To Carry a Nation

Posted on April 1, 2010 | By The Bon-Vivant | Comments Off on To Carry a Nation

One would think that one would be hard pressed to find young people producing videos extolling the civic virtues of Carrie Nation

But, one would be wrong, as in point of fact, there are actually a fair number of such videos available on YouTube; an entire film festival’s worth, of which the above example is perhaps the most amusing.

Amusing, although, certainly nowhere near as amusing as the actual career of the real Carrie Nation.

It was Carry Nation, In the Saloon, with a Hatchet.

Six feet tall, weighing 175 pounds, and blessed with a face that only a dog-fight aficionado could love, prohibitionist Carrie Nation is probably as much to blame for the eventual passage of the Volstead Act as anyone, well her and the push for women’s suffrage, a movement she undoubtedly helped along. (“You refused me the vote,” she once said, “so I had to use a rock.”)

Carrie Nation was, of course, most famous for her very public “hatchetations”, violent episodes of civil disobedience during which she and her supporters marched into saloons and gleefully destroyed everything on the premises, including fixtures and stock, all the while singing hymns and shouting loud hosannas to the Lord. As street theater is was magnificent, and probably a fair sight more effective than any student hippie sit-in.

It’s easy enough now, a century after the events, to make fun of Carrie Nation and her crew, but only because we forget the absolute intensity of feeling that surrounded the issue of drink in the late 19th and early 20th century. Indeed, although she may have been out on its extreme fringe, the temperance movement had very broad support in the general public, especially among educators, ministers, and industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford (how else could the 18th Amendment have passed?).

Likewise, Nation and her supporters were stupendously committed to the cause. Hatchetations were not uncontested events, and more than once Carrie and her friends were driven away from a saloon by a hailstorm of eggs, rocks, and shouts for lynching. But when they did get in the door, Holy Hell usually broke loose, as it did in the Senate Bar in Topeka, Kansas in 1901.

The celerity and vigor with which she allegedly obliterated this saloon, despite admirable resistance from a pistol-toting bartender who “struck her on the head with a hatchet,” led to the media image of her as an Amazon warrior. The fifty-five-year-old Sunday school teacher reportedly picked up a weighty cash register and flung it through the air, toppled over a refrigerator, chopped open several large beer kegs with her axe (sending geysers of beer all over herself), and threw a slot machine to the ground in order to hack it to pieces.
Carry A. Nation: Retelling the Life, page 177

Nation and a number of her supporters were briefly jailed for that adventure, one of at least thirty arrests she experienced during the ten years from 1900 to 1910.

Enterprising bartenders and saloon owners did not take these depredations lying down. Several taunted her publicly by introducing “Carrie Nation Cocktails,” which celebrated the “spirit of Carrie Nation,” and there was at least one bar named in her honor, the Carrie Nation Saloon on the corner of Sixteenth and Market in St. Louis, which the great lady, herself, visited but did not destroy.

Being an amateur historian of drink, I would like to be able to report back to you that I’ve found one of the antique recipes for a Carrie Nation Cocktail, but all I could come up with were a few modern, non-alcoholic punches and ginger ale drinks, which sort of defeats the purpose.

We’ll have to make do with a large tumbler of Wild Turkey, in honor of Carrie Nation’s Kentucky birthplace only a couple dozen miles from that bourbon’s Nicholasville distillery.

Hey look! The Women’s Christian Temperance Union is still around.


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The Liquor Locusts

The Liquor Locusts

"The harsh, useful things of the world, from pulling teeth to digging potatoes, are best done by men who are as starkly sober as so many convicts in the death-house, but the lovely and useless things, the charming and exhilarating things, are best done by men with, as the phrase is, a few sheets in the wind." ~H.L. Mencken

The Dangers of Thirst

"Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing." ~Jerome K. Jerome

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The Jug of Empire!

The Jug of Empire!

"How solemn and beautiful is the thought that the earliest pioneer of civilization, the van-leader of civilization, is never the steamboat, never the railroad, never the newspaper, never the Sabbath-school, never the missionary -- but always whiskey!" ~Mark Twain