November 2010 Issue
In his new book, Canton native Ted Gup unlocks secrets of a Depression-era act of generosity.
One week before Christmas in 1933, inside the cold heart of the Great Depression, a small ad appeared in The Repository
, Canton’s newspaper. In it, an unknown benefactor invited families in need to write to him about their plight. In return, he offered financial help and a promise never to reveal their identities — or his own. The open letter was signed B. Virdot.
The ad created a sensation. Anguished stories poured in by the hundreds, if not the thousands. Women and children, World War I veterans and business owners who had lost it all, opened their hearts to this mysterious stranger.
Once a thriving industrial city, Canton’s unemployment approached 50 percent. Children went to school on empty stomachs. Depositors found their banks padlocked and their savings gone.
Just when hope was beginning to slip away, 150 families received in the mail a check for $5 — the equivalent of $100 today — from B. Virdot.
This modest gift bought enough coal to heat a freezing home. It went as a token payment to a family doctor who had looked after a child’s polio. It was only $5, but it was a million dollars of dignity to parents who could provide some Christmas cheer to their children in the bleakest of times.
And, for 75 years, the mysteries remained: Who was B. Virdot? Why did he make this anonymous offer? What became of the families who wrote to him?
To the first question, bestselling author and Canton native Ted Gup thought he knew the answer: The pseudonym B. Virdot belonged to Gup’s late grandfather, Sam Stone — a Canton clothing store owner who had wrested his own business from bankruptcy a few years earlier. ... To read more, click here to subscribe >>