Discussion Thread #5

Hooverville at West Houston and Mercer Streets; Berenice Abbott, October 1935

Hello everyone, what you are looking at here is called a Hooverville. There were thousands of such squatter camps and shanty towns across the United States throughout the 1930s, including incredibly a massive one in Central Park. They were called Hoovervilles because Herbert Hoover was President of the United States at the onset of the Depression. The one in the image above was at West Houston and Mercer Streets. The image was taken by photographer Berenice Abbott on October 25, 1935, eighty five years ago this month. Ms. Abbott took this–and and many other Depression Era photographs–as part of her work with the WPA Federal Art Project. Express your thoughts in 100-300 brilliant words.

(image/NYPL Digital)

20 thoughts on “Discussion Thread #5”

  1. The majority of the photographs taken by Berenice Abbott represented the reality people were living in after the Stock Market Crash in 1929. Many lost their jobs, unable to provide for their own families, and forced to create small shacks outside the brick apartments in NYC. This went on for years during the cold winters and hot summers. The deconstruction of Central Park with the multiple shack homes shows the disconnection from the poor to those who were well off. No one looked happy in any of the photographs. Roofs of the shacks are filled with household items that couldn’t be stored inside since families were squished in a small space. The photographs truly show that you should never take for granted all of the things you own because you never know when you completely lose everything.

  2. I’m looking at all these shelters pieced together from every scrap they could find and just going… wow. I don’t know whether to be amazed or sad.

    I mean, on one hand, they did an incredible job building these structures (especially with slanted roofs and windows) and you can even see attempts to make those shacks feel like home. There’s framed artwork, an embossed sign over someone’s door, a Coca-Cola [poster?] to the far left… hell, there’s a broom sitting outside. These people took pride in keeping their spaces clean & making the most out of what they had, despite literally living on dirt floors.

    On the other hand, no one should’ve ever had to live like this. Not for a week or a month, let alone 5-10 years. Those men had families. Kids, even, considering the stroller on the right. To think that any volume of people could be left to cope in alleys like this, while the rest of the city thrived in brick buildings with heat & electricity and proper stoves? It’s so messed up.

  3. It’s so sad to see the effects of the great depression. So many homeless people had nowhere to go and nothing to do because of the situation they were in. It’s crazy to think about how many people entrusted the government to provide them with actual help and to be let down in the end. Even in the aspect of sanitation must have been really harsh and there even might have been an incline of diseases since a lot of Americans did live in the outside. I don’t think it was too harsh at least because they were provided with food but I wonder if it was enough for everyone I’m pretty sure rations got cut in half or maybe even smaller in order to feed everyone. I also wonder how people took care of kids, what happened with education and how did it affect them growing up?

  4. When I look at this image, to me it shows how desperate people who lost everything during the depression were for a home like situation. There are still so many homeless people today but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen areas that were so fashioned in a way to feel like a home. Which makes me wonder about the different mindsets. I wonder if the people back then who had lost everything thought that it was going to be like that for a really long time so they made more permanent solutions and wonder if people today are hoping it is more temporary or if it has something to do with not being allowed to do something like this anymore. I wonder if now, governments wouldn’t allow something like this to happen so that it isn’t as easily apparent as to how bad the homeless rate really is, whereas back then there was no way to hide it because the depression affected so many people.

  5. First looking at this photo, I placed myself there and thought about the whether. Living in NYC, we really experience a mix of all the many climate changes. These huts look like they are built off of wood. I question how do these families make it through the rain? How are getting warm when its cold? To see this, really shows me a sense of appreciation. Sometimes in my current apartment with family, I am always having the urge to move out for “space”. Who knows how big these families were. They managed to be champs and survive the best way they could in such little space. Where were they able to find food and clothing? Who knows, but I’m sure they were thankful and mentally focused to have built this type of place they called home.

  6. Looking at these pictures made me very sad even though it happened back in the days. Great depression really affected the whole world but impacted the united states the most. The economy went down drastically. people became unemployed for years and the US unemployment rate went up by 23%, several died out of hunger, and poor ventilation. People became extremely depressed and developed psychological issues. This made me connect with what’s happening globally with the Coronavirus, it has affected the stock market and left people unemployed. People were moving out of their apartments and houses to live with others to prevent homelessness. The condition people were in was terrible like the Hoovervilles, the compound looks very unhealthy. In Ghana, we call these Hoovervilles Hat houses. I really feel for vulnerable populations like babies, pregnant women, the elderly.

  7. Seeing this image of what is today called a squatter camps or shanty towns are unfortunately quite common still to this day. Many forms are not as well developed or creative as it once was before, that being because today they would be quickly dismantled by the local police department because of the multiple complaints they might receive. Although it is not common to see, I know for one I do not see camps like this much in NY. From what is usually depicted on tv shows and movies these days, it usually describes these camps being well hidden in abandoned areas, isolated areas of parks, under bridges, etc.

    Usually, when I travel over seas to the Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo to be exact, the 747 usually flies over what looks to be a large sea of silver shanty towns populated with families. These areas tend to be extremely elaborate and endless roads of shanty like structures/homes. It has been awhile since I have been back or seen the area so I am not sure until this day if it still exists.

  8. This image is a huge implication on why the Great Depression was called the Great Depression. People had lost their homes and the ability to remain financially stable after the stock market crash of 1929. This exact moment in history was not a small event that could be picked up in minutes. Families began to go homeless and we began to see these shanty towns called Hoovervilles. Although they have lost their homes and a comfortable cozy place, families found alternatives to make an exceptionable shelter for their loved ones. I wonder what their cooking situation was like, or how they heated up their food. Did they look around for food donations every other day?

  9. I’m amazed by the pristine quality of the images and how well they’re preserved. I wonder if they were reprinted from negatives at later dates or are the original photographs which were printed during the era. Either way everything in the photographs is clearly visible which is a tough task even for a modern photographer with unlimited film and the ability to view the photo as soon as it was taken.

    Regarding the Hooverville living arrangements I applaud the people for coming together and building their own small shelters in a difficult time. It is hard to imagine people living like this today with everyone so used to our everyday comforts. But luckily, we have not had to live through anything remotely close to a great depression in (my) short lifespan.
    I love camping and go away for the weekend regularly during summers, but I can’t imagine living off the grid for years without proper access to a shower and other seemingly essential amenities. Assuming they built communal outhouses and public baths, those makeshift towns still must have smelled terrible at the time.

    The Hooverville reminds me of the California’s Skid Row, which is also an area where homeless people come together in a community, except this one is ridden with criminal and drug activities. Though I won’t be surprised if that existed in the Hooverville as well, people often turn to substances to cope with their problems. Skid Row’s origin also followed the great depression, but a quick Wikipedia skim did not reveal any other correlations between the two.

  10. Looking at the photography and the article, I believe there are many more homeless people than today at 20 century. It reminds me of my grandfather’s old-time back in China. He told me a lot about his young age life inspiring me to study and work harder. He said he wasn’t get fed enough that his family has to worry about daily food and can’t offer to go to the doctor because of no income. The only resource is planting vegetables on a little farm that shared with the whole village. Sanitation is also broken, that means if you get sick you either get lucky somebody will find the right herb or die. Going to the hospital is never a choice because you need to spend so much time and money, besides that, you might not even survive after all that. So my village used to have 5-7 children per family just by increasing survival possibility.

  11. As soon as I saw this picture I was speechless. You learn about the great depression in school but if I’m being honest I do not remember talking much about the Hoovervilles. They’re described as shanty towns that began showing up as the depression got worse. As I began to look up hoovervilles I saw fields filled with the shanties. I read that most of these were made of cardboard, wood, tin, and any other thing they can use to help them build it. Some were not even built as buildings but were actually dug up holes and had roofs laid over them. This is a topic I look forward to doing more research on.

  12. As soon as I saw this picture I was speechless. You learn about the great depression in school but if I’m being honest I do not remember talking much about the Hoovervilles. They’re described as shanty towns that began showing up as the depression got worse. As I began to look up hoovervilles I saw fields filled with the shanties. I read that most of these were made of cardboard, wood, tin, and any other thing they can use to help them build it. Some were not even built as buildings but were actually dug up holes and had roofs laid over them. This is a topic I look forward to doing more research on.

  13. American Great Depression happened when no one excepted, no one could have imagined all the money and the amazing achievements in the 1920s would suddenly end and all came crashing down day after days turning everything into debts that they struggle to be paid off. All the money they once have are all gone, more and more people becoming homeless, becoming squatters living on the street. The picture taken by Berenice Abbott, only capture a fraction of Hooverville and yet it’s a powerful image that can convey the poverty level during the Great Depression, even though they are surrounded by buildings they have to live on the streets, build their own living space with the material they gather. In broad daylight they have nothing to do just sitting there watching people going by, there is no job and or any opportunity for them to earn money which means there is no chance of getting the currency running again. It is a dead loop and a meaningless waste of time, it’s depressing to look at.

  14. Just looking at the photograph even if you didn’t know what The Great Depression was all about you can tell by just looking at the conditions that things weren’t all sunshine and rainbows. The huts look as if the people living in them build them top to bottom with their own two hands with some material they were lucky enough to gather. Looking at the conditions, it’s almost like a resemblance to the homelessness we have now. With so many people moving to New York there is little to no space for many others to live, leaving people without food or shelter. The Great Depression brought the economy down drastically as many people became unemployed for years. At a rate of 23% unemployment increased and left so many with poor ventilation and I wouldn’t be surprised if it left them mentally scared as well.

  15. Looking at the photos taken by Berenice Abbott is very disappointing. It makes me extremely sad to see the living conditions that people had to endure during the 1930s. I was also sad when I read, “We work hard to keep it clean because that is important. I never lived like this before”. These people had to make what they had worked for them and their families in such a difficult time. Seeing their living conditions kind of reminds me of the mass homeless problem within the United States. Today our homeless population collects blankets and tents to keep warm but, in the photos, the people built homes out of wood and bricks that they found.

  16. From this article, it shows the sstruggle of the people who had to live in these uncomfortable housing situations. For something as big as this to occur from a stock market crash affecting many lives, it shows how major the conomy of this era have been affected. Hooverville had contained so many residents living in small spaces from the village.

  17. The first thought that popped up in my head when I saw this photo was how crazy it is to see such destitution in such a marvelous city. The contrast between how we live now and how others lived 90 years ago is honestly scary. We live in a world where we are surrounded by luxury and comfort that we do not realize how fast everything can change. Many people who lived in Hooverville’s had jobs, homes and family before the depression, the people in this photo are no different than all of us. The photo is great reminder that we should be grateful for what we have because we could all lose it just like that. I will finish this post off with one of my most favorite quotes “Ingratitude is crime more despicable than revenge, which is only returning evil for evil, while ingratitude returns evil for good.”- William George Jordan

  18. Housing in the US has come a very long way. There are a lot of places in which conditions that were considered appropriate in the past are now viewed as unfit and unreasonable. Which is why when I look at this photo, it brings to mind just how difficult of a time it was during the Great Depression. The reason for this, especially being that a lot of personal possessions are being stored on the facade of the shelters made in this particular Hooverville. Personal items that would otherwise be better protected had they been kept inside a house, as initially intended. I can only imagine that the outside can only reflect a person’s mental well being and happiness. Where in the midst of all the chaos, there is the hopeful possibility of hidden gems being found from time to time. This photo brings some of my concerns to light concerning where the country is progressing to today. Because due to the coronavirus, especially, many people are finding themselves in situations where they are highly at risk of being on the streets as a direct result of the unemployment crisis.

  19. Hooverville is a place that defines one of America’s lowest points in history where the poverty level jumped up at once. Even though America was at a very low point the people of Hooverville made use of their living conditions to their best abilities. As I flip through the image and look at the conditions that they lived in we can identify that Summer and winter seasons were really tough conditions. You can imagine the humidity stickiness people fanning themselves just to try to cool down the damp cold winters, with their shivering bodys, the dark walk ways you can just feel what it was like to live there.Even though it was rough living condition the people that are living there look satisfied, they did have much to loose. As for the people that lived in the apartment building in the background how did that economic crash affect them. I wonder if they lived a miserable life or did they still live ok .Americans were able to see what some third world countries were facing at this time period. In one of the photos of hooverville you can see the city in the background it shows the complete division between people.

  20. The living conditions of Hooverville was very unfortunate. As I observed this picture it made me sad to see the damage the great depression caused. Many of the people who lived in this town were on a very low poverty level. No family should have to sustain the poor living conditions. Not having enough food and money to support your family can be very distressful. So tragic the circumstances the great depression caused. It just gets to the point when you say to yourself when would poverty end for people who are not privileged. There weren’t any programs or much resources available back then to help low income families. The building families lived in back then weren’t the best. Circumstances have changed now. Housing programs have opened up when people help support their housing needs. Poverty continues to exist. The employment crisis today really affected many families not being able to provide for their families. More families are failing as government assistance is not enough to make ends meet. Just hoping that things will improve and get better. For the humanity of people, we deserve to live comfortably in peace with financial security.

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