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Even a Blind Pig

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Image = The Detroit News

 By Art Cashin

On this day in 1838, American ingenuity and salesmanship intervened in yet another episode of America’s recurring battles of alcohol versus abstemiousness.

(Oh! I see that look in your eye!  These are Founding Fathers you say…industrious, dedicated, inventive, reverent, patriotic.  Yes, Alice, that’s true but you left out…occasionally lying drunk in the gutter.  Need I remind you that many, if not most, of the public laws dating back to before the Pilgrims landed were about the dispensing of alcohol.

Need I further remind you that America’s first great piece of fiction was Rip Van Winkle…the story of a town drunk who drank himself into a 20 year coma.  Need I also remind you that George Washington…oh, never mind, you get the point and I’m making myself thirsty.)

At any rate, here it is 1838 and temperance again is on the upswing.  Just two years earlier, the Rev. Thomas Hunt began “a children’s crusade” in Sunday Schools recruiting temperance pledges to “cold water societies” from over 40,000 (presumably fathers).  About the same time several Protestant denominations called for temperance pledges and got 3000 pledges in a month (mostly ministers…but at that time they were part of the target audience.  We Catholics may have missed this particular temperance wave…maybe  the Altar wine…

One final background note…these pledges were sometimes partial others were for total abstinence.  Some signers were temperance (T) partialers  or temperance (T)  totalers…get it…Tee totalers.).

Okay, if you’re still awake…on this day in 1838, a man in New Bedford, Mass. found a way around the new restrictions on the serving of booze which the state legislature had recently set down. This fellow advertised that gentlemen might wish to come by his place and for a small fee get to view a rare “striped pig.”  Those who came by found the fee to indeed be small (about the price of a double jigger of dark rum).  They also found that to view the pig they had go, one at a time, into a drapery enclosed chamber (or blind).  Once inside, they discovered that the celebrated striped pig was ceramic and painted. Before they could get too angry they also noticed that next to the ceramic pig was a double jigger of dark rum (actually just 3/4 full).

About now the “customer”  would realize that he had been had…but not by much…since if he drank the rum it was almost a fair trade.  And since this often occurred during hours restricted by the legislature…maybe it wasn’t such a bad deal at all.  Soon lots of thirsty (er…make that curious) citizens came by to view “the striped pig in a blind.”  Shortly, folks were calling all “off hours” drinking spots a “blind pig.”

The nick-name was very popular in the early days of Prohibition in the 1920′s until it was replaced by the admonition given to clients by the new illegal innkeepers – “You’ll have to speak easy so folks won’t know we’re in here.”

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art’s posts simply click on “Cashin’s Comments” in the label section on the sidebar.

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