The year was 1934 and in Europe the seeds of World War II were being sown. On 30 June, the “Night of 1,000 Knives,” Hitler and his SS forces assassinated hundreds of members of the SA (Germanyâ€™s storm troopers), many of whom had helped Hitler in his rise to power. In August, Hitler declared himself “der Fuehrer”–the leader–of Germany.
In the years preceding 1934, the U.S. was experiencing increasing numbers of dust storms. For years now, the prairies of the Great Plains had been over-farmed and over-grazed. In the midst of drought, the winds picked up the loose topsoil devastating the farming region.
After a particularly strong May 1934 dust storm, the San Antonio Express (San Antonio, Texas) reported the following:
“Engineers who counted the particles in the Middle Western air yesterday estimated that a total of 300,000,000 tons of dust, previously Minnesota, Dakota, and Illinois top soil in which wheat and oats had been planted, had been lifted by the stiff winds and taken fog-like across the country.”
According to that same newspaper, the storm traveled all the way to the East Coast, “almost obscuring the sun with its eerie haze.â€ The cloud was estimated to be 1,500 miles long and 900 miles wide and stretched from Boston to Washington.
The newspapers that year also carried the stories of several notorious underground figures who met their deaths. After being imprisoned in Crown Point, Indiana, “Public Enemy Number One,” John Dillinger, was gunned down in front of the Biograph Theater in Chicago by FBI agents. In November, one of his partners in crime, Lester M. Gillis (a.k.a., “Baby Face Nelson”), died from injuries he received in a shoot-out with FBI agents near Barrington, Illinois.Â
Gangster Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd also fell victim to FBI bullets in a field near Clarkson, Ohio.Â
Further south, a murderous pair of thieves, Clyde Champion Barrow and Bonnie Parker, were shot by Texas and Louisiana police officers after a widespread manhunt.
Moviegoers were entertained that year by Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, which won all five top Academy Awards in 1935. Donald Duck made his first appearance on the big screen in 1934, in the short cartoon, The Wise Little Hen.
(Image from the Library of Congress Photo Collection at Ancestry.com.)