Live From the Archives: "Top Ten Shenanigans Surrounding St. Patrick's Day, Contra Costa County 1913"
By Melissa Jacobson
(This article was orignally published in the Martinez, CA Gazette, March 16, 2013)
This is the time of year when newspapers -- and our mailboxes -- are loaded with St. Patrick's Day sales and events. Just the other day, I bent down to pick up my favorite newspaper and out fell a flurry of green advertisement inserts. Along with the predictable specials on corned beef and cabbage, I could also buy -- at a reduced rate -- large quantities of Irish beer such as Guinness, Murphy's Irish Stout and Harp Lager at my local grocery store. There were also invitations to party -- Irish style -- at local pubs and restaurants. March 17th was days away but the advertising onslaught was in full swing. As I shoved all of the slick green inserts back into the folds of my newspaper, I wondered how the media advertised, or if they even covered, Saint Patrick's Day one hundred years ago.
What stands out most about Saint Patrick's Day in 1913 is that it was mainly covered by the newspapers as a Christian holiday. Charity events leading up to March 17th included "fine chicken dinners," orchestras and fancy balls "filled with merriment, vivacity and bright, pretty gowns" were put on by local churches, private clubs and aid societies to raise money for a cause. It was a moment to give thanks and to recognize a man -- Patrick, Ireland's patron Saint -- who gave of himself to others. For example, two different newspapers highlighted a Catholic Church in Richmond that sold "little green shamrock tags" for ten cents to support their church work. Unlike today, local newspapers in 1913 did not run daily advertisements -- right up to Saint Patrick's Day -- telling readers to stock up on Irish Whiskey. Nor did the papers encourage people to visit an Irish bar, but shenanigans -- and attempts to prevent them-- did, indeed, occur.
Top 10 Shenanigans
Sheriff Gets Serious In order to prevent shenanigans, the front page of the Contra Costa Gazette warned readers that an Australian blood hound named "Queen" was delivered from San Francisco to Sheriff Veale in Martinez to help deputies better track criminals. The newspaper warned that Queen's tracking ability was guaranteed as "the animal comes of a breed now housed at Walla Walla State Penitentiary" (Contra Costa Gazette, March 15, 1913). Revelers, watch out!
Wife Beating Unforeseen repercussions were taking place regarding the new state law against wife beating. If convicted, the wife beater was sent to jail and required to work on public roads. "Many wives are using the new law to jail their husbands for as long as six months on second and third offenses and collecting the $1.50 a day for maintenance. This is about as much as the ordinary wife-beating variety of husband would earn anyhow, so the wives are happy" ( Richmond Daily Independent, March 8,1913).
Death and Taxes "Notice to Taxpayers. Refusal or neglect to make a sworn statement of all property owned or held in trust, will subject the persons refusing or neglecting to make such sworn statement to the full penalty of the law. The State Poll Tax of $2 and the State Road Tax of $2 are each now due and payable at this office or to a Deputy Assessor." (Some things never change; prominent warnings listed in all the local newspapers throughout the month of March 1913).
Women Seek Divorces According to the State Bureau of Labor, one in every five couples married in San Francisco landed in divorce courts. Of the number of actions filed, 25 percent were brought by husbands and 75 percent by wives. "Of the 2077 divorces recorded, 888 were granted for desertion, 664 for extreme cruelty, 416 for neglect and failure to provide, 49 for intemperance, 45 for infidelity, 11 for conviction of a felony and 4 for causes not stated" (Richmond Daily Independent, March 8, 1913).
Mugging by the Buggy On the Friday night before St. Patrick's Day, Mr. McGowan was driving towards Concord when his horse tripped and fell over a rope which had been stretched across the road. When McGowan stepped from his buggy to see what had happened, he was approached by a man who offered his assistance. The stranger then asked McGowan for ten cents… when McGowan drew his purse to comply with the request, the wallet was seized by the stranger and a scuffle ensued. A second highwayman appeared and struck him "a severe blow in the back knocking him into the ditch." The two men fled with McGowan's purse, containing about $25, a suit of his clothes and his buggy to Bay Point. Where's Queen when you need her? (Daily Gazette Martinez, March 15, 1913).
Saloons Get the Squeeze The Albany Improvement Club asked the city council to limit the number of saloons to six until the town had reached a population of 4,000. "No back rooms or slide doors allowed" and a saloon license should be a hefty $75 a year. Three days before St. Patrick's Day, the city council did not act upon the petition. ( Richmond Daily Independent, March 14, 1913).
Dazed and Confused Front page news. Richmond police arrested a supposed soldier for drunkenness. Yet, he wasn't wearing his uniform and he didn't know how he got to Richmond. Does anyone know this man? He told police that he remembered leaving Fort McDowell with the intention of going to a party in Oakland. Instead, he stopped in San Francisco to change his clothes and then got to drinking and then left his uniform in the Ferry Building; honest! Police were waiting until the man sobered up to "ascertain just how much of his story is correct " (Richmond Daily Independent, March 12, 1913).
Auto Evil "High speeders, joy riders, lightless autos and the boy or the man who is riding on the sidewalks or pathways of Martinez on a bicycle is in for it…." The new Martinez ordinance, which includes a speed limit of 10 mph, allows fines up to $50 and a "soak for twenty-five days in the county jail" if the money is not paid. Oddly, no mention of drunk driving. Cheers to Saint Patrick! (Martinez Daily Standard March 11, 1913).
Day After Remedies And, there's always medical advice for the day after a raucous St. Patrick's: "Painless Anderson. The Only Real Painless Dentist" (Richmond Daily Independent March 14, 1913). Or, "Get your stomach, liver, kidneys and bowels in healthy condition by taking Electric Bitters and you will not be troubled by Rheumatism." Or, "Dr. King's New Discovery has been known throughout the world as the most reliable cough remedy. Over three million bottles were used last year. Isn't that proof?" (Martinez Daily Standard March 7, 1913).
And, the number one Shenanigan for Saint Patrick's Day, 1913…
Ranch Employee Arrested An over-indulgence in alcoholic stimulants, coupled with a desire to "shoot up the town" caused the arrest of John, an employee at the Frank Swett ranch. Witnesses said that he came into town and began varying his drinks of whiskey with shots from his revolver! John -- whose last name shall not be given -- was sentenced to 90 days or the option to leave town. He left town. (Daily Gazette March 17, 1913)
When Irish eyes are smiling, they are usually up to something. (Irish Proverb)