Tuesday, January 20

Carl Switzer, The Sad End to a Wonderful Life

By Art Cashin

On this day (+1) in 1959, a man was killed by a gunshot during a drunken brawl outside a saloon in California. Even in 1959 this was not a totally remarkable event in California. Unless, of course, the victim was a celebrity, someone that the American public might see as part of its history.

But the police report simply listed the deceased only as one Carl Switzer, a former movie actor. At the time, only grade "B" movie buffs would recognize the name. Not until a few years later, when TV tried to fill time by rerunning old Hal Roach movies, would hotshots be able to say "Hey, that's Alfalfa!" The strident singing star of a series called either "Our Gang" comedies or "The
Little Rascals." His only other notable role was as the teenager who turned the switch that opened the gym floor above the pool in Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life."

Police records don't say if Carl went down singing (in screeching falsetto) "Happy Birthday Mr. Hood - Happy Birthday to Ya."

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Friday, January 16

A Toast to Temperance

image = women of the 1920s

By Grant Davies

On this day in 1920, the US government enacted a law that sought to regulate human behavior on a scale not seen before in the country. The results were, of course, disastrous. The law was destined to fail because none of the people whose behavior it was designed to alter had any intention whatsoever of complying. And there were a lot of them.

The law in question was the National Prohibition Act, more popularly known as the Volstead Act. It gave teeth to the newly passed constitutional amendment banning the use of alcohol for recreational purposes.

But the new law didn't fail at everything. It succeeded fantastically in many ways. For instance, it worked great at turning law abiding citizens into scofflaws and common criminals. It turned run of the mill ruffians into multimillionaire booze barons. Imbecile thugs like Al Capone became business titans. It spurred employment changes as former bartenders became black market delivery men. It expanded government hiring by turning former productive citizens into enforcement officers and bribe takers.

And let's face it, it made drinking so much more fun! Getting bombed at home and falling asleep in the rocking chair was replaced by sneaking out to speakeasies where knowing secret passwords and escape routes was all the rage. Instead of snoring in that chair, men could go meet naughty girls who liked to smoke cigarettes and dance. Many didn't wear bras either, oh the possibilities.

No other government program caused so much fun to be had by such formerly boring people. Other bad laws  in the future (fill in the blank) never gave such joy. The government finally realized everyone was having too much fun and called the whole thing off in 1933. But don't worry, the government wouldn't make the same mistake twice with other intoxicating substances. They are way too wise for that.

To celebrate "Volstead Day", invite some friends over for a glass (or two) of wine on a Friday evening and propose a toast to temperance. That's what we are going to do tonight. I'd invite you to join us if I was certain you wouldn't show up.

Wednesday, January 7

Zog, King of the Bums

King Zog
image = wikipedia
By Art Cashin

On this day (+3) in 1946, the unemployment rate in the nation of Albania went up by one. No, not one percent, just one. But it was an important one.

The day before, the unemployed person had been the King of Albania. But on that day the nation became a republic, putting the king out of work. Naturally the king was disappointed. Naturally the monarchists were disappointed. And naturally the crossword puzzle editors were disappointed.

Wait! You say, the crossword puzzle editors? Yes, Virginia, the crossword puzzle editors! For the deposed King was none other than the Grand and Imperial Zog.

King Zog was a hit with the social columns even if his people thought him three pickles short of a barrel. And the cruci-verbalists just couldn't get enough of him even after he shortened his surname from Zogu to just plain Zog in 1928 (at his coronation). In fact, Zog and the Zogettes (he had several daughters) might have hung on to become the kind of Royal don'tcha knows that Charles & the late Princess Di had once seemed but in the Balkans, unfortunately, Zog had made a bad bet.

He bet that the leader of a nearby nation would be a friend and defender - but Mussolini used the friendship to conquer Albania. So when World War II ended, the people had stopped calling their king...."Zog the Wise" or "Zog the Competent" or even "Zog the Okay." They called him
"Zog the Bum" and threw him out. That meant the crossword guys would be reduced to using "ex-Balkan" leader for the three-letter clue in the corner.

That was not as much fun and thus, Zog zigged out of the papers completely.


Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Tuesday, December 30

Art Cashin and the Fifty Year Odyssey

Art Cashin
Storyteller and Trader Extraordinaire
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1964, (that's 50 years ago for you who need a calculator, er..smart phone) a young man was promoted to partner of  P.R. Herzig & Co., and became one of the youngest people ever to have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

But he sure didn't "take a seat" or "remain seated" over the next 50 years. His name is Art Cashin. That's right, he's the same guy who writes many of the historical posts for this site. And boy has he ever been busy over that half century.


My own involvement in the trading floor business didn't begin until four years later, so Art was a floor member on the "big board" in the "big apple" before I was even an odd lot boy on the tiny Midwest Stock Exchange in the second city. Art still has his seat and I still have mine. But mine is a recliner in my living room and his is still a membership in one of the most important and historic financial institutions the world has ever known.

Today he is director of floor operations for UBS Financial Services and he appears daily on CNBC. But somewhat more importantly (to me) he is a contributor of wonderful stories to this lilliputian blog. I have been extremely grateful to Art and UBS for allowing me to republish those great stories over the last several years and it's my hope that in some small way this blog has exposed people to his historical musings who otherwise would have never read them.

So, congratulations Mr. Cashin on your 50th anniversary on the floor of the NYSE. And thanks for informing us while entertaining us for all that time.

As he penned in this morning's Cashin's Comments, "It has been a most interesting half century." I wholeheartedly agree! The man is an institution inside an institution.

To celebrate the day, if you happen to see him in his "seat" in some historic Wall Street watering hole, scribbling trading level numbers on the famous cocktail napkins that have informed so many traders for so long, be sure to tip your hat to a Wall Street icon and thank him for the stories you have enjoyed here.

Read more about Art here.

Thursday, December 18

Chew on This Story

image = chewing gum facts
By Art Cashin

On this day in 1869, Wm. Semple of Ohio was granted a patent on a form of chewing gum. Americans had long chewed a variation of an old Indian substance - - a combination of sap and paraffin. But like many American invention, somewhere else another guy was working on the same project. In this case the somewhere else was Staten Island.

A guy named Santa Ana, who had a somewhat brief political and military career in Mexico (see “Alamo”), was trying to start a new career in his 70's. And, where is a trendier, more intellectually challenging place than Staten Island. He was hoping to produce a substitute for rubber and had brought along some chicle (itself the sap of a Mexican plant).

He showed it to a local inventor, Tom Adams, this particular sample. But try as he could Adams couldn't make a rubber substitute. So one day while he was hanging out at a drug store (the mall had not been invented yet), Adams heard a kid complain about the paraffin gum. Adams went home, soaked some chicle in licorice and kneaded it into little pellets. The druggist sold out the new sample in six hours. Shortly, America was hooked on "Adams N.Y. Gum No. 1".

To mark the day, try not to chew out an employee. Some can be very snappy. And try not to laugh when someone tells you they always thought "Chicklets" was inspired by a poultry symbol.


Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Monday, December 8

LETTER FROM A FREEDMAN TO HIS OLD MASTER

Editors note:
I haven't written anything for this blog in quite some time so I thought I would write about the letter found below. It's a perfect fit for this site because it's great history written with tongue firmly in cheek. I decided not to write about it because I could never improve upon what the author wrote.

The source for the letter is The Freedmen's Book, by Lydia Maria Child. It is republished here under the terms of The Project Gutenberg.* Special thanks to Letters of Note blog.
Grant Davies

LETTER FROM A FREEDMAN TO HIS OLD MASTER.

[Written just as he dictated it.]

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865.


To my old Master, Colonel P. H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee.

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can.

I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable.

Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the[266] folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq.,[267] Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,
Jourdon Anderson.



Congratulations to Dave McGovern for winning the 15 Seconds of Fame Award given to contributors of ideas for Cheeky History blog-posts. Thanks Dave! Keep 'em coming.

*This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org

Friday, October 31

Happy Samhain

Image = Lightgrid
By Art Cashin

On this day in (approx.) 823 B.C., the most inventive, charming and clever people ever to grace God's green earth came up with yet another ingenious idea.

They were, of course, the Irish (at this time A/K/A the Celts). Being bright they did not labor upon the obvious. So they let somebody else invent fire, the wheel, iron, astronomy, writing, calendars, etc. These they figured they could copy - - and boy did they. These clever folks....well.....they tended to save their strength for what was really important.

By this stratagem, even 1000 years earlier, while pagan types were grappling with such mediocrity as pyramids, irrigation and geometry, the Celts had learned to distill grain. This miracle medicinal cure (which would maintain mankind for over 3000 years) they called Usquebah. The amazed and very
indebted rest of the world mistranslated the name as "whiskey".

So for a millennia these wise and whiskey-witty folk enjoyed good health and good fellowship. Then as this particular day approached (circa 823 B.C.), gender problems arose. The women began expecting the men to hang out close to the cave as the evening came earlier each fall. If civilization were to progress, this would never do!

So the Celtic elders came up with the second great invention. They called it "Samhain" or end of summer. They explained to the women that as the season changed, ghosts, goblins and evil spirits came forth to threaten all humans. In order to protect the women and children, the men folk selflessly would have to put on old clothes, take some jugs of the magic Usquebah (possible snake bite you know) and go into the hills and light fires.

For nearly 1500 years the tradition held. Then came the good St. Patrick who was wise enough to keep the Usquebah but drove out the snakes. Conveniently, his Christian teaching did say that November 1st was the Feast of All Saints (or "All Hallows"). So it only seemed logical that if the saints were coming out, the devils would have one last fling. So, snakes or not, we would
still need those reliable old clothes, bonfires and protective booze on the eve of "All Hallows" or Hallow's Evening or Halloween.

To celebrate stop by "The Bog on the Moor" and fortify yourself against snakebite, but quit before ye begin to see the little people. For to go beyond, will surround ye with all kinds of devilment like - banshees and ghoulies and mothers-in-law.


Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.
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