Friday, August 30, 2013


I will tell you, Neal Dow was the worst type of politician - a true believer. If you travel long enough down any philosophical path you always reach the land of ad nausea. But the true believer will never admit that such a place exists in their philosophy. So having reached ad nausea this spiritual Puritan in Quaker garb, this five foot two inch tall Napoleon of Temperance, this two term Mayor of Portland, Maine, Neal S. Dow, could never find his way back to sanity. Even the Rum Riot of 1855 failed to convince Mayor Dow that his own blindness had set the cause of sobriety in America back by a generation.
The first time Neal Dow (above) was elected Mayor was in April of 1851. He had been carried into office on his support of the new “Maine Law”, which made the sale of alcohol in the state illegal, except for medicinal and industrial uses. Wrote Neal, “Portland wharves groaned beneath the burden of West India rum.” Eighteen other states quickly followed Maine's moralistic lead. But as in all the other states, the new law was popular in Calvinist Maine only so long as it was easily avoided.
The most famous bootlegger became “Handsome Jim” James McGlinchy, who along with his three brothers, operated the Casco Brewery, after the original name for Portland. It and a few distilleries survived the Maine Law because, officially, they exported all of their product. But a good part of all that rum seeped back into Maine. Such leaks in his prohibition boat infuriated Mayor Dow, who was also president of the Temperance League. And after raiding every Irish “grog shop” in Portland failed to plug the local traffic in the demon rum, the Mayor insisted on searching all trains, boats and wagons entering the city. Since Portland was the primary rail and sea connection with Canada, the delays this created infuriated merchants up and down the eastern seaboard. Dow was even burned in effigy on Boston Common. And in April of 1852, when Mayor Dow came up for re-election, merchants from all over New England funded his opponent, Albion K. Parris. Mayor Dow lost re-election by 542 votes out of 3,300 cast.
Being a true believer (his maternal great-grandfather had the given name of “Hate-Evil”), the diminutive Mr. Dow could not believe the fault was his or his cause's . He was convinced he had been victimized by a conspiracy of merchants who provided fake I. D.s for the 2,200 Irish immigrants in Portland who had brought to America their strange religion and their vulgar sinful ways. Even worse, they almost all voted Democratic. Still at least the new Mayor Parris was also a temperance man, if not quite as enthusiastic an enforcer of the law. So“The Grand Pooh-bah of temperance” as the Irish nick-named him, retreated to his house at 714 Congress Street, to lick his wounds, and plan his comeback.
Under the theory that the only problem with his temperance law was that it was too weak, in 1853 Dow lobbied the state legislature in Augusta to doubled down. The new sterner temperance law they passed allowed a search warrant to be issued if three private citizens claimed liquor was present in an establishment. It also made the mere possession of alcohol proof of intention to sell. Thus ever user was now a dealer. By now Dow was convinced the temperance movement was so strong...“The voters...will turn upon that point.” The little dictator even saw the growth of the Republican Party across the northern states not as primarily a condemnation of slavery, but as a rejection of alcohol.
In March of 1855 Maine passed two other pieces of legislation which Dow had come to see as essential for the eradication of liquor. First all immigrants must register and show their naturalization papers three months prior to election day. This disenfranchised hundreds of qualified voters for the approaching April elections, under the theory that what a local newspaper described as “Irish cattle” were also  “illegals” with false papers. The second law took care of most of the rest of Irish voter-wanna-be Americans. From now on, any voter rejected at the polls for whatever reason in Republican Maine, must appeal in Federal court. Cases here could take weeks just to get on the docket. The Democratic paper, the Eastern Argus put it best. “Dow...and company...have made up their minds to rule the state at all hazards.”
And they did. Dow was re-elected Mayor in April of 1855. But out of the 3,742 votes cast, Neal Dow's margin of victory was a mere 46 votes. Ignoring that slim margin his close friend and political ally, Elder Peck, said it was “...a victory over Rum…Catholicism, and Corruption.” In his inaugural address, the zealot Mayor Dow warned, “I shall not fail... to employ all the power which the law has put into my hands.” He even suggested that his administration would “restrain the right of suffrage, now exercised by our foreign population...to prevent their overawing and controlling our elections, as they have done.” Mayor Dow had thrown down the gauntlet. And it would slap him right across the mouth.
As part of his new duties, Mayor Dow and the city council were supposed to jointly appoint a committee to pick a new liquor agent, whose job it would be to purchase liquor which would then be legally sold to the apothecaries and industries of the city. However Mayor Dow was so certain of his own nobility, he appointed himself to the selection committee, and to save even more time appointed himself the temporary liquor agent. As such he purchased $1,500 of booze (in his own name) and had it shipped to City Hall. Only after it arrived did he notify the city council. After all, who could question the morals of Mayor Dow?
The answer was the city council could. Their council members got into a shouting match with the Mayor over his actions. And one of them leaked details of the shipment to the Eastern Argus. On Saturday June 2, 1855 the paper printed up and posted handbills all over Portland, which laid out the facts, in particular that the liquor had been bought under the name of Neal Dow. The handbills then asked, “Where are our vigilant police... who think it their duty to...often push their search (of the poor man's cider) into private houses, contrary to every principle of just law? We call upon them by virtue of Neal Dow’s law to seize Neal Dow’s liquors and pour them into the street....Let the lash which Neal Dow has prepared for other backs be applied to his own when he deserves it.”
The timing could not have been worse for Mayor Dow. This was the four year anniversary of the original Maine Law. Three men found a judge who witnessed their testimony that there was illegal alcohol in City Hall, and he was thus required to issue a search warrant. A small crowd gathered at City Hall, mostly to see if the police were going to arrest Mayor Dow. They were not. But still the crowd stayed. And as the day wore on, and the shifts at the locomotive plant and other factories let out, the crowd began to grow. By seven that evening there were 2,500 people milling around City Hall, their anger fueled by what they saw as the hypocrisy of the biggest temperance man in the state having his own $1,500 stash of booze protected by the police. To avoid antagonizing the crowd the ten police officers locked themselves in the Liquor Room in City Hall, with the booze. Mayor Dow sent word to two “private” militia companies to come quick.
At least one member of the militia sensed the approaching disaster. But when Sargent William Winslip suggested the militia should load blanks, Mayor Dow responded, “We know what we are about sir. We’ve consulted the law, sir.” At that point Sargent Winslip dropped out of the militia. At ten that night one company of about twenty men, formed up in front of City Hall. Backed by armed troops, Mayor Dow ordered the crowd to disperse. The crowd responded with a hail of trash and garbage. Dow now ordered the troops to fire over the heads of the crowd. But their commander, Captain Green, said he needed more men. And for the only time that day Mayor Dow let a cooler head over-rule him.
It was a mistake. The sight of the twenty militia men retreating encouraged the crowd to surge forward. Rocks and bricks now replaced the garbage. One energetic fellow, a 22 year old sailor from Deer Isle named John Robbins, crawled through a broken window into the liquor room, unlocked the door, and the crowd stormed in.  At this moment the reinforced militia returned, and under Dow's command, opened fire. The uneven battle continued for twenty minutes. Only the fact the militia were armed with flintlock muskets prevented the death toll from being higher. Robbins was killed, and seven others wounded. Eventually the crowd dispersed. To Republicans it was the Rum Riot. To Democrats it was the Portland Massacre.
Dow was charged with breaking the law he had helped pass, but he was acquitted after a one day trial for two reasons – first it was obvious the liquor was not really his, and second because the judge, Henry Carter, was a strong temperance man and a Dow supporter. Still, Mayor Dow learned nothing from the debacle. He immediately issued a “...Message on the Riot” which he blamed on un-named anti-temperance men, and claimed John Robbins was an Irish immigrant who was wanted by the law. But that charge fell apart when several witnesses under oath testified that John was a native American (i.e. born in America),  had never been arrested, was a mate on the barque Louisa Eaton and was a “steady, honest man, remarkable for his good nature and peaceable disposition.”  But whatever Robbins' disposition had been, it was suddenly clear the mob had been outraged at Mayor Dow's behavior and had not even been mostly Irish.
That fall the voters drove that point home by electing Democratic majorities to both houses of the state legislature, and the Governor's office, too. And quickly the Maine Law was overturned, ending Maine's five year experiment with prohibition. John Robbins was buried in the old Eastern Cemetery, with honors. Mayor Dow did not bother to even run for re-election. And even though prohibition was re-instated two years later, Neal Dow stayed out of that fight.
The new prohibition law was again rarely enforced. Thus it stayed on the books until the Federal government passed its own “noble experiment” in 1920. By then the bootlegger James McGlinchy had died, in 1880. He left behind an estate worth $200,000, marking him as one of the richest men in Portland. As for the true believer Neal Dow, he was lucky not to live long enough to have seen his dream produce what he feared most, the funding of organized crime, largely made up of foreigners,  and an increase in public drunkenness and alcohol addiction. The Napoleon of Temperance died still blind to the truth in 1897 at the age of 93.
And if there is a lesson from the life of Neal Dow, it is that ad nausea is the land where all ideas end up. Or, to put it another way, life is not about perfection, its about balance - it's about leaning into the wind, and staying upright as long as you can. Everybody falls off at least once, in the end. And the lucky ones do it a couple of times. Because they learn from every failure, and they keep getting back on the wire.
-  30  -

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I always assumed the key hole shaped double holes of a Roman toilet was for male dripppers and dribblers:. au contraire. Feminine dribblers lack the arc that male drippers project, making the slit redundant for that purpose on the woman's side. And yet it is a unisex feature in Roman lavatories. Atmospheric circulation, perhaps? Moving air is not as vital in a public toilet as moving water, which is why Roman lavatories were always built adjacent to the public baths. Dirty soapy water pouring out of the bathing pools not only removed the solid waste it also quickly carried away the odor, thus killing two birds with one stone. Except they weren't using stones. And that was the reason for two holes.
The oldest human paleo-poop may be older than humans. It was uncovered by Dr. Louis Leaky at Oldivi Gorge in the African rift valley. These million year old Tanzanian turds, also known as coprolites (fossilized faeces) failed to produce DNA, so we're not certain they were made by would- be people or would-be people eaters. But they were found next to proto-human bones and stone tools, so it is logical to assume this stone shiza was also proto-human made. Other suspected human keester cakes have been located in South Africa, and France. But so far the oldest confirmed human droppings are a mere 18,000 years old, from Wadi Kuabbaniya in southern Egypt
However, ground zero in the historic hunt for brown October is the western United States, where six fossilized 14,000 year old tuchus tots have been retrieved from the four Paisley Caves, in south-central Oregon. Other pre-Clovis intestinal sculptures have tested positive for human DNA in Colorado, and the Gypsum Plain in southwest Texas. Some of this per-historic doodie has even been re-hydrated. Warns one scientific paper, “Human coprolites sometimes produce an intense odor when reconstituted...(those from) Texas are some of the most odoriferous we have ever encountered.” Of course, nobody from Texas will admit their re-hydrated coprolites smell.
If you think about it – and I clearly have - human fecal matter should be far more numerous than human fossils. We release a coeliac flux anywhere between three times a day and three times a week, depending on our diet and age. So do the math; there can be up to 1,095 products of Uranus for every year for every human who ever lived. If half of it fossilized we should be building pyramids out of the stuff. Luckily it doesn't, else this would be a much smellier world than it is, except in Texas, whose residents insist they produce only odorless excretta.
The logical solution, so to speak, was water. Most ancient human settlements were established beside ancient lakes (as in Paisley Caves, above), near rivers or the sea shore, which provided a fresh water bidet to carry away the evidence of any Mr Hanky. The abrasive alternative was grasses and leaves - contraindicated for an upright creature such as humans. If you want an idea of how compromised the design of our species is, look a chimpanzee straight in the butt. Their rectum projects away from their body, whereas ours is repressed between muscular buttocks, squeezed almost to the point of being an internal organ. Physical evolution has left us without a clean poop shoot. Social evolution was our only hope to solve our poop problem, if as they say in Texas, we had the stones for it..
Pebbles had three advantages as a toiletry. They were readily at hand – so to speak – even in the desert, they were cheap and easily transportable, often in a small bag similar to those used by boys of my generation to carry marbles. And the more they resembled marbles, the more like two ply they were. The ancient Greek proverb taught “Three stones are enough to wipe your ass”, which was the parsimonious Parthenon party pooper's prudent policy. The upscale merde producer in ancient Greece could even splurge on designer toilet pebbles, or “ostraca ”, from their local amphora maker.
These were the big Terra cotta jugs used to transport wine, and ostraca were chunks from broken ones, small ceramic pieces reused for everything from scratch paper to ballots. The public would vote by dropping an ostraca in one of two baskets. If most of the ostraca were left in the “throw the bum out of town” basket, the offender would be “ostracized”, or ejected from the community. Ostraca used as toilet stones have been found in ancient cesspits below the Parthenon, marked with the names of politicians, even the name “Socrates”: a variation on the idea of wiping your feet on your enemies corpse.
In Roman Latin the “ostraca ”became the “pessoi”, forerunner of our word pebble, and these now had the rough edges ground off and smoothed, something for an entry level slave to work at. But the pessio were usually for the poorer classes, for use at the lavatories and baths of Caracalla, which had seating for over 1,600 users at once, and was six times larger than St. Paul's Cathedral. Pessio were also part of the travel kit for soldiers and salesmen. Still, as Dr. Philippe Charlier notes in his article for the British Medical Journal, “The abrasive characteristics of ceramic suggest that long term use of pessoi could have resulted in local irritation, skin or mucosal damage, or complications of external haemorrhoids.” Or, as the biblical prophet said, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone. And for God's sake, make it a smooth one.”
Still, the 144 “toilet publica” in Rome must have been lively places, with patrons sitting cheek to cheek, sharing gossip, arguing politics, farting and grunting, groaning and laughing, making business deals or even fielding dinner invitations. As the first century poet Marcus Valerius Martialis explained, “Why does Vacerra spend his hours in all the privies, and day-long sit? He wants a supper, not a shit.” The only modicum of privacy and propriety was provided by a discreetly draped toga, hardly sound or odor proof. Since neighborhoods in Rome were financially segregated, there was no mixing of lower class excreta with upper class poo-poo. But watching your competitor strain over a heavy load must have provided a business insight but faintly replaced by modern day spreadsheets and the Wall Street Journal. And that brings us back to those mysterious keyhole slits.
The toilet tool of choice for the ruling class was the “tersorium” (above) - basically a sponge on a stick. A long stick. The bark was scrapped off most of the 12”, but left on the end to provide a good grip. Once you had set your toxic turdeys free, you took the tersorium from the ariensis spongia (toilet attendant) and thrust it between your legs (through the bottom of the keyhole), where the sponge was applied to your bare bodkin - the inside of each buttock. After the sponge, which had already given its life in the service of Rome, had given again, it was rinsed in a small stream of used bath water, running along a channel at your feet. Then it was either handed back to the attendant, who was careful not to grab “the short end of the stick", to be dropped, sponge down, in a jug of vinegar, a.k.a., carboxylic acid. After a short sanitizing dip, it was available to be used by the next patron.
So that is why there are two connected holes in a Roman toilet. Access. And that was why a surprising number of business deals and political conspiracies were hatched in Roman toilets. Access. Once you walked into a ruling class public toilet, you had intimate access to men of power. And that is why no man of power in Rome went to the toilet without his body guards. Given all the points of access in a public toilet, it must have been a very crowded place at times.
Sewers and politics share a long and intimate history. Along with sponges.
- 30 -  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

1828 - AN ENDING

I can imagine what it was like to wake up every morning as a slave. Can you? Each dawn mocked you with a false promise of hope. Every evening, your future died again in darkness. Should your gaze fall upon your children you could not help but wonder if this day they would be sold away, because “masa'” lost a bet, or wanted to buy his child a present. Modern apologists for slavery may want to believe beatings were uncommon. But we know from personal letters by her master that for 30 years a woman named Betty was Rachel Jackson's personal slave, and that in the General's words, she “must be ruled with the cowhide” - meaning she was periodically whipped. What kind of a woman was this white slave master, Rachel Jackson, who could live every day with an intimate, and then coldly countenance her being beating?
On November 3, 1813, militia under General Andrew Jackson attacked the Creek Indian village of Talulshatche, and in the words of participant David Crockett, “We shot them down like dogs.” A child of eight months was found alive in the burning village, and was delivered to the General, evidently as a trophy. But the orphaned Jackson felt what he called “an unusual sympathy” for the orphaned child. Andrew sent the baby to his home, instructing Rachel, “I...want him well taken care of, (as) he may have been given to me for some valuable purpose.”
He was given the name of Lyncoya and raised in the main house at the Hermitage, along with Jackson's nephew, Andrew Jackson, Jr. He was the closest thing to her own child Rachel Jackson would ever have. At the age of five Lyncoya made himself a bow and arrows, and in full war paint would descend, issuing high pitched battle screams without warning on unwary visitors. At eight he began attending a local school, but rebelled, and ran away several times. His third year Lyncoya began to apply himself, and showed an aptitude for mechanical devices. He also began to spend much of his time alone. His academic improvements were so great that General Jackson began to think about sending his adopted son to West Point. But it was not to be.
It seems likely that after the General's loss in the Presidential election of 1824, the boy was seen as a political liability: Perhaps. But for whatever reason Lyncoya Jackson never applied to the military academy. Instead, in 1827, he became an indentured servant to a saddle maker in Nashville, Tennessee. For a child with understandable abandonment issues, his first time away from the only security he knew must have been stressful. The next winter Lyconia came down with a cold, which settled in his lungs. He told his employer he wanted to “go home” to the Hermitage (above). That winter and spring Rachel nursed him and was often seen with the 16 year old in her carriage, seeing he got fresh air. But the boy died on June 17, 1827. He was buried somewhere on the grounds of the Hermitage, in an unmarked grave. Perhaps his resting place would have been remembered if his adoptive mother, Rachel, had lived.
On the morning of Wednesday, December 17th,  Rachel Jackson (above) was overseeing the slaves packing up her life for the move to Washington, when she suddenly issued a “horrible shriek” and grabbed at her heart. A slave woman known only as Old Hanna rushed to Rachel's side and found her struggling for breath. Hanna lowered her mistress into a chair, and began to desperately rub Rachel's side “till she was black and blue”. The General was sent for, and he sent for the family doctor. For the next three days and nights Andrew never left her side.
On the third day Rachel seemed to recover, and she urged Andrew to go to bed and get some sleep. Five minutes after he left her room, the slaves lifted Rachel up while they changed the sheets. And while sitting in a chair, in the arms of Old Hanna, Rachel Jackson suffered another heart attack. She issued a long, loud cry, followed by “a rattling in her throat”, and died in the arms of a slave, December 22, 1828.
It is an insight into generations of slave masters and mistress in the antebellum south, that their first human touch in their life was usually the rough working hands of slave women, and their last conscious touch with humanity was in the exact same way. They had no control over that first contact. But they did have control over the last.
Rachel was buried in the gown she had made for the inaugural ball. And on her tombstone, Andrew had caved the words, “A being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound, but could not dishonor.”
Even in the words on his wife's memorial, Andrew Jackson managed to bury his own pain, beneath his hatred for those he held responsible. Many historians have suggested that Jackson's  anger over Rachel's death changed the man.  He wrote, “I can and do forgive all my enemies. But those vile wretches who have slandered her must look to God for mercy.” But Jackson was a hater long before he ever met Rachel. He was even a hater before his mother died while tending to others, rather than her own son. It almost seems Andrew Jackson was born hating.
On March 4, 1829, Andrew Jackson became President.  In a bit of stage drama, President. John Quincy Adams did not attend the ceremony, as Jackson had refused to visit him in the White House, despite having arrived in Washington days earlier. And so began the Presidency of Andrew Jackson: angry.  Henry Clay compared Jackson's administration to a tornado, destroying everything in his path. Well, not everything. When he left the White House eight years later, Andrew Jackson said two things of real import. One was purely personal, the other purely public. When asked if there was anything he regretted about his time as President, he admitted to two, “That I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun.”
But in his farewell address to the nation in December of 1837, the original small government revolutionary, warned the American public, “...unless you become more watchful...and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges, you will in the end find that the most important powers of Government have been given...away, and the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations.” That remark proved that whatever his personal failings, Andrew Jackson was ideologically a lot closer to Henry Clay than he would have dared to admit.
And closer to Johnny Q, as well. Three months after Jackson took the oath of office, at about one on the afternoon of June 8, 1829, in Providence, Rhode Island, John Quincy Adam's 28 year old eldest son, the handsome George Washington Adams (above), boarded the double wheeled steam ship, Benjamin Franklin. 
While Captain Eliuh S. Bunker guided the 144 foot long, 419 ton double deck packet boat down Narraganset Bay, the retired two term Congressman remained in his cabin, complaining of illness. As the sun set the Franklin slipped passed Block Island and entered Long Island Sound. They missed George in the forward bar that night, as he was a regular on every trip between the family home south of Boston, and New York City.
George did not leave his cabin until just about two in the morning of June 9, and was seen walking on the open deck wearing a hat and cloak. He was heard pacing for some little time, and then somewhere in the lonely dark, George lost his way. At about four in the morning,his outer garments were found lying on the deck. If he left a note of explanation, it was not found. Four days later his corpse washed ashore on Long Island. To compare the grief that now befell the John Quincy and Louisa Adams, against that felt earlier by Andrew and Rachel Jackson is pointless, and yet to the point. One of the things that binds all humans together is grief and its companion, love. We dream of the one, knowing it never arrives alone. It is our commonality, our shared heritage, which, it seems, we spend a lifetime denying.
And thus ended the campaign of 1828.
- 30 -

Blog Archive