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Shortly before Christmas 1933, in Depression-scarred Canton, Ohio, a small newspaper ad offered $10, no strings attached, to 75 families in distress. Interested readers were asked to submit letters describing their hardships to a benefactor calling himself Mr. B. Virdot. The author's grandfather, Sam Stone, was inspired to place this ad and assist his fellow Cantonians as they prepared for the cruelest Christmas most of them would ever witness.
Moved by the tales of suffering and expressions of hope contained in the letters, which he discovered in a suitcase 75 years later, Ted Gup initially set out to unveil the lives behind them, searching for records and relatives all over the country who could help him flesh out the family sagas hinted at in those letters. From these sources, Gup has re-created the impact that Mr B. Virdot's gift had on each family. Many people yearned for bread, coal, or other necessities, but many others received money from B. Virdot for more fanciful items: a toy horse, say, or a set of encyclopedias. As Gup's investigations revealed, all these things had the power to turn people's lives around- even to save them.
But as he uncovered the suffering and triumphs of dozens of strangers, Gup also learned that Sam Stone was far more complex than the lovable retiree persona he'd always shown his grandson. Gup unearths deeply buried details about Sam's life - from his impoverished, abusive upbringing to felonious efforts to hide his immigrant origins from U.S. officials - that help explain why he felt such a strong affinity to strangers in need.
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By Jeffery Mang on 10-08-17
The Story of My Hometown Before Me
As a businessman whose company barely, and perhaps should not have, survived the Great Recession of 2007 - 2010+, I could feel some kinship to many of the stories told by some of the people in this narrative, but I most likely would have passed on listening this book had the setting been different. The fact that these stories took place in my hometown of Canton, Ohio made it impossible to not listen to it. I am so glad I did not miss this book. For a Canton native it is a must to hear the stories of strife and struggle of our city before, during and after the Great Depression. I know for a fact that my parents, as young pre teens in Canton during these times, went through the same struggles as those who wrote the letters contained in this history of the city. I grew hearing a few a the stories of depression and subsequent war years and going to bed without food for supper. We as kids, as contrast, never went to bed hungry as my parents vowed to always have food in the house and on the table. Their memories of their childhood in the early years must have driven them to make this so. So for me this story was poignant on numerous levels that, before reading this wonderland book, I did not take the time to appreciate. This book will give you pause for reflection of your own fortunes and trials and probably mist up your eyes more than once, especially if you hail from this northeastern Ohio steel town.