Plays, Pageants, and the Origin of the “First Thanksgiving” Story


These kids look *thrilled* to be in this Thanksgiving pageant :p. Photo Source:

Ask any schoolchild in America about Thanksgiving, and you’re likely to hear a story about how pilgrims and Native Americans sat down together and had a big, friendly feast. We’ve known for a long time, however, that the real story of the first Thanksgiving isn’t that simple. Yet, every year, tons of children across the nation enact this same scene again and again. Why is that?




Paintings like Jean Louis Gerome Ferris’ 1915 piece The First Thanksgiving, helped to cement this myth into the public consciousness. Photo Source: wikipedia

The first written account of the story that we’d recognize as the First Thanksgiving comes from a letter published in 1622 by Edward Winslow, one of the original pilgrims. In it, he describes how “many of the Indians coming amongst us…whom for three days we entertained and feasted…and although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty” (Baker 12). While this indeed sounds like a Thanksgiving feast, it wasn’t recognized as such until 1841, when the Reverend Alexander Young reprinted it his book Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers. Underneath a description of Winslow’s experience, Young added that “this was the first Thanksgiving, the harvest festival of New England”—making him the first person to connect the 1621 event directly to the holiday of Thanksgiving (Baker 13).

But nothing came of that connection, really, until the 1890s…




Schoolchildren put on a Thanksgiving pageant, circa 1923. Photo Source:

The Progressive Era saw the rise of America as a global power, rapid industrialization and urbanization, mass immigration, and increasing gaps between rich and poor—plus a major spike in fear. Many “older” Americans—i.e., white Protestants—were afraid. The America they thought they knew was changing. As a result, many of them had developed a newfound interest in Colonial times as a way to reconnect with their “true” past. According to Baker, “books about life in colonial times enjoyed tremendous popularity,” new houses were built in the Georgian style, and many Americans joined together to create patriotic societies like DAR, or the Daughters of the Republic—societies which deliberately excluded recent immigrants (Applebaum 218). While they didn’t welcome the newcomers, these societies did much to “amplify and venerate the acts of the founders” and helped to “define the hallmarks of Americanism” for everyone—including new immigrants (Applebaum 221).

Rapid assimilation was one way to deal with the new immigrants, and oddly enough, the story of the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving seemed tailor-made for them. As James Baker notes in Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday (2009), “The Pilgrims, refugees from religious persecution in Europe, were perfect models for new immigrants…sober, hardworking, God-fearing…Promulgators of the Pilgrim legend hoped or wished that the ‘wretched refuse’ of Europe’s ‘teaming shore’ immigrating to America would become as sober, hardworking, democratic and—God willing—Protestant as were the Pilgrim role models” (Baker 221). While new immigrants (and thier children) were definitely encouraged to learn and accept this story, many adopted it for themselves all on their own. Coleman says that her own mother, who came over from the Czech Republic, identified with the story. Not only were “the Pilgrims…immigrants too,” but recent immigrants could identify with “their hardship and suffering,” how both sides had to learn from one another, and found the image of friendly Native Americans “undoubtedly reassuring…[as they] hoped that Americans would likewise be friendly to them” (Coleman 72-73).

This Americanization was helped along by Progressive Era schools, which included Thanksgiving as a part of a nationwide educational campaign to instill American values and history into the nation’s young people. Basically, anyone who went to school after 1890 “was exposed to an annual sequence of classroom holiday activities through which civic education and American patriotism were inculcated. As each holiday approached, pupils were taught appropriate stories and songs; set to work to cut, paste, and color decorations; and involved in class exercises that pointed up the particular significance of the occasion” (Baker 116). The educational market flooded with “small, inexpensive booklets” that contained “plays, verse, pictures, and stories for the major holidays” to help them along (Baker 120). As a result, Thanksgiving became one of many holidays that was institutionalized across America, enshrined in children’s textbooks as well as classrooms. By 1926, Thanksgiving had become, more or less, a “suitable day for worshiping the memory of the Pilgrim fathers,” with paintings, odes, and stories about Pilgrims—including pageants and plays about the First Thanksgiving. “Americans,” writes Applebaum in Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, An American History (1984), “were force-fed Pilgrims until it was said that many wished Plymouth Rock had landed on the Pilgrims instead” (Applebaum 221).




Schoolchildren re-enact the First Thanksgiving, circa 1924. Photo Source:

What were these holiday entertainments like? Thanks to the magic of HathiTrust Digital Library, we can examine a range of plays and pageants ourselves. What do we find? All kinds of strange things! These plays contain agricultural goddesses, anthropomorphic personifications of pumpkins, turkeys, Pilgrims, Indians, and…goblins? Read on!

A Pageant of Pilgrims (1920) by Esther Willard Bates

While most of the items I found were for children, this particular one seems to be for adults thanks to its grand scope: tons of actors, music, songs, sets, and special lighting. Interestingly, however, it features “pilgrims of a later day” as well—i.e., immigrants—gathering around Lady Liberty in supplication.

The Romance of the Pumpkin (1920) by Edith Stouffer

More of a pageant than a play, this piece features a Grecian Spirit of the Pumpkin, who shows up in all her finery and parades around spouting poetry about Thanksgiving with the help of some farmers and—I kid you not—the Goddess of Pumpkin Pie. The last half of it is pretty much an ode to “the big, yellow pumpkin, the round yellow pumpkin, the Thanksgiving pumpkin that makes such good pie,” and the virtues of said pie.

When Betty Saw the Pilgrims (1921) by Margaret Howard

Betty is a bored little girl who doesn’t want to go to Sunday School. In response, her mother launches into a rambling story about the pilgrims, ending with the first Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving Garden: A Humorous Costume Drill And Dance For Eight Children, Four Boys And Four Girls (1922) by Harriette Wilbur 

A simple, cute song-and-dance routine, complete with sheet music and costume instructions, for young children. Each child represents a different vegetable, and do a little dance while reciting a poem.

A Thanksgiving Conspiracy: A Thanksgiving Play for Grammer and Junior High Grades by Marie Irish

A widowed grandfather forbids hosting Thanksgiving of any kind…until his charming cousin comes along and changes his mind. Marie Irish seemed to write a lot of these things; Pumpkin Pie Peter is another play of hers as well—one that involves tramps stealing pies.

A Thanksgiving Dream: A One Act Play for Primary Children (1921) by Effa E. Preston

The play follows the disjointed dream of a child named Jack, who falls asleep after eating too much food on Thanksgiving and imagines he interacts with pilgrims, Native Americans, talking pumpkins, carnivorous turkeys, and goblins looking to torment “greedy young people” who ate too much, like Jack. The whole thing ends with a warning to kids not to overeat on Thanksgiving. An odd little piece. ***UPDATE: I stumbled across a much older version of this play shortly after writing this post, and it’s even stranger! Not only is it from 1895, but it features a much bigger cast, many more pages, and TONS more faeries. You can find it here at HathiTrust.***

The Meaning of Thanksgiving Day: A Seasonal Play (1922) by Carolyn Wells

A bunch of Roman goddesses of the harvest are bored on Thanksgiving day, so they decide to go down to the mortal world to see what humans think Thanksgiving means to them. They meet a family of six and ask them each in turn. Mother, a “housewifey type,” says she’s excited to make food for her family from the bountiful harvest: “And the mother’s face is smiling bright, with honest pride aglow, / When she views her tempting pantry shelves, with goodies all a-row!” Grandmother promotes hospitality for all, as “the good Book states.” Father says the best way to thank the harvest is “to replant our garden every year.” Son recommends conserving the harvest for the good of the nation, and Grandfather praises God. But it’s Daughter, in her “attractive sport suit,” who puts them all straight:

Thanksgiving Day’s a day of thanks, ’tis true;

But is this not a day of giving, too? Thanks-giving Day!

When that phrase you have heard,

A day of thanks uses but half the word.

Let’s use the rest! You see? A day of giving!

Isn’t that so? As true as that you’re living!

And while in gratitude you praise and pray,

Your Thanks Day should also be a Giving Day.

You see the point, you understand, I’m sure;

Give of your bounty, give it to the poor.

Give food and clothing, give them coal and wood,

Give them—Oh, give them anything that’s good!

Fill a big basket from your storeroom shelf

And carry it to somebody yourself!

Give jellies to the sick, flowers to the sad,

Give anything that will make some one glad;

Give a cash present to a needy friend,

Don’t be afraid that such things will offend,

For, if the spirit of the gift is right,

You’ll find ’twill be accepted with delight.

Get busy at this giving, every one!

There’s so much giving waiting to be done!

Let every one of us pick out some way

To put the “Giving” in Thanksgiving Day!

The Meaning of Thanksgiving Day: A Seasonal Play (1922) by Carolyn Wellspage 14


In today’s classrooms, things are a bit more balanced. While the old story is still going strong, teachers can use new educational guidelines such as this one to give a more nuanced view of the history behind Thanksgiving—including the fact that Native Americans aren’t necessarily a fan of this holiday. However, whether the history behind it is true or not, the feelings Thanksgiving tries to foster in Americans–togetherness, generosity, thankfulness—are something we could all use more of that these days.

So in light of that, let me wish you all…


Photo Source: Pintrest


Works Cited:
Colman, Penny. 2008. Thanksgiving: the true story. New York: Henry Holt.
Baker, James W. 2009. Thanksgiving: the biography of an American holiday. Durham, New Hampshire: University of New Hampshire Press.
Appelbaum, Diana Karter. 1984. Thanksgiving: an American holiday, an American history. New York, N.Y.: Facts On File.
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How to Make a REAL 1920s Halloween Costume…

flapper pumpkin

1920s German flapper pumpkin! Photo Source: Yahoo Images/Pintrest

Before mass-produced costumes entered the scene, Halloween costumes were a lot more…creative. Forced to make their own masks, dresses, and props–often using highly questionable crafting skills—adults and children across the nation created costumes that were creative, bizarre, and often a LOT more scary than ones we see today. Want to tap into a wellspring of vintage creativity this Halloween? Then ditch those tacky flapper and gangster costumes and follow these steps to create a truly authentic 1920s Halloween costume…



Guess what the most popular costume choice was during the 1920s? Oddly enough, it’s the one that we’ll probably see stalking the streets this year—only it won’t be this cute:


Isn’t she cute? Photo Source: vintage every day

Clowns! Costumes of Perriot clowns in particularthe white and black mimes with sad faces—were all the rage during the 1920s with both men and women.

Check out this cute couple:


This is a nice vintage Halloween shot. Check out her candle, the basket of walnuts, and the lacy tablecloth—definitely a homemade Halloween party! Photo Source: vintage every day

Kids got in on the act, too:


They don’t seem to like their costumes much, though. Photo Source: Pintrest UK


Neither do these kids! Photo Source: vintage every day

Don’t want to be a clown? If you’re a woman, you could always go the witch route. The shapeless drop-waist dresses and skirts popular during the Roaring Twenties lent themselves easily to witch costumes, so they were pretty easy to manage. Throw on a plain black dress and a pointy hat, and ta-dah, you’re a witch!


A homemade witch costume from the 1920s. Photo Source: vintage every day


But maybe standard fare isn’t for you. Maybe you want something more topical. So why not go as…the Spirit of St. Louis?


And they say that topical costumes didn’t exist until the 1970s. Lies! Photo Source: vixenvintage at Photobucket


If none of these costume ideas work for you, though, you could always buy one. While everything I read said that true mass-produced costumes didn’t exist until the 1930s, I found evidence of them being sold in department stores during the mid to late 1920s. Both of these Chicago Tribune ads sell Halloween costumes:


This October 24th, 1926 ad shows us that mass-produced costumes existed in some fashion during the late 1920s. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives


This ad fromOctober 20th, 1929 gives an idea of other popular costume ideas. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

So, you could buy a costume. This makes sense, too, seeing as it was the 1920s that saw the birth of Halloween parties, particularly among the rich and middle class, that often required one come in costume. It seems people had more fun making their own costumes, however—and to do that, they used stuff like…



As I’ve said in other holiday posts, crepe paper was BIG during the 1920s. Every single thing I’ve seen regarding holiday decorating in the Chicago Tribune during that time mentions crepe paper. Apparently, people were really, really excited about it—and popular booklets like The Bogie Book (1926) helped to spread the love. Created by paper product supplier Dennison Manufacturing Company, the book demonstrates how crepe paper could be used to make Halloween costumes, decorations, and many other things. Their book featured charming costumes for adults and children, all supposedly made out of crepe paper. Take a look:


The costumes are as follows: Devil (1), Witch (2), Fairy (3), Baby Pumpkin (4), Clown (5) Photo Source: The Bogie Book, 1926, HathiTrust Digital Library


The costumes are as follows: Soldier (6), Cat (7), Imp (8), Child (9), general Hallowe’en Slip-Over (10). Photo Source: The Bogie Book, 1926, HaithiTrust Digital

And these lovely detailed things were made out of paper. Paper!!!

Crepe paper wasn’t a horrible choice of material, however. Not only was it light, cheap, colorful, and fairly plentiful, it actually held up pretty well to rough play—provided you didn’t get it wet—which made it excellent for children’s costumes.

It was also useful for making “slip-over” costumes, which, as the name implies, allowed one to slip the costume over regular clothing, leaving a hole for one’s head, then tie it at the waist, creating something a bit like a poncho with a belt. Thanks to its ease of wear, this style of costume was particularly popular with young children. As the Bogie Book tells us, “the slip-over is the most popular kind of costume because it is so simple and inexpensive to make and because it is equally appropriate for either girls or boys.” However, as you may have noticed—literally none of the costumes above look like a simple slip-over! That’s because their simple bases have been heavily embellished by professional designers (I doubt anyone actually succeeded in making them look like these drawings). To understand better how these costumes were constructed, check out this pattern for a rose costume from another Dennison book, How to Make Paper Costumes:


See how this costume starts with a simple base and moves on to something more complicated? Photo Source: How to Make Paper Costumes, 1922, HathiTrust Digital

If you were willing and able to sew fabric, however, your Halloween costume options increased dramatically. Check out these lovely sewn examples:


These costumes for men and women are interesting and unusual from a design standpoint, compared to today—check out the bat! Photo Source: Pintrest



More patterns from the 1920s. There’s even a Red Cross Nurse!  Photo Source: Vintage Every Day

Clothing was only part of your costume, however. What about a mask?



Before the advent of mass-produced masks, people made their own masks out of paper mache and fabric. Thanks to questionable crafting ability, these often turned out looking probably waaaay more creepy than intended. Check these scary photos from the 1930s:



Some creepy kids having a Halloween seance. I think the one on the far right is a duck? Photo Source: An Appendage Blog


Creepy! Photo Source: Vintage Every Day


Yeah, that’s a nope. Photo Source: vintage every day



While some of these costumes are definitely racist, the range of roles—clowns, Native Americans, policemen—are interesting. Photo Source: An Appendage Blog


I think it’s a ghost? Maybe? Or a Satanic alchemist, it’s hard to tell. Photo Source: vintage every day


Little Halloween People my ass. Try little creepy people! Photo Source: vintage every day

But if you didn’t want to use paper mache, you had another option: yet MORE crepe paper! (Sensing a theme yet?) These freaky-looking crepe paper masks come from The Bogie Book:


Mirth-provoking? I think not! Photo Source: The Bogie Book, 1926, HathiTrust Digital Library

Want to make your own mask? Try these instructions at for a basic face mask, or these ones at for more elaborate, sculpted masks.



Now that you have a costume, you’re ready to out and have fun! During the 1920s, children roamed the streets in costume, burning stuff and trashing the place, until adults instituted more controlled celebrations in the form of parties and events at schools, churches, and other public areas, as well as at home. Adults, meanwhile, went to fun, lavish costume parties, full of dancing, festive treats, and party games. All ages enjoyed showing off their costumes and playing at being someone else for the night.

Hopefully you will, too! 🙂 Happy Halloween!!!! 😀




This hilarious costume awaits you at the following links!

Want more crazy Halloween costume photos? Then try this post, this post, this post, and this post for more fun. Happy Halloween, everybody! 😀


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C is for Cocktail Guest Post: 7 of Chicago’s Most Famous Speakeasies (Which Are Still Open Today!)

Looking for a sip of Chicago history? Then check out this lovely guest post from Liana Camen, the Mayor of Drinxville, about Chicago’s historic Prohibition bars!


Although Chicago doesn’t have the centuries of history that eastern seaboard cities like Philadelphia, Boston, and New York do, the Windy City’s role in early commodities trading, mechanized industrialization and U.S. gangster culture has made it a historical mecca for travelers fascinated by the early 1900s. The passage of the eighteenth amendment in 1920, and the nationwide prohibition on alcohol that the amendment created and enforced, turned Chicago into a city of violent gangs, irrepressible good times, and seemingly limitless rivers of illicit booze.

These illegal spirits were bought and sold by establishments called speakeasies, which were secret bars and pubs that operated outside the purview of the law – often by bribing public officials and convincing cops to look the other way. Today, even though Prohibition is a distant memory, Chicago’s speakeasy culture hasn’t completely disappeared. Here are seven modern-day watering holes that have either been continuously operational since the 1920s or are striving to keep the proud speakeasy tradition alive in midwestern America’s biggest metropolis.

~ T H E   B A R S ~


The trademark glowing sign of the Green Mill, Chicago’s most well-known Prohibition Era bar. Photo Source: this article at the Chicago Reader; Photographer Richard A. Chapman


  1. The Green Mill (4802 North Broadway Avenue –


An interior shot of the Green Mill, featuring the the booth that Al Capone favored in the foreground. Photo Source: Photographer Tom Gill, from this article at

Supposedly, this venerable establishment was created in the 1920s as an homage to the celebrated Red Mill bar in Paris, France (the setting of Baz Luhrman’s film Moulin Rouge). Formerly owned by Jack McGurn, who was an associate of Al Capone renowned for his violent nature and ruthlessness with a machine gun, the Green Mill was the picture of opulence in the pre-Prohibition period. After the eighteenth amendment’s passage, the bar downsized and served Chicago’s finest and most infamous alike. Visitors to Chicago today can go and enjoy (legal) spirits inspired by those crafted by Prohibition-era bartenders while listening to the best that Chicago’s vibrant jazz scene has to offer. No secret password to come into the Green Mill anymore – simply walk up to the bar and order a drink!


  1. The Zebra Lounge (1220 North State Parkway –


The darkened interior of the Zebra Lounge, complete with zebra lamps. Photo Source: The Chicago Reader

The Zebra Lounge feels like a relic from an age long gone that somehow ended up down the block from steel skyscrapers and multinational conglomerate headquarters. Operational since 1929, the lounge actually owns the third-oldest liquor license in Chicago, which is quite the accomplishment in that city of ancient bars and pubs. The bar is located inside the Canterbury Courts apartment complex, and would-be patrons must pass under a set of black arches in order to access the tiny establishment. Known in the neighborhood for its commitment to being an authentic, old-fashioned piano bar, the Zebra Lounge hosts live piano players seven nights a week. If you find yourself in Chicago and in the mood for some Elton John or Billy Joel, you can’t do any better than a visit to the Zebra Lounge.


  1. Simon’s Tavern (5210 N Clark St)

simon bar sign.jpg

The cheery glowing sign of Simon’s Tavern. Photo Source:

Simon’s Tavern is another longstanding Chicago neighborhood tradition. Founded as a cafe by a Swedish immigrant in 1929, the owners of the tavern quickly acquired a new set of revenue streams by rebranding as a speakeasy, bottler and distributor of illegal spirits. The whiskey distributors operating out of the bar’s basement were rumored to be supplied by Al Capone himself, and the Capone organization reportedly had a fondness for the Swedish drinks and bar food supplied by the tavern’s immigrant chefs. In the new millennium, the owners of Simon’s have attempted to stay true to the bar’s origins: the tavern sells huge quantities of glogg, which is a traditional Swedish spiced wine that is only brewed during the Christian holiday season. House drinks also include copious amounts of Swedish liquors, making Simon’s Tavern a can’t-miss stop on any speakeasy tour through the city.


  1. Room 13 (3222 N. Sheffield Ave –


The public entrance to Room 13. Photo Source: Thrillist

When people think about “secret” bars in Chicago, nearly everyone brings up Room 13. Although the bar has no tangible connection to the Prohibition era in Chicago, its entire ethos hearkens back to the 1920s in every way. Located deep in the bowels of the Old Chicago Inn, Room 13 requires visitors to either book a room in the hotel or supply a secret password to enter. The bartenders are highly trained in the art of the cocktail, and they supply guests with expertly crafted Old Fashioneds and Manhattans while expounding upon the intertwined history of speakeasies, jazz and old metropolises. Even the décor of the bar is set up to perfectly mirror the embellishments and gaslight sensibilities of authentic speakeasies in and around the city. Certainly an interesting – and intoxicating – attraction in the heart of Chicago.


  1. The Office (955 W Fulton Market)


A comfortable nook at The Office. Photo Source: Bach Ha/Grant Achatz at Flickr

Located beneath a trendy restaurant called The Aviary, the Office is the perfect complement to an opulent dining experience – if you know the secret number to text for reservations. That’s right – having a drink at the Office depends on either receiving an invitation from the wait staff to descend into the basement for an after-dinner digestif, or knowing the well-guarded, exclusive reservation digits. Open since 2011, the Office charges a pretty penny for its libations, but each drink is crafted with care by licensed mixologists using equipment such as a rotary evaporator. A must-see location for people who spare no expense to quench their thirst for innovative drinking experiences.


  1. The Green Door Tavern (678 North Orleans –


Inside The Green Door Tavern. Photo Source: Spring Rewards

The Green Door Tavern claims to have had its doors open since 1921, but the origins of the building that it is housed in actually stretch back even further. The squat, two story wooden structure was built directly after the Great Fire of 1871, which makes it one of the only wooden buildings left in Chicago that was constructed before the Central Business District fire code ordinance banning wood buildings was passed in 1873. In 1921, an Italian immigrant opened a small speakeasy that signified its presence in the neighborhood by painting its nondescript door green, and a Chicago tradition was born. The establishment maintains many of the old bar’s distinctive traits today: it is known throughout the city for its cheap drinks, expansive bar menu and casual atmosphere. Certainly worth passing through for a drink or two!


  1. The Berghoff (17 West Adams Street –


That famous sign! Photo Source: Tripadvisor

The Berghoff is the proud holder of the first liquor license issued in Chicago after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, and its tumultuous history goes back decades before that moment. The bar was founded in 1898, and was actually able to remain open for business during Prohibition by playing by the rules (sort of.) The Berghoff became famous for selling “near beer” products, which were typically low-alcohol content malt beverages that remained beneath the government’s official alcohol threshold while still supplying patrons with plenty of good times. Today, the bar is actually still owned and operated by the original Berghoff family. Patrons can visit the pub for a dining experience steeped in the sordid history of the neighborhood and city and for a taste of Berghoff’s famous root beer – the recipe goes back four generations, and the beverage is nearly as famous as the bar itself!


Chicago is a city full of fascinating drinking and dining experiences, many of which stem from an era that peaked and passed almost one hundred years ago. A visit to this majestic city of the shores of Lake Michigan simply is not complete without a trip to each of these seven venerable establishments!


This guest post comes from Liana Camen, who balances her time between her family, her freelance writing career, and fulfilling her duties as Mayor of Drinxville. She enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, traveling to exotic places, and sipping on a nice stiff drink.

Posted in C is for Cocktail series, guest post | Tagged | 3 Comments

One of Al Capone’s Letters Could Have Been Yours…If You Had $62,500!

How much would you pay for a three page handwritten letter by Al Capone? For one anonymous Chicago collector, the price was $62,500—over $10,000 more than expected. Given how rare it was for Al to write things, however, it’s hardly surprising. “It’s an exceedingly rare personal letter showing the softer side of the notorious gangster,” said Robert Livingston in a VOAnews article about the letter. Livingston is the executive vice president of RR Auction, which auctioned off the letter on September 27th, 2016. What’s more surprising, however, is the letter’s content, which many reporters happily claimed showed Al’s softer side.

Hello son, here is your dear Dad, with a letter for you, and pray to God, it will find you in perfect health,” says Al at the beginning of his letter to his son, Albert “Sonny” Capone. Al goes on to describe the “daily grind in prison,” which for him also included a special treat: playing music. Al was an avid player of the banjo and the mandola, an instrument similar to the mandolin, and he took great pride in his abilities. “There isn’t a song written that I can’t play,” Al brags to Sonny in his letter. Besides playing music, Al was also a big fan of listening to it, and was allowed to play records in his cell as well. He recommends a few songs to his son in the letter as well.

While he was always denied special privileges while in Alcatraz, Al somehow managed to get a band put together for the amusement of the prisoners. According to an article on, “the gangster begged the warden for permission to form a small band. The warden relented, the inmates sent away for instruments and Capone made music behind bars.” According to A History of Alcatraz Island, The Rock Islanders “were a staple on the island until the prison closed,” and Al did play with them regularly during his time there. He even wrote a song! “Madonna Mia,” a song about a man’s undying love for his woman, was written as a gift for his “good friend,” Father Vin Casey, a Jesuit priest who visited prisoners in Alcatraz to offer spiritual guidance. “With your true love to guide me, let whatever betide me, I will never go wrong,” go some of the lyrics. Experts aren’t sure if the song refers to Al’s love for the Virgin Mary (Al was a devout Catholic), or if they were meant for his loving wife, Mae–but either way the song is a “beautiful…tearjerker” according to Rich Larsen, founder of Larsen supposedly had a recording made of the song back in 2009, but I was unable to find it anywhere.


A framed copy of “Madonna Mia” with photo also sold for around $60,000 dollars. Photo Source: AP/SFGate


Al closes his letter with encouragement to his son: “Well Sonny keep up your chin, and don’t worry about your dear Dad, and when again you allowed a vacation, I want you and your dear Mother to come here together, as I sure would love to see you,” he wrote. He signed the letter with “Love & Kisses, Your Dear Dad Alphonse Capone.” While these words might seem surprising to those who think of Al as a cold-blooded, ruthless killer, for anyone who knew him this tenderness was nothing new. Al had always been a devoted family man—and he was human, too. 😉



E X T R A   E X T R A :

If you’re interested, here’s Al’s actual letter, courtesy of


Page 11


Page 2


Page 3




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C is for Cocktail: Chicago Politics Inspire Original Recipes on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight


A “Crooked Cowboy” cocktail in honor of William “Big Bill” Thompson. Photo Source: WTTW Chicago Tonight


At the end of July 2016, WTTW’s Chicago Tonight blog started posting cocktail recipes—and not just any cocktail recipes. CHICAGO HISTORY cocktail recipes! 😀

What does that mean? Well, it turns out that each post in this Chicago Tonight series pairs a notable Chicago political figure with an original cocktail recipe designed to fit them. So, not only do you get a recipe for an exciting new cocktail, but you get to learn about Chicago history while you make it! What more could you possibly want, right? 😉

So, without further ado…here are the cocktails!

The “Old Shoe” in honor of Governor Adlai Stevenson

The “Pushcart Tony” in honor of Mayor Aton Cermack

The “Crooked Cowboy” in honor of Mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson

The “New Deal, Old School” in honor of Representative/Senator Paul Simon

The “Blood Sport” in honor of Representative Dan Rostenkowski

The “Kentucky Colony” in honor of Mayor Carter Henry Harrison

The “How’s Harold” in honor of Mayor Harold Washington

“The Man on Five” in honor of Mayor Richard M. Daley

“The Hinky Drink” in honor of Alderman Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna

The “Lord of the Levee” in honor of Alderman John “Bathhouse” Coughlin

The “Swing Bridge” in honor of Mayor William B. Ogden

The “Mayor Bossy” in honor of Mayor Jane Byrne

The “Cautionary Tale” in honor of Mayor Michael Bilandic

The “Bridgeport’s Revenge” in honor of Mayor Levi Boone

The “Submachine” in honor of Alderman and Representative William Dawson

The “Null and Void” in honor of Thomas Hoyne, the mayor that never was

Be sure to check out Chicago Tonight’s website for more in this ongoing series.

And while you’re there, be sure to check out the perpetual awesomeness that is “Ask Geoffrey” as well! 🙂




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Fact and Fiction in Episode One of AMC’s “The Making of the Mob: Chicago”


Photo Source: Tivitto

So a few days ago I finally had a chance to watch the first episode of AMC’s The Making of the Mob: Chicago. Since this year’s season is set in Chicago and follows Al Capone, I figured I’d start reviewing the episodes here, and maybe set a few facts straight while I’m at it. Unfortunately it’ll take me a bit to catch up (they’re on episode 6 as of tonight), but hopefully these posts will still be interesting to you all.

E P I S O D E   O N E :   A   R E V I E W 

First off, let me say I was pretty impressed by the first episode of Making of the Mob: Chicago. In spite of its flaws, this show has way more to offer regarding actual history than I expected from a cable TV show about the mob. While this may sound harsh, one need only sit through a few godawful mafia “documentaries” full of “experts” to understand the level of schlock inherit in anything made about the mob for public consumption. Part of this is thanks to Hollywood and TV. Thanks to shows like The Sopranos, the public expects a certain level of violence, glamour and drama regarding the mob, or for mob guys to act a certain way—and if that means forgetting or distorting facts for the sake of entertainment, so be it. While that’s fine for entertainment purposes, if you want to actually learn about any of the real history behind this stuff, that usually means you’re out of luck. So, I found it refreshing that Making of the Mob: Chicago generally toned things down in favor of presenting Al and his world in a more nuanced historical light.

Given the numerous Capone luminaries the producers consulted while making this show, however, I shouldn’t be surprised. The interview clips in this episode alone were practically a Who’s Who of Capone scholarship. Laurence Bergreen, author of the popular 1994 biography Capone: The Man and the Era, was prominently featured. So was Jonathan Eig, author of Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster (2010). John Binder, former professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, author of The Chicago Outfit, and consult for numerous History Channel programs about Al, also made an appearance or two. Even Robert Lombardo, who’s authored numerous scholarly works about organized crime, got to put in a word or two about Torrio’s brothels. And Dierdre Capone, Capone’s niece and one of the few people still alive who knew Al personally, was featured more than once within the episode. There was one rather glaring exception from this roster, however: Richard Lindberg, noted Chicago crime author. According to the Tribune, the producers “blew it” by not contacting him, and I’d have to agree: the man has written over 20 books about Chicago crime, and they are all excellent. Regardless, they’ve got an impressive group of experts going so far, and maybe we’ll see more as the series progresses.

Fact or Fiction? Big Jim Colosimo

Thanks to these notable contributors, much of what they say in the show regarding Al’s early years squares more or less with what I’ve read. However, there is one major flaw with this episode that I’d like to point out, because it makes me sad.  The way they portray Big Jim Colosimo is totally wrong.

Don’t believe me? Well, read on! 🙂

To begin with, let’s get a look at the real Big Jim. Here’s a nice photo:


Big Jim Colosimo, looking dapper as ever. Photo Source: Tumblr

Rather debonair, no? Check out that mustache! He’s a pretty snappy dresser, too. I like his hat, and the cane lends a touch of elegance. You can see somewhat where his nickname comes from, too: he’s big, sure, but not fat—more broad-shouldered and stocky. And he looks confident, too. Confident and rich.

Basically, he looks nothing like this guy on the far left:


Andre King, the actor playing Big Jim, is on the far left of this picture (the guy playing Torrio is in the middle and the guy playing Al is on the far right). Photo Source: AMC

Now let me be clear: I’m not knocking Andre King on his performance. He’s fine. It’s the writers and producers I disagree with—because not only does Mr. King not even have a mustache (!), the personality he portrays and the facts the producers attribute to Colosimo don’t fit with the real Mr. Colosimo at all.

To begin with, Big Jim wasn’t called “big” because of his size. He earned that nickname due to his jolly personality and lavish spending habits. An affable, outgoing, and friendly sort, Big Jim was “a popular, jolly extrovert” who “positively broadcast ambition”—a strong presence that only became intensified as he moved up in the world (Schoenberg 41).

Jim started his underworld career as a poor street sweeper for the city’s sanitation department in the 1890s. A natural born leader, Colosimo managed to organize his fellow Italian sweepers into a series of social and athletic clubs—clubs that voted in local elections (Bilek 38). This brought him to to the attention of Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna and John “Bathouse” Coughlin, the corrupt alderman of the First Ward who’d made Chicago’s notorious red light Levee district legally possible. In exchange for Italian votes, Kenna and Coughlin made Colosimo a precinct captain of the First Ward. They also hired him on as a collector for protection fees from the scores of illegal gambling joints, saloons, and brothels they allowed to operate within their ward.

But even when he was shaking folks down, Big Jim was well-liked, particularly among madams and prostitutes. His visits, whether for business or please, “unfailingly cheered…[(the prostitutes)] with his playful yet courteous badinage,” according to Capone biographer Robert J. Schoenberg (42). Colosimo enjoyed the ladies of the night so much, he even married one: Victoria Moresco, a Sicilian madam with a brothel on Archer Street, became his wife in 1902. Together, they established a series of bars, brothels and gambling houses throughout the Levee District. Big Jim was particularly well-known for keeping scores of cribs, cheap rooms with a rotating cast of whores. He also helped form a highly profitable white slavery ring.

moresco wife

Victoria Moresco, Colosimo’s first wife. Photo source: (you can see many more photos of Colosimo there too)

In spite of his vice business, however, Colosimo saw his popularity skyrocket with the city’s elite when he opened Colosimo’s Cafe at 2126 South Wabash in 1910. A lavish nightclub featuring a world-class chef, good wine, and famous entertainers like opera singer Enrico Caruso, the Cafe quickly became a popular nightspot for the rich and powerful of Chicago, criminal or otherwise. “Patrons came to drink at the renowned mahogany-and-glass bar, and to eat in its dining room, whose walls were covered with green velvet and gold filigree,” wrote Laurence Bergreen in Capone: The Man And The Era (Bergreen 81). “Beneath chandeliers made of solid gold, racketeers mingled with society figures and famous performers. Colosimo adored the opera, and his pal Enrico Caruso regularly patronized the cafe, as did Clarence Darrow, the distinguished lawyer, and a good part of the city’s power elite” (Ibid). Once it obtained national renown, any given night would see a mix of “sporting figures, big businessmen, collegians, gangsters, journalists, politicians, the rich, the chic, the famous and the infamous, the tourists”—plus pimps, whores, thieves, and all manner of criminal riffraff (Kobler 39). Law-abiding folks relished the scandal of heading into the notorious Levee District for a bit of nightlife, and the underworld welcomed them with open arms. Big Jim himself was something of an attraction, too: “He had a verve, a a bluff, a zesty Southern Italian humor,” wrote John Kobler in Capone: The Life and Times of Al Capone (Kobler 40) that drew people to him. “A big, fleshy man, he would move with ursine tread from table to table, gesticulating grandly, charming the women and amusing the men, ordering champagne and cigars on the house” (Ibid). Big Jim loved playing host, and his patrons loved him for it. 


A postcard of the interior of Colosimo’s. Photo Source: (more photos of the Cafe can be found there as well)



This advertisement for Colosimo’s Cafe highlights the entertainment, food, and variety of company to be found at the cafe. Photo Source: Chuckman’s

Besides playing host, Colosimo’s other great love was showing off his massive wealth. A flashy dresser with a penchant for “swan white…immaculate linens,” Big Jim had a particular taste for diamonds (Kobler 40). Herbert Asbury, in his seminal work Gem of the Prairie, sums up Colosimo’s love affair with diamonds pretty well:

“His massive figure, clad in snow-white linen and a suit of garish checks, blazed with diamonds. He wore a diamond ring on every finger, diamond studs in his shirt front, a huge diamond horseshoe was pinned to his vest, diamond links joined his cuffs, and his belt and suspender buckles were set with diamonds. He bought diamonds by the hundreds from thieves and needy gamblers, and cherished them as other men cherished books and paintings. He carried them in his pockets in buckskin bags, and spent most of his leisure time playing with them, pouring them from one hand to another or heaping them in little piles upon a black cloth” (312).

When he wasn’t obsessing over his diamonds, Colosimo was being driven around the city in one of his two limousines, each with a uniformed chauffeur, visiting his sumptuously appointed houses full of servants and “bronze and marble statuary, deep rugs, yard upon yard of unopened books bound in full morocco, rare coins” and other wonders (Kobler 40). All this wealth came from a combination of brothels, gambling, and saloons, which netted him an estimated income of $50,000 a month, a ludicrous amount of money during the early 1900s (Bergreen 81). Handing out $1,000 bills to down-on-their-luck gamblers was nothing for this man (Kobler 40).

By the time Capone showed up on the scene, Colosimo was the most powerful vice lord in the city. Having survived the collapse of the Levee vice district, he’d managed to rule Chicago’s underworld “for a longer period than any other one man in the history of the city” (Asbury 312). With so much power and so many people at his disposal, threatening people physically, as he does in Episode One to Al of all people, would be completely unnecessary—and it wasn’t really his style, either. Though he was considered by many to be little more than a brute “without honor or decency,” he was more personable than the AMC show gives him credit for (Ibid). Big Jim was the kinda guy who threatened with a smile and cheery words, not brass knuckles like AMC depicts. When Chicago’s notorious Everleigh Sisters were attempting to revive their famous club, Big Jim came by to give them an ultimatum like any other vice lord—but he did it by making them spaghetti:

“Take it or leave it, tell ’em,” Big Jim said, setting down enormous, reeking bowls of what looked like bloodied worms. “Pitch in,” he added, a faint warning now lacing his tone, and it was clear he meant more than just the spaghetti. The sisters choked down their pasta. Their guest filled the room with his hulking presence and cheery patter, but they felt very much alone (Abbott 267-268).

This is a far cry from slipping on a pair of brass knuckles and going to town on Al Capone. 

But why threaten anyone at all when you’re not forbidding anything?

Unlike what Episode One depicts, nothing I’ve read said that Big Jim specifically forbid Torrio and Capone from getting into bootlegging in his name. In fact, most of my sources claim the opposite was true. Lloyd Wendt’s classic Lords of the Levee claimed that Big Jim was involved in bootlegging from the start: “Prohibition had added to Big Jim’s enormous wealth…He was the leader of the Italian community that had promptly and profitably gone into the alcohol-cooking business, and his gangsters were beginning their control of the wholesale bootlegging rackets” right around the time he was killed (Wendt 341). John Kobler claims that Colosimo “neither opposed or actively supported the proposal [to get into bootlegging]. Content as long as he received his share of earnings from…Torrio…he left him free to act as he thought best” (Kobler 69). Schoenberg also notes that Jim was “already into bootlegging—in a safe little way” as well (Schoenberg 61). While Big Jim might have dragged his heels when Torrio suggested they expand,he never outright forbid anything.

AMC is correct, however, in pointing out that Big Jim had become complacent over time. Whereas guys like Torrio saw an immense opportunity to consolidate wealth and power in Chicago via a vast city-wide network, Big Jim was content to run his famous Cafe and spend time with Dale Winters, the hot young wife he’d divorced Victoria for. He already had tons of money, friends, and power—why seek out more?

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation

Big Jim with Dale Winters, his new wife—and his probable downfall. Photo Source: Tumblr

His new wife Dale Winters didn’t help much, either. A twenty-five year old singer, Winters first met Colosimo when she auditioned for his club—and vice lord fell for her hard. Soon he was spending all his time swanning her about town, neglecting his underworld compatriots and business “in favor of the artists and the swells from uptown,” riding on horseback with her through city parks, and encouraging her singing with voice lessons and tutors (Kobler 66). In March of 1920, two months before his death, Colosimo “divorced his wife and business partner, Victoria Moresco, and within three weeks he and Dale Winter were wed…The courtship, divorce, and May-December marriage were the talk of Chicago…Colosimo, old, fat, and hopelessly in love, was vulnerable” (Bergreen 82). Distraced by his wife, Big Jim’s vice empire had become a tempting target, and his lack of interest in Torrio’s deals “encourage[d] the jackals to turn on the lion and divide up his kingdom” (Kobler 69).

Just who those “jackals” were, though, is more a matter of debate than what AMC presents. To begin with, Frankie Yale wasn’t considered a suspect until much later in the investigation. Their first suspect was actually his ex-wife, Victoria Moresco, who was said to be upset with the divorce proceedings. While this lead never bore fruit, a more likely alternate suspect may have been the Black Hand. Not only did Big Jim have a history of being hit up for payments—it was the reason he’d hired Torrio to begin with—he also managed to piss them off more directly. Here’s the story a “friend” of Big Jim told the papers:

“Several years ago a gang of Black Handers used to frequent his place. Jim knew what theri game was, but so long as they did not molset his firends he let them alone. They demanded $2,000 from an Italian who was a friend of Colosimo. Big Jim told them to lay off. They threatened to blow up the man’s home. The night they were going to get the $2,000 as they supposed, another gang waited for them under the Rock Island subway, a few blocks from the saloon. Three of the Camorra were killed. From that night Colosimo was a marked man” (Kinsley H1-H2).

There are accounts that Torrio may have also killed some Black Handers while acting as Big Jim’s bodyguard (Kobler 47). This may have given them a solid motive for revenge—but if they did kill him, it seems highly unlikely that they would leave his body still covered in diamonds.

Though most historians today agree that Frankie Yale was the one who really pulled the trigger, not all agree that Torrio hired him to do the deed. Interestingly, Laurence Bergreen—whose interview clips AMC relied on heavily for the section on Colosimo’s murder—never actually said that Torrio hired Yale to off Big Jim in his book, Capone: The Man and the Era. Rather, he felt that Yale was, as a hit man, “far too prominent to kill on commission” and had instead “murdered Colosimo to satisfy his own expansionist goal of ruling the Chicago vice trade” in an attempt to “destabilize” the Chicago vice empire from afar (Bergreen 84). With Big Jim dead, reasoned Bergreen, Yale could easily step into his shoes.

Of course, as we all know, that’s not how things went down. Torrio took that role up and eventually passed it onto Al, who held the reins of Chicago crime until his conviction in 1931. But given the rest of Big Jim’s colorful history, I thought it was a shame that AMC reduced his role to that of a stereotypical mob boss, rather than showing him as he was: one of the last lords of the Levee, a holdover from an earlier time in Chicago crime. 


Overall, I enjoyed the first episode of Making of the Mob: Chicago. More than anything, I was pleased to see AMC showing Al in a more sympathetic light. I appreciated that they took care to emphasize how Italian immigrants struggled to find work during those times thanks to widespread prejudice and crushing poverty, making crime a viable career alternative for many. They also highlighted how devoted Al was to his family, even attempting to “go straight” in Baltimore as an accountant. Whatever else you may say about Al, it becomes pretty clear in reading about him that he cared deeply for his family, and it’s nice to see them use this to humanize him, rather than just writing him off as a violent, remorseless killer. 

Personally, I can’t wait to see where this series goes next! 🙂



If you live in America, have cable, and get AMC, you can catch it on Monday nights at 10/9 central time. Otherwise, you can stream the episodes as they appear here on AMC for free.


Do you watch AMC’s The Making of the Mob? What did you think of Episode One? What do you think of the series as a whole? Please comment below! 🙂

Works Cited In Order of Appearance:
Bilek, Arthur J. 2008. The first vice lord: big Jim Colosimo and the ladies of the Levee. Nashville, Tenn: Cumberland House.
Schoenberg, Robert J. 1992. Mr. Capone. New York: Morrow.
Bergreen, Laurence. 1994. Capone: the man and the era. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Kobler, John. 1971. Capone; the life and world of Al Capone. New York: Putnam.
Asbury, Herbert. 1940. Gem of the prairie, an informal history of the Chicago underworld. New York: A.A. Knopf.
Abbott, Karen. 2007. Sin in the Second City: madams, ministers, playboys, and the battle for America’s soul. New York: Random House.
Wendt, Lloyd, and Herman Kogan. 1943. Lords of the levee; the story of Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co.
Kinsley, Philip. “$10,000 in Cash Prizes for Solutions!” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jun 16, 1929.
Posted in 1920s criminals, Al Capone, TV show review, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The “New Woman” Series Strikes Again: The Flapper Bob


Remember my friend Sarah’s series on The New Woman that I posted about earlier here and here? Well, Sarah came out with another post yesterday in this series that was too hard to pass up. If you’re wondering, it was all about this:

bernice bobs her hair saturday evening post cover

Clearly, this woman regrets bobbing her hair! Sadface. Photo Source: Pintrest

Bernice Bobs Her Hair by Coles Phillips. The Saturday Evening Post, November 6, 1920.

In her excellent new post, Sarah discusses the controversy behind a woman getting her hair bobbed. While these days getting your hair cut short is no big deal, during the 1920s it was a radical socio-political act: a woman who cut her hair wasn’t just removing hair. Rather, she was symbolically cutting herself off from the Victorian and Edwardian ideals of her mother and grandmother, and publicly declaring herself part of a new generation.

Unsurprisingly, not all women were comfortable with such a dramatic change, especially at the beginning of the decade. While it might have been “smart” to cut one’s hair, it wasn’t done lightly. This 1924 song  “Shall I Have it Bobbed or Shingled?” sums up their conflicted feelings rather well, actually:


So if not all women were comfortable with it, why did so many do it? You’ll have to read Sarah’s post to find out. If you’re interested in early women’s history, her post is definitely worth your time—and so is the rest of her series. Here are the other topics she’s covered so far:

Flapper Jane Goes Shopping for Make-Up

Safer, Handier and Sexier: Flapper Jane Appropriates the New Make-Up

Shameless, Selfish and Honest: The New Breed of Woman Who Dominated the XX Century

So go ahead and check out her blog. You’ll be glad you did! 🙂







Posted in 1920s fads, Social Customs of the 1920s | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Check Out These Sweet Links!

flapper w newspaper

Hey guys! I’m on vacation this week, so I thought I’d post a bunch of fun, interesting news links about various 1920s topics for your perusal instead. Thanks to the joy of Google Alerts, I often end up with links to interesting articles that I can’t always work into posts, so I figured I’d post some of the more interesting or strange ones here for you.

Enjoy! 😀


Think driverless cars are new? Think again! “Phantom autos” existed during the 1920s, and could be controlled from up to 5 miles away with radio frequencies. 


Sociologists at Yale and the University of California think they figured out how Prohibition really strengthened organized crime: with the power of social networks! According to the Yale researchers, if you were a bootlegger in Chicago, that really meant knowing only one person: Al Capone. His thousands of social connections turned Chicago into a Prohibition hub.


Beef and bananas: a match made in food heaven, or a terrifying relic of 1920s cooking? You decide!


Find out how Al Capone rigged roulette tables at his gambling establishments.


Apparently the news lost its shit when it found out that some teenager spotted an inaccurate radio inside Capone’s former jail cell at Alcatraz. Seriously, I got articles about this for DAYS from Google Alerts. It was annoying.


Looking for a new video game featuring gangsters? Check out Blues and Bullets, a neo-noir episodic video game sold on Steam. Set in an alternate 1955, the black and white atmospheric art style recalls Frank Miller’s Sin City, which almost takes the sting out of the fact that your player character is none other than Grade A asshole Eliot Ness…sigh.


If you’re visiting Chicago, why not try a walking tour about Chicago political corruption past and present?   Paul Dailing offers a unique walking tour that strives to show the impact of political corruption on the city itself, without all the romanticism of figures like Big Al.


Someone made a documentary about John R. Brinkley called “Nuts!” Who was John R. Brinkly? Well, remember my post about Voronoff and the Monkey Gland Cocktail? Well Brinkley puts Voronoff to shame and then some—using goat testicles. While selling his “treatments,” he went on to found a multi-million dollar empire, create the first country music station, and became an advertising genius…and did it all without actually being a real doctor! His crazy rise and fall is chronicled in the excellent book Charlatan by Pope Brock.


Electrocuting people: the best prank of the 1920s?  Also contains a reference to monkey glands!


1920s baby names are making a comeback thanks to this Bustle article!


Bustle also highlighted the 9 most “scandalous” dresses from the 1920s


A British robot from the 1920s is getting a second chance at life thanks to London’s Science Museum. You can see video of Eric moving about in 1928 here.


The 100 best stories from the early years of sci-fi, known as the Radium Age, which featured strange occult powers, proto X-men, robots, and technocratic utopias.


In Canada, Budwieser has made “Prohibition Beer,” or beer with no alcohol content. Why???


Got any interesting 1920s news bits? Feel free to post links in the Comments section. I’d love to see them! 🙂




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Patriotic Peanuts: A Fourth of July 1920s Menu


Photo Source: Pinterest

When you think of “patriotic” American foods, do peanuts come to mind? How about Washington Pie? Or cream cheese sandwiches? While many of the food served at a 1920s Fourth of July celebration wouldn’t look out of place on a table today, there are some menu differences that may surprise you. Check out the recipes below. Maybe you’ll find a new vintage dish to add to your holiday repertoire! 🙂


~ T H E   A R T   O F   T H E   P I C N I C ~


The time period is off—based on the dress I’d say this was taken in the early 1900s—but it’s still a Fourth of July picnic, dang it! Photo Source: Pinterest

Earlier Fourth of July meals were mostly big community outdoor affairs, full of campfires and big tubs of boiling food. A 1922 Tribune article sums up one such earlier celebration nicely:

“for country or small village people, the picnic…has been considered the best kind of Fourth of July celebration…a whole village often empties itself out onto a picnic grove by some lake…and while the men fish and set up tables and benches, the women cook gallons of fish chowder in the church wash boilers, and the most public spirited fill fireholes [sic] with pots of baked beans in the early morning. Breads, pies, and cakes are brought from home and a new wash tub of lemonade is compounded on the spot. Everybody works except small fry, and certain young women. Swings are put up and seesaws built to keep the youngsters out of the way or out of the water.”1

While community celebrations like this still existed, more and more families packed their own picnic baskets to take to parks, beaches, riverbanks, and forest preserves to celebrate on their own.

Because of this, food that was easy to make, carry, or cook outside was heavily favored. And for picnics, that largely meant one thing: sandwiches! 🙂


sandwich and thermos

Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives


V I N T A G E   S A N D W I C H   F I L L I N G S :

“The sandwich basket…is capable of some interesting variations,” notes Jane Eddington, and that is in no small part thanks to the variety of fillings one could put inside them.2 Popular 1920s period fillings included minced ham, peanut butter, cheese, potato, liver, sardines, and various cream cheese fillings. The cream cheese ones were particularly popular, since they could be combined with “chopped nuts, chopped dates, chopped red or green sweet pepper, jellies, etc” to make many different kinds of sandwiches.3 Even butter sandwiches were encouraged. Here are a few vintage recipes for your perusal:


Eddington says that this filling is meant for “small automobile picnics,” i.e. ones with a small party and “a rather dainty collection of things” to be served, as it takes more time and effort to prepare than some other fillings.4

1 cup cold cooked chicken

3 ounces unsalted butter

1 or 2 tbsp cream, “according to need” (see directions)

1 tbsp grated “piquant” cheese of your choosing

salt and pepper to taste, or “just a grain or two of cayenne pepper,” or “a dot or two of dry mustard”

  1. Grind or pound chicken into a “smooth mass.”
  2. While grinding chicken, work in the butter and cream as needed, then add seasonings.
  3. Work the chicken mixture until it is thin enough so “that it can be spread as that on a true canape” and mixed enough until it is “smooth as butter” and “smooth enough to pipe.” If it cannot be made this smooth, then it can be put through a sieve until it is.
  4. Spread on slices of bread or crackers.5


This cheese spread is meant to be made at the picnic over a campfire, but can also be made at home, stored in a “small glass jar that can be covered closely,” and kept in the refrigerator “for a week” to “use as needed.”6

1 pound soft American cheese

2 or 3 beaten eggs

1/2 cup cream

salt and pepper to taste

paprika to taste

  1. Cut the cheese into small bits.
  2. Beat the eggs into the cream in a pot over the fire, then add cheese. “Stir constantly over a gentle fire until the cheese has melted.”7
  3. Take off the fire to season. Add salt and pepper, but “temperately.”8 Paprika can be added at this point as well. In fact, says Eddington, “a bit of red pepper or paprika is better than black pepper for the seasoning.”9
  4. If it curdles while cooking, run the mixture through a sieve.10
  5. Let cool until it has “the consistency of soft butter.”11
  6. Spread on plain slices of bread with butter.12


In a 1928 article, Eddington says this recipe “is an old one, yet up-to-date in interest because of the present wide use of liver diets,” which was found to help treat anemia at the time.13  If you like liver, this recipe really doesn’t sound half bad!

1 cup cooked calves’ liver

1 whole onion

1 bay leaf

1 blade of mace

dash of peppercorns and cloves

1 small onion, chopped

1 heart of celery, chopped

2 hardboiled eggs, chopped

1 tbsp butter

salt and paprika to taste

  1. Combine hot cooked liver, whole onion, bay leaf, mace, peppercorns and cloves in enough “water to cover” and let sit until cool. 
  2.  Once cool, drain liver and chop, mixing it with small onion, celery and eggs until paste as formed.
  3. Mix paste with butter, salt, and paprika, then spread over thin slices of rye bread.14 


Eddington called this an “old-timer” recipe, i.e. one certain to satisfy the older set.15

1 large potato, boiled

2 tbsp oil

1 egg yolk

2 tbsp vinegar

1 tbsp onion juice or grated onion

salt and paprika to taste

  1. Boil the potato and sieve it or rice it while it’s still hot
  2. Mix in other ingredients and cool
  3. Serve with a lettuce leaf between slices of rye bread.16


This colorful sandwich is made by combining cream cheese with bright holiday colors. Eddington says it “does not pretend to be rabidly patriotic, but just unique.”17

1 block of cream cheese, softened and split into two parts

1/2 cup blueberries

1/2 cup pitted cherries

  1. Soften and mash cream cheese, then split into two parts.
  2. Add blueberries to one half of cream cheese and smash to apply color, then mix into cheese.
  3. Add cherries to the other half and smash to apply color, then mix into cheese. If cherries aren’t available, “chopped and drained tomato without the seeds” can be added instead to create the proper red tinge.18
  4. Spread onto bread.



T H E   P A T R I O T I C   P E A N U T :


This guy RULED the Fourth of July. Photo Source: Pintrest

Besides sandwiches, another extremely popular and “patriotic” outdoor food was peanuts. I’m not really sure why (perhaps it’s a nod to the Civil War?), but a large amount of articles about Fourth of July menus involved peanuts. One particularly bizarre article insisted that peanuts could be added to almost any holiday foodstuff, automatically making that food more “patriotic”:

“…nor if we choose to put them in our menus need we stop anywhere, for we may use them from soup to nuts…almost any nut salad can have peanuts…peanut bread…peanut cakes and candies are easy to make…hashes, stews, breakfast gems, and all muffins, and even pancakes. Raw peanuts can be cooked in exactly the same way as beans…mak[ing] an excellent basis for a puree for a cream soup…There are a good many other things made with the raw peanuts, including a sausage and some vegetable dishes.”19

Articles offered recipes for homemade peanut butter, peanut bread, peanut sandwiches (which really just involved mincing peanuts and mixing them with cream to form a sort of paste), and peanut brittle.


2 1/2 cups sugar

2/3 cup cold water

1/2 cup corn syrup

2 tbsp butter

1/2 lb. raw Spanish peanuts

1 tsp soda (baking soda?)

1 tbsp cold water

  1. Add sugar and water to pot and stir until dissolved.
  2. Put pot back on oven and add corn syrup, stirring “somewhat until it boils.”20
  3. Cook mixture until it has reached 270 degrees Fahrenheit, or “until the syrup is brittle when dropped in cold water.”21 
  4. Add butter and peanuts to mixture, and stir until “thoroughly cooked–they are quickly roasted at such a heat.”22 It should take about “ten minutes” in order to “roast them sufficiently.”23
  5. Mix baking soda and cold water together separately until soda is dissolved, then add to peanut mixture.
  6. Once mixture has foamed, turn it out onto an “oiled platter or other dish” and “let it cool somewhat,” then “turn it with a spatula and pull it out into as thin a sheet as possible.”24




Besides sandwiches and peanuts, the most popular Fourth of July meat seems to have been ham. Eddington extolled its virtues: “Boiled or baked ham has been variously extolled. It may be made elegant by the way it is cooked and set up, but it is quite as likely to be too commonplace. Yet for picnic use there is hardly any meat which will give such universal satisfaction.”25 Besides being served directly, it was also popular in sandwiches, and seen as very economical as every part could be used. Even the fat of the ham itself could be used to make a sandwich filling according to Eddington: “…it is more economical to chop fat and lean alike and use it for filling…When a ham is deliciously seasoned in the cooking the fat of itself is just as good a filling for a sandwich as butter is on bread.”26

Chicken was a close second. While not “indispensable,” it “has been the conventional meat for the picnic basket for several generations,” probably because it can be served both hot and cold without much complaint.27 There were different ways to cook it as well. Making “Maryland Fried Chicken,” for example, could encompass everything from frying the chicken in lard to cooking it in a Dutch oven and serving it with a cream gravy sauce made from the drippings.28 It was all about how elaborate you wanted to be, really.

Oddly enough, no meats were barbecued. While “a  meat barbecue” was served during “grandmother’s time,” according to the Tribune’s food writer Jane Eddington,  barbecue seemed to have fallen out of favor during the 1920s.29 Of all the food articles I read, barbecue was only mentioned in passing, if at all, and there were never any recipes for it. I’m not sure when barbecue started becoming a common summer thing (I suspect it was the 1950s when personal grills became a thing), but back then it simply wasn’t a part of the holiday culinary landscape. Food could still be cooked over campfires outdoors, however, so baked beans, baked potatoes, and boiled corn, coffee, and anything else you could throw in a pot and cook over a fire was fair game—just not grilling!

Beer, of course, was supposed to be absent during Prohibition. That didn’t stop some people, though, from making a foamy substitute. A recipe for something called “foamy drink” came up in more than one article that I read. Flavored primarily with hops, I suspect it may have been a stand-in for a cold beer on a hot day.


“Some people like to drink cold foam,” says Eddington in a 1921 article.30 This recipe “is a base for a slightly bitter, foamy drink, which may be made exceedingly mild with some cream, as root beer is.”31

1 bottle of seltzer water

1 pint cold spring water

1/2 ounce hops

1 tbsp ground ginger

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cup cold water

whipping cream

  1. Boil spring water, hops and ginger for 30 minutes.
  2. The hop leaves will expand with the water, leaving about 1 cup of water behind. Strain this water off and add brown sugar, then cook about 10 minutes until it has reached “syrup stage.”32
  3. Once the mixture has cooled, add the cup of cold water.
  4. To serve, fill a glass one fourth of the way with the syrup. Add cream if desired. Then add seltzer water until the foam reaches the top of the glass.33




~ D I N N E R   P A R T I E S ~


zzzz 1930

An African American family celebrates the Fourth of July, c. 1925. You can check out more cool vintage 4th of July photos here at It’s About Time

Private dinner parties were another option for those who didn’t want to pack a picnic. While the foods served tended to mimic popular outdoor refreshments, greater care could be given to presentation and flare. For example, one could follow a “color menu” and highlight red, white and blue foods. A table could be made pretty and festive by offering each guest “clusters of cherries tried with blue and white ribbon.”34 A “handsome pile of cherries” could also act as the “central decorative feature for a small Fourth of July dinner party.”35 “Fancy” red, white, and blue papers could be used to wrap foodstuffs.36

Besides decorating the table in festive colors, however, there was an attempt to capture the outdoor spirit of the day in food as well. Here are two sample menus for a private dinner party, circa 1921:

Menu 1: “True to the day”

Maryland Fried Chicken  with Cream Gray

Baked Potatoes

Buttered Beets

Baking Powder Biscuits

Garden Lettuce Salad

Raspberry Mousse

Sponge Cake

Roasted Peanuts in Little Bags

Foamy Drink

Menu 2: “A fish dinner”

Red Sweet Pepper Relish with Water Cress

Boiled Salmon with Butter Sauce

Boiled Potatoes

Cucumber Cutlets

Green Peas

Fruit Salad

Cherry Tarts


Entertaining at home opened up other food options as well, particularly regarding dessert. A shiny new refrigerator could be used to make all kinds of things, from ice cream to mousse to parfaits and sherbets. Cakes, sweet breads, pies and other treats were equally popular, however. Washington Pie was an old Fourth of July standby. A simple yellow cake with a raspberry jam filling, it was “used to an unwholesome extent in the old days” according to Eddington, and “so appeared at the picnic on the Fourth.”38

Here is a recipe card for a Washington Pie:


An old recipe card for Washington Pie. Photo Source:

Eddington, however, encouraged fun, playful takes on old standbys, such as a “firecracker pie,” which consisted of a cherry pie with “a stick of red candy in it, with a little string on the end” to simulate a firecracker.39 She also championed an old “colonial” recipe for Branbury Tart, an English pastry that was “brought along” by our “old English ancestors” and “not discarded when the liberty bell rang out.”40 Declaring them “most satisfactory,” she felt they were “spicier than cake and as independent as a sandwich in its own paper.”41  Here is her recipe:


1 cup chopped raisins

3 crackers rolled into a fine powder

1 cup currants

1 orange, with skin zested and juice put aside

1 egg, with yolk and white separated

various spices “to taste”

  1. Make the filling by combining raisins, crackers, currants, orange juice, orange zest, and “several spices or not, to taste.”42
  2. Roll pastry thin and cut into little rounds or squares (no directions are given regarding making the pastry dough, but pre-made pie crust might work, seeing as she lists both “fine puff paste” and “pie crust” as options).43
  3. Place a ball of filling onto one half of the pastry, then wet edges with egg white. Fold over and press edges together, then run a “pastry wheel around the closed edge or pinch it” shut.44
  4. Glaze each tart with egg yolk and bake in hot oven until golden.



But whatever you guys eat today, I hope you have a safe and sane Fourth of July!!!! 🙂


Unlike this child, who looks really excited about his giant fireworks. You can see more adorable photos of children celebrating the Fourth of July in the past here at


  1. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Out of Doors Refreshments.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jul 02, 1922.
  2. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Sandwich Making Is A Marked Activity in Fourth of July Catering.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 01, 1928.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Eddington, Jane. “The Tribune Cook Book: Our Patriotic Feast Day.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963). Date unknown.
  5. Ibid
  6. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Sandwich Making Is A Marked Activity in Fourth of July Catering.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 01, 1928.
  7. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Cooking for the Day.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 04, 1926.
  8. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Sandwich Making Is A Marked Activity in Fourth of July Catering.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 01, 1928.
  9. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Cooking for the Day.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 04, 1926.
  10. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Sandwich Making Is A Marked Activity in Fourth of July Catering.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 01, 1928.
  11. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Cooking for the Day.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 04, 1926.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Sandwich Making Is A Marked Activity in Fourth of July Catering.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 01, 1928.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Cooking for the Day.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 04, 1926.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK:  Community Fourth of July Dinners.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963),Jun 28, 1925.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Eddington, Jane. “THE TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Food Patriotism Has Been But Slightly Developed, Though Foods Beginning with the Letter P Have Prestige.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 03, 1927.
  20. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK:  Community Fourth of July Dinners.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963),Jun 28, 1925.
  21. Eddington, Jane. “THE TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Food Patriotism Has Been But Slightly Developed, Though Foods Beginning with the Letter P Have Prestige.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 03, 1927.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK:  Community Fourth of July Dinners.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963),Jun 28, 1925.
  24. Ibid
  25. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK:  Community Fourth of July Dinners.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963),Jun 28, 1925.
  26. Eddington, Jane. “The Tribune Cook Book: Our Patriotic Feast Day.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963). Date unknown.
  27. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Out of Doors Refreshments.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jul 02, 1922.
  28. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Fourth of July Menus.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jul 03, 1921.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK:  Community Fourth of July Dinners.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963),Jun 28, 1925.
  35. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Cherries Make a Gay Decorative Feature for a Small Fourth of July Dinner Party.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963),Jun 30, 1929.
  36. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Out of Doors Refreshments.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jul 02, 1922.
  37. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Fourth of July Menus.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jul 03, 1921.
  38. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK: Out of Doors Refreshments.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jul 02, 1922.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Eddington, Jane. “Tribune Cook Book: Banbury Tarts.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 03, 1928.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Eddington, Jane. “The Tribune Cook Book: Our Patriotic Feast Day.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963). Date unknown.
  43. Eddington, Jane. “Tribune Cook Book: Banbury Tarts.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 03, 1928.
  44. Ibid.


Posted in 1920s vintage recipes, holiday post | Tagged , | Leave a comment

C is for Cocktail: Monkeying Around With The Monkey Gland Cocktail

What would you do for a chance at eternal life? For some people in the early 1920s, all it took was a slip of the knife…just as long as they didn’t mind getting a little up close and personal with their ape relatives.

During the early 1920s, Parisians were enthralled with the grandiose claims made by Dr. Serge Voronoff, a Russian doctor who convinced millions of laypeople—along with a significant chunk of the medical and scientific community at the time—that grafting small slices of “monkey glands” (mostly chimpanzee testicles, but later baboons) onto the gonads of older men would give them a shot at the fountain of youth.


Dr. Serge Voronoff, Russian-born French doctor/scientist. Photo source: Atlas Obscura

“Life can be prolonged, sex intensified, and death delayed,” promised an ad for one of Voronoff’s books describing his research, The Conquest of Life 1. His treatment would “put pep in men…strengthen weakened stomachs, cure backache, chase pneumonia and cure colds.”2 Heck, it could “do everything from return youthful energy to curing senility and schizophrenia to radically prolonging life”—with the added bonus of boosting “sexual ability,” according to an Atlas Obscura article. And while the benefits for older men mgiht be obvious, women in menopause could benefit as well by having chimp ovaries grafted onto themselves. Extending human life and “usefulness,” however, was Voronoff’s ultimate goal. He promised his glandular treatments would “push a man’s age back twenty or thirty years” at the least,3 or extend it all the way to 140, so long as he had a steady supply of fresh ape glands on hand.4

voronoff book ad

A 1924 ad for one of Voronoff’s books from the Chicago Tribune, marketed toward the layman. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

As ridiculous as this seems, France’s medical establishment vouched for Voronoff’s work personally. While he’d been refused permission to speak to the French surgeon’s congress in 1922, just a year later not only did “two of the best known surgeons of Paris defended the scientific worth of…[his]…gland operations,” but Voronoff operated on two of his fellow surgeons and “arrangements were made to repeat the operation” on two more after that.5 Why did so many respected medical men jump on Voronoff’s bandwagon? Because they saw him as a more effective version of his predecessors, it seems.

Dr. Charles Edouard Brown-Sequard, a respected Parisian doctor who taught physiology at Harvard, shocked his fellow doctors at a medical conference in 1889 when “he frowned, as if weighing a decision…put his notes aside, looked at the audience, and [said]…he had a major discovery to announce.”6 It seems Dr. Sequard had “conquered Father Time” by injecting himself with ground up “testicular material, both animal and human,” restoring his youth and vigor to remarkable affect.7

“The effect of the announcement, coming as it did from such a reputable scientist, was electric,” wrote Tribune reporter Jon Franklin in a 1983 piece on early rejuvenation practices.8 Scientists came down on both sides. Some enthusiastically heralded Brown’s research: being old themselves (the average age of Sequard’s colleagues was 71), it was tempting to think that the affects of age could be reversed—and with the benefit of the placebo effect, many patients felt like the treatments worked.9 Once his claims hit the news, Brown-Sequard’s office was “besieged with pleas for the rejuvenation treatment” by untold scores of “old rich men” wanting to schedule an operation.10 Soon he started selling samples of his serum under the name Sequarine, which was touted as curing everything from diabetes, kidney disease, and influenza to “general weakness.” Though its effectiveness was mostly in the patient’s head—doctors have since proved that little testosterone actually stays in the testes once it’s been made and released into the bloodstream, making it useless to inject them into the bloodstream—it sold like hotcakes all the same.

Brown-Sequard’s success paved the way for others. Dr. Frank Lydston of Chicago joined the ranks of medical pioneers by being the first person to successfully “transplant a gland from one human being to another” in 1914—by implanting a dead man’s testicles underneath the skin of his abdomen.11 Just like Sequard, Lydston’s surgery supposedly gave him a new lease on life. Unlike his fellow gland enthusiasts, however, Lydston didn’t take his success to the public. Instead, he got mad about the “flies on the wheel” who profited from the serious scientific progress he’d made by appealing directly to “lay publicity,” instead of saving their results for hard science alone. After all, he’d been the “first to successfully transplant a testicle from one human being to another,” he pointed out in the pages of the Illinois Medical Journal. Why should these charlatans get all the credit?

Maybe because they’d taken things to a more sensational level. Lydston had been using dead human tissue, after all. Not very exciting. What if someone tried it with living tissue? And instead of sheep or goat testes like his earlier colleagues, why not use living tissue from man’s closest cousin, the chimpanzee? Early on he’d done well with old rams, restoring them to a “vigorous and lively” state using live goat testicles.12 Heck, he’d even increased their fleece production from “two or three inches to fifteen or sixteen inches in length” with his new grafts.13 Couldn’t he expect similar happy results with human subjects? And chimps would be perfect for transplanting. Weren’t their bodies “wonderfully like a human” with “identical organs” and “indistinguishable” blood?14

ape thyroid voronoff subject

One of Voronoff’s most convincing piece of early work was a boy he performed an ape thyroid transplant on. Photo Source: Wikipedia

This was more or less Voronoff’s reasoning when he attempted his first ape-to-human testicular transplant on June 12th, 1920. Declaring it a success, he went on to perform over 2,000 operations on people all over the world, many of whom were rich old men who wanted their identities kept secret to stave off ridicule. One of these recipients was supposedly Chicago’s own Harold McCormick, who after divorcing his wife Edith for a young opera singer named Ganna Walska, went on to have a “secret gland operation at a Chicago hospital by Dr. Serge Voronoff,” supposedly in order to keep up with her in the bedroom.15

Others wanted everyone to know about their operation. Frank Klaus, the 1913 world middleweight champion, had a monkey gland inserted by a Philadelphia doctor via Voronoff’s method and declared afterward—while hospitalized from an infection caused by the operation itself, no less—that he was “in better physical health” after his transplant than he’d been his whole life.16 “My vitality is getting stronger every day,” he added, and reporters joked that it would doubtless make him a new man in the ring.17


Frank Klaus, a recipient of the monkey gland treatment popularized by Voronoff. Photo Source: Wikipedia

Buoyed by these successes, Voronoff tried a different tack than his predecessors and took his findings straight to the public, altering his rhetoric to “suit what little science” they might possess.18 He wrote books and went on lecture tours, talking to sold-out crowds in Paris, New York, New York, Brazil, and Chicago.

The young women of Paris found Voronoff’s talks both thrilling and scandalous. A talk on October 7th, 1922, nearly caused a riot as young women “fought to enter the experimental laboratory of the College of France, where the Russian savant had waiting some rejuvinated men…rams…moving pictures, and a mass of fascinating detail” to present to the eager young ladies.19 The procedure itself was simple, Voronoff explained: “a local anesthetic is all that is necessary. It is merely a task of opening the skin, inserting new tissue, sewing up the slight wound, and then nature does the rest.”20 Then he let the girls shake the hands of some of his rejuvenated patients, pet some of the “simpering monkeys” he’d used in his treatments, and watch a film of one of his famous patients, 66-year-old Mr. Liardet, “boxing, climbing mountains, riding horseback, golfing, rowing, and finally jumping up steps four at a time, like a monkey” to show how rejuvenated he was.21 Crowds in Chicago on August 9th, 1920 were equally spellbound. Dr. Thorek, a friend of Dr. Lydston and fellow gland transplant enthusiast, noted that “every inch of the amphitheater in our hospital was crowded. Notables were scattered everywhere throughout the audience,” listening raptly to Voronoff as he was “assisted like a stage magician by his young and beautiful American wife” and “dazzled the hall with a lecture-demonstration using dogs.”22

The public was clearly eager for “more news about this wonderful and all-absorbing topic [of rejuvenation], with its mystery and sex appeal”—but they clearly had a very limited understanding of hormones like testosterone.23 Many laypeople saw hormones as something which rushed around one’s blood, serving “as a stimulant, whipping all the functions of the body into activity. Once it ceases, the body flags. The cells and tissues of the body begin the deterioration which finally ends in death.”24 Based on this understanding, transplanting glands made sense: put in a new gland, and you get new life. The fact that this rarely panned out for people didn’t seem to matter, however—a powerful new myth had taken hold of the public psyche. The combination of “science, fantasy, and speculation” that gland transplanting offered contributed to a growing public belief that “[testosterone] can alter human nature in a new and exciting way,” creating a “mythic force” that eventually far outweighed the “actual therapeutic value” of the hormone itself.25 Testosterone became a word with cultural cachet and even personality. Glands and hormones were something to be talked about at the dinner table and the parlor—another part of the broader public discussion of sex during the 1920s. Antoinette Donnelly, a reporter for the Tribune woman’s page, said that among women across America, “The trend in parlor conversation was switched…to ductless glands, monkey glands, X-ray power, and the various measures assumed to bear the secret of how to check the progress of age.”26

book reivew glands ad

As this 1928 book ad shows, the discussion of endocrinology—and the attribution of personality and physical traits to glands—was becoming very popular among laypeople. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

By the mid 1920s, Dr. Voronoff’s “monkey glands” had become part of international popular culture—mostly by way of song. “Since my recovery, the other day / I made a discovery, and that’s why I say / Understand / It was a monkey gland / That made a monkey out of me,” sang Billy Meyers in his popular 1923 vaudeville song, “You Made a Monkey Out of Me.” Songs also popped up in Brazil, where Voronoff lived for a time doing surgeries and giving public lectures to excited crowds.  A song called “Mr. Voronoff” by Lamartine Babo and João Ross, sang his praises directly: “Now everyone / Can be strong and healthy / Nimble as a mountain goat / But with a monkey’s soul / All the old folks around town / Have joined in the refrain / They’re already enjoying youth / Brought to them by Voronoff.”

Clearly, Vornoff was making a name for himself. His fame wasn’t limited to songs, however. Even daily advertisements invoked “monkey glands.” A 1921 ad in the Tribune for Penberthy Re-Atomizer fluid, which cleaned oil build up out car motors, referenced monkey glands and the vigor they instilled in their recipients. Written from the POV of the car’s motor, the ad could very well have come from one of Voronoff’s “cured” patients:

“I was in a run-down condition—guess it was due to overwork…I became tired easily and felt groggy most of the time—coughing, spitting and choking. Mornings I couldn’t seem to get started as I should—but with the Re-Atomizer—Hot Dog! I feel fine. Talk about Monkey Glands—that’s just what the Penberthy Re-Atomizer is to me!”27

His work even became the butt of jokes in the funny pages. Check out this 1921 Tribune comic below:

tribune monkey gland comic

This 1921 Tribune comic shows the supposed effects of monkey gland injections, and also gives a nod to evolutionary theory. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

Back in Paris, however, Voronoff’s work inspired something entirely different: the Monkey Gland cocktail! 🙂


T H E   M O N K E Y   G L A N D   C O C K T A I L :



A glowing example of a Monkey Gland cocktail. Photo Source: Chowhound


Like so many other 1920s cocktails, the Monkey Gland has a contested history. While most claim it was invented at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris by famous bartender Harry MacElhorn, a 1923 Washington Post article offers another explanation:


Photo Source: Paste Magazine

Whether made by MacElhorn or Meier, the Monkey Gland survived the Paris tourist trade of the 1920s. That’s because, according to Ted Haigh, author of Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, the Monkey Gland’s original recipe is “entirely persuasive and is, in fact, a crowd pleaser.”28 However, there are two different ways to make this cocktail. The original European version calls for absinthe, while American bartender Patrick Duffy traded out the absinthe for Benedictine in 1934. Both versions are supposedly good. Try them out for yourself and let me know what you think! 🙂


H A R R Y ‘S  1 9 2 7  V E R S I O N :

This version is from Imbibe magazine, which adapted it from Harry MacElhone’s famous cocktail book Barflies and Cocktails (1927). Harry is credited with having inventing this cocktail, so this is probably the closest recipe to his original creation—so long as you use real homemade pomegranate-based grenadine, not the bottled red syrup stuff they sell in liquor stores.

1 1/2 oz. gin

1 1/2 oz. fresh orange juice

1 tsp. grenadine

1 tsp. simple syrup

1 tsp. absinthe

Shake ingredients in cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.


D U F F Y ‘ S  1 9 3 4  V E R S I O N :

This version comes from Duffy’s Official Mixer Manual and calls for Benedictine instead of absinthe, which makes it the American version. Unlike the original, it contains orange juice. Not sure when that crept in.

3 dashes Benedictine

3 dashes Grenadine

1/3 Orange Juice

2/3 Dry Gin

Stir well in ice and strain.

Use glass number 1


T H E  M O D E R N  V E R S I O N :

This version has been adapted from the blog KitchenRiffs. The original post can be found in full here.

2 oz. London Dry Gin

1 oz. fresh-squeezed Orange Juice

1 tsp. homemade Grenadine

2 dashes Absinthe or Pernod

Twist of orange peel for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to shaker. Fill halfway with ice. Shake until chilled, about 20 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass, garnish with orange peel, and serve.


Or you can watch mixologist Robert Hess make one on YouTube:



Cocktails weren’t the only illegal thing Voronoff’s work inspired, however. “There is no thirst in the human soul quite so unquenchable as the thirst for youth,” wrote Antoinette Donnelly in a 1924 Tribune beauty column–and some people in Chicago were willing to go to extreme lengths to obtain it…even if that meant starting a gland trafficking ring!29

It started on October 14th, 1922. Thirty-four year old Joseph Wozniak, a Polish sugar beet laborer, had been out drinking with a friend at a local saloon. He was waiting for a street car at 3 o’clock in the morning when “an automobile drew up to the curb” and four men lept out.30 They threw “a bag, probably containing chloroform,” over his head and dragged him into the car, where he lost consciousness. A few hours later he awoke on the sidewalk under a viaduct near 22nd Street—minus some important bits.31 A local doctor noted that “judging from the expertness with which the job was done…it was not done in revenge but for the purpose of transplanting….whoever did the work…was able to avert the customary hemorrhage, and infection of any kind.”32 This unique crime of “gland larceny,” then, was doubtless done to “rejuvenate some wealthy ancient”—and seemed to set off a spree.33

The next day, police found out about two more victims. Henry Johnson, a city electrician, was similarly set upon in the summer of 1922 while going home drunk one night, and came to later “in a hallway, his masculinity gone.”34 He was found and taken to the County hospital. Understandably, Henry wanted the whole thing hushed up—until he read about poor Joseph. Then he came forward to tell his story. The doctor who treated him said he’d seen the same thing happen to another patient two weeks earlier as well. Sensing a growing problem, State Attorney Robert E. Crowe and Police Captain Thomas Coughlin promised to “make every effort to end the practice and send the ‘gland ghouls’ to the penitentiary.”35 “Civilization cannot permit it to go on,” Captain Choughlin declared. “Goat glands or monkey glands may be all right, but human glands, Never!”36 In spite of their vows, however, the attacks continued, with the perpetrators leaving no leads or clues behind.

Then in November the cops seemed to catch a break. An amateur detective, calling himself “the sleuth from Wisconsin,” called in saying that Wozniack was a victim of $100,000 gland robbery backed by an unscrupulous millionaire. According to the sleuth, “an aged north shore millionaire about to marry a 25 year old bride had offered a surgeon $100,000 for new glands.”37 The surgeon then decided to “hire kidnappers” and find victims to supply glands. The sleuth named everyone involved, including the millionaire, whose name the police refused to release until they checked the story. Sadly, after looking into it, Chief Coughlin announced that the whole thing was “a wild cock and bull story,” where “nothing…would bear inquiry.”38 In the end, despite the declarations of the police captain and the state attorney, the crimes went unsolved—though no more attacks were reported after 1922, thankfully.

Voronoff’s ideas fell out of favor by the 1940s, mostly thanks to the fact that unlike what he’d promised, his patients continued to age and die despite repeated applications of monkey glands. While he went on to marry a hot young wife, turn an Italian villa into his personal mad scientist lab with cages full of chimps, and amass a huge fortune, he fell into obscurity and died at the age of 85 in 1951 in Switzerland, generally considered a laughingstock by the greater medical community. Despite the furor of serious interest his work engendered during the 1920s and 1930s, not much of him remains today in popular culture—except the name of this signature Prohibition cocktail. That’s not such a bad thing, though. Even I have to admit: his cocktail is pretty damn rejuvenating! 😉


Want to learn more about Voronoff? Try this WordPress blog dedicated to him, or this excellent Atlas Obscura article. Or try this one over at Motherboard, which has fun pictures.



1. “Display Ad 10 — no Title.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Sep 29, 1928.
2. “MONKEY BLOOD WILL MAKE WOMEN THIN, PEP UP MEN-VORONOFF.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jun 21, 1922.
3. Fendrick, Raymond. “WIZARD SURGEON PLANS RENEWING ALL VITAL ORGANS.”Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jun 20, 1922.
4. Avery, Delos. “7-Score Span Dr. Voronoff’s Goal for Man.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jan 09, 1944.
5. Wales, Henry. “VORONOFF WINS PARIS CYNICS TO MONKEY GLANDS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Oct 13, 1923.
6. Franklin, Jon. “Quacks Fill a Bandwagon with Rejuvenation Schemes.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File), May 30, 1983.
7. Brock, Pope. 2008. Charlatan: America’s most dangerous huckster, the man who pursued him, and the age of flimflam. New York: Crown Publishers. p. 33 and 36.
8. Franklin, Jon. “Quacks Fill a Bandwagon with Rejuvenation Schemes.”
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Brock, Pope. 2008. Charlatan: America’s most dangerous huckster, the man who pursued him, and the age of flimflam.
12. Gibbons, Floyd. “RE-GLANDED MEN MAY CONTINUE LIFE AFTER LIFE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 07, 1922.
13. Fendrick, Raymond. “BA! BA! SHEEP TO GET NEW GLANDS; GROW 16 IN. WOOL.”Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jul 13, 1923.
15. Bowman, Jim. “THE WAY WE WERE.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File), Oct 23, 1983.
16. “MONKEY GLANDS MAY MAKE KLAUS NEW RING MAN.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Feb 10, 1920.
17. Ibid.
18. Franklin, Jon. “Quacks Fill a Bandwagon with Rejuvenation Schemes.”
19. Gibbons, Floyd. “CROWDS ATTEND VORONOFF STORY OF RENEWED MEN.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 08, 1922.
20. “YOUTH RESTORER WITH APE GLANDS TO BE HERE TODAY.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Aug 09, 1920.
22. Brock, Pope. 2008. Charlatan: America’s most dangerous huckster, the man who pursued him, and the age of flimflam. p. 46.
23. Hoberman, John M. 2005. Testosterone dreams: rejuvenation, aphrodisia, doping. Berkeley: University of California Press.p. 35-36.
24. Herrick, John. “GLAND GRAFTS MAY MEAN NEW MEN FOR OLD.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Oct 27, 1923.
25. Hoberman, John. Testosterone dreams. p. 27.
26. Donnelly, Antoinette. “THE REJUVENATION PROBLEM.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Aug 24, 1924.
27. “Display Ad 82 — no Title.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Dec 04, 1921.
28. Haigh, Ted. 2004. Vintage spirits & forgotten cocktails: from the alamagoozlum cocktail to the zombie : 80 rediscovered recipes and the stories behind them. Gloucester, Mass: Quarry Books. p. 213.
29. Donnelly, Antoinette. “THE REJUVENATION PROBLEM.”
30. “MAN IS KIDNAPED; GLAND PURLOINED.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 14, 1922.
31. Ibid.
32. Ibid.
33. Ibid.
34. “TWO MORE LOSE GLANDS; SEARCH FOR KNIFE MEN.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 15, 1922.
35. Ibid.
36. Ibid.
37. “AMATEUR SLEUTH TELLS OF $100,000 “GLAND ROBBERY”.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Nov 24, 1922.
38. “CHIEF EXPLODES “$100,000 GLAND ROBBERY” YARN.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Nov 25, 1922.

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