The Journal of San Diego History
January 1957, Volume 3, Number 1
Jerry MacMullen, Editor

By Edgar Klauber

It was back in 1893. We were in the midst of one of those awful depressions. Grover Cleveland was President. This was a Democratic depression. At least that was what the opposition claimed. Banks were closing all over the country. In spite of all this, the San Diego Retail Grocers decided to hold their annual picnic.

No one had any money to buy anything. That was one way to get rid of groceries. Prices were at rock bottom. I remember the retail price of coffee was 9c a pound and half of it was chicory. Pink beans sold at 1-3/4c per pound with a few pebbles to help make weight, and so on down the line.

Washboards were in big demand. Most of the women were doing their own washing, without the aid of washing machines. This was a good thing, as it kept them out of politics — even the wife of the President had no time to travel around making speeches.

Well, to get back to the Grocers’ Picnic. It was held out near Lakeside — partly because there were more ants out there and partly because the grocers could not jump into the lake. The lake was bone dry. A dry season had helped the depression.

My brother Melville, Allan’s father, thought it a good idea for me to go out and mingle with the retail grocers as a good will gesture. I wasn’t eating regularly myself, so a day at the Grocers’ Picnic sounded good to me. Well, we were all sitting around eating up the retail grocers’ overstock and the ants were just beginning to move in to help us out. Suddenly I saw the manager of the Lakeside Hotel coming toward our Retail Grocers’ Picnic of 29 grocers, 29 wives, and a lot more children. He was running and when a manager of a hotel runs, there is something wrong. At first I thought he was going to have us arrested for not eating at his hotel, but, no, it was even worse than that. He called me aside and broke the news. He had just received a telegraph message from San Diego. There had been a run on the three San Diego banks and all three had closed their doors.

It was up to me to break the news to the retail grocers as gently as possible. I had to think fast. My youth and inexperience overcame me completely, and I spoke as follows: “Ladies and gentlemen, little girls and boys, and various innocent relatives, please stop eating and give me your attention. This man at my side is the manager of the Lakeside Hotel. You can see by his face that he carries bad news. All three banks in San Diego have closed their doors. I advise you to continue your picnic for two very good reasons. First, I happen to know that very few of you have any money in the closed banks. Second, even if you did have any money on deposit you could not get it out with a crowbar. So please sit right down and go on eating before the ants set in.

“We will then have the usual picnic games, except the fat man’s race. We will have to leave out the fat man’s race as I do not see any fat men among the retail grocers.”

With this parting shot I sat down in time to get some apple pie. There was no applause. I did not mind that, as I had read that there was no applause after Lincoln made his great speech at Gettysburg.