A boozy tale

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For perspective on our current coronavirus situation, we are following the entrance of the 1918 Spanish Influenza, that paragon of pandemics, into the minds and bodies of Lehigh Valley residents who got their news through the Morning Call (the files of the Bethlehem Globe are closed to us at the moment).

Associated Press, “Pennsylvania liquor stores to reopen today at these locations for curbside pickup.” Morning Call, April 20, 2020.

In Bethlehem, 30 E. 4th St.:  610-861-2109

The noon WFMZ telecast led with the news. Booze now available. Huzza!

You’ve seen the letters to the editor: “Keeping these vitally essential stores open could’ve helped ease a lot of tension,” and “We as Americans have a right to pick and choose what we want,”

Makes you think, doesn’t it? What’s essential and what isn’t?

To many, liquor is essential.

Morning Call articles in the month of October 1918 tell a funny story of how our ancestors handled liquor deprivation during the Spanish Flu pandemic.

The state health department turned down a petition for an exemption of the ban from the Wholesale Malt and Liquor Dealers Protective Association. An association protecting the right to imbibe?

A brewing company presented a conundrum to the Allentown Health Board when it “requested the privilege” of selling a beverage one half of one percent alcohol. The Health Board debated whether such minuscule content constituted an alcoholic drink — a debate reminiscent, no doubt, of such questions as “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” presented to St. Thomas Aquinas. Nice try by the brewers. No resolution is reported.

The local Health Board was no place for dummies. A special meeting was required because physicians were issuing prescriptions to liquor dealers for liquor. Health Department headquarters in Harrisburg was called in on this one. The hope was that they would restrict such permissible requests to a quart or less. Can you see the label? Take two shots and call me in the morning.

Farmers found cider so in demand to quench thirsts that they could get “the fancy price of 35 cents a gallon.” A jug by any other name . . .

Black market booze went for $3 a quart. You can hear the babies around town crying for lack of milk.

Saloon owners did lose licenses for illegal sales as they succumbed to the siren call of illegal demand. Why don’t we use the term “saloon” much any more? It has such a delightfully wicked aura.

Wouldn’t you have loved to know serial slurpers “Brindamour” and “Brick ” O’Donnell, surely among the most colorful anti-heroes of the local pandemic? Good boys, I imagine them, whose mother the widow Mary Kate Brogan O’Donnell, sat nightly by the fire chewing the hem of her apron in terror at the roar of gunfire rattling her humble crockery, but who, “driven to desperation by the quarantine of saloons,” crossed over into denizens of rat holes and railroad yards as a result of their addiction to the demon drink.

Flu 91Brick was captured in a “state of stupefaction,” but Brindamour, showing moves that earned him that football scholarship to Notre Dame and maternal dreams of a fulfilling career, danced around the flying bullets of that committed North-Ireland foe of fun Patrolman Harsch (“Harsh”!) to live and slurp again as he matured into a life of lovable criminality. There’s a Cagney movie based on him.

But seriously.

Flu 85

Open bars cause an emigration like the Muslims fleeing the Middle East.

If you had a boat capable of crossing the Delaware in October 1918, you could make some money. Like selling parking spaces in front of your house during Musik-Fest.

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