Monday, January 28, 2013

They Wanted to Take the Martini out of TGIF

Above: The picture that may have killed a continental movement.
This image is credited to TUAC.CA. 

Here's some local history pertaining to how people liked to party in the latter part of the 19th century written mostly for my own amusement.

In the mid- 1850's, the Temperance Movement, an effort to prohibit drinking in the United States, had resulted in 31 States creating laws that limited alcohol sale and consumption. In the 1870's, the Women's Movement took up this cause believing that liquor was a contributing factor to many of the country's problems. According to the February 28, 1874  issue of Babylon's South Side Signal, seventy five percent of Patchogue residents were in favor of the Temperance Movement. Interestingly, members of the local anti-drinking group began holding prayer meetings in the village pubs during open bar hours. Their presence was a form of protest against social drinking, and apparently, it didn't phase too many who were praising God in their own way with exclamations of TGIF. (I don't really know if they had the acronym "TGIF" in 1874, and I hardly drink, but man, if I had a time machine I bet it wouldn't take much effort to shock the britches off of that solemn club. Then I'd jump back in my time machine just before the police dragged me to the crude little stone jail house, which I believe was located somewhere behind what is now the Patchogue Fire Department on Jennings Avenue.)

Now picture this scene. (It really happened.) A Mr. Plummer was asked by The West Patchogue Independent Association to gain permission to hold prayer meetings from various bar owners in the village.

According to the above mentioned issue of South Side Signal,
"He got the consent of Mr. George Hawkins and Mr. John Ketcham, and on Thursday night quite a company of ladies and gentleman assembled in Mr. Hawkins' bar room. The meeting was opened by singing and prayer by Rev. William Lawrence, after which addresses and prayers were made by William Conklin, W.P. of Patchogue Division, J.B. Terry, Madam Oaksmith, George Johnson, William Gray and several others, interspersed with singing, which was excellent. The room was literally packed from one end to the other and a prayer meeting was never conducted under such peculiar circumstances. At times it was almost impossible to hear the speaker, such was the noise made by the playing of 'ten pins' and calling for 'drinks.'
Most of the party who acted in such poor taste were ashamed of their behavior afterwards, judging from the manner in which they conducted themselves toward the close of the meeting."
There's a whole lot of editorializing going on in that old newspaper, and I think Elizabeth Oakes Smith's name is misspelled, unless it was her daughter-in-law, Fanny, who attended the meeting. At any rate, this is fascinating stuff.

 A decade later, a January 28, 1881 issue of The Long Island Traveler, (Southold's weekly newspaper), documented gatherings of The Suffolk County Temperance Society.  During a meeting in Bellport, a Rev. Howland told the attendees that the Temperance Movement "has a standing in Congress." He went on to say that with the facts exposed, "we can put down this evil."

A Mr. Whaley went on to say, "People are now generally educated up to the idea that alcoholic drinks are not only unnecessary but injurious."

 The writer points out that in Southold, the movement was "losing ground" at that time, but in Mattituck, one bar owner sold his business to join the anti-drinkers.

A member in Aquebogue noted that despite the fact that very little alcohol was being sold, "one thing against us is that we have a cider mill." Nearby, Riverhead's movement was reportedly thriving through a ladies' division that had infiltrated the schools.

In Brookhaven, it was reported that "the people are sober both day and night." Meanwhile, Bellport seemed divided with two "strong societies- one determined to keep beer out and the other eager to drink it while it's here."

 A Mr. Smith- no relation to Oakes Smith- reported that in Patchogue, "the rum seller is so bad a character that you cannot control him unless you tie him fast. We are making the business as disreputable as possible. Very few men that think anything of their character visit the drinking places."

The people of Bayport and Blue Point were reportedly "total obstainers." (In response, all the modern people  LOL.) Apparently, "lots of drinks" were being sold in Sayville. At a meeting there, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, then in her seventies, partook in a discussion about spreading the temperance message to local youth.

 While I initially had no interest in the local Temperance Movement, I came upon these old articles while researching Elizabeth Oakes Smith and it didn't surprise me that she was an active member, being already a strong voice in the Women's Movement. However, I also wondered if she had experienced the affects of alcoholism within her own family as well. While I cannot find any proof that she suffered because of the drinking of others, I do know that EOS's sons got into other kinds of trouble.  Trouble that involved court appearances and even jail. I'm interested to know if her husband or children were proponents of the movement and I'm still digging into that.

I'm also interested in those who smuggled alcohol into Patchogue during Prohibition. My neighbor found a secret room behind a brick wall in the basement of her old home, and the two of us, being odd in similar ways, like to imagine that it was used to hide liquor.

If anyone out there knows more about EOS's involvement in the Temperance Movement send me a comment or an email.


Timothy Scherman said...

EOS was on this sort of wagon all her life (though I don't know if she didn't have a glass of sherry on occasion--or a tincture of laudenum for headaches, like everyone else!)

In 1831, one of her earliest published sketches (in the Portland FAMILY READER) is entitled "The Dram Drinker."

Loren Christie said...

Again, I really enjoy all of these details you share here. I've wondered if some of her sons might have struggled with drinking ... But I have no proof one way or the other.

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


Loren Christie

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