Nicaragua: Will Rogers and the 1931 Managua Earthquake, pt. 2
Approximately eight years after a devastating earthquake destroyed the center of Managua and crippled the entire nation, the Nicaraguan government had yet to forget the immense kindness Will Rogers showed the country just days after the catastrophe.
In 1939 a commemorative set of postal stamps was printed in honor of his unforgettable visit and subsequent donation to relief efforts. Alas, the gesture came too late for Rogers to accept it personally—he had passed away in 1935.
The set of five postal stamps released for domestic use tells a fascinating visual narrative of Rogers’ visit, each summed up by an individual caption. Carrying denominations from one to five centavos, the set was printed by the American Bank Note Company, a leading international engraver of national currency and postal stamps. There were 3,000,000 complete sets printed.
If you look closely, each stamp reveals a bit more than is readily apparent. Pan American Airways is referenced in every stamp, with all but one including a small airplane in flight. The one stamp that omits it is, in fact, a close-up of the airplane with the company’s initials–PAA–next to Rogers. Therefore, the possibility exists that the company underwrote the printing in some way.
In the last stamp (five centavos), a Managua street scene is depicted, and looks in the direction of the fire that finished off the city after the earthquake. In the center, there appear to be a number of Marines standing guard. To the right, alone on the sidewalk, Will Rogers is looking towards us. The scene suggests that Rogers arrived in Managua within a few days of the earthquake, even if the Red Cross report does not confirm the exact date.
The New York Times, however, placed his arrival on April 8.
Not long after, the Times published a brief letter from Rogers to its editor, who gives us some idea of what he experienced, told in a manner that made him a beloved humorist around the world (and a biting political commentator).
To the Editor of the New York Times:
MANAGUA, Nicaragua, April 9.—The President says to the Minister Hanna, “I wonder what Rogers can find humorous in our pitiful plight?”
Well, you know, these little small shakes occur quite frequently. This morning, just as the reveille bugle was blowing, one come and every-body jumped out of bed, so now they are going to use a quake instead of reveille every morning.
Here is some news for the anti-prohibitionists. Everything in town—churches, schools, banks, stores—was destroyed but the brewery. But it was an act of providence at that, for the water-works were destroyed and all they had to drink was beer. The commandant sent twenty marines to protect it and with the 100 that was already there, why, they were able to hold it.
Even a quake has its good points. The Senate and Cabinet run out of town and haven’t shown up since. What Hoover would give for the recipe!
Flew today with Major Mitchell, head of the air forces of the marines. Went all over the bandit country they patrol. You have to see this terrible mountainous country to see what these aviators have been up against. I could tell you for a week some of the things these aviators have done in this country.
Now, they need money here and they need help. The poor people just walk about dazed. Money is needed to help feed ’em and restore some sort of roof over their heads.
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