Paul Greenberg: Remember the name

BY PAUL GREENBERG Published: March 27, 2013
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Creditanstalt. Remember the name.

But first a family story:

He was an ambitious young man in the Roaring Twenties, fresh out of the University of Texas where he'd been, as they used to say, well-liked. And the young man deserved to be: He had a gift for numbers and friendship.

Eager to help, he knew everybody on campus and 'most everybody knew him. As drum major, complete with baton and high plumed hat, he'd led the Longhorn band into the then new Texas Stadium. Robert Preston in “The Music Man” had nothing on young Robert E. Levy of little Marlin, Texas.

The young man was going places — everyone said so — and the place to go was Wall Street. For it was the best of times and, as always in the best of times, they would never end. Everyone said so. Things would just get better and better.

This was the New Era. Man had mastered the economy, and the Roaring Twenties would just go on roaring. The way the New Paradigm was going to do in the 1990s. The business cycle was as dead as the medieval idea of the Just Price; boom would never lead to bust again.

And if New York was the place to go, 1929 was the year to go there. The young man had friends up there and his sweetheart wasn't far away at Goucher. Even as an old man, he would remember being impressed by her limousine and chauffeur, for she was a Texas heiress. At least before the Crash changed everything.

Talk about high cotton. Those were the days, my friend, they thought they'd never end.

Then came October 29, 1929. Black Tuesday. Looking back, Robert E. Levy would recall walking from the brokerage house on Wall Street all the way up Broadway to his boardinghouse, watching the crowds of desperate depositors form at every bank he passed. The great bank run was on.

What he remembered most about that day was the taste of strawberries. Still a Texas boy, he'd stop and buy a handful at every fruit stand he passed, and keep walking through the panic. By the time Robert E. Levy got uptown, a realization had formed: Texas was the place to be.

His friends urged him to stay. This was just a blip, they assured him. It would pass and the market would recover. It did — in about 50 years. People forget now, but the Depression, The Depression, didn't come on all of a sudden, despite the drama of the Crash. It came in dips and dabs, ups and downs. The market actually showed signs of recovery for a time. This, too, would pass, said the wise old heads, older than they were wise. Why, prosperity was just around the corner. The president of the United States said so. (Sound familiar?)

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