Saturday, December 19, 2009

Devotees of Bacchus ...

I suppose it's the time of year when this blog needs a couple of good holiday quotes. Fortunately, the definitive compendium of Montana Christmas lore has already been published: the book Christmastime in Montana, by Dave Walter. (Dave, who passed away in 2006, was the reference librarian at the Montana Historical Society and a thoroughly wonderful guy. I think he know more historical trivia about the state than anyone else who ever lived, and he retold it with a great spirit and sense of humor. A conversation with Dave was always be a highlight of my day.)

Anyhow, today's quote is one that was reproduced in Dave's book. It was first published in the Helena Weekly Herald, and describes Christmas in our capitol city back in 1867:
The celebration of Christmas commenced here on Christmas Eve. As early as seven o'clock we saw devotees of Bacchus reclining in positions more compact than graceful, on several of the steps that obstruct our sidewalks.

The liquor, billiard, gambling, and concert saloons and hurdy-gurdy houses were filled, and they remained so for two days. At some point, nearly every saloon had its own peculiar row. Any looker-on, bearing in mind the danger from stray shots, would make up his mind (as did the son of the quarreling family) that they "had a little hell of their own, and devils enough to tend it."

Main Street was the broad aisle through which the devotees of pleasure marched to do their idol homage. As they did so, their barbaric yells resounded throughout the town. They yelled just for the sake of yelling, as some babies do.

On Christmas night the orgies reached their height, but we can give no detailed description of them for most of the participants had become so drunk as to cease to be amusing. The hurdy-gurdy house on the corner of West Main and Bridge Streets was so crowded that the heads were as close together as pacing stones. At last commotion was here created among the carousers by the firing of fire-crackers surreptitiously tossed under their feet. . . .

At the Police Court there was disappointment. The harvest seemed ripe for the reaping, but it was not brought in. Thus the Justices had to pass a gloomy Christmas with only one poor little victim to console them.


  1. I was so excited when I saw "devotees of Bacchus" because I am one, but I've not attained that level of adoration. Pity.

    Don't you love the term 'hurdy-gurdy'? It's just fun to say.

  2. Heh ... well, I remember a couple of such evenings back in college, but it's been years. :)

    And when I hear the term "hurdy-girdy," I just think of that old pop tune by Donovan. 1960s music has ruined me!