Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jean Baldwin: A Different Chestertown

Ms. Baldwin was a young girl during the war.  Like many others she was effected by rationing, news from the radio, and the boys that were missing from home.  Ms. Baldwin remembers the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, and the fear she felt for friends she had in Honolulu.  Patriotism was at an all time high during the war.  After the events of Pearl Harbor many turned to FDR for leadership and for comfort.  Ms. Baldwin recalls how listening to his fireside chats gave her a sense of assurance, and that everything would be okay as long as he was in control.  She like many across the country had a picture of FDR hanging up in the house, a makeshift shrine for the American spirit.  

The patriotism did not just end with reverence for FDR.  Ms. Baldwin and all the girls at the school wrote "V-mail" letters to soldiers, regardless of personal relationships.  She recalls the men being overjoyed to get letters.  She grew close to a boy from town from the program, and would eventually end up marrying him.  This man was Allen Baldwin, a Washington College graduate.  Although most discussion in the letters was just small talk, sometimes critical military information was disclosed.  As I learned before from my research session, the Government bureau of censorship scanned all communications, especially V-mail.  This meant that certain "hot" information was whited out, so that nothing important could be intercepted by Axis powers.

Ms. Baldwin like everyone else during the time remembers rationing.  During the time many wives compared recipes to try and find ways to cook without sugar or butter.  Ms. Baldwin recalls one birthday where she almost didn't have a birthday cake.  She was lucky and had a clever mother who was able to bake a cake without some key ingredients.  Although MS. Baldwin's mother played by rationing rules, many did not.  Ms. Baldwin remembers those who were part of the black market, or food hoarders being ostracized, and condemned as unpatriotic.

Ms. Baldwin had some great insight about recreational hubs during the war.  Apparently Betterton beach was a huge tourist attraction complete with bars, gambling facilities, and a great boardwalk.  Today it's just a strip of beach with a restaurant.  It's curious to me why some areas like Chestertown expanded after the war while other areas declined.  My personal favorite story Ms. Baldwin disclosed was about a secret tunnel system underneath Chestertown.  the whereabouts of such a tunnel have been researched and searched for by the Archaeology department, but no there is not clear evidence of a tunnel system.  Despite this, Ms. Baldwin insists on it's existence, claiming that her husband explored it once.  Unfortunately her husband had recently passed, so it's impossible to get his first hand account.

Ms. Baldwin's interview was particularly difficult to conduct.  Her daughter who attended the interview was crucial to keep Ms. Baldwin on topic, and to translate between myself and Ms. Baldwin.  The difficulty in the interview process solidified the fact that we need to get all of this information about WWII down immediately.  In 10 years almost anyone who was alive during the war will be gone.


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