Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Author: Betz (page 2 of 5)

Halloween Mischief

Have a drink with: Halloween hooligans
Trick or treat, smell my feet…

Ask them about: Mayhem, outhouses, peanut scramble.

pumpkin_mg_2824

It was 1933, and Charles J. Dalthorp had had it. Writing in the Journal of Education in 1937, the superintendent of schools in Aberdeen, South Dakota, bemoaned the Halloween holiday and its attendant juvenile warfare. Describing the aftermath of the day he calls “Hell-o-e’en” (get it?), he writes that the police in Aberdeen are, plainly: “out-generaled, out-manoeuvred, and finally view the results of battle in large property losses, a complaining citizenry, and a smug but triumphant army of boys who have outguessed the law enforcement agencies.”

Surely he’s overreacting, right? This must be the sort of pearl-clutching exaggeration one expects from days gone by. What adorable mischief did the little scamps get up to?

[I]n 1932, the grand and glorious Hallowe’en brought general property damage in excess of five thousand dollars, and left the streets and avenues in the city strewn with 135 truckloads of junk and refuse.

Um.

All of this occurred in a town with a population of less than 18,000 people.

Suffice it to say helicopter parenting was not a thing in the 1930’s.
Continue reading

David Bushnell

Have a drink with: David Bushnell
Damn the torpedoes.

Ask him about: The one that got away

bushnell_img_1929

Folks in Warrenton, Georgia were understandably sad when Doctor David Bush passed away in 1826. Single and in his eighties at the time of his death, the old man was a local institution: in more than thirty years in town Bush had practiced medicine, been active in local politics and even set up an area school. Folks knew the local doctor was quiet, civic-minded and accomplished.

So his secret identity may have come as a bit of a surprise.
Continue reading

Surly Puritan Judges

Have a drink with: New Haven Puritans
Judge swung his fist down, plunk plunk

Ask them about: Anything but Quakers.

nhv_puritans2_mg_2703

It’s election season, which means we are faced with ample opportunity to confront our worst tendencies and unresolved problems as a society, along with the inevitable call to harken back to a better, simpler, more moral time in American history.

Just so we’re clear, though, that time was not the 17th century.

Consider The Case of the Piglet’s Paternity, a fascinating collection of thirty-three cases heard before the Puritan courts of the 17th century New Haven Colony and superbly edited by Connecticut superior court judge Jon Blue. We can learn a few things from this book:

  1. Do not let a few instances of good justice wallpaper over a majority approach that marginalizes citizens and preserves a fear-based status quo.
  2. Don’t serve sailors booze by the quart.

Continue reading

The Republican Congressional Cook Book

Have a drink with: Your Friendly Postwar Congressional Republicans
Reducing sauces AND the national debt…

Ask them about: Recipes for your Labor Day cookout

GOPCookbook_MG_2669

In 1962, then-Congressman Gerald Ford lent his name to The Republican Congressional Cook Book, a collection of recipes and peppy political axe-grinding given to constituents.

“It is our hope that as you read this Cookbook and use its recipes,” the book begins, “you will enjoy cooking, which is one of the few things not yet regulated by the Federal government.” Ha!

Continue reading

William Randolph Hearst

Have a drink with: William Randolph Hearst
“…an especially dangerous specimen of the class.”

Ask him: How’d you like Citizen Kane?

Hearst_Bierce_MG_2676

Kentucky’s William Goebel, who has the unfortunate distinction of being America’s only governor to be assassinated in office, was shot by an unknown gunman in January 1900 during the recount of his own contested election. The author and satirist Ambrose Bierce tactlessly commented in the New York Evening Journal:

The bullet that pierced Goebel’s breast
Can not be found in all the West;
Good reason, it is speeding here
To stretch McKinley on his bier.

Bierce was at the time a columnist for William Randolph Hearst’s Examiner, and neither was his employer was any fan of President McKinley’s; one of the Hearst papers famously ran an anonymous column in 1901 urging that “If bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done.”

Suffice it to say that when the anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in September 1901, folks remembered what they’d read in the paper.

Continue reading

Frigorific!

Have a drink of: Nice Cold 17th Century Beer
Less filling; tastes great.

Ask your friends: to buy you a round.

Frigorific_Ice_MG_2632

In 1662 Charles II gave his charter to the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge (the “Royal Society,” for short). A hybrid of a gentleman’s club, an entrepreneurial incubator, a maker faire and a science journal, the Royal Society was prolifically dedicated to the idea – famously explained by Adam Savage – that the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.

In their own justifiably proud words: “We published Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, and Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment demonstrating the electrical nature of lightning. We backed James Cook’s journey to Tahiti, reaching Australia and New Zealand, to track the Transit of Venus. We published the first report in English of inoculation against disease, approved Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, documented the eruption of Krakatoa and published Chadwick’s detection of the neutron that would lead to the unleashing of the atom.”

And let’s not forget: they made sure 17th century England could have cold beer in summertime.

Continue reading

Delia Bacon

Have a drink with: Delia Bacon
“…very wise in the doctrine of consequences.”

Delia_Bacon_Gravesite_MG_2519

Ask her about: fair and balanced journalism

Once upon a time, two crazies went head-to-head in a public challenge. It was a deeply partisan fight marked by high emotions and questionable discretion, and in the end the loudmouthed, cowardly male nut job won in a maddeningly close vote by going after his intelligent but awkward female opponent with sexism and misdirection.

This was 1847, by the way.  Have we learned nothing?

Continue reading

New Jersey Justice

Have a drink in: New Jersey
Jug handles and justice.

Ask: what exit?

New_Jersey_MG_2512

No one would blame you for reading the news lately and deciding that 2016 was the year that somehow squeaked past quality control at the Time & Space Assembly Plant, having been created from spare parts by drunken intern howler monkeys.

Even though reasoned voices assure us that things in fact aren’t that bad, that doesn’t mean any of us are exactly sleeping better in the short term. But once again our 19th century friends at the New York Ledger arrive to the rescue, with some brass-tacks advice on where exactly America can find an example of solemn, principled order:

New Jersey.

Continue reading

Abercrombie & Fitch

Have a drink with: Abercrombie and Fitch
Do’s: Rifles, tweeds, pickaxes. Don’ts: flip-flops.

Ask them about: How to build a fish pond on a Manhattan rooftop

Abercrombie_Fitch_2490

The words “Abercrombie & Fitch” might suggest any number of things to you: overpriced t-shirts for cool kids, shady employment practices, shirtless models, or maybe the soothing feeling of being locked inside a 150-decibel cologne diffuser.

But one of today’s most vilified brands was, once upon a time, America’s most successful gear shop. Hiram Bingham used A&F as outfitters for the Yale Peruvian expeditions that revealed Machu Picchu to Western culture, and customers like Hemingway and Teddy Roosevelt were known to shop there for their rugged manly provisions of choice (not to exclude the ladies, either: Amelia Earhart liked their suede jackets).

And in the brand’s 1970’s twilight, a salty old doctor from Cleveland, Ohio found out just what Ezra Fitch meant when he offered a lifetime guarantee.

Continue reading

Parenting a Toddler, 1859

Have a drink with: An Anonymous Neat Freak
Not a fan of the cake smash.

Ask him: so how do you feel about nursing in public?

Clean_Kids_2481

In an evergreen forest of advisories, parenting blogs, media content and pop-sociology books on parenthood it’s easy to suspect that no era outside of our own has ever been so laser-focused on how we mold our children, and even easier to feel nostalgic for a time in which maybe, just maybe, people kept unsolicited parenting advice to themselves.

But lest you think the past was a freer, bygone era, take one (presumably male) 19th-century New York journalist, who if he even had kids was at least very lucky his wife, children and no doubt ample domestic staff did not one morning decide to lace his oatmeal with strychnine.

Because if you believe the July 2, 1859 issue of the New York Ledger, children should apparently not only be neither seen nor heard, but little walking Swiffer pads for Jesus. Mothers, take note:

Continue reading

Older posts Newer posts