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When Carrie Nation Came to Dayton

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, December 17, 1933


When Carrie Nation Came to Dayton

By Howard Burba

            Recounting details of the long and tireless crusade which brought about the “dry spell” now legally ended in the United States, one cannot overlook the name of the most spectacular old temperance warrior of them all – Carrie Nation of Kansas.
            The story of the crusaders in Highland co., and the colorful campaign they waged, along with the formation of the first W. C. T. U. chapter my Mother Stewart in a little church at High and Factory streets in our neighboring city of Springfield, makes interesting reading. The zeal they displayed and the rebuffs they encountered as they knelt in the streets of a thousand cities and towns and prayed for the “reformation” of those engaged in the liquor business forms a never-to-be-forgotten chapter in American history. But that chapter is far from complete unless it recites the part played by the most fearless fighter of all, the hatchet-waving, bar smashing, booze destroying Carrie Nation.
            It was when she was at the height of her saloon-smashing crusade that Dayton had an opportunity to meet her face-to-face, to see her and hear her and pass judgment upon her personality. She had won her way onto the first pages of newspapers throughout the country when she carried a hatchet into the saloons of Wichita, Kas., smashed bar fixtures, flung the contents of liquor bottles crashing to the floor and sent the white-aproned bartenders scurrying to the street. Frequent arrests had failed to discourage her, for she regained her liberty as fast as she was arraigned, and just as quickly she was back on the warpath, hatchet in hand, withering scorn on her lips and grim determination in her eyes. Little wonder Dayton dropped whatever it was doing the moment word went ‘round that Carrie Nation had landed in the city. Daytonians flocked to the depot to have a look at her.
            It was on a Saturday, the 25th of September, 1904, Carrie Nation stepped from a train at the Union station, to be greeted by local temperance workers who had been apprised in advance of her approach. But it was not until Monday, the 27th, that local citizens who had not been able to get a glimpse of her had their introduction to her through a Dayton newspaper. On that day a local sheet announced her visit under glaring headlines on the front page in these words:

“Carrie Nation Dayton’s Guest For Short Time – Lack of Time Only Prevents Smashing Tour – Pays Her Respects to Lebanon – Unhesitatingly Gives Her Opinion of Roosevelt and Parker – Declares Church Members Are Responsible for Saloons.”

Then we read this excellent description of that eventful visit as Dayton read it 29 years ago:

“Mrs. Carrie Nation passed through Dayton Saturday and at the request of local temperance workers stopped over for a few hours and addressed a meeting held in Association hall. Despite the fact that there was no time to advertise, the hall being secured at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, quite a company of men were on hand at the Y. M. C. A. entrance to see her when she arrived, and she was greeted by a large audience when she appeared in the hall.
            “In appearance, Mrs. Nation is matronly and well preserved, somewhat corpulent, but active, even strenuous in movement and gesticulations. She wore a princess gown of oxford, and arranges her hair in a tight, flat knot on the crown of her head and straight back from the face. She had just come from Lebanon and was on her way to Charleroi, Pa., and from what she relates of Lebanon that heretofore model little town is taking on the characteristics of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Mrs. Nation is loath to express its wickedness.
            “ ‘It’s the dirtiest, vilest town for its size I’ve ever been in,’ she said. ‘It’s filled with gamblers and gambling joints. It’s a mecca for drunkards and criminals. It’s awful, and I told ‘em so.’
            “At the evening meeting Rev. J. G. Vaughan presided.  Mrs. E. T. Brewster and Rev. C. E. McStravick assisting. Mrs. Nation came upon the stage with her Bible in hand and carrying a satchel, which was afterward found to contain copies of her book and a supply of souvenior hatchets which she sold in goodly numbers. Her address was somewhat disconnected, resembling somewhat the pick-off firing of a sharpshooter in the way she attacked individual politicians and government officials, holding up to ridicule their faults and inconsistencies, and roundly condemning the Republican party for the present conditions of things on the ground that is the party in power under whose license system the saloon and kindred institutions are allowed to exist.
            “She began by stating that she was glad to give the people of Dayton the opportunity to see her as she really is, for the rum-bought press has done much to give the people a false impression of her and her work. She has never been in a museum as an attraction, nor has she ever been on the stage as an actress, but only as a lecturer. Then she took up the saloons and in plain words gave her estimate of their depravity. They are the evil one’s greatest conspiracy for the overthrow of womanhood and the murder of young men, and in this connection she referred to a certain resort in Dayton which has already gained notoriety by exposure made to visitors. Only a lack of time prevented Mrs. Nation from visiting the place and doing something to modify the evil.
            “Next she spoke of tobacco using, and quoted statistics to show its evil consequences. Then she took up the question of license and said the government, in the hands of Republicans gives a bounty for the scalp of a wild animal that destroys the famer’s hogs, and then for $25 licenses men to murder boys. At this point someone asked her how she liked the Anti-Saloon League. She objected to it because she believes in a straight prohibition law, a thing for which the league does not work. Next she was asked to explain why she was so disrespectful of President Roosevelt. She dislikes him as a man because he is an aristocrat with a coat-of-arms on his carriage door, which is unbecoming the president of a republic; she disapproves of his hunting proclivities, with a long record of bears and little birds shot and above all she considers him culpable in bringing liquor into Kansas and dispensing treats in his private car when such act is in direct violation of the laws of the state.  ‘He broke the law when he did that and he ought to be treated like the rest of the law-breakers,’ she said.
            “ ‘How about Judge Alton B. Parker?’ asked a voice in the audience.
            “ ‘He hasn’t the opportunity or he’d be just as bad,’ was her answer.
            “ ‘Do you like Cyrus C. Swallow?’
            “ ‘Yes. He’s an Abraham Lincoln kind of man, and my kind of man.’
            “ ‘Do you always keep law, Mrs. Nation?’ someone else asked.
            “She said she did and that the saloon is unlawful and therefore had no right to exist in Kansas, and a citizen has a right to break it up.
            “In reply to other questions she said the church members are responsible for the saloon because they didn’t use their privilege of voting it out. ‘It lays with the voters to right the wrongs of government’, she said. As to whose government this is, she got various answers, repeating the question until people answered. She made the point that it was Republican voters who are in power; she reiterated all the bad things done by Roosevelt and his crowd. This made some Democrats laugh. Quick as a flash she pointed her finger at the mirthful parties and began to tell how bad Democrats would be if the Republicans would only give them a chance. She said the Republicans were bad only because they allowed themselves to be fooled. She was impartial in her denunciations, and gave the Democrats a tongue-lashing and partially excused the ‘poor Republicans.’ And again there was laughter. The Parker slate, she said, was made up around a 25-cent game of poker.  ‘That’s enough to show what will happen if you Republicans let Parker get in,’ she exclaimed.
            “Then Bishop Potter was called up for sentence. ‘He has dedicated a murder mill to God, and the Republicans let him do it, and must share the punishment that awaits the bishop for his blasphemy and temporizing with Satanic agencies’, she said. At this point someone asked about her divorce. She frankly stated the circumstances of the case and concluded the list of her ex-husband’s misdeeds by the assertion: ‘You see, he is a Republican.’
            “The earnestness and quick wit of the woman had its effect upon the audience, many of whom went to see an erratic enthusiast and came away feeling she was not so much irrational as intensely earnest and so strenuous as to do what others have not dared. She possesses a courage of conviction that few people possess, and in the burning ambition to accomplish that upon which her heart is set, forgets self and limitations of womanhood. Her last act as she went to catch a train for Springfield was to reprimand a railroad official for smoking a cigaret.”

            It so happened I was in Springfield that night, and among the first to reach the railroad station when word was quickly flashed to the morning newspaper that Carrie Nation had alighted from a train. When I reached the station it was to battle my way through a crowd of excited, curious Springfielders, each concerned with a single desire and that to secure a view of the famed crusader. Milling across the railroad tracks and for a block in each direction was a good-natured mob of men, women and children. Somewhere in that mob was the little old woman I sought.
            Finally reaching the saloon conducted by a genial old German, long since passed on, one Gus Haberkorn, I found a cordon of police at his door, holding the laughing, neck-craning crowd in leash. Admitted to the saloon it was to find Haberkorn, his moon-shaped face beaming with good natured smiles, in a temperance argument with the visitor. A little ring of onlookers had formed about them, and there were roars of laughter as Carrie Nation excoriated Gus Haberkorn for “ruining all the young men in Springfield,” and as Gus generously offered her anything he had in stock as proof of his good will toward her. She strode from the place with the threat that she would return later with her war-paint on and smash everything breakable in the place. But she never did.
            Later in the evening I visited Mrs. Nation at the home of Mother Stewart, pioneer leader of the old temperance crusade of 40 years before, at the latter’s home on S. Yellow Springs st. My interview with her, and my own pen sketch of her drawn in the morning paper next day would scarcely interest you now. But it is worth mentioning that Springfield, though disappointed in not being treated to a sight of her in action, realized that Carrie Nation was possibly without knowing it, a most capable showman. She knew the public wanted something spectacular along with its lectures on misbehavior, and she found an ideal way to provide it.
            Carrie Nation boarded a train in Springfield early next morning, eastward bound. But the few hours she had spent in Dayton enroute did not mark her final appearance here. About a month later Dayton temperance advocates persuaded her to return to the city and conduct a campaign, with a fixed schedule of addresses in various parts of the city. So on Oct. 22, 1904, we find a newspaper announcement of her return, along with this interesting description of her plans:

            “Mrs. Carrie Nation, of Kansas, the celebrated hatchet smasher, and one of the most aggressive and determined workers in the cause of prohibition, is now honoring the city with her presence and will remain until the 31st.
            “Mrs. Nation arrived late Thursday night and immediately went to the residence of Dr. J. C. Early, 19 Harshman st., where she will be an honored guest while there. When Mrs. Nation was here some months ago she gave an address at the Y. M. C. A. auditorium to a large and enthusiastic audience, which was so well received and made such a good impression that those interested in managing her present campaign have had no difficulty in marking her dates.  Mrs. Nation will make about a dozen talks during the crusade, and every one of them from the pulpits of prominent churches of various denominations.
            “Beginning Sunday morning at the Dunkard church, May and Philadelphia sts., and continueing at St. Paul’s Sunday night; Monday night at Riverdale U. B. church; Tuesday night at First United Presbyterian, High and McLain sts., Wednesday night at Trinity M. E. church in North Dayton; Thursday night a mass meeting of all the various colored churches at McKinley M. E. church on Hawthorn st. This will be a splendid meeting as Mrs. Nation is a great favorite with the colored race. Friday night at the Second United Presbyterian, Park st. and Wayne av.; Saturday night at Trinity Reformed, Green and Jefferson; Sunday night at Summit st. U. B. She will doubtless have meetings in the afternoon in various parts of the city, as they can be arranged.
            “Last night Mrs. Nation appeared at the prohibition stand, Fourth and Main sts., and was greeted by hundreds of people. She made a short address and from the cheers and enthusiasm evinced even by those in the audience not in sympathy with prohibition it is very evident that she will be a popular idol while here.
            “Mrs. Nation contemplates making a visit to Miamisburg tonight, and to Bellbrook or some other suburban town Sunday afternoon.
            “Dr. Early’s residence was the mecca of many temperance, prohibition and moral reform enthusiasts yesterday. Many were agreeably surprised to find in Mrs. Nation a pleasant, good-hearted, quiet old lady, not at all in keeping with reports, which made her out a vicious, illiterate, vulgar crank.
            “A peculiarity of all her addresses will be that the text is to be given by the pastor just as she enters the pulpit. All of her addresses will be strictly scriptural and, of course, along lines of temperance or prohibition, social purity, reform and rescue work along practical lines.”

            The whole town was being Carrie Nationized by the spell of her oratory, and for days she was the chief subject of local conversation. Everyone was “on the anxious seat,” since most everyone felt that Mrs. Nation could not long hold her saloon-smashing proclivities in restraint. They awaited the moment when she would take to the warpath with hatchet waving and hair flying; they longed to hear the crash of glass and witness the same sights to which the citizens of several Kansas towns had been treated. The nearest they came to this, however, was when a base imitator, obsessed with the belief that he could furnish this demand, callied forth on such a mission – and landed in the lockup. A Dayton paper of Oct. 24, 1904, tells of that incident in this way:

            “Walter Ross, either before or after taking, or partaking, of red wine, amber-colored beer or carnation-colored five-water, doned a sunbonnet, a black skirt and a Mother Hubbard and procuring a wooded hatchet, thus attired and equipped, suddenly appeared on Third street yesterday afternoon. When he, she or it, stopped in front of a Third street saloon and brandished the ax, a crowd gathered in expectation that a Carrie Nation devastation was about to take place.
            “About this time, however, Patrolmen Hankins and Lightner butted in and escorted the individual to police headquarters.”

            In the same issue the local paper described a couple of Mrs. Nation’s meetings here, and that you may gain some idea of the enthusiasm which marked them, we take this abstract from the files:

            “Last evening Mrs. Nation spoke at St. Paul’s M. E. church. The crowd began to gather at 6 o’clock, and before the services began the jam was so great that Chief Whitaker was called upon and the police had to hold the crowd back. It is estimated that twice as many people were in the streets in front of the church as were able to get in.
            “Many who were present expected a wild radical talk, and were most agreeably surprised at her masterly handling of the text, which the minister read out as she entered the pulpit. During her address she had several opportunities of taking a smash at the saloons, which she did in such a way as to bring out a responsive demonstration from the congregation. A generous special offering was made and presented her. It is understood that all money received in such offerings, above that needed for her actual expenses, goes to help operate the ‘Gospel Wagons’ now being maintained in the cities of Topeka and Wichita.
            “In her address at Riverdale U. B. church Mrs. Nation did not forget to score the Riverdale voters for voting to retain the 10 saloons in their district, neither did she overlook criticizing the cowards who failed to vote on the matter as Christians.
            “Last night was her first recital in detail of her vision and raids on the Kiowah, Kans., joints. The recital, while given in homely, everyday language, was filled with honesty, courage, daring and confidence. Mrs. Nation gave as her excuse for these acts the belief that God Almighty had assigned her to do that kind of work. She talked entertainingly for over an hour, and spent another hour shaking hands with those who went forward to buy her book and the little hatchet she sells as souvenirs of her visit. Her entire supply of the latter was disposed of last night at 10 cents apiece.”
            Carrie Nation closed her Dayton crusade with three meetings on Oct. 31; in the morning at the Home Avenue U. B. church; in the afternoon with a mass meeting attended by more than 4000 people at the old Sixth st. armory; and in the evening at the Summit Street U. B. church.
            Dayton had seen and heard her, and Dayton liked her. She had been disappointing to those who expected just such demonstrations of violence here as had characterized her activities in the west. But the average Daytonian was satisfied with Carrie Nation’s visit, and believed in her sincerity. Possibly no better proof of that can be offered than to chronicle a little incident which marked the closing hours of her stay here. At the great mass meeting in the armory hundreds were forced to stand, additional hundreds had been turned away.
            Near the door stood the late L. T. Cooper, of patent medicine fame and one of the most popular citizens Dayton ever boasted. As the collection box came around at the close of Mrs. Nations’ talk “Doc” Cooper tossed a bank note of generous denomination into it and said:

            “I do not agree with her in all things, but she means well!”

            He had spoken the sentiment of Dayton as a whole.