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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bankruptcy in the Family : Uncle Willie's Dilemma in 1932

The University of Illinois has digitized some Illinois publications from the nineteenth and  twentieth centuries, and they can be found at  There are 45 newspapers currently included in this collection.  I have seen this collection grow over the last few years.  Take advantage of it to research your Illinois, or border state, relatives.  You never know what you might find.....

Here's my find : My grandmother's brother, Salvatore, aka Willie, went bankrupt during the depression in 1932.  It was publicized in the Farm, Field and Fireside Collection : The Chicago Packer.  Willie and his brother, Tony, had a produce business/ produce distribution business in Mount Vernon, Illinois.  Prior to this venture, both learned their skills while working in the Italian dominated produce markets in St. Louis, Missouri.

In the 1930 Census, Uncle Willie and his family are listed, with quite accurate data (as I had documentation from their vital records from the St. Louis, Missouri area).
Year: 1930; Census Place: Mount Vernon, Jefferson, Illinois; Roll: 521; Page: 22A; Enumeration District:0023; Image: 1013.0; FHL microfilm: 2340256
The Chicago Packer, was a weekly agricultural newspaper that catered to produce handlers, poultry farmers and commercial growers. It was published in Chicago, and had other editions for major markets, such as New York, Cincinnati and Los Angeles.  Founded in 1899, this newspaper contained advertisements and articles that announced information of interest to those in the food markets.  In addition, it contained articles about specific businesses and personal matters of those in the food business. Uncle Willie owned and operated the Broadway Fruit and Produce Company in Mount Vernon, Illinois.  The business was getting some unfavorable mentions in this newspaper, beginning in early 1932.

1932 February 22, The Chicago Packer
Evidently, the produce company had come upon hard times, and caused some upset with its creditors.
Attorneys were  to represent those holding interest in the business, with a trustee appointed to represent Uncle Willie's business., which had fallen into bankruptcy.

1932 June 11, The Chicago Packer
So, according to this article, Uncle Willie paid cash for his purchases from St Louis businesses until November of 1931.  Thereafter, he bought on credit, and had not paid off those bills.  Creditors were accustomed to being paid weekly on Thursdays, as is the agreed habit of those in the business.  It was reported that Uncle Willie paid cash only to the Mount Vernon Distributing Company during this time period.  Of course he did.  His brother, my Uncle Tony, owned and operated the Mount Vernon Distributing Company.  Why would he take advantage of his brother?  Family comes first, right?  And not reporting income from the sales of his credit purchases only fueled the flames of anger.  The creditors wanted to be paid.....Now.

1932 June 18, The Chicago Packer
Uncle Willie submitted a very unpopular answer to the charges files by the Fruit and Produce creditors.  The judge, evidently, wanted to give him another chance.  He was allowed to review and rephrase his answer.  But, he had only one week to do it.
1932 July 2, The Chicago Packer
On July 1, 1932, Uncle Willie was to testify in the court.  Evidently, the examination, and cross examination did not reveal very hopeful news.  The association of the Fruit and Produce merchants was organized to protect the interests of all of its members.  And, apparently, their muscle was driving the court to hold Uncle Willie to the flame.

1932 October 2, The Chicago Packer

The court lowers the Boom on Uncle Willie.  Since his bankruptcy filing in early February of 1932, he repeatedly failed to submit a full report of cash and assets to the Hon. Walter J. Grant.  In addition to his fruit and produce creditors, he also owed his landlord.  Oh, Uncle Willie.  This is not going well, is it?
1932 October 2, The Chicago Packer, continued...
and the story goes on....Uncle Willie purchased fruit and produce for his establishment from others not named in the initial petition of the Fruit and Produce association, and to those merchants he owed not a penny.  The association could not have been happy to hear that.  The court pointed out that the weights of the product purchased by him in the late months of 1931 from the association merchants was not shown on the petition papers.  But that was irrelevant, according to the court.

1932 October 2, The Chicago Packer, concluded article.

Uncle Willie hauled one heck of a lot of produce during those few months, according to this article, taking him seven trips from St. Louis to Mount Vernon.  After all the numbers wrangling, he is ordered to pay the associated creditors $883.05.  If he fails to do so, he will be charged with contempt.  The article states that Uncle Willie had a partner, Charles Mercurio, who was his brother-in-law.  I thought that Charles was just a salesman for the company, not a partner.

So that's the story of Uncle Willie's bankruptcy during the depressed times of the 1930s.  It is not the end of the story....since this was held in the Eastern District Court of Illinois in East St. Louis, there would be records of testimony in this case held in the archives.   I'll let you know when I am able to review those records.  There could be much more that was not reported in The Chicago Packer.

Meanwhile, if you think that your ancestors may be mentioned in some of the occupational periodicals in Illinois, check out the University of Illinois database mentioned at the beginning of the story.  You might uncover a story that adds a little spice to your family history tales.

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