Saturday, November 21, 2015

Drinking and Flying: “Are You Kidding Me?”

This post begins with a personal story.  During the summer of 1957 while working on a Northern Wisconsin weekly newspaper, I was told by my boss to take aerial photos for a prominent resort owner of his place.  When I arrived the owner clearly was drunk but he proceeded to tell me how he would fly his Cessna sideways with me leaning out to take the shots.  When he picked up the phone to call the local airport, I figured on running away to join the circus.  Then he put down the receiver, explaining: “I never fly if I have been drinking.” The photos never got taken.
This incident caused me to follow up on my last post about “drinking and driving” as captured in pre-Prohibition beer advertising.  It is evident beer and liquor interests have also linked drinking and flying in their merchandising — not only in the early days of flight but even more recently.

Wilbur and Orville Wright flew the first airplane in 1903 at Kitty Hawk and it quickly sparked many innovation so that by 1914 the first commercial passenger service was established.  Beer manufacturer were quick to seize on public interest in flying as an advertising gimmick.  
Falstaff Brewery appears to have embraced the idea of advertising its beer with flying early on.  It issued a postcard that showed a comely young woman, an early aviatrix, holding a bottle of beer.  The caption is very clear about the purpose:  “A bottle of Falstaff as a ‘bracer’ before the flight.”  The message was “drink before flying.”

The brewery returned to this theme by issuing a trade card showing a Gibson girl sitting in something that looks vaguely like an airplane.  She is quaffing a glass of Falstaff poured from a bottle beside her.  Her seat bears the brewery logo.  Women had begun participating in aviation about 1910.  The first woman to be given a flying license was a French baroness.  Shown here is Lillian Todd, an early flyer and the first female aeronautical engineer.  Ms. Todd had designed the plane she is posing on.  She is not known to have had a beer before taking off.
The Miller Brewing Company also saw the benefit of advertising via the airplane.  Theirs is a cartoon.  The pilot, a little old man, is drinking from a stein while surrounded by large bottles of Miller High Life Beer.  He is said to be experiencing the “High Life in Milwaukee.”  The pilot may never be able to land; his struts are actually sausages.

Charles Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris in May 1927 had made him a national hero.  His popularity extended beyond the repeal of National Prohibition in 1934 prompting Haffenreffer and Company to use his image and associated message to promote its Pickwick Ale and Stout.  According to the ad, Pickwick has experienced a “flight of popularity.”  The public is assured: “And you will have no fears for safety when you’re navigating with Pickwick.”  Maybe, but I suspect that if “Lucky Lindy” had been navigating with a few drinks in him he might have landed in Chicago.

Fast forward to more recent times.  An ad from Guiness shows its toucan mascots flying over a military airfield with glasses of stout balanced on their ample beaks.  Two military chaps are looking at them and while clearly startled seem to be thinking, “Lovely day for a Guiness” just before they take off into that “wild blue yonder.”

Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey seems to be conveying a similar message, showing a man dressed for flying who is drinking an Irish coffee made with Powers.  The drink is said to “Warm the cockles of your heart….”   It also may warm up other bodily organs, some of which are better left cool in flying.

The illustration here of a stewardess holding an Foynes Irish Coffee in front of a airplane needs some explanation.  As one author has put it, “Foynes and flying boats will be forever connected with the Irish coffee.”  Foynes was an airbase near Limerick and the main airport for flying boats — fixed wing planes that landed on water — traveling between Europe and the United States.  Weather conditions along the West coast of Ireland can be notoriously bad, and after taking off for New York, on one occasion the pilot had to return to Foynes.  To warm up the passengers an airport restaurant brewed some coffee, added some Irish whiskey and brown sugar, topped it off with whipped cream — and the rest is history. 
The last example of linking strong drink and flying appeared in a Smirnoff Vodka ad in 1969.  It features a group of picnickers who are drinking the potato alcohol,  two of them equipped with helicopter backpacks.  Two women also seem dressed for flight.  The caption should have been:  “Don’t try this at home.”
The last illustration is a cartoon that indicates my close scrape with a potentially drunken pilot narrated above was not so far-fetched.  Back in 1990, all three members of a Northwest Airlines flight crew were legally intoxicated when they flew 91 passengers from Fargo, North Dakota, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, roughly an hour-long flight whose landing came without incident. Authorities had received a tip from someone who had seen them drinking in a bar the previous evening. The three served prison sentences.

I escaped making a decision to bolt if the inebriated resort owner had actually order up his airplane.  The passengers on that Northwest flight probably never knew — until they read of the arrests in the paper the next day.  All of us were lucky but luck should be nothing to count on when flying.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

When Drinking and Driving Was Cool

Today the American public is warned on countless fronts about the dangers of  “drinking and driving”   Magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and billboards all carry that message.  Not so in the pre-Prohibition era when the automobile was a new invention.  Shown here are examples of vintage advertising that clearly seem to be fostering drinking and driving.

The automobile came along at the end of the 19th Century.  In 1895, for example, only about 300 motor cars existed in the entire United States. At the beginning of the 20th Century that number had increased to 8,000.  From there automotive growth was explosive — 78,000 in 1905, 459,000 in 1910, and 1.7 million in 1914.   Among other industries, breweries were quick to see the trend and to use automobiles in their advertising.

The first example is the ad above left from the Maier Brewing Company of Los Angeles.  It shows a “grande dame” with a large feathered hat downing a glass of beer.   Even more her liveried chauffeur also is pouring himself a snort.  Their automobile has no windshield and as a result both are wearing goggles. Note that the steering wheel also is missing.  This beer-maker has been described in the press of its time as “one of the oldest and best appointed brewery establishments on the Pacific Coast, and one that it has made itself and its superior products famous….”   The company sold its beer in Western states and even exported abroad.
Windshields had come along — but true headlights had not — by the time Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis issued this ad for Budweiser.  It shows two couples out for a ride in their motor sedan.  Here there is a steering wheel, but it is positioned on the right  — it took the industry a while to straighten out that detail.  The two men and two women have stopped at the “Motor Car Inn,”  obviously a trendy place, for refreshment.   They are getting “curbside” service from a waiter who has four bottles of Bud and glasses on a tray.   With its drive-through daiquiri shops, Louisiana is about the only place left in America where one can get alcohol served to the car.

Pickwick Beer issued an ad featuring a jaunty look gent and his flapper companion heading in their fancy roadster toward a drinking establishment called “Ye Tavern,”  that — no surprise — served Pickwick ale and stout.  The couple look very keen on sampling “the tang of good old ale.” These brands were the product of Rudolf F. Haffenreffer, described as a Rhode Island industrialist and Massachusetts brewer, who called two of his beer brands “Pickwick Pale” and “Pickwick Stout,”  presumably after the character in Dickens novel.

Perhaps the most provocative of the “driving and drinking” promotions was a “novelty song hit” called “There’s Something Else Goes With It” and showing two comely young ladies, out for a ride and scarves blowing in the wind —no shield here.  What clearly goes with joy riding is “glorious old” Rainier Beer, the product of the Seattle Brewing & Malting Company.  The chorus, written by an obscure songwriter named J. Louis MacEvoy, tells us so:

There’s something else goes with it you like to think about;
There’s something in its spirit that you cannot do without.
Yes, something else goes with it and to you its very clear,
There’s something else goes with it.
What?  Rainier, Rainier, Rainier.

The next motoring and suds scene comes on a beer stein issued by Milwaukee’s Juneau Hotel in 1914.   Like the Maier ad earlier, a woman is being chauffeured.  This one is rather prim looking and the driver intent on reaching the destination, which is — a saloon.  A waiter is right outside waiting with a large foaming stein under a sign that proclaims “Lager Beer.”  The Juneau Hotel was located at 229 Wisconsin Ave in the heart of downtown.  Originally an apartment house it had been turned into a hotel in 1910 by Eugene Trimberger.  In 1919 he established a restaurant on the site called Eugene’s.  Known for its seafood, Eugene’s was a favor of mine when I lived in Milwaukee.
That city was famous for touting its beer heritage, once the center of brewing in America but, sadly, no longer.  This post card, entitled “Seeing Milwaukee,” boosted Pabst Beer.  The barrel between the wheels and the banner that waves atop proclaims the name. The drinking here seems to be confined to the tourists aboard a bus whose seats are made from beer barrels.  Several passengers can be seen imbibing.  The boxes along the side are clever in indicating favored Milwaukee German food items — sauerkraut, frankfurter, pumpernickel, and schwitzerkase (swiss cheese).

Not to be outdone, the Miller Brewing Company had its own postcard, entitled “The Water Wagon in Milwaukee.”  Have included it although the source of locomotion is not a gasoline engine but two dachshunds. There is enough drinking going on among all those hanging on to make this a risky situation.  

The final example of pre-prohibition “drinking and driving” comes from a postcard with no attribution on it but similar to those that feature the Milwaukee skyline.  Here the Germanic-appearing driver has in hand a vehicle whose engine is in a beer barrel, with two open steins as headlamps, and a third stein at hand should the dust he is stirring up make him dry.

The juxtaposition of the automobile and beer drinking ended with National Prohibition in when the Nation’s breweries either closed or were reduced to providing non-alcoholic beverages.  After repeal, the ubiquitous nature of the automobile and the frequency of drunken driving discouraged a repeat of these varieties of beer ads.  Today, of course, such images would be utterly unthinkable.

Note:  In my next post I will concentrate on beer and liquor ads that juxtapose drinking and flying, a prospect even more terrifying than drinking and driving.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Singing Along with Prohibition: Part Two


In the previous post, Singing Along with Prohibition:  Part One, the emphasis was on songs and sheet music that pre-dated National Prohibition, with the song writers asking or predicting what life would be like in a completely “dry” America.  This post examines the music and lyrics generated by the actual imposition of what came to be known as “The Great Experiment.”

The topic is ushered in by a 1919 song by Andrew Sterling and Harry Von Tilzer that dwells on the July passage of the Volstead Act that implemented the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that had many Americans thinking that alcohol sales had been immediately banned.  The legislation, however, simply set the date for the following January first, 1920.  In this song the gent is moaning “Whoa January, oh January, I hate to see you come around, July was mighty tough but we could get enough…” Von Tilzer was a prolific songwriter who wrote "Shine on Silvery Moon" and "Wait Til the Sun Shines, Nellie."

When January and National Prohibition did occur, the liquor firms going out of business did brisk sales of their barrels, jugs and bottles of liquor.  Long lines of people stood outside the stores to buy as much as their budgets would let them.  The wealthy established liquor cellars in their homes in which they stock wines and whiskeys.  Author H. L. Mencken created his behind a locked medal door with dire imprecations against anyone trying to enter.  When he died in 1956, long after Repeal, he still had a liquor stash.  
American songwriters were not long in noting these events. Grant Clarke and Milton Ager in 1920 teamed up to give America “Its a Smart Little Feller Who Stocked up his Cellar That’s Getting the Beautiful Girls.”  The lyrics suggested a new era in wooing and winning a “girlie full of charm:”

Oh, they won't call you honey, because you've got money,
It isn't for money they sigh,
You could once grab a queen with your big limousine
But now times are changing, you know what I mean,
Oh, they won't know you're livin' if all you can give'em
Is just pretty diamonds and pearls;
It's the smart little feller who stocked up his cellar,
That's getting the beautiful girls.
Clark and Ager were not the only songwriters to see possibilities in the burgeoning liquor caches of America.  A trio of writers gave the country the song, “Everybody Wants a Key to My Cellar,”  with the sheet music featuring six hands grabbing toward the key.  In the opening verse the owner confesses to having changed things around in his cellar, stockpiled liquor, tried to keep it a secret but told his wife.  She blabbed:
Now ev'rbody wants a key to my cellar, my cellar, my cellar,
People who before wouldn't give me a tumble,
Even perfect strangers beginning to grumble,
'Cause I won't let them have a key to my cellar,
They'll never get in just let them try.
They can have my money,
They can have my car,
They can have my wife
If they want to go that far,
But they can't have the key that opens my cellar,
If the whole darn world goes dry.
The “I write the songs,” crew also picked up on another phenomenon of the Dry Era — the sudden popularity of doctors.   During America’s dry age, the federal alcohol ban carved out an exemption for medicinal use, and doctors nationwide suddenly discovered they could bolster their incomes by writing liquor prescriptions. They typically charged $3.00 for such and prescribed it for a wide range of supposed ills.  Pharmacies filled those prescriptions and were one of the few places whiskey could be bought legally.  They raked in the dollars. Through the 1920s, fueled by whiskey prescriptions, the number of Walgreens stores soared from 20 to nearly 400.
On this sheet music, entitled “Oh Doctor,” a gent is whispering his needs to a doctor who is in the process of writing a prescription for whiskey.  Meanwhile behind him a line of well dressed men are calling for similar assistance.  According to the song, the petitioner is pleading, “Write the prescription and please make it say, ‘Take with your meals,’ I eat ten times a day.”  The authors,Billy Joyce and Rubey Cowan were New York songwriters who also worked as publishers.
Even the famed American songwriter, Irvin Berlin, took a turn at writing a Prohibition ditty, both music and lyrics.  Remembered far and wide for “White Christmas,” his song, “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A,” falls far short of that classic.  Written in 1920, Irvng B. is going to Cuba “where wine is flowing,” and “dark eyed Stellas light their fellers pan-a-gel-as.”  That apparently is Stella on the cover of the sheet music, looking saucy and sexy.  Berlin ends the verse by asking everyone to join him in C-U-B-A.  In that island country, as might be fathomed from the song, alcoholic beverages flowed freely.  
The cover of the sheet music for “I’m the Ghost of that Good Man John Barleycorn” may be be the most interesting part of that song.  It depicts a ghost-like figure in a mist looking over a broken whiskey barrel and some broken and intact bottles.  The words were by George A. Little and the music by Earl K. Smith.  Another Geo. Little song, “When a Black Man is Blue” was recorded by Duke Ellington’s band and is still available on disc.
Some new words and phrases were coming into the vocabulary of the average American, words like bootlegger, rum-runner, speakeasy, home brew, and moonshine.  Actually moonshine had been around for a while.  Bert Williams, a black man who performed in black face, had a hit song in the Ziegfeld Follies called “The Moon Shines on the Moonshine.”  Williams was by far the best selling recording artist before 1920 and is said to have done much during his career to push back racial barriers.
The cover of the 1923 song, “The Moonshine Shudder,” is austere enough to induce at least a slight chill.  It shows five empty bottles on a window sill silhouetted in the light of a smiling moon.  The cover design is by Jan Farrell, about whom I was able to learn nothing, nor anything about the songwriter, Wade Hamilton. Given the lyrics, perhaps their obscurity is deserved:
Oh, could you ever keep from doing it,
I mean the moonshine shudder,
After gurgling, guzzling, lapping up home brew
First you shiver at your throat,
Then you shimmy at your chest;
You wiggle out of your coat,
And you nearly shed your vest.
But you cannot keep from doing it,
I mean the moonshine shudder,
After gurgling, guzzling, lapping up home brew.
As Prohibition wound on through the 1920s and into the 1930s, the songs continue to come.  Some representatives titles were “Kentucky Bootlegger,” “Bootlegger’s Story,”  “Moonshiner,” “Prohibition is a Failure,”  “The Old Home Brew,” “Whiskey Seller,” “Down to the Stillhouse to Get a Li’l Cider,” and “Drunkard’s Hiccups.”  The last-mentioned song is also known as “Jack of Diamonds,” a euphemism for hard drink.   An excerpt from it seems a suitable way to end this post:
Wherever I go
Jack of diamonds, jack of diamonds
I've known you from old
You've robbed my poor pockets
Of silver and gold.

Note:  This and the prior post largely were made possible by the website,, that provided images and lyrics to many of the Prohibition era songs.  It is a very interesting site and worth a look.  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Singing Along with Prohibition, Part One

Goodbye, Hunter; So long, Scotch; Farewell Haig and Haig;
Oh my darling old frappe, they will soon take you away,
At the table with Lola they will serve us Coca-Cola;
No more saying: "Let me buy,"
No more coming thru the Rye;
Old Manhattan and Martini have received the big subpoena,
Ev'ry day'll be Sunday when the town goes dry.
From “Yankee Doodle,” to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” to “Blowin’ in the Wind,”  many American songs have had a strong political content.  National Prohibition spawned many such a lyric,  both in anticipation of the Nation going “Dry” in 1920 and the actual 14 year experience of “The Great (Failed) Experiment.”  This post and the one to follow will explore some of those songs and their messages.  This post deals with the anticipation of Prohibition, the next will discuss the songs spawned by the actual National experience.  

The lyrics above are from an 1918 ditty by writers William Jerome and Jack Mahoney, two of the best known songwriters of the early 20th Century.  Jerome created many popular songs of the era as well as musical comedies.  Mahoney, a lyricist, is best known for his co-authorship of the American favorite “When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose.”  Their anti-Prohibition song was entitled “Every Day Will be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry,” alluding to the general Lord’s Day ban on alcohol sales.   The cover of the sheet music shows a well-dressed gent in a top hat contemplating the doom destined to fall with National Prohibition. 

In something of the same vein is “How Are You Going to Wet Your Whistle When the Whole Darn World Dry?”  It shows a similarly tuxedoed man about town asking the crucial question outside a cafe that once sold whiskey and draft beer that tried to get by on candy and soda.  Apparently the attempt failed since the sign on the door says “for rent.”  One of the authors, Percy Wenrich, began his career as a music demonstrator in a Milwaukee store and staff writer for music publishing companies.  Moving to New York he became one of the Nation’s most successful song writers, remembered even today for “Moonlight Bay,” “Sail Along, Silv’ry Moon,” and “Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet.”

Like the foregoing, several pre-Prohibition songs speculated on the kinds of effects the alcohol ban would have on daily life.  Among them was “What’ll we do on a Saturday Night (When the Town Goes Dry).”  It shows a young swain talking his lady friend to the movies but worried about what to do afterward:

What'll we do on a Saturday night,
When the town goes dry?
Where will we go after seeing a show
to make the weary hours fly?
Imagine a fellow with a cute little queen,
Trying to win her on a plate of ice cream;
                           What'll we do on a Saturday night,
                             When the town goes dry?
The songwriter was Harry Ruby, who with his longtime partner Bert Kalmar were a successful songwriting team for nearly three decades.  In 1950 MGM made a musical of their lives called “Three Little Words,” starring Fred Astaire as Kalmar and Red Skelton as Ruby.
Another anti-Prohibition song of 1919 contemplated massive unemployment as a result of shutting down saloons and cafes.  Call “No Beer — No Work,” the cover of the sheet music shows four men, all apparently unemployed, standing outside a closed drinking establishment with a “for rent sign.”  It is padlocked and someone has thrown a rock at the front window.  The lyrics told a different story about a miner named Johnny Hymer who being told impending about National Prohibition, threw his tools on the ground and intoned:  “No beer, no work will be my battle cry;  No beer, no work when I am feeling dry.”  Hymer’s unemployment seemingly would be self imposed:  “I’ll hide myself away, until some brighter day.”
Naturally the thought of National Prohibition would bring on “The Blues” for many and songwriters were there to express it.   Al Sweet, a rather obscure composer who died in 1945 at the age of 59, wrote both the music and words to a 1917 “Prohibition Blues,” that included this lyric:
Oh! my Brothers and Sisters, listen to what I say
By nineteen twenty dere'll be no boose sold in the U.S.A.
De whole country am goin' bone dry,
Prohibition am de battle cry,
'Scuse me while I shed a tear,
For good old whiskey,gin and beer.
Goodbye forever, Goodbye forever
Ah got de Prohibition, Prohibition, Prohibition blues.
The cover for the sheet music is particularly interesting for the image of the distraught diner over not having any wine, the weeping waiter, and the bottles of wine, whiskey and beer flying away.  The man in the top hat peering around the corner was known as “Mr. Dry,” the creation of a New York Cartoonist. [See my post on Mr. Dry, August 2014.]
Since it is not possible to copyright a title, a second “Prohibition Blues” followed in 1918.  This one was produced by two celebrities.  Ring Lardner, noted as one of America’s prime short story writers and novelists, also was a composer and lyricist.  His co-author, Nora Bayes, was a well known American singer, comedienne and actress of the period.  In 1918 she was at the height of her fame, having been heavily involved in morale boosting activities during the First World War.  Her photo and credits on the front of the sheet music would have boosted sales.  A year later Bayes recorded “How Ya Gonna Keep Them Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree),” a huge hit for Columbia Records.
As the months rolled on toward total abstinence, the song “I’ve Got the Prohibition Blues (for My Booze)” was rolled out in 1919 by the Elite Music Company of St. Louis.  The sheet music featured a waitress and two customers faced with a choice of tea, coffee, milk or soda, and clearly unhappy with any of them.  The lyrics to many anti-Prohibition songs are far from distinguished, but this one is among the worst.  By an obscure songwriter named Carl Zerse, part of it goes like this: “I’m so thirsty that I’m blue, Old friend Booze I long for you.  I never knew that I’d miss you, the way I do, Boo-hoo, Boo-hoo.”  Think of that put to music.
Joseph McCarthy was an American lyricist whose most famous songs include “You Made Me Love You,” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.”  For this 1919 song — “I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town (When I’m Dry, Dry, Dry)” — he teamed with four time Academy Award nominee, James Monaco.  The words tell the story of a man who loves America but will settle in an English village by the sea come June.  He hates to say “goodbye,” but he is man “who must have a little liquor when I’m dry, dry, dry.”  He then pledges to come back when America has changed its mind.  That, unfortunately would be more than 14 years away.
Others apparently saw no reason for such drastic action.  Another 1919 song seemed to take the alcohol ban with some aplomb.  Written by a trio of New York “Tin Pan Alley” songwriters, it was entitled:  “(For If Kisses Are Are Intoxicating As They Say) Prohibition, You Have Lost Your Sting.”  The cover of the sheet music indicated that it had been successfully introduced by Sophie Tucker, backed by her band, the 5 Kings of Syncopation.  Known as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,”  Ms. Tucker was one of the most popular entertainers in America during the early to mid-20th Century.  With the advent of television in the 1950s she had a rebirth of popularity and I remember her well.  Over the years she spawned almost as many imitators as Elvis.
As the January 1920 hove into sight, one song caught the dread.  As the cover of the sheet music made clear, the hour is about to chime midnight on January 1, 1920, even as the couples waltz the floor.  The Grim Reaper — perhaps Mr. Dry in disguise — is there to point out the lateness of the hour.  The song is entitled “At the Prohibition Ball.” Written by Alex Gerber and Abner Silver, the lyrics provide a fitting conclusion to the songs antecedent to “The Great Experiment.”
We'll be at the Prohibition Ball,
There we'll mix with Mister Alcohol;
Folks will pay their last respects
to Highballs and to Horse's Necks

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Dr. Samuel Johnson and Avoiding the Cheshire Cheese

 On this blog in May 2010, I related the story of how the renown British writer and encyclopedist, Dr. Samuel Johnson, while living a few steps from the famous Cheshire Cheese tavern in London, cannot be identified as ever having stepped foot in the place despite the assertions of the proprietors.  But why?  The answer has remained a riddle but recently I may have found the answer.
Shown here is a soft-covered booklet, known as the “Book of the Cheese,”  that celebrated 270 years of this watering hole.  The cover contains an illustration of a man who is recognizable as the great English encyclopedist and sage of the 18th Century,  Dr. Samuel Johnson.  Inside, the volume proclaims:   “…We have one specimen of the Johnsonian traverse remaining practically the same as it was in the Johnsonian days, we can still depict for ourselves, with but the slightest effort of imagination, what must have been the scene at the Cheshire Cheese in the Doctor’s time.  Johnson is there in his favorite seat, mouthing and talking….”

It was with a great deal of anticipation, therefore, that transiting through London but with some free time there, that a colleague and I ventured to the Cheshire Cheese for lunch in 1990.  The place was redolent with memorabilia of Johnson.   After lunch we literally went around the corner to Johnson’s home in Gough Square, now a museum.  When I told the curator that we had just come from the great man’s favorite tavern, he clearly was annoyed and said:   There is no evidence he ever stepped inside THAT place.”

Upon returning home, I did considerable research on Johnson, who was known to love the tavern atmosphere for good talk and conviviality.   The curator was right, outside of the Cheshire Cheese’s own claims, there is no evidence from Boswell and other biographers that Johnson actually did frequent the pub.   But why?

The answer may lie in some ceramics that recently were unveiled to the public by the British Museum.  Over the years, the Cheshire Cheese has issued dozens of ceramic souvenirs, items ranging from whiskey jugs and beer mugs to tea cups and salt and pepper shakers.  As I write this, I am looking at the original of the small creamer shown here.  In brown stoneware with white embossed decoration it bears the mark of Royal Doulton Pottery.   The recently displayed ceramic items, however  are considerably different.  
These ceramics, in the form of bas relief tiles, were discovered in 1962 after a fire in an upper room of the Cheshire Cheese.   There are eight of them, all erotic, detailing various sexual positions and even a spanking.  Given to the Museum of London, they were sequestered for more than half a century in a basement room.  As a sign of changing attitudes in England for the first time in 2014 they were put on display for the public viewing — but then only for a limited period over Valentines Day and open only to those over 18 years of age.  The London Museum curator, Jackie Keily explained:  “We can’t normally display them because they are so graphic.   It is a fascinating glimpse into the sexual history of London; so few of these artifacts survive.”  The title of the exhibition was “Late London: City of Seduction.”

I have included here some glimpses of the tiles.  Because this is a “family oriented” blog and not a porn site, I have edited them to crop out those elements that are too explicit.  At the same time, the tiles do convey the clothes and furniture of the 18th Century.  Curator Keily indicated that erotic ceramics of this sort were widely available in the 18th Century, if the licentious knew where to go and had the money to buy them.  “From the bath-houses of Roman Londinium and the stews of the medieval Bankside to the Restoration Rakes and Soho’s swinging sixties, this city has long traded in the currency of sex,” she pointed out.
Why were these items found in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese?  Those upstairs rooms may have been used as a brothel or a men’s drinking club where prostitutes were readily welcome.  Experts hypothesize that the tiles would have been kept behind wooden panels and brought out as the occasion demanded, perhaps to stimulate the conversation and perhaps the behavior of the occupants.

Nothing in any of the Cheshire Cheese promotional materials hints at anything like that taking place during the 18th Century.  However, an illustration in the Book of the Cheese suggests a bit of “hanky-panky.”  Entitled “An Incident at the Old Cheshire Cheese,”  and depicts “an interesting episode in the family history of the house.”  It shows two comely young women coming up on  man, apparently named William,  who seems to be forcing his attention on a third woman.  William’s room is said to be “in the distance.”  Why are these women staying at the Cheshire Cheese?  What part do they play in the tavern’s “family history?”

To my thinking, the tiles may hold the answer of why Johnson was not a patron there.  He was notable for his prudish attitudes.   His biographer, Boswell, a libertine, notes the doctor lecturing him with a “prudish face.”   Johnson’s encyclopedia omits most terms for bodily functions.  A story, possibly apocryphal, has him approached by a woman who commended  him for leaving out “all naughty words.”  Dr. Johnson is said to have replied by saying, “Madam, I hope I have not daubed my fingers.”

If Johnson knew what was going on in the upper rooms of the Cheshire Cheese, and one suspects that much of London knew, then he likely would have avoided the premises.  As a result, The Book of Cheese, with its incessant references to Dr. Johnson, might better be called the “Book of Swiss Cheese” because it has so many holes in it.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Kiss of Prohibition: “Lips that Touch Liquor…”


The Demon of Rum is about in the land,
His victims are falling on every hand,
The wise and the simple, the brave and the fair,
No station too high for his vengeance to spare.
O women, the sorrow and pain is with you,
And so be the joy and the victory, too;
With this for your motto, and succor divine,
The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.
 “The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.”  The last line of an anonymous poem from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) became a popular mantra in the efforts by prohibitionists to stop all sales of alcoholic beverages in the United States: It seemingly was a threat by young women to their young men to stay away from the booze or skip the kissing routine.

The origins are said to go back at least to March 1873 and perhaps as early as early as 1869.  The mantra of the “drys” has been cited in newspaper articles, magazines and books;  depicted on placards, signs, and needle point;  and repeated in poems and songs.  “Lips that touch liquor…” has reached iconic stature and as such has attracted more than its share of parodies.  Featured here are a few of its manifestations.

Above is the most attractive of the examples.  It shows a very comely young woman with a “Gibson Girl” hair style, olive skin, and ruby “bee sting” lips.  This lady is eminently kissable.   With this lass the WCTU went straight to the heart of potential swains.  The second manifestation of a abstemious young woman, while still attractive, lacks the impact of the other.  Origin unknown, it appeared on placards and signs of varying sizes and colors.  Was the one left a luggage tag?   A third young woman with the “lips” sign makes no attempt to be seductive.  She seems aggressively angry about the situation.

Songwriters Sam Booth and George T. Evans dedicated a “Temperance” ditty to the “Woman’s Crusade Against Liquor Throughout the World”  and fittingly gave it the “Lips” title.  Among the lyrics were the following:  

Let war be your watchword from shore unto shore,
Rum and his legions shall reign no more,
And write on your bonnets in letters that shine,
The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.

Write on your bonnets?  Booth and Evans must have been taking a snort or two to have thought up that idea.   The prohibitionist sentiments naturally raised the “wet” opposition to parody the idea.  The most enduring images involved very unattractive and sour looking women endorsing the “lips” idea.  One photograph that seems timeless in its appeal has a group of ten chastely dressed matrons beneath the sign.  They clearly are making themselves look as “un-kissable” as possible.  My attention is drawn to the woman in the center with a large hat and what appears to be serape around her shoulders.  Her eyes seem to indicate that her lips might have been on a bottle not long before.
A second riffle on that theme was a postcard with a line drawing of another singularly ugly female flaunting the slogan.  It probably was inevitable that men in the temperance crowd would also become comic relief.  In the 1908 photo postcard shown here a gent with an “anti-saloon” pennant and apparently castigating “lips that touch whiskey,” is standing in front of a liquor store and appears from his crossed eyes to have been doing some imbibing.

The Mississippi Riverboat Owners Assn. obviously thought a “Lips” sign would be found hilarious among their patrons.   Rightly so since it would have been a rare riverboat that did not sell or serve alcohol aboard the craft, along with other pleasures like gambling and prostitution, neither of which the WCTU would have approved.
The “Lips” notion continues to be interpreted and reinterpreted up to the present day.  Note the greeting card that includes the enigmatic message, “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch my liquor,” and a puzzling drawing of a woman pouring drops of liquid out of her boot while standing over a supine male figure.  I am still puzzling over this offering from “Someecards.” This outfit carries an entire line of greeting cards featuring drinking.
Just when we thought the world was safe from the prohibitionists, images like the one below appear.  This young woman with a clenched fist and snarlingly face appears to be representing a new generation that harks back to the heyday of the WCTU.  Marching in a parade somewhere, she has adopted their mantra and made it her own.
As a close to this examination of the theme, quoting a second poem seems fitting.  This one came from the pen of versifier George W. Young.  Appropriately, he entitled it “Lips That Touch Liquor.”  This ditty reads as follows:

You are coming to woo me, but not as of yore,
When I hastened to welcome your ring at the door;
For I trusted that he who stood waiting me then,
Was the brightest, the truest, the noblest of men,
Your lips, on my own, when they printed "Farewell,"
Had never been soiled by the "beverage of hell;"
But they come to me now with the bacchanal sign,
And the lips that touch liquor must never touch mine."