"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Newspaper Clipping(s) of the Day, New Year's Edition



On this New Year's Eve, spare a moment of sympathy for the "Seattle Star," a newspaper that did not handle the holiday well at all.

In their January 1, 1909 issue, their front page carried this disgruntled editorial:

Last night, while a whole nation mourned its countless dead, Seattle got drunk.

Last night, while a quarter of a million human beings, brothers of us all, cried out in the climax of their prolonged agony, thousands in Seattle scoffed at God and man, sin and suffering, as they drank their wine and cheered the ribald songs.

Voltaire, once baiting a cardinal, asked: "If by pressing this pin into this pin cushion you could make a million francs and incidentally kill a man in China, would you do it?"

And the cardinal, with conscience and avarice well balanced, truthfully declined to lie about his brotherhood to man.

If there was one sorrow in the whole wide world last night Seattle knew it not, or if knowing, drowned all memory in wine and made merry, until darkness left the earth. But the earth, having completed its heavenly orbit, as it has done since chaos, the fact must be celebrated in the classic revelry of Bacchus and the putrid debauchery of Harry Thaw.

Never once during the long, loud night, did the moans and groans from [earthquake] stricken ltaly obstruct the shrill false laugh of the painted lady as she quaffed her cheer at the table next to the honest woman. The quavering prayers for food that went up from childish throats in Sicily spoiled not one jot of milady's salad as she nursed her jaded palate with the best and rarest that gold can command.

The thought of the heaps of what were once men and women slowly burning to ashes; the thousands crazed with horror seething brains; the homeless, friendless, despairing thousands; this concentrated and distilled misery, not one note of it struck false with the wildly playing orchestras in Seattle's fashionable cafes last night.

For all was merry in Seattle on the night of her annual orgie.

And such an orgie it was. If Nero fiddled over a scene of wilder abandon in Rome, tradition has been conservative. Men and women, boys and girls, drank themselves to uproarious hilarity and screamed in pride of their drunken achievements. In the groggeries of King st. and Jackson, and in the fashionable cafes on Second av., the difference was only one of tuxedos and overalls, silks and serge. The drooling sots that tottered and leered in the land of beer and raw whiskey were brothers to the young bloods and smart men about town who staggered and oggled in the land of iced wine.

And the drink disheveled woman who flaunted her cotton hose and worn shoes in the stall of some cheap saloon was a sister in carousal to her who swished spotless lingerie and whisked her silken slippers on the tables of the rich.

The common bond of drunkenness made thousands in Seattle kin last night. The strange atavism for a night, that impelled the man to take his wife to the thick of this wild revelry, drew the school girl and the shop girl, some man's daughter, to where license reigned supreme.

Decency, religion, morals and all that is clean and good were forgotten in the long blasts of horns, crashes of whistles and shouts of drink delirious crowds. Every convention of law and instinct was flouted, as man and woman gloried in their alcoholic insurrection. Up and down Second av., in and out of saloons, cafes, theatres, back and forth where the lights gleamed brightest, surged the hectic, thick-tongued throng, singing in a thousand keys and discords to welcome the "glad New Year."

Boys in their teens drank their mite and ran riot in blasphemy and obscenity. Girls, whose shoe tops showed beneath their skirts, berated bartenders and vied with chauffeurs in the badinage of the brothel.

This was Seattle's welcome to the New Year.

And a few thousand miles away the greatest cataclysm of modern times had just finished piling up a quarter of a million dead.

Sounds like a damn good party to me, but never mind.

The "Star" returned to the same theme exactly one year later:

Seattle went on her annual drunk again last night. Some in the sanctity of the home, others in the quiet of the church, waited the old year out and welcomed in the new but thousands, men, women, boys and girls, drank themselves drunk—riotously, recklessly drunk. On First and Second av., there was revelry and debauchery unrestrained. Young and old, decent, undecent and indecent mixed in moral democracy where the worst was as good as the best: the painted woman on a par with the mother-—all reduced to one alcoholic level by the whisky glass or the champagne cup.

The days of the sans culottes and the Carmagnole saw no wilder outbreak of licentiousness than that which occurred in the cafes and saloons of Seattle last night; the Moulin Rouge in its hectic Bohemian abandon never outdid the Newport when last night's climax was reached at midnight. The roar of a thousand whistles was drowned by the shrill drunken shrieks of a thousand men and women, as they rose, a swaying, seething mass, with glasses high to drink to Janus.

By 11 o'clock the doors to the cafes were locked. Inside, revelers who had made their careful plans, were packed tight. Squads of waiters squirmed their way in and out, orchestras played rollicking ail while glasses tinkled and laughter rang forth in joyous unison.

At first all was convivial merriment, within the bounds of decent celebration, but as the night wore on and the new year grew apace, the popping of champagne corks grew sharper and sharper. Faces flushed and eyes grew bright; voices thickened and gestures grew awkwardly frequent. One by one the conventions were quietly laid aside in the din, as the hot blood flowed with a quickening pulse; well-bred laughter rose shriller, voices mounted higher as gaiety drew nearer to hysteria.

They were getting drunk, just plain drunk, but it was an occasion and everybody was striving for the same end; the example was contagious. Soon the weaker men and men, unused to dissipation, lost their hold on sobriety and cast rules of conduct in the old year's winds. They sprawled in their chairs limp and careless, hair disheveled, clothing awry, eyelids drooping and hands waving in vague, erratic figures.

Already the bright, humorous features were disappearing; the comicality of the scene was verging toward the pathetic, and then it was but a short way to the pathetic.

Young girls 16 and 18 years old, who a short hour before were sipping with fearful caution from the bubbling, slender glass before them, were now gulping between hiccoughs eagerly, greedily, pitching their voices to their shrillest, their laughter to the wildest, while all around them the tumult of racy, risque anecdote rose in the smoke-laden air.

They were happy, these fair young worshipers at the modern electric lighted shrine of Bacchus; happy for a time. Before the night was done many of them were led, weak-kneed and staggering, the flush of wine routed by the paleness of nausea, to carriages and autos home to sleep it off, essentially the same as the sot of the ten-cent barrel house. Drunk, just drunk.

Out in the streets there was anarchy, a madness for noise that knew no satisfaction; thousands of persons suddenly erased, cow bells, horns, whistles, tin pans, every device fashioned in Pandemonium added to the unceasing din that ebbed and flowed up and down the streets.

They were drunk, too, on the streets, men and women with rougher appetites or slenderer purses. A hundred saloons poured forth an unresting stream of croaking men and youths bawling and brawling into the streets to join in the demonic chorus that went up unceasingly. They pushed, shoved, jostled, collided, cursed, laughed, sang, one long, uproarious symphony of men gone wild. Hats were rushed, dresses torn, insults passed and blows struck, but the human maelstrom whirled on unheeding.

Ruffianism and rascality came up to the higher stratum and the higher went down to the lower. At the doors of the larger saloons and the more notorious cafes police fought back the prurient crowd that beat up against them.

Whenever a young woman was dragged, leering and drooling, forth to the fresh air, they set up a shout of joy, crashed their bells in envious sympathy, and blew approval on their raucous horns. A drunken girl gave the keenest delight and they rewarded her achievement with coarse and profane plaudits.

It was thus that Seattle welcomed the advent of another year.

I'm starting to suspect the "Star" was really conducting a stealth campaign to lure people into visiting Seattle on New Year's Eve.

On December 27, 1910, the publication indulged in some pessimistic prophesizing:

Will Seattle get drunk again New Year's eve?

On January 1, 1909, the Star printed a half page article headed, "Seattle Was Drunk Last Night."

On January 1, 1910, The Star published another article, "Seattle Drunk Again Last Night."

Seattle approaches another New Year's morn.

Will the same pitiful, tragic, terrible story have to be written again?

Will Seattle get drunk AGAIN this New Year's eve?

Already the cafe men are laying their plans. Invitations are being scattered broadcast. "Reserve your table for New Year's eve now," is the cry. Sometimes you must put down a guarantee of as high as $50. In others there is no guarantee, but there'll be nothing but wine served after 10:30.

And already men and woman are laying their plans, in turn, to be there—and to stay there till the last light goes out.

But—

When the last light in the last cafe is twitched out and the last wine-splashed table is piled high with wine-drenched chairs, and the last merry taxicab has whirled off with its last tragic load of drunken humanity—

How many clean young men will have set foot on the ladder that leads DOWN to ruin?

How many girls will have taken the first fatal step?

This is not a plea for prohibition. It is not an argument against saloons.

It is a plea for common, ordinary, 364-days-out-of-the-year decency.

The New Year's day eve is, and rightly, a time for throwing off the cares and worries of the year.

It has been made a period of debauch. It is the time sacredly set forth for the annual drunk.

The annual drunk—that is the word for it, the only word?

Who can tell the full, awful tale of wreck and disaster it has brought? New Year's eve, the time of ending and beginning. It has been made a thing of horror and disaster.

Not a fanatical plea is this against New Year's, against the holiday spirit. It is not even an argument against wine or the saloon.

It is an argument against the New Year's drunk, a plea for decency, a plea for ordinary morality.

Will Seattle get drunk again?
I think we can all guess the answer to that question. On January 2, 1911, the front page of the "Star" carried this plaintive, despairing headline:


Ah, well. Tonight, my friends, drink responsibly. In other words, don't let the "Seattle Star" catch you doing it.

Happy New Year to you all. See you in 2015!

2 comments:

  1. Well I now know for sure I have led a sheltered literary life, having never come across the legend of notorious playboy and murderer Harry Kendall Shaw (at least that I can remember.) Thank you Undine for opening my eyes to such an extraordinary wretch, not guilty by reason of insanity. Happy New Year.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, "The Star" certainly had some opinions, or at least its editor (owner?) did. It's too bad it's not extant. I'd be curious to read what it had to say these days.

    Happy new year!

    ReplyDelete

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