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Fraud, lies and forgery: the John T. King cocktail

30 May

Scandal rocked the temperance movement in 1923 when William H. Anderson, superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League of New York, and the very man who had done so much for the dry cause by ensuring the State Legislature’s ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment, was indicted on charges of grand larceny, forgery and extortion.

Anderson claimed that the League owed him $24,700, a debt supposedly incurred when he had financed a “confidential publicity promotion” out of his own pocket ten years before. Prosecutors alleged that he had coerced O. Bertsall Phillips, a former fundraiser for the organization, to give him a 50% cut on all commissions Phillips earned in excess of $10,000 a year and then cooked the books to cover up the fraudulent transactions.

Despite Anderson’s loud protestations that he was the victim of a “wicked conspiracy of character assassination”, the case was brought to trial. In his defence Anderson maintained that by entering into the arrangement with Phillips he was merely trying to claw back what was rightfully his. But how could a professional scold afford to lend his employers $24,700 in the first place? The money, he explained with a straight face, was the gift of a kindhearted stranger named “John T. King”, about whom Anderson could remember nothing except for the fact that he was 45 years old and the owner of a black moustache. The cash was then apparently spent by three equally mysterious and untraceable individuals, “Henry Mann”, who directed the phantom publicity campaign, and his helpers “Green” and “Johnson” (“Anderson Reveals New Mystery Men and Admits Deceit”, New York Times, 26 January 1924). So implausible was Anderson’s testimony that Assistant District Attorney James Garrett Wallace was moved to poetry. “King, Mann, Johnson and Green,” he doggerelized,

They belong to the realm of the spirits, I ween. / Will some medium lend me a first-class control / To bring back that King and his generous roll? / And if none of the others materialize / I’ll be thankful for King and a wad of good size. / But alas! I’m afraid that no more will be seen— King, Mann, Johnson and Green.

— “Pecora to Grill Anderson on Stand”, New York Times, 27 January 1924.

(Anderson’s tall tale was obviously the last refuge of the scoundrel. One quick-thinking burglar, who was caught stealing bundles of clothes from a laundry, told the detective that he found the items in front of the premises after someone else had made off with several similar bundles. That person, the thief assured the cop, was “King, the fellow that gave Anderson $25,000”.)

Needless to say, the jury wasn’t buying Anderson’s story. He was convicted on charges of forgery in the third degree and received a prison sentence of one to two years. It was an ignominious end to the career of an activist whose “genius in detecting and thwarting the schemes of saloon-men to control officers of justice and corrupt legislatures”, one of his comrades subsequently wrote, conveniently overlooking his recent stay in Sing Sing, “caused his enemies to dread his appearance on any battlefield where trickery was relied upon to prolong the life of the saloon” (Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem, vol. 1 [Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing, 1925], p. 164).

But Anderson’s enemies got the last laugh. His hypocrisy gave the local “wets” an opportunity to prove their bone-dry sense of humour:

“John T. King”, mysterious benefactor of William H. Anderson, convicted head of the New York Anti-Saloon league, may stay forever marooned in the power of missing men, but his memory will go down to posterity.

This was assured when R. W. Merrick, divisional prohibition enforcement head, announced that “King” had gone into the hall of fame occupied by Tom Collins, Three Star Hennessey, Haig & Haig, and other similar supposedly dead but still living characters.

Merrick is investigating the invention and suddenly acquired popularity of the “John T. King cocktail”, which local bartenders are concocting from orange juice, gin, ginger ale, a few drops of “overnight” brandy and a dash and half of absinthe.

— “John King’s Name is Memorialized in Gin Cocktail”, Atlanta Constitution, 31 January 1924, p. 6.

The automated cocktail

29 May

The twentieth century brought us many technological marvels designed to spare us the exhausting manual labour involved in opening tin cans (the electric can opener, patented in 1931), slicing food (the electric knife, 1939),  brushing our teeth (the electric toothbrush, 1954) or pleasuring ourselves (the electric vibrator, first patented in 1902). To be honest, it’s surprising that it took as long as it did for the first automatic cocktail dispenser to hit the market.

In 1961 Auto-Bar Systems, a division of Ametek brought out the “Cocktailmatic”. The gizmo was designed, The LA Times reported, for large-scale commercial use, “where dispensing of drinks in a hurry is a problem” (Joe R. Nevarez, “New Dispenser Mixes Drinks Automatically”, Los Angeles Times, 12 June 1961, p. C8).

In an ad Ametek loudly and proudly trumpeted its achievement:

The martinets laughed when we sat down to our Cocktailmatic dispenser and demonstrated how a mere machine could produce scientifically-proportioned martinis, manhattans and other cocktails every time. But the hotel and tavern industry, to whom the problems of the hit-or-miss martini are no joke, is taking our Cocktailmatic to its bosom. Not only is it saving the industry millions a year, but the automatic martini mixers developed by the Auto-Bar Systems division of Ametek, Inc. have enabled any number of bars to step up the horsepower of their martinis without raising prices.

Business Week, issue 1740-1747, (1963), p. 107.

The folks at Industry Week were certainly impressed, particularly with the way the device “counts your drinks on a meter and can be preset to serve dry, very dry, or very, very dry martinis” (Industry Week, vol. 149 [1961], p. 5). Meanwhile, the Hartford Courant admitted that, while the Cocktailmatic might seem “sacrilege to the artist who insists on mixing his own after the fashion of the dedicated salad-tosser”, its inhuman precision made sense to the drinks industry:

Every martini quaffer has his own recipe for the perfect blend of gin and vermouth. But when he orders one away from home, he never knows quite what he’ll get. The new cocktail dispenser is aimed at curing such frustration. It can be dial-set for the flavor and zing the customer requires for lip-smacking. One may imagine the bartender asking: ‘Will that be 90 proof, Sir, with a four-to-one ratio?’ as he spins the knobs. Once the right setting has been discovered, the bibber has only to write the combination on his cuff in order to get the same satisfaction on the next round or the next day . . . It probably has an optional gadget for simply passing a vermouth cork over the rest of the liquor when the customer wants one real dry.

— “The Automated Martini”, Hartford Courant, 19 April 1963, p. 16.

Others sounded a note of caution. “Is this another case of machine taking over for man?” wondered H. R. Clauser in the pages of the always entertaining Materials Engineering. “If it is, the machine better watch out . . . Not only might they become inebriated and start being as obnoxious as many human drunks, but they could conceivably escape and go around getting other machines plastered. Considering some of the sensitive jobs being handled by computers today, a binge of this kind could give the whole world a hangover” (H. R. Clauser, “Last Word”, Materials Engineering, vol. 56: 1 [1962], p. 180).

That would give new meaning to the phrase “a well-oiled machine”.

Chain gang cocktail

28 May

From: I am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang (1932).

Atlantans with a taste for fancy cocktails, highballs, rickeys and juleps please take note of the mixed drinks some prisoners in Fulton prison camps think are good.

Chief Warden A. A. Clarke, during the grand jury investigation of alleged special privileges allowed George Harah and Mark (Chicken) Chastain, said yesterday deputies frequently find prisoners with bottles of whisky heavily accented with kerosene as a disguise for the real contents. Mixtures of oil and liquor have been taken away from the convicts. Clare said the prisoners drink the concoction and smack their lips if not caught.

— “Liquor and Kerosene Chain Gang Cocktail”, Atlanta Constitution, 15 October, 1936, p. 9.

British binge-drinking, 1927 edition

27 May

Photo: Christopher Pledger, Daily Telegraph, 2009.

For at least the past decade or so, the British press has been indulging in one of its periodic bouts of hand-wringing at the drinking habits of young women. Proving that there is nothing new under the sun, certainly not newspapermen’s morbid fascination primly disguised as moral crusade, is this bourgeois-epating story from 1927:

Forty cocktails a day “without turning a hair” is the new all-British record, both for flappers and confirmed drinkers.

An anonymous English girl of “good social standing” turned the trick.

Hitherto, 12 to 15 cocktails a day has been considered a very respectable average for the energetic flapper but the Rev. W. H. G. Shapcott’s assertion that he has met a 17-year-old girl who boasted she could get outside of 40 of them between breakfast and breakfast, has caught the imagination of all London and the news and editorial columns of the newspapers blazon her prowess.

The Rev. Shapcott, who is Metropolitan secretary of the church army, says he cannot see the greatness of her accomplishment, despite the editorial hullabaloo, and has refused to reveal the girl’s identity. He has said, merely, that  “she is a girl of good social standing and goes to the Riviera every year.”

“But she is not the only case,” he added, in an interview. “Girls are getting more and more into the cocktail habit. Dozens of them drink their 12 of 15 a day and think nothing of it. But the girl who boasted she drank 40 of them headed the list. When she said that that was nothing, and that the number didn’t turn her brain, I told her that it must be because she didn’t have any brain to turn.”

At this rate, cocktail drinking becomes of the expensive pastimes.

Forty cocktails a day represents a drinking bill of about $5,000 a year—or $15 a day. Forty Martinis, for instance, would represent about one and a half bottles of gin and three-fourths of a litre of French vermouth.

With these figures before them, certain speculative editorial writers are inclined to wonder whether the cocktail girl’s claims should not be classified with the English channel swim hoax.

— “English Girl Found Able to Drink 40 Cocktails Day”, Atlanta Constitution, 1 November 1927, p. 10.

Covert drops

4 Mar

Here’s a nineteenth-century forerunner of The Beerbelly:

A member of the Fifth Regiment has invented an appliance, built on the nursing-bottle plan, by the use of which he and his friends regale themselves with cocktails while on parade without exciting the suspicion of their officers. The invention consists of a belt something like a small life-preserver, which, instead of being inflated with air, is filled with a mixture of gin, bitters, sugar and water, and then fastened around the wearer’s waist inside his vest. From this belt is a small rubber tube, long enough to reach to a man on each side the travelling bar and to the two men behind or in front of him. In this way give men are enabled to obtain a suck from the improvised gin-mill, and it is said to be very curious how often the captain of the company has to get behind certain privates and adjust their cartridge-boxes.

— “A Perambulating Bar-Room”, Boston Daily Globe, 19 July 1885, p. 4.

Some unfortunate phrasing in that last clause.

Olympic spirits

17 Feb

I don’t think this noble dream was ever realised; but it’s something the London Games ought seriously to consider:

What is planned to be the world’s biggest bar is to be erected in Berlin, and a congress of cocktail mixers from all parts of the world will be held simultaneously with the 1935 Olympiad [sic], if the German authorities approve. A competition for the best cocktail, with a gold cup for the winner, will be the principal event of the congress.

— “Cocktails at Olympiad”, New York Times, 13 January, 1935.

Faster, higher, stronger: that motto applies to drinks as well as to athletic endeavour.

When firewater splashes a paleface

15 Feb

Professor Jerry Thomas’ signature drink was the Blue Blazer, a fiery blend of whiskey, water and sugar, not unlike the concoction to which Vyacheslav Molotov unwittingly gave his name, and which the pioneering mixologist flamboyantly flung from one mug to another before his rapt patrons. Now, the danger inherent in combining alcohol, sucrose and a naked flame ought to be fairly clear. I think we can all agree that the  subject of this nineteenth-century news item learned a valuable lesson:

A number of congenial spirits were recently discussing the merit of fancy drinks in a Canton restaurant when a lively Frenchman offered to mix some French punch, a drink which he declared to be “fit for the gods”.

He put a quart of old rye in a saucepan and added several spoonfuls of sugar and the juice of a lemon. The saucepan was then put over a fire and allowed to simmer.

The potation did not simmer quick enough for the Frenchman, and with a view of hastening the operation he threw a number of lighted matches into the pan. These ignited the mixture and in an instant a sheet of blue flame burst from the pan and set fire to the Frenchman’s whiskers and hair. The moustache and imperial, of which he was so proud, were burned off, as were also his eyebrows.

While all present sympathized with the Frenchman, everybody voted his punch excellent.

— “Lost His Imperial”, Baltimore Sun, 2 February, 1895, p. 10.

Andrew Sexton, Self-Portrait (2006).

 

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