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SAD TALES OF PRE-PROHIBITION DAYS.
IT would seem to be eminently fitting to group the events chronicled below in the Thirteenth Chapter of this History.
In the light of present day happenings and with the echoes of rage, despair and lamentation filling our ears, it would be hard to imagine the incredulity with which many worthy, and otherwise, patriots of a former generation would have regarded the possibilities of the present prohibition era- Indeed, there are many who now, looking back to earlier days, can with relief affectionately recall various old-timers who have passed on to another existence, and thus been mercifully spared the desolate days which now follow each other in hopeless succession.
However, there is such a thing as carrying pathos too far. So we will let the scenes shift to a famous day in the history of Hank Towner.
Return of a War Hero
No one in his native town had ever suspected Hank Towner of being a hero. The ordinary pursuits of peace held little attraction for Hank, at least that portion which involved real actual labor. To be sure, there was plenty of reason why Hank should work every day, but there were other reasons why he did not work except occasionally, and the chief of these reasons was John Barleycorn.
However, this is a world of unsuspected opportunity, as Hank found out for himself. This was many, many years ago, but as Hank persisted long years after the supposed scriptural limit of seventy years, his history remains vivid.
War was declared with Mexico, and about the very first to respond to the call for volunteers was Hank. Military life appealed to him, and he became a model soldier. This fact, however, made little impression upon his fellow citizens who had known him so long under different circumstances. His company marched away and the war went on and although Hank was reported to be a good soldier, it seemed to his former associates that there must be some exaggeration about it.
One day the town woke up. There had been a great battle, at least great for those times, and wonder of wonders, one of their own boys had distinguished himself and become a national hero. The newspaper reports were read eagerly and in all details. Hank who was assigned to a battery company, had remained at his post when his comrades had fled and had single-handed held the enemy back with volleys of grape-shot.
The town was even more impressed when it was learned that Congress had passed a vote of thanks to the distinguished soldier whose heroism and unfailing nerve had saved the day.
Every citizen of this patriotic little town thrilled at this report. To think that they had had a national hero grow up in their midst and had never recognized the fact! They really felt ashamed to look each other in the face. But they resolved if Hank ever got back to his home town he would get an ovation such as had never been known in that valley before.
The war came to an end. The troops were ordered home. It was time to show their appreciation.
A meeting was therefore held and the leading citizens constituting the Reception Committee were authorized to equip themselves with badges, engage a band and declare a public holiday for the town, in order that the distinguished son who had cast such glory upon even the most conspicuous of the town's people should receive suitable testimonial of the esteem in which he was held. This of course is but a meager abstract of the gracious phrases of those who elaborated the reception plan.
No railroad reached the town at that time and Boston passengers came by stagecoach. Definite arrangements were however made by which it could be known just what day Hank would arrive.
The auspicious day dawned bright and fair and business was practically suspended. Long before the stage was due to arrive early in the afternoon, the streets were thronged. The Reception Committee had repaired to the principal hotel, at which point the stage was to deliver the distinguished passenger.
Stagecoaches were run on an excellent schedule in those days. And at about the time prepared for in the program, small boys who had climbed the tall trees on the hotel lawn, announced in shrill tones that the stage was coming. A thrill passed through the crowd. This was a day to remember. And indeed it was. The driver of the six Morgan horses attached to the stage with the long reins wound around his hands, brought his equipage skillfully down the long hill and through the covered bridge, from which point he passed down the street and around the corner. The road was now straight to the hotel and the spirited horses came down the street with a rush, drawing up before the hotel portico with a grace which none but Morgan horses could ever equal.
The Reception Committee of distinguished citizens, wearing their high hats and badges, now came impressively down the steps of the hotel and formed in a semi-circle at the side of the coach. Some unfamiliar passengers climbed down from the top and two or three women looking exceedingly disgusted, got out of the interior of the coach. There was an awkward pause. Then someone asked the driver,
The driver pointed significantly toward the interior of the coach. The spokesman of the Reception Committee stepped forward and looked.
Hank had arrived! He was lying in a stupor on the floor of the coach, while the strong alcoholic odor which floated out upon the atmosphere made all further questions unnecessary.
It is often hard to decide whether the man who performs a kind deed for his neighbor or the neighbor himself is the most benefited by the friendly act. In the following instance it is evident that the chief benefit derived was to the party of the first part.
Motorist Who Was Good to Antoine
Antoine was a natural born hustler. No one knew better how to get a bumper crop from his farm or how to drive a harder bargain in a livestock transaction. His naturally rapid accumulation of assets, however, was being constantly depleted by the apparent necessity on his part of taking a few days off every now and then, in order that he might sample various brands of wet goods. As there was not only a considerable expenditure of cash, but a loss of time involved in these holidays, they were expensive, even if we leave out the consideration of fines imposed when Antoine's powers of locomotion had become totally suspended.
It was therefore an unpleasant sight to a certain prosperous young business man of the vicinity, when one afternoon, at the intersection of two busy streets he beheld Antoine whom he had known a long time, ambling along very plainly under the "influence." To the young business man it seemed a shame that so naturally industrious and worthy a citizen should be allowed to perambulate directly into the arms of a cop, which seemed likely to happen in the very near future, and thus very likely find it necessary to pay a fine before he could get back to his farm.
These reflections were followed by a noble and generous impulse. Calling to Antoine, he told him he was going in the direction of the latter's farm and would be glad to take him home in his car.
Antoine promptly accepted the invitation, climbed into the car and in a short time was unloaded, safe and sound, in his own door yard. He expressed loquacious thanks for the favor which had been done and the young business man went on to look after some incidental matters in the vicinity, feeling greatly pleased with himself.
Antoine's farm was not far distant from the trolley system which took him into the town from which he had just recently been delivered. When the motorist had made his rounds and returned to the starting point, and had run his car up to the curb, he looked up the street and rubbed his eyes. Had the last two hours been a dream, or had he actually performed a noble act? A look at his speedometer convinced him that he had actually made the trip, however.
What he saw that was so confusing was Antoine just getting off the trolley car. There had been just about time enough since he had been taken home for him to meander down the road and catch the car for the original starting point.
Antoine had come back to town to finish the job.
To certain citizens there would seem to be something radically wrong with society when prohibition officers will deliberately receive and sometimes actually destroy "good liquor."
Tale of a Rescued Keg of Whiskey
It was a shock to Harry W — years ago when he heard that there had been a prohibition raid on a certain bottler of soda water and various other colored fluids, during which several five-gallon "kags" of whiskey, gin and brandy had been dumped unceremoniously into the river.
It seemed as though something ought to be done about such a reckless act and after some reflection Harry decided there could be. Hastening down the street to the outskirts of the town, he entered a fringe of bushes by the river bank and waited. Sure enough, shortly afterwards down came two kegs, the bungs of which had been knocked out before their emersion and which were wabbling along in the current.
Wading out into the stream, Harry succeeded in towing these two kegs to the shore, and pulling them into the bushes he anxiously sampled the contents. In one of the receptacles, river water had very sadly marred the flavor of the original contents, but in the other, by great good luck, there was very little adulteration. Harry smacked his lips and, carefully hiding the keg in the brush, hastily withdrew. Late in the evening he secured his prize and succeeded in taking it unobserved to the home of his father, with whom he lived, hiding it in the cellar. When Harry told his father what he had done, the latter was greatly pleased, but cautioned him that he must not let a certain younger brother know anything about it, as he might indulge too freely.
From that time on, day after day, the father and son, coming in from their tasks, would adroitly make their way to the carefully concealed prize in the cellar, from which they would emerge with that deep satisfaction associated with luxuries which can be enjoyed at someone's else expense.
However, the younger brother became interested. It seemed to him that there was "something doing" in the house. So, one morning he decided that he was not able to work and left to himself he made a careful search of the cellar. Just what he did afterwards may be inferred from the sequel.
When the father and son sat down to supper, there was a vacant place. Hugh was absent. Just what he was doing was uncertain, but the mystery was soon solved. A kindly neighbor came in to say that a cop had found Hugh parading the streets in such an extremely hilarious condition that he had found it necessary to place him in seclusion to sober up.
The next morning Harry and his father went to court, paid the fine and Hugh was allowed to go home. Just what became of the keg and its contents does not appear in the history, but it is not likely that it was taken back to the river.
While the anguish produced by prohibition is of recent date in most states, in one or two New England states it befell to an earlier generation to endure this form of privation a good many years ago.
Prohibition Whale Oil
In this region prohibition made its entrance about the time that whale oil was in its last stages of usefulness for illuminating purposes.
It had been a long established custom to include among other necessities at the grocery store, the refilling of the family jug with Medford rum. And when, owing to meddlesome tactics of certain teetotalers, storekeepers became somewhat shy about replenishing these jugs, there was much dismay.
However, there were exceptional dealers who not only had a stock of old Medford on hand, but felt a deep sympathy for old reliable customers who were thus subjected to such inconvenience, and who would "find a way." One of these ways was to have the customer call for oil and at the same time give a certain signal. When this plan was working well, the customer would find the contents of the jug to be entirely satisfactory.
One Saturday afternoon, two worthy citizens who lived on adjacent farms back on the hills, started to go to the country store to do a little "trading" for their wives. Incidentally one of them took along the faithful old jug which had been refilled several times in a very satisfactory way since the prohibition edict was supposed to be in full working order.
Entering the store, the man with the jug approached the counter and gave his order for a few small articles needed by the housekeeper at home. As there were people standing about and the clerk was a new recruit, the customer asked that the clerk fill the jug with "oil," at the same time giving him the usual signal, a broad wink. After a brief chat with acquaintances regarding crops, the weather, etc., the customer gathered up his parcels and his jug and accompanied by his neighbor, who had also made some moderate purchases, went outside, placed the parcels in the buggy and started for home.
It is quite likely that they would not have started for home nearly so soon but for anticipations associated with the jug. A half mile or so out of the village there was a bend in the road, an old-time covered bridge being the only building in sight. The team was brought to a halt and while the horse started to browse by the roadside, the jug was brought out by the owner, uncorked and passed over to his friend, who, relieving himself of a "chew," lifted the jug to his lips and took a large mouthful of the contents. Controlling himself by violent effort, he passed the jug back to the owner who was waiting with as much patience as he could muster, leaned over the side of the buggy and succeeded in relieving his mouth of its unwelcome contents. The owner of the jug, however, was not so fortunate, as in his eagerness he swallowed a good-sized mouthful of the whale oil before he discovered his horrible mistake.
Tradition has it that these two worthies were never quite so friendly after that unfortunate incident. What happened to the store clerk is unknown.
Kerosene oil would doubtless prove to be a very enticing beverage compared with whale oil, perhaps as nauseous as any oleaginous substance yet discovered.
When in prohibition times some pleading citizen who has been the recipient of illegitimate favors becomes too much elated and "discloses" on his benefactor (?), he is regarded by the faithful as having reached the subterranean depths of infamy.
Righteous Wrath of "Marm" Hooker
Such was the opinion at least of a certain robust woman who kept a hotel and who was widely known as Marm Hooker. Yielding to the persuasions and implorings of a certain ne'er-do-well, she supplied him with a flask of stimulant which he needed for his "run down system." The result was that the object of her benevolence became hilarious and later on, under the severe cross-examination of the prohibition officer, "disclosed" on his benefactress. In her opinion, human depravity could reach no lower depths.
Besides providing accommodations for man and beast in the function of tavern keeper, Marm Hooker would arrange once a month or so during the winter for a public dance in the old-fashioned hall at her hotel. Patrons who attended these dances were not exclusive in their social ideas.
In a remote corner of the second floor of the tavern, there was a small room and when the dance was well under way, Marm Hooker would withdraw to this little sanctum of hers, while those whom she regarded as trustworthy would one by one secure admission for two or three minutes.
One night who should appear at this dance, which was public, but the ignominious person who had at one time "disclosed." When Marm Hooker learned that he was present, she frowned, but when she opened the door of her sanctum, after repeated knocks and found that this same person had the unparalleled impudence to again ask for liquid refreshments, her indignation found expression, with such effect that the applicant slunk away in confusion.
An hour passed. At a certain signal the door would be opened and a customer admitted. Business had been brisk and the robust proprietress had forgotten for a moment the impudent assurance of the man whom she had chased away. There came another signal in exactly the prescribed form and this genial lady, opening the door two or three inches, had it pushed wider open and who should come inside but the obnoxious visitor afore said. As he came in, he slammed the door shut, locked it and put the key in his pocket. He then informed Marm Hooker that he should not leave unless she supplied him with a flask of whiskey.
It would appear that the robust lady was cornered, but subsequent events proved otherwise. Pausing for a moment in amazement at the boldness of the intruder, she rushed forward and seizing the man with an iron grip, hurled him against the door with such force that it was completely shattered, the victim falling in a heap outside.
Righteous indignation can accomplish wonders.
Those who reside in the great cities become somewhat callous to those frequent tragedies to which poor humanity is still subject. But there was considerable excitement in a little country town one morning when an elderly resident was found dead in a clump of bushes by the roadside.
Kelly Took the Rest"
The victim, named Kelly, was an amiable, harmless individual who was well along in years and led a rather inactive life. 'While there were no marks indicating violence, the circumstances were somewhat suspicious.
An inquest seemed in order and the proper officials gathered at a suitable location to investigate, so far as possible, the circumstances associated with the case. Inquiries, however, seemed to produce no results, until at last someone recalled seeing Mr- Kelly the day before in the company of Uncle Jimmy Daley, a kind and generally respected old man who lived on a little farm some miles away.
A sheriff's officer was therefore hurriedly dispatched with a lively horse to bring Uncle Jimmy to the inquest. In a relatively short time Uncle Jimmy appeared, apparently very much cast down at the sad news regarding Mr. Kelly.
Various other witnesses, who later recalled having seen the deceased on the previous day, gave their testimony one after another, Uncle Jimmy sitting disconsolately in the background. Finally he was called forward and asked to tell what he knew of the departed.
There was of course an opportunity for the witness to go into considerable detail, but he did not apparently consider it necessary. And after he had made his simple statement, there seemed to be no occasion to procrastinate the proceedings any further.
"Yes," said Uncle Jimmy, "I found Mr. Kelly yisterday here in tow-un and as he lives along the road toward my place, I invited him to ride with me. After we had gone up the road a piece, Mr. Kelly took a good sized bottle of whiskey out of his pocket and offered me a drink. Indeed he offered me several drinks on the way."
The court thus assembled listened with breathless attention to this simple statement of the witness, but were even more impressed with his final words:
"Yes," said Uncle Jimmy in a sad refrain, "I took what was good for me, and Kelly, poor mon, took the rest. And now he's no more the day."
Uncle Jimmy was excused. The court hastily agreed upon a verdict and the inquest was over.