prosperity was limited.

Works Cited

Kallen, Stuart A. The Roaring Twenties. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002. Print


“1920s.” Web. 28 Feb 2016.

“Historical Events in 1928.” Web. 28 Feb 2016.

“History of New York City (1898-1945).” Web. 28 Feb 2016.

“Mackinac County MIGen Web Project.” Web. 28 Feb 2016.

“News and Events from 1928.” Web. 28 Feb 2016.

Weatherford, Doris. A History of the American Suffragist Movement. New York: MTM, 1998.               Print.