October 10, 2016 § Leave a comment
It used to be the case in Texas that when man stole a horse or cow he was hung, but if he killed a man he was banquetted. This state of affairs has changed some little in late years so far as the general public is concerned, but how about the courts? A man steals a horse and his bail is fixed at $3000; beats a woman, he is fined $50 and the city council promptly remits the fine. If he fires a house he is sent to jail as a capital offender and bail refused him. If he stands up on a street corner and plugs loose at a man with a six shooter until all the chambers are empty, what then? The officer arrested him; he is released on $500 bond and permitted to escape. He only hit his man once, the balance of the bullets chased themselves up a crowded street. How about blind justice sizing up and comparing the gravity of the crime in this enlightened age?
The city of Austin has long needed a patrol wagon and now is the opportune time for her to secure one. The tax levied on dogs by the city council not long ago is ample for the maintenance of a patrol wagon. It would be a most valuable addition to the police force of this city and would tend to do away with that disgusting sight of two or three policemen dragging and fighting along the principal streets of the city with a “drunk.” It is something that we should of had a number of years ago, but we ought by all means to have it now. That dog tax will be sufficient for its maintenance. Dads of the city council please give your little boys in blue a nice little patrol wagon.
October 5, 2016 § Leave a comment
For most of us, speakeasies were a hallmark of the Jazz Age, which flowered with the 18th Amendment and Prohibition, and died with the 21st Amendment in 1933.
In the process of researching Austin in the Jazz Age, I was impressed by the amount of booze University of Texas eds and coeds guzzled, but disappointed in the paucity of information on speakeasies. With the new searchable Austin American-Statesman historical database, I’ve been able to ferret out what little I hadn’t previously found.
Austin had its share of speakeasies, but they were a far cry from the luxurious, decadent clubs in Chicago, New York City, and Hollywood movies: The “21” Club, and El Fey, where Waco’s “Texas” Guinan greeted customers with “Hey Suckers.” Her two biggest competitors were Helen Morgan and Belle Livingston.
But speakeasies were nothing new. Jazz Age speakeasies operated without a license because what they sold was illegal.
Earlier speakeasies were simply unlicensed saloons and were “so called because of the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police or neighbors” says the Online Etymology Dictionary. Saloon owner Kate Hester, who ran an unlicensed bar in the 1880s in a Pittsburgh area town, is credited for the term.
The word, “speak-easy,” first showed up in print a September 1895 Statesman article about bribery, corruption and blackmail in Pittsburg, Pa. Madames of the night paid protection money to police inspectors, who in turn, allowed the houses to run. The inspectors also hit on “speak-easy” proprietors for protection; they evidently sold a great deal of liquor.
For owners who didn’t pay their vigorish, the results could be fatal In May 1904, Statesman readers read an article about a raid on an Allegheny Wharf “speak-easy,” again in Pittsburg, Young Leroy Carver died from a police gunshot wound while trying to escape.
Prohibition had existed locally in Texas long before imposition of the Volstead Act. But most all of the supposedly dry towns had surreptitious “wet” venues often called “Blind Pigs” and “Blind Tigers,” indistinguishable from the speakeasies to come. Many of them were arranged in such a way that a man had to pass through three doors before he was inside the main entrance. He also had to pass two men, who determined whether or not he was a good one. Once inside, you could get practically anything you wanted. A fellow would walk in and asked for an “I Know.” And of course, the bartender would know.
In Georgetown it was sold by the bale at a certain unnamed business house. A farmers would drive up and ask for a bale of hay. What size bale do you want?” the proprietor asked, “A quart or a gallon.” “A gallon” was the reply, and the farmer left with his hay, no doubt the most expensive bale on the market.
Austin, especially the University of Texas, had been awash in illegal liquor, mostly bad, since prohibition came to town in January 1918. Cedar choppers operated dozens of stills in the impenetrable hills west of town. The better stuff came from New Braunfels. UT frat and club dances were legendary sinkholes.
The term speakeasy, in reference to Austin goings-on, did not appear in the Statesman until the late 1920s.
And most of the establishments reported on were house-based, walk-up or drive-by operations, and they dealt in beer. If any of them had a name, it was never mentioned.
The September 12, 1932 edition of the Statesman carried news of a successful raid on a “Curb Service Speakeasy.”
CURB SERVICE at an alleged speakeasy in the 900·block of West Milton street, paved the way Sunday night for what sheriff’s officers claimed was the largest beer seizure ever made here and resulted in the arrest of a 50-year-old man.
Sixteen hundred and eight pints of beer were confiscated in the Sunday night raid which was a short distance from a house where sheriff’s officers seized a few days ago 1356 bottles of beer, Deputy Sheriff Paul Blair said.
Blair said he and Sheriff Coley White and Deputy Sheriff Jack Newman drove up near the purported beer bungalow Sunday night and waited in the darkness.
”Soon a car came up, the horn honked and a man came out of the house,” Blair related. “We could hear the man in the car talking to the other man. Finally, when the car occupants had identified themselves, they were served in the car.
”We then drove on up and went in the house.” Blair said the place was equipped to brew 110 gallons of beer at a time. The officers, besides the 1356 bottles, found two 55-gallon barrels, which they claim were used for brewing the beer.
The man arrested at the house was placed in the Travis County jail.
But some of the houses were sit-down affairs.
Texas Ranger Capt. Frank Hamer (who later gained fame for hunting down Bonnie and Clyde) and other state rangers raided a residence selling alleged beer within the shadow of the state capitol on the evening of August 28, 1928.
While the raid was in progress the telephone rang. Hamer answered it. A man wanted to come over and bring a lady friend. Hamer told him to come on. After the couple was seated at the table, the rangers came in to “take the order.” The situation was reported to be extremely embarrassing to the escort. The rangers had their laugh and let the couple go.
But the rangers said that charges would be filed in federal court (now O. Henry Hall on West 6th Street) against the house’s residents.
Rangers said the place had been very well patronized, being only a few steps through the summer afternoon heat from the capitol.
Sheriff’s officers arrested two black men in a raid on an establishment in a downtown office building on the evening of Saturday, January 10, 1929. After arresting the pair, one of the officers said he waited in the place and took several telephone orders for liquor from offices in the building.
Two speakeasies, one in Austin and another in Giddings, were padlocked in August 1932. The Austin house was on South First Street. Restraining orders were issued to Jasper and Melissa Billings, and Ed and Bessie Plumley: no manufacturing, selling, bartering, keeping, or storing intoxicating liquor for one year.
That same day, liquor complaints were filed against Raymond McCutcheon, Mrs. Viola Pool, and Maria Garza, alias Maria Perez.
McCutcheon was charged with possession of 26 pints of beer at 1007 Holly Street, Mrs. Pool for possessing 14 pints of beer and selling two pints of beer at 2101 Washington Avenue.
Garza/Perez was charged with possession at 2007 East 14th Street.
The “Lit Liza Jane” chapter in Austin in the Jazz Age deals with the often filthy nature of the bad liquor distilling process and the mortal dangers of drinking bootleg.
One of many drives against the East Austin bootleg industry was started In earnest on the morning of January 8, 1930, by Constable Arthur Woody after Judge Frank Tannehill rendered a verdict that Manual Reyana, about 50, died of “denatured alcohol or other poisoned liquors.”
While Woody said that looking for the bootlegger that sold the victim the poisoned rum as like looking for a needle in a haystack, he would nevertheless conduct several raids in the territory near where the man died.
An establishment suspected of being a Mexican speakeasy was raided but Woody said that all the liquor had been removed. He did predict that the sudden death of the man together with Judge Tannehill’s verdict would place a crimp on bootleg trade for several weeks.
The constable’s department raided places, but never found their needle in the haystack.
Austin had its share of “Walking Saloons.”
Liquor traffic was a ”straight from the-hip” process with Austin’s black bootleggers in the spring of 1929. And the quickest on the draw got his sale first.
Recent arrests of a number of “Walking Saloons” by police and Constable Arthur Woody and his deputies got them wondering just how extensively the hip pocket racket had become in Austin’s “darktown.”
The black “leggers” didn’t ply their trade in speakeasies, but filled their pockets with half pint bottles of corn whiskey of doubtful quality and “nigger gin,” and then went out for a stroll. They worked East Sixth street, Rosewood avenue, Chicon, Red River and Comal, then the thoroughfares of downtown life to Austin’s black community.
Police thought competition may have forced the ‘leggers out into the open. Some of them actively solicited business and they sold it to other blacks “whether they belong to the same lodge or not,” the Statesman joked.
The week before, police caught one with a half-pint of whiskey in each of six pockets of his coat, vests and pants and he had room for more. The officers had caught several “Walking Saloons” with more than a dozen bottles on their persons.
“So if the hip pocket ‘legger has enough pockets he can go out with a sufficient stock to do a good day’s business and carry on his social life at the same time,” the Statesman remarked.
Only one classic speakeasy raid is chronicled in the Statesman annals, which went down on the evening of March 4, 1929, and it too appeared to involve beer instead of the harder stuff.
Physical clashes between city officers and attendants in a downtown speakeasy and the speakeasy dog furnished “color” when the place was “shaken down” Monday night.
When the noise of the raid had died down, a man and two women were in the jail, a half pint of whiskey had been saved out of the struggle. Officers Klaus and Jack Newman had been dog-bitten, and the speakeasy locked up.
Described by police as a ‘fort’, the place had been watched for weeks by officers, but their frequent raids were futile because of the proprietor’s system. He always managed to pour the whisky out while they were getting through the two doors, and presenting the search warrant.
But his best laid plans went “agley” on this occasion and as a result he was hauled in on charges of violating the Dean law.
Klaus acted as the process server and let the smaller officers sneak under his arm. By that system they were able to enter quickly.
One of the women grabbed Klaus around the neck and gave the alarm. Four pitchers of amber fluid were quickly poured in the sink but the raiders salvaged some evidence.
During the preliminary skirmish a big white bulldog, which apparently was part of the proprietor’s fortification system, tried to take a sizeable mouthful of Newman’s leg.
After Newman had managed to shake him off he attacked Klaus and left the print of his teeth in his leg, Klaus finally shook off the woman and kicked the dog in the
Snout until he howled with pain.
Outside one of the women reared and pitched considerably and two officers were required to put her in the squad car and take her to jail. Rather reprehensive terms were used during the process, officers said.
Austin finally, almost got its first “Speakeasy” in 1947 when a building permit was taken out in August for construction of a building in Bradford’s Alley, between Congress Avenue and Colorado Street from Seventh to Eighth Street, behind the Motor Round Bowling Alley. This “Speakeasy” was going to be a charcoil broiled hamburger joint serving nothing but food, brainchild of E. M. Hudson, young refrigeration engineer who planned to have the cafe open by September 15.
He chose the name “Speakeasy” because of its exotic back alley location.
He got the idea for charcoal-broiled hamburgers while he was in York, Pa., at refrigeration school where he saw the ground beef broiled over charcoal tor the first time.
Returning to Austin, he decided to put the plan to work for downtown working people. He chose the Bradford’s Alley building site because of its central location.
But the place opened on November 10, at 714 Bradford’s Alley (behind the Capital National Bank building) as Harvey’s, managed by Elsie C. Milroy, former assistant manager at the University of Texas Cafeteria.
“Broilburgers” headed the menu, followed by home baked ham, “really Italian” spaghetti, and ham and eggs served in the skillet.
Well, that’s it for this installment from The Blunderbuss. For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of Austin in the Jazz Age.
Coda: I work to write clever headlines, but sometimes I fear that I am too clever by half. This tale’s title is a defliction of the west African proverb popularized by Teddy Roosevelt, “Talk Softly, and Carry a Big Stick.” But if you have never heard that proverb, you’d probably think I was being crazy, not witty. So how about, “Speak easy, but with some big schtick”? Any better?
September 14, 2016 § Leave a comment
It began sometime after the Civil War, when Austin had grown enough to have muddy streets. Young men and a great host of other characters stood all day in the rain on prominent corners like the corner of Pecan and the Avenue, to watch dainty feet of pretty girls make the crossing, under threat of arrest for vagrancy. Boys made jokes when the doctor held mama’s bare arm too long.
Ladies who did not wish to drag their skirts in the mud – and none of them did –complained of being the objects of this peep show. Many ladies preferred to say home on rainy days. The toxic soup of urine, animal feces and discarded garbage thrown into the open gutter, thickened with the omnipresent limestone dust, ruined shoe leather, hose, and dress fabric.
Improved sanitation practices, paved streets, and the gradual disappearance of horses and cattle from the streets eliminated this problem, but by 1910 it didn’t matter. Hemlines on street dress were well above the ankle, and low-cut pumps showed off the pretty pink ankle that momma’s boots only hinted at.
First-wave feminism was in full flower. Washington State granted women to right to vote that year.
But young women were interested in more than the vote. They liked boys and the idea of what they could do together. When the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed all American women the right to vote in 1920 – when the Jazz Age was coming into full flower — many young women felt they had the right to do pretty much anything men did, including wearing what men wore. They also had the world war to thank for that. America needed all the cloth it could get for the war effort, so it was goodbye underskirts and hello higher hemlines. As women went to work in war production, they demanded suitable, comfortable clothing; that meant men’s-style apparel. Besides looking pretty comfortable and uninhibiting, wearing men’s clothing was heretofore forbidden territory.
The days of the uncomfortable, corseted, hourglass figure were over. The lack of a corset and a low, loose waistline gave girls that boyish Flapper look.
Flappers’ ever-shorter skirts and flimsier blouses prompted campus jokes like “Zekiel remarks that the girl who sits in front of him in his English 1 class wears a shirt waist that reminds him of Pa’s barb wire fence. It protects the property but don’t shut off the view.”
And advertising was a science now, and a course that many co-eds took with gusto, as the above-page from the 1920-21 Cactus illustrates. The eds thoroughly approved of the campaign.
The knee-length, loose-fitting skirts of 1922 (see below) were creating some “excitable boys” on campus. Their collective libido came to a head on the windy morning of February 6, 1922, on the steps of the library as they gathered to hoot their approval when the girls’ skirts took thigh-ward flight in the brisk breezes. The flock of campus buzzards was such that an assistant dean was posted to advise the girls to take the inside stairway.
Shortly thereafter, curves threw women’s fashion another curve ball, and there were new mountains to climb for the hardiest of young men.
September 9, 2016 § Leave a comment
Austin in the Jazz Age, as originally written, was 322 pages long. In order to meet the Isabelle Caro-thin manuscript requirements imposed by the History Press, more than two-thirds of the original work was left on the “cutting room floor,” so to speak, including many of the era’s other colorful characters. No one was more colorful than Red Stanley.
C.R. “Red” Stanley (born 1900 in Denton) was one of that first wave of jazzers who came out of the post-war Longhorn Band, which included Jimmy Maloney, Steve Gardner, Burnett “Blondie” Pharr, Red Bourn, and J.D. Howell.
Stanley, the greatest slip horn artist on campus, was best known for his “Shimmie” trombone performances at Clark Field football games with the Longhorn Band.
The fiery-thatched Longhorn Band trombonist left in 1921 for the bright lights of New York with his trombone under his arm, a grin on his face, and hands in his pockets. He joined Irving Aaronson’s orchestra, the Crusaders. The Crusaders made their first recordings in 1925 for an underground company. Victor signed the group to record in 1926 and the group changed its name to the Commanders. The Crusaders made their first recordings in 1925 for an underground company. Victor signed the group to record in 1926 and the group changed its name to the Commanders. During their time with the Victor label (1926 to 1929), the band enjoyed success with Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave” in 1927, and they appeared in the Broadway show, Paris, in 1928, which featured six Cole Porter songs and made Stanley a star. Red choreographed Paris. According to his wife, Anita Garvin (the dark-haired beauty best known for her work with Laurel and Hardy) Stanley was a marvelous dancer, to the point that his music was nothing compared to his dancing. His talent for comedy and comic voices is evident in several of the Commanders’ recordings, such as “Hi Ho the Merrio” and “He Ain’t Done Right by Nell” in 1926. In 1929, the Commanders’ cover of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love,” was one of the year’s top hits.
Red Stanley made his movie debut as a dancer in The Painted Angel, aka The Broadway Hostess, a 68-minute musical drama that opened on December 1, 1929. The movie’s tag line was “Do you want to know the Truth about NIGHT CLUB HOSTESSES?” It starred Billie Dove, a beautiful ex-Ziegfeld Follies girl, as Mamie Hudler, a New Orleans salon singer who escapes a checkered past by moving to New York City to become Rodeo West, the “queen of the night clubs.” In the process, she finds herself torn between two men. The trouble is, she only desires one of them. It featured five Herman Ruby-M.K. Jerome songs and plenty of dance numbers. Several near-undressing scenes were jammed in, obviously for the sexy, The Film Daily noted at the time.
In 1934, Stanley played in three different 20-minute musical shorts, two of which starred the young Betty Grable. In Love Detectives, two young men competed for the affections of a beautiful blonde, played by Grable. Stanley played one of them, a character named Wells.
In Susie’s Affairs, he plays a character called Putty Face. Young Susie Lee (Betty Grable) and her friends pretend that they’re rich society kids. Susie Lee concocts a scheme in which she takes over a socialite’s apartment in order to fool her boyfriend, played by singer/band leader Art Jarrett into believing that she comes from a wealthy family. What she doesn’t realize is that it is Jarrett’s apartment, and Grable and her singing and dancing friends, including Stanley, entertain him.
Red jumped from the Commanders to play with Rudy Vallee, in addition to his movie career.
In 1935, Stanley married the beautiful Anita Garvin, an Earl Carroll’s Vanities and Ziegfeld Follies alumnus who made her Hollywood debut in 1924, and soon landed a co-starring role opposite Stan Laurel in the comedy short, The Sleuth. The two became friends, which earned her a place at Hal Roach studios, where she often played the shrewish wife or “other woman” in 11 Laurel and Hardy comedies, including Why Girls Love Sailors, as the Captain’s Wife; With Love and Hisses, as one of the ladies admired by Sergeant Banner; Sailors Beware! as jewel thief, Madame Ritz; The Battle of the Century, as the girl who slips and sits into a pie; From Soup to Nuts, as hostess Mrs. Culpepper; Their Purple Moment, as one of the girls “the Boys” pick-up at the Pink Pup; Blotto, as Mrs. Laurel; Be Big, as Mrs. Laurel; Swiss Miss, as the first potential mousetrap customer; and A Chump at Oxford, as hostess Mrs. VanDerVeer. She quit the soundstage in 1940, after A Chump at Oxford, to raise a family.
Red and Anita went on to operate a restaurant in Los Angeles together.
In 1938’s feature-length musical, Cocoanut Grove, Stanley played Dixie, a bandleader. The legendary Cocoanut Grove nightclub was the setting for this all-star Paramount musical. Fred MacMurray headed the cast as Johnny Prentice, a small-time bandleader who comes to the Grove for an all-important audition. The skimpy plot serves as an excuse for an unending stream of specialty numbers featuring Royal Hawaiian orchestra leader Harry Owens, comedian Ben Blue, the zany Yacht Club Boys (a WASP version of the Ritz Brothers), funny-noise specialist Rufe Davis and bandmaster Red Stanley. Nine new original songs were performed, none of which graduated to hit-parade status.
In 1941, he played in Blondie Goes Latin as an uncredited orchestra musician in conga band aboard a South American cruise ship, in Sing for Your Supper as an uncredited musician, and in Melody Lane as “Slim.”
In Melody Lane, Stanley played Slim, a supporting character, along with Leon Errol as McKenzie, behind the stars, a quartet called the Merry Macs, composed of the three McMichael brothers (the Macs) and Mary Lou Cook (the Merry). The Merry Macs are cast as a foursome of entertaining farm boys from Iowa who head for New York but get involved in some trouble when a radio sponsor interferes with the show. They find themselves in trouble when the radio sponsor finds himself accused of kidnapping a girl. Songs include “Septimus Winner,” “Peaceful Ends the Day,” “Cherokee Charlie,” “Let’s Go to Calicabu,” “Swing-a-Bye My Baby,” “Changeable Heart,” “If It’s a Dream Don’t Wake Me,” “Since the Farmer in the Dell,” “Caliacau,” and “Listen to the Mockingbird.” The Merry Macs were popular during World War II and did backup work for Bing Crosby and Judy Garland, working on such tunes as “Mairzydoats.”
In 1944, he made a series of “soundies” with his all-girl swing band, the Ding Dong Dollies: “Big Fat Mama,” “Big Man from the South,” and “Girls from Amarillo.” Soundies were short films, usually lasting about three minutes. They were produced in the 1940s for visual jukeboxes where customers paid a fee to view and hear popular songs of the day.
Stanley played a swing band trombonist in Raoul Walsh’s The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), a fantasy comedy feature starring Jack Benny as the third trumpeter in a band who falls asleep and dreams he’s Athanael, an angel deputized to blow the Last Trumpet at exactly midnight on Earth.
In his twilight years, he enjoyed going with Anita to the many Laurel and Hardy fan club events she attended. He died on April 18, 1980, in Oxnard, CA
September 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
Pathos and Squalor Week has reached its wretched end, and to celebrate, we close with one of the most pitiful events in the history of Guy Town, which appropriately took place at “Mexican” Charley Cunio’s compound at Third and Nueces, courtesy of the Daily Statesman.
October 17, 1885
Dies a Drunkard’s Death in a Miserable Hovel.
Last night, at about two o’clock, Justice Purnell was summoned, by telephone, to a house in Mexico, in the rear of Cunio’s saloon, to hold an inquest over the remains of Della Roberts, or Robertson, a notorious prostitute, who had died from the effects of a spasm a short while before.
The facts elicited before the jury were, in effect, that the deceased had been on a big spree for several days past, but on yesterday she had, apparently, sobered up some what, and was endeavoring to get over the bad effects. She was never known to make any threat to take her miserable and degraded life, therefore the several witnesses examined were of the opinion that no poison had been administered by her own hand or by the hands of any other party. The woman who lived in the same house with Della stated that the deceased had a fit, or spasm, and died from the effects of it, as she supposed. She had been out, and when she returned found the deceased lying on the floor, writhing in the agonies of death. Other witnesses corroborated this statement.
The jury returned no verdict last night, but the verdict will be rendered today. The jury believes that the deceased came to her death from heart disease, superinduced by an overindulgence in whiskey.
There will be few mourners at the funeral today. The deceased had fallen so low that she was shunned by even those of her calling. She was drunk whenever an opportunity offered, and was one of the most conspicuous “Drunks and downs” before the recorder’s court. Perhaps she is better off now than she was before her miserable death. Her troubles are, at least, ended.
October 18, 1885
“She died a drunkard’s death in a miserable hovel.” So said our city reporter and so has said many reporters before. Alas, what a commentary upon human life. “When lovely woman stoops to folly,” she sinks deeper and deeper until the hovel or the gutter is reached. Della was, perhaps, once the belle of her neighborhood and her father’s pride and mother’s joy. But she listened to the voice of the charmer and fell — fell never to rise again for her own sex never forget nor forgive. A single whisper is sufficient to doom an erring sister for ever, even though many who cast stones live in glass houses, perhaps. Yes, died in hovel and those who hastened her ruin did not even attend her funeral. There may be another world where justice is more evenly divided than in this, justice that is tempered with mercy, and heaven’s books will be found filled with petitions that have no precedence in the books we find in this life, and trials there will not be postponed to await the arrival of important witnesses.
September 5, 2016 § Leave a comment
Today is Labor Day. In the words of the United States Department of Labor, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
A rather hollow tribute, given the pitiful state of the minimum wage and the growing gap between the have-a-littles and the have-a-lots.
The Blunderbuss first took this potshot at Texas’ prevailing right-to-starve — excuse me, right-to-work — philosophy three years ago. And as Pathos and Squalor Week winds down, it’s an appropriate time to briefly recount the story of Austin’s first recorded strike.
In much of the rest of the world, May 1 is celebrated as Labor Day/International Workers Day, but the September date was chosen here because after the Haymarket Massacre, President Grover Cleveland feared that observance of the May 1 date would be associated with the nascent Communist, Syndicalist and Anarchist movements that, although distinct from one another, had rallied to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre on International Workers’ Day and that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the bloodbath.
The Haymarket Massacre refers to the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they were in the process of busting up (as in workers’ heads) the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded. Eight men were arrested and convicted of conspiracy. Amid great controversy, four men were hanged, one suicided, two were pardoned. The actual bomber was never definitively identified and brought to trial.
They would not be the only to swing in the name of workers’ rights.
And so, in 1887, the September date was chosen as a sop to the American working class, in lieu of livable wages and anything less than the six-day work week and sunup to sundown work day. Something vaguely akin to Rome’s Saturnalia, when Roman social norms were overturned and masters provided table service to their slaves, except that Saturnalia lasted a week instead of a day, and all the American worker got in the way of deferential treatment was the chance to parade and picnic at their own expense.
God still help you if dared to strike for the right to live something less than a slave-like existence.
I do not known when Austin first celebrated Labor Day, but I can fill you in on the details of when the strike first came to Guy Town and the rest of Austin, courtesy of the Austin Statesman.
August 7, 1877:
“The strike has struck Austin, the first demonstration being made yesterday
morning about 7 o’clock by about 50 negroes. They first visited in a body a gang of black men at work back of the capitol laying down pipe for the city water company, compelling the men to lay down their tools and quit work. They also made some demonstrations towards breaking up the tools, but the appearance of officers prevented that. The strikers then separated in three or four parties, and it was thought the strike was over, but in the course of an hour they re-assembled down in Mexico [Guytown], where they were joined by a few more negroes and a number of Mexicans. They then visited the brick yards and notified the men at work to quit, unless their wages were raised from $1.25 to $1.50 a day. They also visited the men at work on Bahn’s building and Webb and Bros.’ building and notified them to quit work, which a few did.
“During the afternoon the blacks held a meeting on Robertson Hill, and reports got current that 400 were present, but after diligent inquiry, the reporter ascertained that scarcely 100 were in attendance. They resolved at the meeting that they would stand out for $1.50 a day, and pledged themselves to stick together in not allowing any colored laborer to work for less than that price. Quite a large gathering of them assembled last night at the crossing of Pecan street, and the Avenue, where they asserted freely that they would not allow any black man to work for less then $1.50 a day. Some of those who were doing the most talking were men who have long been regarded as loafers, while others were men belonging to the more industrious class. As yet the strike in Austin is a mere farce, but whether it can assume more formidable proportions would be hard to tell.”
So far as I know, no deaths or other violence resulted. Other Texas strikes would not end so benignly.
September 4, 2016 § Leave a comment
Among the unintended consequences of the Civil War and Reconstruction were advances in the art of pornography for use by lonely soldiers, as well as the spread of prostitution—and thus venereal disease—to thousands of towns and village across the country, including Austin.
“Children” is a key word to describe Victorian-age marital relations; women were meant to be worshipped from a distance. Married couples coupled to create babies, not to have fun. It was “understood” that men possessed carnal desires absent in decent women and therefore were allowed to relieve themselves in the embrace of a lady of the night.
The peculiarities of the marriage relationship in Victorian America meant that thousands and thousands of unlucky husbands brought venereal afflictions home to mommy, who then potentially passed it on to subsequent children. As a wedding present, young grooms often gave their blushing brides the clap or syphilis. Rich or poor, it did not mat
With all this widespread sexual activity, venereal disease was running rampant during Victorian America, prompting the saying, “an evening with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury,” as mercury was the most popular treatment for syphilis. It deceptively relieved some of the symptoms without curing the disease and extracted its own terrible toll, such as causing you to lose all your hair and teeth. In cities where prostitution was regulated (it was not in Austin), prostitutes with venereal disease could have their genitals painted with mercury.
World War I got people talking about sex for the first time, the trigger being the rate of venereal disease found in the U.S. Armed Forces. In August 1918, the Council of National Defense estimated, on a conservative basis, that more than 500,000 adult Texans had some flavor of VD. Texas’s state health officer opined that at least 1 million Texans were infected. Keep in mind that according to the 1920 U.S. Census, Texas had 4.66 million citizens of all races, ages and sexual preferences, which means that about half of the adults in Texas had VD, if you wish to believe worst-case estimates. Newspapers in many cities, including Austin, carried discreetly worded ads for VD cures and physicians (called “clap doctors”). Gut-wrenching guilt and the promise of salvation were at the heart of every product ad aimed at men. Some products and ads were aimed at women as well.
September 3, 2016 § Leave a comment
As common as venereal disease was, the numbers did not match the near ubiquity of drug abuse in Guy Town and the rest of Austin. Drug use was perfectly legal; you could buy morphine as easily as a stick of chewing gum. Mothers lulled colicky babies into pain-dulled sleep with morphine-based syrups like Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup (“likely to sooth any human or animal”). When Little Johnny or Jane had a toothache, a cocaine-based lozenge numbed things down nicely. And habits acquired young are habits that tend to stick. Cute advertising cards for the Soothing Syrup and cocaine toothache drops featured beaming children happily at play. Bayer proudly advertised its heroin as well as its famous aspirin.
As has been the case with so many fashion trends, cocaine abuse started among the high society of New York City in the 1880s and was a favorite among Austin drug addicts by the 1890s.
“Woke up this morning had a hunger pain.
And all I want for breakfast is my good Cocaine.”
In March 1894, Officer Gibson arrested Emma Tweedle one day for disturbing the peace. When chuck full of cocaine, or coming down off it, she was really dangerous when she got on the warpath. Emma had gotten up that day in a bad humor, and by the time she got out in the street, she was in a very irritable humor. Among the first things she did was sidle up to a white man standing on the curbstone and plunk him off into the gutter. She proceeded on up the street, never stopping a moment to think, and jumped Officer Gibson, who asked fair Emma what she meant. She immediately told him to go down under the earth and find out and so on. On the way to the police station, the fair lady fought like a tiger. When she was within a block of the station, she picked up a rock with the evident intention of hitting Gibson. He forestalled her, however, took the rock away from her and cracked her over the head instead. It was well for Officer Gibson to exercise care to prevent injury to himself. Emma had beaten his ribs black and blue about a year earlier with a rock under similar circumstances.
Cocaine abuse had gotten so bad, outside Guy Town proper, that Will Porter’s Rolling Stone noted in June 1894 that West Seventh Street, from Congress Avenue westward one block, was infested each night with the lowest, most disreputable and depraved characters of the “gentle sex,” who were keeping the cocaine route well traveled. It was almost impossible for a lady to travel in this locality after dark, even with an escort, on account of the impudent behavior of these street nuisances.
September 2, 2016 § Leave a comment
Procurers looked for victims in railroad depots and watched trains for young women traveling alone. Country girls were in greater danger than city girls because they were less sophisticated, more trusting and more open to the allurements of predators.
The “white slavers” on the trains coming into the city tried to “cut out” attractive girls—making her acquaintance, gaining her confidence and inducing her to leave the train before reaching the main depot, where the police and the various protective organizations had watchers who could quickly detect a girl in the hands of one of these human beasts of prey.
On the night of March 3, 1879, an Alabama country girl, about sixteen, arrived in Austin on a train en route to her brother’s, near Giddings. She had no money or friends. At the depot, she fell in with men intent on her ruin.
Incredibly, while they were attempting to deceive the girl by professions of friendship, Ida Lake, one of Guy Town’s most toughened cyprians, whose house was just across the way, appeared on the scene, took charge of the girl and gave her shelter and protection until the next morning, when a Mr. Hutchins offered the girl a home with his family until her brother could be heard from. “The conduct of Ida Lake was noble and womanly,” the Statesman commented, which were by far its kindest words for her during her notorious career here.
Ida, like so many cyprians, eventually met with cruel fate. On Saturday night, February 20, 1892, Ida was up late and went to bed complaining of being sick. And then, all alone, she died. The next morning, some friends went to her room and found her body. She had been in bad health for some time. Heart disease was supposed to have been the immediate cause of death.
Officer Folwell, while at the depot on the morning of December 3, 1892, noticed twelve-year-old Zoe Clements in company with a white prostitute. He at once took her from the woman. Zoe lived in Elgin, just a short train ride away from Austin. Folwell took her to a reputable boardinghouse. Zoe was obviously a strong-willed girl with a rebellious streak. Was she bent on the horizontal life? Probably not…yet. But anything is possible.
September 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
Having moved to a different cell block where I spend my weekdays, my eyes now confront the unrelenting grey boredom of W, instead of enjoying the variedness of Tin Cup Alley. That’s the price paid for a one-bunk cell.
I made a rare visit back to 1210A3, or whatever its number is, to look at Tin Cup Alley and mark the murder of Laura Lensing in 1869 by one of her customers du jour. The murder scene is a parking lot now, but Tin Cup Alley stinks almost as much today as it did in the summer of 1869.
So I am observing Pathos and Squalor Week in Austin in the memory of girls like Laura and their inevitably miserable lives. One photo a day, not from Guy Town, but one dive is like another. You can also check @xekeus for other odds and ends.