Imagine yourself sitting at a breakfast table or riding a streetcar to work exactly 100 years ago. You open the Jan. 14, 1920, issue of The Salt Lake Tribune. A couple of things catch your eye.
First is the front page headline: “Berlin Demonstrators Bayoneted.”
You shake your head. Stupid Germans. Not only did we just kick their butts in a war but they can’t even stop killing one another. The German army uses flamethrowers on rioters and deliberately fires on demonstrators.
Second might be the warning from American forestry officials, urging conservation of trees. Even if you know paper comes from trees, odds are you still toss the paper in the trash when finished. We got lots of trees. And who the hell ever heard of recycling?
Socialists are in the news. In New York, five suspended Socialist assemblymen quarrel over their bad treatment. But Bolsheviks are generally ignored in the U.S.
Here’s something good: The booze epidemic is being contained by the ratification of the 18th Amendment. It will become national law in three days despite U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s veto of the Volstead Act. Hooray for teetotalers.
What else? Oh, Salt Lake City Mayor E.A. Bock announces he will personally welcome U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing when the latter comes to Zion in a couple of days — provided, of course, the mayor has sufficiently recovered from accidentally inhaling carbon monoxide gas while sitting on the toilet last Sunday.
It’s just the average day’s news for people who don’t know the harbingers it contains. They’re happily oblivious to so much. Just like today.
That 1920 crap storm in Berlin? It contained a guy named Adolf Hitler, who leaves the army in a couple of months and joins the Nazi Party. It will take this previously lazy and directionless creep fewer than 20 years to start a world war resulting in some 80 million deaths.
But you don’t know that yet or that the war will take both of your recently born sons, one on Saipan with the Marines and the other in a bomber over Germany. Right now, all the problems in the world are someone else’s worry.
It turns out that socialists and Bolsheviks weren’t just political jokes. They were the advance guard of the Communist Party. A Russian bank robber named Josef Jughashvili (Josef Stalin) will ride it to power and eventually slaughter untold millions of Russians.
Prohibition, which wasn’t really popular in the first place, made horrible people rich through bootlegging and ends in 1933 — just in time to help everyone cope with Hitler and the ongoing Great Depression.
Mayor Bock? He manages to pull himself together enough to welcome Pershing but will soon be wishing that the bathroom accident had killed him.
Bock is arrested two months later for embezzling city funds while working as the city recorder before his election. He’ll be in prison by November and dead two years later from a self-inflicted shotgun wound while duck hunting in Tooele County.
But that’s the past. It’s Jan. 14, 2020, now. Again, the problems are far away. We’re better informed than we would have been in 1920. Surely we’ll know when things are getting really bad. So, what’s the worst that can happen?
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.