Saturday, August 8, 2020

Celebrating 300 Posts - A Retrospective

When this website  was begun in April 2009, I promised it would be about “more things than you can shake a stick at.”  That may have been an overstatement, but, as will be seen in this retrospective, this blog has covered a lot of territory in eleven-plus years.  Beginning largely about various aspects of  liquor artifacts and ads, over time it has evolved into more personal reminisces.  To reflect that change I recently altered the name from “BottlesBoozeandBackstories” to “MemoriesandMiscellany”

Recently having exceeded a half-million “hits” on the blog, this 300th post marks a milestone.  To celebrate it, I have decided to reprise briefly those posts that have drawn the most attention through the years.  Only one post has exceeded 6,000 look-ins and that is somewhat of a surprise.  On June 31, 2011, I posted a piece entitled:  “The Vernacular Art of Cast Iron Bottle Openers.”  Now approaching 7,000 hits the post has proved to be by far the most popular. 

I was fascinated by the variety and creativity embodied in cast iron bottle openers. Far from being antiques, most were manufactured in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Although the openers were cast from standardized molds, they were hand-painted by workers who often gave them individualized “personalities.”  Among the examples I chose was a top-hatted man with a sour look generally known as “Mr. Dry.” Mr. Dry was a Prohibition advocate and his frown greets anyone uncapping a beer bottle on his face. While the origins of many of cast iron bottle openers are unknown, this one was created by Wilton Products, Inc., of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. 

The post in second place with some 5,740 look-ins was called “The Kiss of Prohibition: ‘Lips That Touch Liquor…”.   The allusion was to a poem that concludes:  

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 last line became iconic and was used in various formats by anti-drink advocates frequently in the run-up to National Prohibition.  The image also lent  itself to countless parodies. One photograph that seems timeless in its appeal has a group of ten chastely dressed matrons beneath a sign.  They clearly are making themselves look as “un-kissable” as possible.  My attention was drawn to the woman in the center with a strange 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.  Later someone wrote me claiming that her long-diseased great aunt was that woman. My correspondent provided no other details.

In third place with 5,310 hits was my attempt to unravel the riddle of what was contained in the ceramic bottles imported from China for many years by workers brought to the U.S. to work on the railroads and other infrastructure projects. They carried with them or imported distinctive pottery containers, such as the one shown here. For years these bottles were considered to have held Chinese wine.  Under the title “What Were the Chinese Drinking?” and out of personal experience in China, I posited that the bottles contained a strong whiskey-like drink called “Maotai.”  Subsequently I found out that while generally connect, I had named the leading brand of the liquor. Generically it is known as “beijou.”

Only three posts have broken the 4,000 mark.  “Discovering the Swasey Solution” on May 12, 2012, marked the end of my years-long search for pottery companies that created “fancy” advertising whiskey jugs. For the first time in print I had identified several of them but one that left no mark continued to be confounding.  That ended when I came across a catalogue from E. Swasey & Company of Portland, Maine.   It advertised “Light and Dark...Glazed Bristol Ware, Decorated Ware and Fine Glazed Stoneware.”  As I turned the pages surprise after surprise greeted me.  There were many of the mystery jugs.  It turned out to be the Swasey solution.

Another “best seller” has nothing to do with either bottles or alcohol. It was  Entitled “Charles Darwin and ‘The Monkey’s Uncle,’” posted January 30, 1915.   Although Darwin was a thoughtful, serious scientist who made a monumental breakthrough in human thinking, his theories on evolution were often ridiculed by skeptics and, in his time, made the subject of satirical cartoons and other illustrations.  In many cases, a monkey was at the center of such lampoons.  Darwin himself frequently was depicted as a simian by cartoonists and illustrators.  The popularity of the piece indicates interest from both Darwinian adherents and skeptics.

Irwin S. Cobb once was among America’s top celebrities:  Author of 60 books, he was America’s highest paid journalist, a star of radio, motion pictures and the lecture circuit. More celebrated in his time than Johnny Carson or David Letterman in ours, he hosted the Academy Awards in 1935, received the French Legion of Honor, and two honorary doctorates.  A bridge over the Ohio River, several parks, a major hotel, and a brand of cigars were named after him. Yet today, little more than 60 years after his death almost no one knows who Cobb was or what he did.  My post of October 5, 2012 set out a short biography of this “forgotten man.”  As of now some 4,175 individuals have been interested in finding out who Cobb was.

An unexplained large number of hits — often 3,000 or more on every post — occurred over a ten month period from the latter half of 2015 into the early months of 2016.  Then things returned to lower and more traditional numbers. This phenomenon has been explained to me as the effect of another blog or blogs picking up my material and replicating it.  I hope to learn more about how that happens.  

Meanwhile I expect to keep this website active by adding a new post every two weeks.  Given the evolution of the blog, going forward it may have a more personal touch, while still dealing with the wide range of subjects that have been dealt with in the past.  On to #400!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

What I Learned From the Class of ’61


These days a fragment of a Rogers and Hammerstein song keeps running through my aging brain.  Something about as a teacher “from your pupils you’ll be taught…”  But singing was the last thing on my mind on that September day in 1957 when I — twenty-one years old — first stepped in a classroom to face an expectant group of freshmen at Marquette University, the first of two classes to be faced that day.

Copus Hall, MU College of Journalism
That I was there was mere chance.  Bob Dufour, the School of Journalism instructor for all the school’s special English classes, had left the campus temporarily to be in residence one year at the university of Wisconsin while getting a PhD.  Bob was a terrific teacher, a mentor from whom I and others  learned an immense amount about writing.  The fabled Dean of Journalism, Jeremiah L. O’Sullivan, had divided Bob’s teaching load between two of us graduate assistants, allocating to me approximately forty students.

In our final interview, the Dean casually mentioned that I also was to be the “faculty advisor” to the forty, expected to meet with each at least twice a semester.  In other words: “The blind will lead the blind”.  Then he casually mentioned that he also was appointing me faculty advisor to Sigma Delta Chi, the journalism fraternity.  Bob had been the advisor and now no other faculty member was willing to step in.  When I expressed concern on obvious grounds that I was still a member, O’Sullivan said take the job or SDX would be abolished.  I capitulated.

The Young Instructor
That was just the tip of the Dairy Queen cone.  In addition to lesson planning, the classroom, and reading and grading forty papers weekly, I also was attempting to get an MA in journalism.  That meant going to classes where anything less than a “B” was unacceptable, studying for comprehensive exams, and beginning work on a thesis.  My personal life was also a bit, shall we say, problematic. Cooking for myself for the first time, I trembled on the brink of malnutrition.  The summer and fall had seen me emotionally torn between two young women, both of whom had invited me to meet their parents.  Finally, my usual routine included the 
11:45 PM “last call” at the bar of the Stratford Hotel.

Teaching the Class of ’61 turned out to be highlight of my days.  Although some students, particularly those with sub-par high school backgrounds, struggled at first, in time and with practice virtually all of the students improved markedly.  They had enlisted in a school where writing was paramount and seemed to understand that a new writing assignment every week, while burdensome, was important.

Being a student advisor proved to have its moments.  One young woman early came to see me to say she was having difficulties “because I am thinking of getting married.”  When I inquired whether it was someone she had just met on campus or someone back home, she replied:  “No one in particular, I’m just thinking of getting married.”  As her faculty mentor, my comment was: “Happy hunting.”  Soon after she transferred from Marquette.

When a male student handed in a piece he had written for class about the Jehovah Witnesses, I called him in to ask why he selected that topic, gently suggesting it was best to take a subject close at hand.  He rocked me by replying:  “I am a Jehovah’s Witness.”  Having checked earlier, I noted that he had said “Catholic” on his admissions form. He explained: “I am a Catholic too.  My girl friend is a Witness and I am boring from within….”  That left me speechless.  The paper earned a B.

The Teacher Makes a Mistake
As the school year ground to a close in May 1958, I had still not been evaluated for my classroom skills by a member of regular English faculty.  By the luck of the draw, the head of the department showed up, a professor I did not know.  During the class I attempted a blackboard diagram of a complicated sentence. Almost immediately hands went up and voices raised to tell me I had done it wrong.   Turning to my evaluator, I said:  “You may have thought I did the diagram in error to test the class. No, I got it wrong and they got it right. These are great people.”

That was all the Class of ’61 needed.  The kids figuratively were “bouncing of the walls” to participate in the discussion of sentence structure, paragraph formation, and the elements of style.  My subsequent rating as a classroom instructor was complimentary.  Dean O’Sullivan was pleased.

After I left Marquette for the Air Force in May of the following year, I never again taught English rhetoric and writing skills.  Or freshmen.  My subsequent experience was teaching political science to upperclassmen and post-graduates, frequently adults.  No class, however, matches my memories of the Class of ’61.  To quote Philosopher Bertrand Russell, they taught me that: “Education is not to be viewed as something like filling a vessel with water but, rather, assisting a flower to grow in its own way.”   Those “flowers” did grow.  Many of the class went on to have distinguished careers in journalism and other forms of communication. I have followed their trajectories with pride.

Note:  This post is derived from a piece I wrote following a “virtual” reunion of the Class of ’61 in late June of 2020 while the pandemic was still raging in America. Via ZOOM, I was connected with former students and others from my Marquette days, many of whom I had not seen in years.  The organizers of these reunions have been very gracious over the years to invite me and my wife, Paula, who was Dean O’Sullivan’s secretary.  We have been able to attend only one or two, and those years ago.  After the recent get-together participants were asked to contribute reminisces and the above was the result.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

What the Chinese ARE Drinking

More than a decade ago I did a post for this blog entitled, “What Were the Chinese Drinking?”  It was an exploration of the origins of a ceramic bottle, like the one shown here, widely found in the United States and often identified by American collectors as a Chinese wine bottle.  As the result of personal experience, I was convinced that the Chinese were drinking a distilled spirit that I had imbibed in China in July 1976.

I was among a group of U.S. Congress staff aides that had been invited to China and were staying in Beijing’s Peace Hotel when the Great China Earthquake, one estimated to have killed a half million or more people, shook the city and caused our group hastily to leave the next day by special train to sites further south.  After two weeks on the road, we returned to the capital and the Peace Hotel.

During our trip we had been feted with a drink our hosts called “moutai.”  Several of us had developed a taste for it.  This highly potent liquor is made from rice or sometimes sorghum. It has an aroma and taste that some have called reminiscent of turpentine and cat urine. Famously, President Richard Nixon swallowed maotai and grimaced as he toasted Zhou Enlai during his groundbreaking trip to China.

On our last night in Shanghai before returning home, a several of us were partying with maotai but quickly ran out. Very enthusiastic, I ran to a nearby tourist store to buy another bottle. My recollection is that it cost only a dollar or two.  Four of us continued to drink up the new bottle before going to bed.  The next morning I woke up with what has been called the “dreaded maotai sweats.” A not-so-subtle aroma seemed to be exuding from every pore of my body. And my head was pounding. The experience even 44 years later is unforgettable.

My analysis that the Chinese in America were importing a liquor called maotai was only partially right.  Moutai is a brand name for a particular distilled spirit, the generic name for which is “baijiu,”  pronounced something like “bye joe.”  Despite this mistake, that post has been one of my most popular, attracting some 5,300 “hits” to date.  Among those looking in was an anonymous descendent of the Wing Lee family, apparently prompted by the image of the bottle shown here.  That individual provided this additional information:

“My grandfather was the third generation owner of the Wing Lee Wai company, producing Chinese wine and spirits in China, Hong Kong and Macau. The twin storks on the bottle are our family crest. It is the mark of a clan of high standing, and my grandfather's uncle was a Mandarin, an advisor to the Chinese Emperor.

“One of the most famous of the Wing Lee Wai concoctions was a rose liquor, which was brewed from the finest Rosa Damascena petals sourced in their native Turkey. Other popular beverages they made included an alcoholic cola drink, long before Coca Cola hit the mainstream.

“My father still holds the handwritten recipes for these amazing concoctions, many of which contained unusual Chinese herbs. The simple ceramic bottles were hand thrown and glazed on the family property and the shape was traditionally determined by the kind of spirit they contained.”

More recently the subject of Chinese tippling was exhaustively covered by author Derek Sandhaus in his 2019 book, “Drunk in China:  Baijiu and the World’s Oldest Drinking Culture.”  The book takes an lively and encompassng look at the ages old tradition of Chinese drinking such spirits. They come in many forms and may contain as high as 53 percent alcohol, registering them at 106 proof. Compare that to 80 proof for most gins and vodkas.

Sandhaus notes that despite its potency many Chinese contend that baijiu does not leave a heavy drinker with after effects.  He points out that Kweichow Moutai, the very one of my 1976 imbibing, for years has claimed its liquor is hangover proof.  He suggests, however, that by overindulging “you will feel like a fish slapped against the sidewalk the next morning.”  I can relate to that.

Perhaps the most startling information in the book is the revelation that the bottle of Kweichow Moutai that I bought for a couple of bucks in Shanghai has become the prestige libation of Chinese elites. Today that same baijiu sells for about $300 a bottle and might have gone higher if the Communist regime had not acted to rein in the cost.  Recently a bottle of Kweichow Moutai, vintage 1966, was up for sale on eBay at $2,800.

Despite biujiu’s popularity and the number of Americans of Chinese ancestry, there is only one U.S. outfit distilling the spirits.   In Wilsonville, Oregon, the Ly family make several varieties of baijiu in a barn behind their  home.  Shown here are the senior Lys, who are assisted by their five children.  Called Vinn Baijiu, a bottle retails for about $40 but is sold mostly in the Northwest.   The curious might wish to try some but, on my advice, not too much at one time.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Sniffing the Sauce with Nipper Clones II

Forward:  On February 18, 2012, I devoted a post to the many satires that the image shown above have spawned.  Known as “His Master’s Voice” the picture of a dog called Nipper listening to a gramophone became a decades long symbol of RCA Corp. and generated dozens of “send ups.”  In doing that piece I became aware that among them were representations of dogs sniffing at a liquor container and recognizing “his master’s breath.”  As a result I did a follow-up post on that subject May 9, 2014, called “Sniffing the Sauce with Nipper’s Clones.”  During the ensuing years and months I have collected an additional number of examples and believe the time has come to reveal them.

The first object is a ceramic ashtray that features a spotted dog, likely a terrier, similar to Nipper sniffing at a jug, helpfully labeled “whiskey.”  The bowl of the ashtray carries the punch line.  Why the tray is in the form of a horseshoe is not explained.  The second object below, this one in metal, apparently had utility as a penholder.  It is unclear, however whether the jug served as a reservoir for ink.  I like the enthusiasm being shown by the dog, one of uncertain breed.

The photo of a dog looking at a decanter labelled “whiskey,” capped by a syphon is a riffle on the theme.  Here “vice” has been substituted for “breath,” sending a strong anti-alcohol message.  Although the next example, a post card, returns to the usual nomenclature, the artist has given us only the siphon to be sniffed by Fido.  Perhaps the master had just been filling his gas tank and the dog is smelling the fumes.

The following two flasks are from the Schafer & Vader ceramics factory in Thurlinga, Germany, founded in 1890.  Among the wares flowing from their pottery were a wide variety of figural bottles, each containing several swallows of liquor and meant as giveaways by saloons and other drinking establishments. Initially these items were produced and sold primarily in Germany and Austria, but about 1910 the U.S. department store giant, Sears Roebuck & Co., began to import and distribute nationwide Schafer & Vader pottery, with English titles and American themes.

With the success of Schafer & Vader, several U.S. ceramics firms began to compete for its market.  Hip flasks became a popular item, particularly during National Prohibition (1920-1934).  The two additional flask shown below may be American “knock-offs.”  Often the origin can be determined by close examination. The copy-cats often lack the heft and fine design of the German products.

The half pint jug shown here is something of an enigma.  Once part of my perspnal collection, the ceramic is very common and comes up for auction frequently at inflated prices.  For years I attempted unsuccessfully to pinpoint the source of the item since it bears no pottery mark nor label.  The jug likely held some form of alcohol initially but remains a mystery.
The final two objects are shot glasses.  The one at left likely was designed as a gag gift for a whiskey drinker.  The depiction of the dog is bizarre at best, looking more like a Norway rat than a canine.  It seems to have grasped in its claw-like paws a jug of “pure rye” from which fumes are being emitted.  At right is a glass advertising “Old Tucker Whiskey.” a leading label of the Brown-Foreman Company in the pre-Prohibition era.  This Louisville, Kentucky, outfit was formed by George Brown and George Foreman in 1891 and has survived to the present day.  It chose this “Nipper clone” image to merchandise the Old Tucker brand, including on giveaway items it provided to favored customers, including celluloid  pocket mirrors.

With this post, I believe that the subject of Nipper clones, both alcoholic and otherwise has been virtually exhausted.  From a broader perspective the items demonstrate how over the years an iconic image like the RCA logo can be made a subject of humor and satire in so many formats and materials.  If a picture can be said to be worth a thousand words, a dog and a gramophone has been worth about that number of imitations.

Note:  My post on Schafer & Vader can be found at December 3, 2016.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Playing “I Spy” with Apartheid


The regional entities of U.S. labor unions for years operated U.S.-funded programs to strengthen the free labor movements in dozens of countries around the world.   Unlike most USAID grantees, the AFL-CIO had gained the right to approve individuals sent to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs.   My credentials as a former member of the American Newspaper Guild proved useful for obtaining consultant contracts to provide labor-based evaluations and related services.

In January 1990 I found myself in South Africa at the head of a team of three to evaluate the African Free Labor Institute (AFLI) program there.   This was still the “bad old” days.  Apartheid was in full force.  AFLI officials were barred from visiting South Africa and did business from nearby Lesotho.  USAID maintained a mission in Pretoria, however, and we were given visas.  Shown here is a photo of our group:  from right, Dr. Jerry Barrett, a labor specialist;  Ann Mullins, a local woman with ties to the black labor movement, and me.

The evaluation took us to several major cities where we interviewed dozens of trade union officials, some of them white or of mixed race.   A number were well known for their opposition to the de Klerk government.  On occasion we met with union officials late at night at locations down dark alleys. Among them was Cyril Ramaphosa, the current President of South Africa, shown here.

It took several days to realize that our team was being followed by de Klerk government agents everywhere we went.   The first glimmer occurred in Durban.  We hailed a cab outside our hotel and kept it with us much of the day.   The next day, the same driver -- a tall mixed race man about 45 -- was waiting at the door of the hotel to drive us again.  “Did any of you ask him to come back this morning?”  I asked other team members.  No one could remember doing so, nonetheless we made use of his services for the second day.

Our next stop was Capetown, a hotbed of dissent against the discriminatory labor laws of South Africa.  We took a cab, apparently at random from the taxi stand in front of our hotel, shown here,  out to the University of Capetown.  I told the driver -- a white Afrikaner -- not to wait and that we would call for another taxi as we were leaving.   A university official called the cab company for us -- and the same driver showed up. That seemed a little unusual, but we took him anyway.

On the way back downtown we stopped for lunch at a well-known outdoor restaurant.   The Afrikaner,  a stocky laconic sort,  said he would wait in the parking lot located on a hillside above the eatery.   After ordering my meal, I rounded the restaurant to find a restroom and noticed our driver standing at the edge of the parking lot.  He was looking down at our table intently -- with binoculars.

Cautioning my colleagues against making any ill-advised remarks in the cab, we went back to town.   The next day our driver, again apparently one we picked at random, was a young man of mixed race in a cab with a broken door handle.  Like the others, he stayed most of the day with us.  The next day the driver was different but the cab and the door handle were the same.   No doubt a vehicle with a recording device.  

When the time came to fly back to Johannesburg, Jerry Barrett went ahead to the airport.  He later called my room:  “I suspect you will be getting an Indian driver who will ask a lot of provocative questions about your attitude toward the South African Government.  He pestered me all the way out here.”

True to form,  when I emerged from the hotel later that day with my luggage,  the first cab in the queue was being driven by an Indian.  I got in.  He immediately began to bombarded me with questions about apartheid, the government, and race relations.  To all his inquiries I replied that we were in the country to learn, not to make political statements.  I tried to speak directly into the dashboard. 

After landing at Jan Smuts Airport,  Jerry and I went our separate ways.  He to Johannesburg to give a talk and I to Pretoria to have dinner at the home of the U.S. Mission Director, an old friend, Dennis Barrett (no relation to Jerry), shown here.  While waiting for a bus to town I noticed a burly, very bald, white man looking intently at me from a single automobile standing in a clearly marked “no parking” zone.   I stared hard at him for several minutes.  He bolted out of the car and into a nearby building where he continued to watch me through a window.  The bus arrived and I waved a jaunty goodbye.  At dinner that night Dennis, shown above, confirmed that he too was shadowed wherever he went and that he had gotten to know several of his “tails” by sight.

The following day as our team boarded an aircraft to take us to London, a large white van pulled up on the tarmac next to the plane.   The driver was looking at me intently.  It was the same bald man.  As I walked up the stairs to the door of the aircraft, I turned and waved at him again.  Once again he failed to wave back.  The entire experience seemed like something from a John LeCarre novel.

Things changed dramatically after Nelson Mandela was released from prison and subsequently was elected President of South Africa.  In 1995 I returned for another evaluation and found that several labor leaders we had met five years earlier now were cabinet ministers.  Jay Naidoo, whom we had interviewed, now was Labor Minister and had crafted a new labor law.  He made me a guest at the formal rollout of the new law, one that eliminated the discriminatory processes of the old regime and opened a new era in South African labor affairs.  Being invited was a singular honor.  This time I was not followed.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Drinking and Driving III

Twice before I have featured posts that documented how frequently beer and liquor companies prior to National Prohibition featured their products in juxtaposition to motor cars.  At the end of the 19th Century in the entirety of the United States there were only 8,000 automobiles.  Over the next 14 years that number exploded to 1.7 million.  Purveyors of alcoholic beverages were quick to jump on the motorized bandwagon.

Among them was James Hanley, a liquor dealer who with a partner in 1876 bought an existing brewery in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  Several years later Hanley moved it to his native Providence.  In 1901 he issued a calendar featuring an elegant couple out for a ride on their “horseless carriage.”  Note that this vehicle is still being steered with a lever and the driver is sitting on the right side, British style.  The association of the automobile with alcohol is cemented by a picture on the front panel of a gent and a beer bottle.

By 1907 when the J. & M. Haffen Brewing Company of the Bronx, New York, issued its calendar, the steering wheel had replaced the lever and back seats had arrived but the driver still sat on the “wrong” side.  The excited woman with her arms raised clearly in the rear has been imbibing some of Haffen’s brew and is in clear danger of being flipped out at the next corner.  Founded in 1856 by Mathias Haffen, a Bavarian immigrant, the brewery flourished. It incorporated in 1900 and moved into a new seven-story building but faltered with the onset of prohibition and closed in 1917.

By 1911 when the Adam Scheidt Brewing Company issued its calendar, the motor vehicle in the background had a honest-to-goodness steering wheel and the driver sat front left.  The scene is more explicit about the picnic beverage.  A young woman, looking slightly tipsy, is holding out her glass for more beer as her boy friend contemplates opening another bottle from the apparently once-full case and filling both glasses. The brewery began in 1870, run by German immigrant brothers Charles and Adam Scheidt.  With time out for National Prohibition their brews existed for more than 100 years.

The Piels Brothers Brewery was founded by Gottfried, Michael and Wilhelm Piel, immigrants from Dussedorf am Rhein, Germany.  Arriving in the U.S. in the 1880s, the brothers bought a small old-style brewing plant on Long Island, N.Y., then in disuse, and began introducing more modern scientific principles.  Michael was the brewmaster and plant superintendent.  The brewery met with considerable success and expanded as its reputation spread across the U.S. and abroad.  The company provided saloons carry its beer with a painterly looking lithograph of five men driving across the desert and obviously lost, seeking directions from Indian braves on their ponies.  Note the “cow-catcher” on the front   of the automobile.

The quality of the sign may be explained by Michael Piels reputation an art aficionado.  The identification with the brewery is subtle.  Shown here in detail is the cargo riding on the running board.  It appears to be a case of beer with “Piel Bro’s E.N.Y. (aka Brooklyn) Brewery.” In September 1973, Piel Bros. plant was closed down after 90 years of operation. 

In contrast to the subtlety of the Piels’ offering is the saloon sign from the Conrad Seipp Brewing Company of Chicago.  It depicts two couples in an antique roadster traveling on hazardous single lane mountain road — notice the absence of guard rails — only to be stopped by a giant bottle of Seipp’s Extra Pale Beer.  The party also is greeted with graffiti on the clift advising: “You can’t get around it, it’s the pure food beer.”  The company also issued a serving tray that carried the same image with some slight alteration in the colors.

Nickolas “Nick” Herges provided his customers with a pocket mirror that showed him smoking a cigar above a building that held his saloon, the Budweiser Tavern in St. Paul Minnesota.  The name of his establishment indicates a “tied saloon,” one in which only Bud and other Anheuser Busch products were sold. The automobile in the scene appears to be chauffeured.  Herges was an immigrant from Germany, according the 1910 census.  He lived above the tavern with his wife, Susan, born in Minnesota of German ancestry, and their three sons.

For years I harbored doubts whether the ad from the Bock Auto Bar Company of Milwaukee was authentic.  It discusses “dusty roads” making motorists thirsty and prescribes the “Auto Beer Bar” as a remedy:  “Your favorite beverage on tap all the time.  Invaluable in traffic jams or on Sundays.”  The illustration shows a gent gleefully filling a goblet with beer from one of two barrels installed under the dashboard.  From the perspective of the present day this would seem to be a spoof.  Those who have investigated, including me, a former Milwaukeean, have concluded that the evidence is on the side of the ad’s legitimacy.  

Drinking and driving — today anathema — in an earlier time was eagerly embraced by breweries and saloons.  The evidence is here and in dozens of other beer and whiskey ads and merchandise. 

Note:  Some of those other marketing uses of “drinking and driving” are found in my earlier posted articles on the subject:  November 7, 2015, and April 22, 2017.


Saturday, May 16, 2020

Drugs, Sex, and the Military in Panama

I recently watched the 2012 movie, “21 Jump Street,” about two rookie  policemen who go undercover back to high school in an effort to break up a drug ring.  The movie got good reviews but has the usual Hollywood trappings of a motorcycle and car chase, vehicle explosions, and considerable gunplay.  Nonetheless, the firm reminded me of my own adventure involving an analogous situation in the Panama Canal Zone.

It all began in November 1986 with a seemingly innocuous item in the Commerce Business Daily (CBD), the Federal government’s daily list of contracts being put out for bid.  The notice was from the U.S. military’s Southern Command, known as SOUTHCOM, located in the (former) Panama Canal Zone.  The Command was seeking a contractor to open and staff a secondary school for American military dependent students at a mothballed military base near Colon, a city on the Pacific side of the canal.

It was an unusual assignment but not so odd that the consulting firm for which I was working lacked interest.  The chairman, a New Mexico-born Hispanic, had lived in Panama, went to high school there and later had played on the national basketball team.  In addition, education in Central and South America was a “core” area of our business.  He was keen to find out more — and possibly to bid for the contract.

Since we would be dealing with Americans, my inability to speak Spanish was not a problem and thus, as vice president in charge of international business develpment, I was tapped for the assignment to investigate the opportunity and, if a go, lead the proposal team.  Moreover, I was familiar with the Canal Zone, having made two trips there as a staff member with Congressional delegations in 1962 and 1970.

Both trips had left me with lingering bad memories of the Zone and Zonians, as the Americans who lived there were known.  On the first trip a congressman in the group, a Catholic, at a party thrown for the delegation was subjected to an anti-Catholic slur by a somewhat inebriated colonel’s wife.  During the second trip, a specific mission to review SOUTHCOM,  the U.S. military's Southern Command, a black Panamanian friend and dinner guest of one of the congressmen was insulted by a drunken major in the SOUTHCOM Officer’s Club.  Moreover, during a Sunday boat outing for the delegation, several officers accompanying us were drunk and incoherent by 10 a.m.  Details were reported to the Secretary of Defense upon our return with a recommendation to get SOUTHCOM out of Panama.

In 1977, responding to nearly 20 years of Panamanian protests, President Jimmy Carter and Panama’s General Omar Torrijos signed treaties that replaced the original 1903 agreement and called for a full transfer of canal control in 1999.  SOUTHCOM and other military were allowed to stay until that date but a naval base on the Colon side was “mothballed” as the Zone itself became Panamanian territory.  My pre-trip research revealed that Christobal High School, shown here near the Colon base, had been shut down but appeared to be intact and possibly could be reopened to accommodate the projected school.

In a piece of good fortune I first stopped in Honduras to do some marketing with American officials.  At lunch in the U.S. Embassy cafeteria , I happened to sit at a table with an American Army captain.  We struck up a very friendly conversation.  I was surprised and intrigued to find out that he was head of the military anti-narcotic unit in the former Zone.  When I told him where I was bound and why,  he said cryptically:  “When you get to Panama, look me up. I may have something you will be interested in.”

The Captain’s office was my first stop.  He told this story:   Through an undercover enlisted man posing as a high school student, his unit had broken up a drug ring, one dealing in pot and cocaine, at the American High School in the former Zone.  About a dozen boys, all sons of officers, had been caught exchanging banned substances, readily available in Panama, for “sexual favors” from the wives of enlisted men.  The encounters occurred at the women’s homes during the day while their husbands were on duty.  

That day I met the undercover MP, a handsome young man
of Latino heritage who looked a trifle old to be in high school but had pulled off the impersonation.  He emerged with the names of the boys involved in the drugs-for-sex ring.  Night raids on their bedrooms were conducted at their military-provided homes, sometimes over strenuous parental objections. More incriminating evidence was turned up.

Under the terms of the 1977 treaty that turned the Zone over to the Panamanians,  the juvenile perpetrators should have been subjected to Panamanian law.   Reluctant to submit them to Latino justice, however, the U.S. military alternative was to banish the kids back to the U.S.  In most cases that meant that their mothers had to go with them.  Over time their officer fathers had complained loudly and repeatedly to the Commanding General about not having their wives around.  

Thus was hatched the idea of opening a special boarding school for the drug-dealing over-sexed boys, a place where they would be under supervision but inside Panama, with families semi-reunited and Mama back home. Tucked away on the Pacific side of the country, the miscreants would be out of sight and, it was hoped, out of trouble while getting an education.  This clearly was a military solution:  The costs involved apparently were not a consideration.

The scheme may have seemed like a good idea at the time to the Army brass, good enough, in fact, to warrant a formal announcement in the Commerce Business Daily, but my presence in Panama seeking more information appeared to panic the population.  At the American High School, shown here, the civilian principal emphatically denied to me that there were any drug problems at the school and feigned complete ignorance of the projected high school in Colon.

A series of phone calls revealed that no military officer of any authority was willing to talk to me. There were firm denials about the Colon school plan -- until I read from the CBD notice.  After a few semi-frantic calls it was decided that a female Army second lieutenant from public relations would meet with me at SOUTHCOM headquarters.  The interview lasted less than five minutes.  She suggested that military secrets were involved and, over my objections, we adjourned.

Adding to the excitement was my decision not to rent a car.  During earlier visits taxicabs had been ubiquitous in the Zone so I had decided not to hire a car and driver.  In the new era, however, taxis were virtually nonexistent. I was forced to beg rides, even hitchhike, from office to office.   The personal sense of adventure involved in that strategy evaporated by afternoon when I got caught in a driving rain squall while walking a half mile to my final appointment, a meeting with an Army psychiatrist whose relevance to my inquiry I cannot recall. As my suit dripped on his carpet, he was pleasant but as unhelpful as the others.

That night, as I stood in my hotel room watching the sun go down over the skyline of Panama City I was struck how changed it had become since my earlier visits.  High rise buildings were to be seen everywhere with cranes busy constructing others.  Most of those high rises were empty I had been told, built as a way of “laundering”  the millions of dollars in narcotics money that flowed through Panama.  Then I sat down to write my report of findings. In summary:  “This procurement is crazy.  Forget about bidding.”

My visit apparently set off alarm bells not just in SOUTHCOM but likely all the way back to the Pentagon. Before I had even returned to my office, the Colon school procurement notice had been rescinded without explanation in the Commerce Business Daily.  How much heartburn, I wondered, might that have caused some of the officer corp at SOUTHCOM.  But on the other hand, score one for rationality.