Monday, January 12, 2009

Happy New Year's Eve . . . at 10,000 feet in 1878

I'm thrashing around in my office, trying to identify and pull together all the receipts, statements, etc., that I need for tax season (yuck), and incidentally catching up (at least a little) with the piles of paper everywhere.

In the process, I found a great article in Leadville's Herald Democrat newspaper, a newspaper to which I subscribe and devour avidly (although often belatedly, as life gets in the way of newspaper reading). Anyhow, page 4 of the January 1, 2009, issue, has a reprint an article from the Jan. 1, 1891 issue that hearkens back to how New Year's Eve was celebrated in 1878, the first year of the city's existence. This is such a great article, I just have to quote bits and pieces of it, to wit:

. . . upon no common ground, at any point in the universe, was there ever gathered as here such a conglomerate mass of diversified humanity—men of education and culture, graduates of Harvard, Yale and Princeton, mingling with ignorant and uncouth bullwackers, men of wealth mixing with adventurers of every degree without a sou in their pockets . . . men of refinement jostling against cheap variety actors and scarcely less masculine variety actresses; dance hall herders and others with callings less genteel; representatives of the better element in all callings of life, hopelessly entangled with the throngs of gamblers, bunco steerers, thugs, bullies, drunkards, escaped convicts, dead-beats, and the "scum of the earth" generally. . . .

Had enough? No? Then how about:

. . . numerous barkeepers, almost fainting from exhaustion, strove hard to satisfy the thirst of the multitude that eddied back and forth between curbstone and bar. Poor indeed and unsatisfying was the meal that could be procured on that New Year's day for a dollar, while indifferent, if not positively bad whiskey readily commanded 25 cents a swallow.

Thank you, Herald Democrat!

This newspaper, which has been going in one form or another since 1879, is a real treasure and allows me to keep up on the city's current day activities as well as pick up tidbits from the past, such as in this reprint.

I not only love the descriptions of Leadville's New Year's Eve of old, which are worth their weight in silver (? Do descriptions have mass? Oh, nevermind.), but also the cadence and exuberance of the language. There's a certain rhythm and energy that I, as a writer and reader, admire. Of course, back then, truth was a commodity with a value that rose or fell depending on its ability to entertain. Hmmm. I can think of some places where that holds true today as well!


lucia said...

So true. Thanks for the "discovery." It's amazing what old newspapers will give us. L

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Loved the article! Maybe if newspapers went back to such descriptive writing they'd sell better because they'd be more fun to read.

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as bad whiskey, especially for 25 cents!

Ann Parker said...

Hi Lucia,
I agree . . . Old newspapers are wonderful for getting initial ideas and also details of the particular times, places, and attitudes. they rank right up there with old letters, in my mind. :-)

Hi Jane,
You're right, they are fun to read. Particularly if a publisher/editor/reporter had an axe to grind. They could really sling that verbiage!

Hi Christina,
Ha! :-) I suppose enough 25-cent whiskeys imbibed at 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, and the world started to look pretty warm and rosy. Particularly if the drinker was inside and all that cold, cold winter weather was outside...

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Ann,
Yes, the writing in newspapers and books from that time was much more flowery and descriptive and downright long-winded compared to today. Do you strive sometimes in your historical novels to mimic that style of old, say in the writing that your characters do?

Ann Parker said...

Hi Beth,
I do. I have lots of fun coming up with bits for my fictitious Leadville newspaper, The Independent, and try to channel the real newspapers from that time. :-)

Sometimes I get carried away in the narration, though, and my critique group has to rein me in . . .