but they were only hockey players

henry and mrs fordHenry Ford was in a good mood in the winter of 1932 — on at least one day at the end of February, he was as eager as a small boy with a new electric train.

Yes, it was the third year of America’s staggering depression. But Ford felt that people were ready for what he called real values. That’s what the 68-year-old pioneering founder of the Ford Motor Company was telling Raymond Clapper, manager of the United Press, as he guided him around the company’s vast automobile works at Dearborn, Michigan. In another few weeks, a new biography by Jonathan Norton Leonard would be out with these and other nasty things to say about the billionaire industrialist: he was nothing but a shrewd Yankee tinkerer, narrow, bigoted, prejudiced, semi-literate, intolerant, vindictive, dour, domineering. On this day, though, it was Clapper’s phrase that applied, the boy with the train. Leading the newsman into a laboratory, he summoned him to a screened-off corner.

“They’re apt to get mad at me for coming in here,” Ford said. By real values he seems to have meant shiny new product: beyond the screen was the new eight-cylinder beauty he was about to unleash on the nation. He was grinning as though he were getting into his mother’s cookie jar as he pointed out the V-Type’s streamlined body, longer and wider than the classic T, featuring bigger wheels with heavier tires. Ford revealed that he had 83,560 paid-up orders already in hand.

“We expect to start shipping final parts in four or five days,” the emperor of mass production told his visitor. “The new models should be available for display very soon after that. We have already 50,000 bodies made up. Our immediate objective will be 6,000 cars a day.” By year’s end he hoped to have 1,500,000 of the new cars wheeling across America. The economy was looking up, after all: bank failures were down since the new year and there were estimates that Americans had $24,000,000 of their cash squirrelled away at home.

This was big news, though there was about to be much bigger. Two days later, on the first day of March, kidnappers snatched Charles Lindbergh’s year-a-half-old son and, as The New York Times framed it after a week of frantic, fruitless searching, “An empty cradle in a house on Sourland Mountain in New Jersey filled the heart and the mind of America.”

Five hundred men, police and firemen, went door-to-door in Newark. Clues gusted in. A postman discovered a message pencilled on a card: “Baby safe. Instructions later.” Mrs. Fannie Fischer, a landlady, called in to say that three men and a woman in a car had stopped by to ask about rooms and in the back of the car there was — seemed to be — a bundle. A brakeman on the Pennsylvania Railroad noticed two nervous men with a crying baby on the platform at the Clinton Street Station. Police on motorcycles chased a suspicious sedan near Manlius, New York, and in Wheeling, West Virginia, authorities were on the hunt for a speeding car with New Jersey plates.

The New York Times filled two-and-a-half columns with tips and false leads, including:

A Miss Anna Kurtz at Portland, Pa., which is over the Delaware River about thirty miles from the Lindbergh’s, found a baby’s jacket that would have fitted him. But it belong to a neighbor’s child, having blown off a clothes line. In Providence, R.I., the police chased a car that had been reported to carry four men and a baby. But they were only hockey players — and there was no baby.

Meanwhile, back in Fordlandia, Reginald Clapper had talked about the body blow that the automaker was dealing to America’s depression. He cited the 70,000 men Ford had working for him already. “There is no more unemployment in Dearborn,” Clapper wrote. “Probably 100,000 will be working by June.”

On March 7, a crowd of 3,000 jobless workers marched to Ford’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn. From a bridge high above the factory gates, Ford’s son Edsel watched them come on with the general manager of the factory and a former Michigan governor by his side. Ford Senior was somewhere else in the plant during the battle that ensued — “the bloodiest and maddest riot the Detroit area has ever seen” was how The Globe reported it.

A mob had formed on the outskirts of Detroit. Swelling in grim waves, it marched to Dearborn. When the workers reached the plant, a screaming woman led them forward. “Come on, you cowards, we want jobs or food,” she’s reported to have said. Guards turned hoses on the crowd. The workers charged. The guards tried tear-gas, but the wind blew it away.

The chief of the police drove up. He was standing on the running board of his big Lincoln waving a white flag. The Ford Police Department — the company had its own police, and Harry Bennett was the chief. A stone — what’s the Globe’s word? Whizzed. A whizzing stone from the crowd knocked him to the street. He was unconscious for an hour.

There were Dearborn police and firemen and “special police,” too, defending the plant. The workers threw rocks and jagged chunks of frozen mud. The police drew guns. The mob was angry. I don’t know who started to shoot, but someone did. Four protestors died, including a 16-year-old boy. The Globe listed the wounded, among whom were: Eugene Macks, 26, shot in left leg and left little finger, and John McLeod 24, shot through tongue and lung. Chief Bennett was taken to Henry Ford Hospital where doctors determined he had a fractured skull.

Communist agitators were to blame, the Globe mentioned. The Ford Motor Company put out a statement, expressing itself mystified by the attack, “since this company pays higher wages and employs more men than any industrial organization in Detroit.”

REDS ARE SOUGHT IN FATAL FORD RIOT

was a headline in The New York Times the next day.

All this by way of background: four days earlier, Henry Ford had attended his first ever hockey game. That’s the photograph, above: Ford and his wife of 44 years, Clara Bryant Ford, watching the hometown Detroit Falcons lose 2-1 to the visiting New York Rangers at the Olympia Arena.

They both look happy or at least … amused? I wish I had more on this, but there’s only so much the moment yields. The hats are outstanding, obviously. About the game I can tell you that the Falcons had been on a two-game winning run. A crowd of 7,000 was on hand. Jack Adams was the Detroit coach. He had Alec Connell for a goaltender and his skaters included Larry Aurie, Ebbie Goodfellow, and Hec Kilrea. Lester Patrick’s Rangers had Ching Johnson, Frank Boucher, Bun and Bill Cook. John Ross Roach was in goal. The Falcons would fall in the first round in the playoffs a month later; the Rangers ended up playing for the Stanley Cup that year, losing to Toronto.

On the night, the Rangers took a two-goal lead before they got into penalty trouble. The Falcons found themselves with a two-man advantage at one point in the second period, pushed and pressed, but then, the old story, they took a penalty followed by another — at which point the crowd showered the ice with paper and the game was delayed for a clean-up.

In the third, Johnson took his fifth penalty and the Falcons scored. They came on hard after that but Roach was sensational, and the puck couldn’t get past him a second time.

Not all the newspapers carried the full game story. A lot of them across the continent made do with the wire-service brief that noted Henry Ford’s attendance and ended like this:

“My, it’s a fast game,” was his comment. A fist fight added interest.

A week later, the first of the new eight-cylinder Fords rolled off the assembly line at River Rouge. Ford took a hammer and steel die and affixed the inaugural serial number himself.

[Photo: Detroit Times]