Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Secret Gift

"Suppose if I were confronted with an economic situation where the bread of tomorrow is the problem of today..."

On December 18, 1933, a tiny ad ran in the morning edition of the Canton Repository. Written by a mysterious stranger known only as Mr. B. Virdot, it promised monetary aid to families suffering the ravages of the Great Depression. All they had to do was respond with a letter describing their need. Within a couple days, the post office was flooded with such letters, and B. Virdot carefully selected 150 respondents and mailed each five dollars--an amount that in 1933 would have been worth closer to one hundred dollars. As promised in the ad, the identities of these families were never made public, nor was the true identity of their benefactor, and this secret was kept for over seventy-five years until investigative journalist Ted Gup discovered that Mr. B. Virdot was his very own grandfather, respected Canton merchant Sam Stone! As Gup began to sort through his family history, he discovered that his grandfather was a man of many secrets and that much of his known life-story was a complete fabrication. In uncovering the truth, Gup found a story worth telling, and he reveals all the details in A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression. Of equal interest are the stories of the letter writers themselves, and their narratives are offered throughout the book. Readers with connections to Canton, Ohio, as well as those interested in reading about the Great Depression will find much to like here. Needless to say, Sam Stone's selflessness should serve as an inspiration to all of us during today's trying economic times to reach out and help someone in need.

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