(And of course by Friday Ephemera I mean Late Sunday Night Ephemera…still working on this whole blog punctuality thing.) For this week’s ephemera, I initially thought I would talk about something from the Prohibition era. The political cartoons and propaganda posters on both sides of that argument are campy and shamelessly melodramatic; according to them, casting the wrong ballot at the polls didn’t just make you misguided or misinformed–it made you a downright destroyer of souls. After searching for a few to showcase, however, I came across this absolute gem of a poster on the left that railroaded my research for the rest of the morning and introduced me to the most bizarre character I’ve read about in a long time: Miss Carrie A. Nation, the “Famous and Original” Bar Room Smasher.
Apparently, Miss Nation took her commitment to the Temperance Movement in an intensely ironic direction–she decided that the best way to combat the evils of alcohol was by attacking liquor establishments with hymns, prayer, and blunt force trauma. You see, that somewhat faded object in Carrie’s right hand next to her XXL-sized Bible? That’s a hatchet.
One of the most outspoken and charismatic figures of the anti-alcohol campaign, Carrie described herself as “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.” I’ll skip the obvious physical comparison and simply say that, crazy old bat that she may have been, you’ve got to admire that kind of tenacity, not to mention the sheer physical prowess it must have taken for a woman pushing fifty to take that kind of toll on a bar room with nothing but a hatchet and delusional rage.
Carrie’s “hatchetations,” as she came to call them, began many years after her first failed marriage to an alcoholic, when she felt that she heard a divine mandate to “take something in your hand and smash” the nearby saloons and taverns that she saw as the downfall of man and the ruin of Christian families. After her first several bar raids, using only a crude rock in each hand to get her point across on those liquor bottles, her second husband jokingly suggested that she use a hatchet next time instead, to which Carrie replied, “That is the most sensible thing you have said since I married you.” And with that, Carrie’s–we’ll say ‘signature move’–was born.
Over the next decade, Carrie made an international name for herself as a prohibition crusader, somehow finding time between her saloon-smashing rampages and 30-some-odd arrests and imprisonments to tour the lecture circuit, publish several periodicals (aptly named The Smasher’s Mail and The Hatchet), and even enjoy a brief stint on the vaudeville stage. To pay her bills and travel costs, Carrie sold miniature souvenir hatchet pins as well as copies of her famous Bible-and-hatchet-toting photograph.
As you can imagine, Carrie became the amusing, but by no means harmless, scourge of bars throughout the country. In a tongue-in-cheek retaliation, many of them displayed hatchets on the wall with the slogan “All Nations Welcome But Carrie” on the handle.
Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed to find out that Carrie Nation died on June 9, 1911, a full eight years before her tireless efforts bore fruit in the form of the federal prohibition of alcohol in 1919. Another part of me wishes that she could have been reincarnated when the War on Drugs began. I mean, let’s face it–if I were a Columbian drug lord, the police wouldn’t really scare me, but a 6-foot, 175-lb hatchet-weilding grandma just might do the trick.
To learn more about Carrie Nation and the Temperance Movement: