Nicaragua: Will Rogers and the 1931 Managua Earthquake, pt. 1



Will Rogers (photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive/Flickr-The Commons)

Will Rogers (photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive/Flickr-The Commons)

In researching the historical material for my documentary “Romance Oriental para Mariíta Huezo,” I ended up uncovering much more than actually made it into the film. I mainly intended on producing a relatively short work, and also found that much of the material was not all that relevant to the story I wanted to convey.

One of the sub-plots relating to the 1931 Managua earthquake, which did not make it into the documentary but continues to fascinate me, is of Will Rogers’ incredible act of generosity in the days following the catastrophe.

At first, all I knew was that Will Rogers had donated $5,000 of his own money to the earthquake relief efforts. What I had yet to discover, which I only became aware of recently, was that he actually started a fundraising campaign in the US, and that the total sum raised was much more that his own significant  contribution. His gesture and that of many others is made much more extraordinary when you take into consideration that the US had entered the Great Depression the year before.

The following is an excerpt from the official Red Cross report on the 1931 Managua earthquake. It details, in a surprisingly deferential tone, the Rogers donation along with others in the US and Venezuela who were inspired by his actions. Of particular note are the contributions by children.

A few days after the earthquake, while the horrible experiences of the disaster still lay heavily upon the shoulders of those who were attempting to inject some semblance of order into the existing confusion, Will Rogers flew into Managua. He brought the compassion of a big human heart and the sympathy that cheers and stimulates hope. He remained only a day or so, but the reviving influence of his remarkable personality was felt on all sides, from the President of the Republic to the distressed in the streets. But he had done even more than that. He had been in Managua only a few hours, when he issued an appeal to Americans at home to help in the relief of the stricken city. He did not tell them, of course, that he had opened the fund with a personal contribution of $5,000.

Response to his appeal was immediate and generous. Hundreds of contributions were received. A “Resident of Palm Beach, Florida,” who preferred to withhold his identity, sent, through his bank, a draft for $5,000. Mrs. Ada T. Huntzinger and her three children of San Marino, California, contributed $2,013. There were several contributions of from $100 to $250. The great majority of the donations were for sums under $10. The contribution of Misses Nancy Peters (11 years), Betty Jean (9 years), and Lonon Andross (7 years), and Betty Peters (7 years), of Long Beach, California, was especially touching. They contributed $1.66, the proceeds of a sale of orangeade, which they held on their front lawn for relief of distress in Managua. The Maracaibo Herald of Maracaibo, Venezuela, heard of Mr. Rogers’ appeal and collected and forwarded to Red Cross Headquarters in Washington $1,074.83 for Managua relief. Total contributions as a result of Will Rogers’ appeal, including his own, were $19,525.70.

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