Saturday, July 12, 2008

Carrie Nation in the Land of Sky Blue Waters

I'm on the road again, today in eastern Wisconsin. I stopped in Fond du Lac, and while looking around the downtown area, saw this intriguing sign on a bar:

Weathered hand-painted sign reading Scene of the famous 1902 Carry Nation hatchet swinging episode
Wisconsin seems like a particularly appropriate location for a visit from Carrie (Carry) Nation; I never saw so many bars in my life until I visited Wisconsin. So, of course, I had to look into Carrie Nation to fill in the gaps in what I remember about her from school, and to find out what exactly she was doing in Fond du Lac in 1902.

Here's what the Fond du Lac public library has to tell us:

Poster promoting Carry Nation with a photo of her on itThe most noted tavern incident in Fond du Lac was the infamous “Carrie Nation Hatchet Swinging Episode” of 1902. This performance has been both exaggerated and widely publicized. Carry Amelia Moore Nation, known as “Carrie,” the famous prohibitionist leader from Kansas, was noted for swinging her hatchet and damaging taverns in her attempts to bring attention to her cause. Cutting an impressive figure at almost six feet tall and weighing 180 pounds, and accompanied by her rallying cry, “Smash, ladies, smash,” Carrie Nation was arrested more than 30 times between 1900 and 1910 for damaging saloons.

Nation was scheduled to speak at Lakeside Park twice on July 16, 1902. She did not arrive for the first lecture. Some who had gathered there to see the spectacle joked that Nation was off on a drinking binge. She did, however, make an appearance for the second speech, although she was ten minutes late. The next night, Nation asked E.J. Schmidt if she could speak at his tavern on the northwest corner of Main and Division Streets. Schmidt recognized that the visit would bring good publicity, and he agreed to allow the famed prohibitionist to appear, but only if she came sans hatchet.

Nation addressed the crowd and eventually began an inflammatory tirade against Germans and their love of beer. She was mocked by some in the tavern. In her aggravation, she went so far as to say that every German in Wisconsin should be blown up “with dynamite.” When one of her detractors then offered her a bottle of whiskey, she reached under her dress and produced her famous hatchet. She swung, smashing the bottle and it looked like her famous tavern-destroying antics would begin, but Schmidt was able to relieve her of the weapon before she performed her routine.

By chance, I also visited Fond du Lac's Lakeside Park today. It's very nice, with a miniature train for children to ride, an old-fashioned carousel, and a petting zoo. Hearing that Carrie Nation spoke there gives it a different feeling, though!

Miniature locomotive the Lakeside Ltd adorned in green and yellow paint

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