(Published in the Seattle Times online on June 11, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on June 14, 2020)
Keen-eyed kid embodies Seattle’s zeal for 1942 scrap drive
By Clay Eals
You might call Jerry Calnan a scrappy little sheriff.
The 5-year-old leveled an intense glare when photographed in October 1942 sitting on an old water heater and guarding other castoff metal near his Beacon Hill home in South Seattle.
With zeal similar to today’s quest to slow the coronavirus, Jerry spent two days protecting items amassed by his neighborhood for a massive regional scrap-metal drive to support the U.S. military during World War II. Overnight, however, before Army vehicles could arrive to pick up the load, metal rustlers made off with nearly half the heap.
“He had placed several of his toys – old automobiles and trucks – in the pile,” reported The Seattle Times on Oct. 15. “A neighbor boy took some of them, and Jerry, with his sister, Mary Ellen, marched right down and put them back.” A photo caption added, “That was when Jerry decided to buckle on his toy pistol and holster.”
Theft was a challenge addressed by the Oct. 4-18 volunteer drive, which matched efforts nationwide. Ads in Seattle’s three sponsoring dailies – Times, Post-Intelligencer and Star – urged “every boy and girl” to “appoint yourselves guardians of the scrap metal piles in your block.”
Stories, editorials, photos and cartoons displayed boundless fervor. Full-page ads cited scores of items to contribute toward recycling and military-equipment building, from vacuum cleaners and garden tools to golf clubs and washing machines. Visiting First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even cited the Seattle campaign in her national “My Day” column.
The word “scrap” blanketed headlines, sometimes rhyming with the racist pejorative for the war’s overseas enemy. Others declared: “If you want to keep these fighters ‘in the scrap,’ then you must get busy and ‘get out the scrap.’ ”
Humor also held sway. Sports columnist Sandy McDonald wrote, “One unhappy baseball fan telephones to point out that in his opinion there is a lot of old junk on the Rainiers squad that well might be scrapped.”
The total haul, divvied among West Seattle’s Bethlehem Steel, Ballard’s Northwest Steel Rolling Mills and other processors, was enormous: 67.4 million pounds, “or about 133 pounds for every person in King County,” said Leo Weisfield, salvage chair for the Civilian War Commission.
“Beyond any question, this unselfish, patriotic effort was the greatest promotion or drive ever held in Seattle,” he claimed. “The campaign not only made highly significant contributions to the nation’s war effort, but it developed a unified spirit among our citizens.”
Surely the success pleased young Jerry Calnan. He died far too soon, of cancer at age 17 in 1954, but today relatives recall an intelligent, adventurous, inventive lad with dark eyes and eyebrows – and that glare.
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!
We extend special thanks to Bob Carney and Michelle Weinhardt (niece of the late Jerry Calnan) for their assistance in the preparation of this column.
Below are 16 additional photos as well as 64 clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column. The initial extras relate to Jerry Calnan, and the rest address the scrap drive.