- Historic Sites
Bonnet, Book, And Hatchet
Weapon in hand and Biblical imprecations on her lips, Carry Nation campaigned to save men from the drunkard’s fate
December 1957 | Volume 9, Issue 1
Wichita was as wet as a bar rag. Forty-odd joints ran openly with no concealment other than curtained windows and doors. Each displayed a modest sign, “Sample Room,” the current cryptogram for saloon, especially in dry territory. A few more were operated in conjunction with eating places. Another reason Wichita attracted Mrs. Nation was that a majority of Kansas wholesale liquor dealers had their warehouses there.
For her first sortie into Wichita, Carry Nation dressed in the garb she wore to the end ol her career: a black alpaca dress fastened by a row of dark pearl buttons extending up the left side from hem to yoke; a broad bow of white ribbon at her throat; heavy, square-toed shoes; black cotton stockings; a black poke bonnet with a silk ribbon tied under her chin; and, except in hot weather, a heavy cape ol navy blue cloth. Almost always she carried an umbrella. Cartoonists, with whom she was for many years a favorite character, found hergetup perfect for quick and easy delineation.
She was thus attired when she took a train of steamcars for Wichita, save that in place of the umbrella she carried her husband’s rugged walking stick and a valise in which she had put a foot-long iron rod. The press of Wichita had not been warned of her coming. On her first day in the city she went forth to inspect the sample rooms and made no comment until she entered the most elegant joint in all Kansas. This was operated in the basement of the Hotel Carey, and its long, curved bar reflected the brilliance of hundreds of electric lights. On one wall her beady black eyes did not miss an enormous oil painting, Cleopatra at the Bath . She stopped dead in her tracks.
Carry Nation had not planned to pass any comment during this her initial tour of Wichita joints, but the naked Cleopatra changed her mind. She reflected—so she wrote later—that woman is stripped ol everything by the saloons. Her husband is torn from her. She is robbed of her sons. Then they take away her clothes “and her virtue.” This reflection occupied Mrs. Nation no more than a moment. She strode to the bar, pointed a quivering finger at the startled bartender.
“Young man,” she demanded, “what are you doing in this hellhole?”
“I’m sorry, madam,” he replied, “but we do not serve ladies.”
“Serve me? ” screamed Carry Nation. “Do you think I’d drink your hellish poison?” She pointed at Cleopatra. “Take that filthy thing down,” she cried, “and close this murder-mill.”
Then she snatched a bottle from the bar, threw it to the floor, and ran out into the street. She returned to her hotel, to muse on the Hotel Carey bar, “this hell glittering with crystallized tears,” and to take from her valise the short iron bar. This she bound with stout cord to the cane and, hiding this formidable weapon beneath her cape, returned in the morning to the Hotel Carey, pausing in an alley to pick up a fair load of stones, which she wrapped in a newspaper. Now she was ready for Cleopatra.
On cat’s feet the enemy of Cleopatra entered the Carey bar to find bartender Parker serving half a dozen men. They had time only to gape before Carry started heaving rocks that smashed the immense gilt frame and tore through the canvas. “Glory to God!” she shouted. “Peace on earth, good will to men!” Then she heaved another stone to crash almost into the exact center of the great mirror behind the bar. (“Cost fifteen hunnert dollars,” bartender Parker told the police.) It tumbled in fragments.
The drinkers and bartender lammed through the rear doorway, and Carry moved into the second phase of the battle. Bringing forth the wicked tool she had fashioned from cane and iron rod, she tore around one end of the bar and began slashing at the orderly array of bottles, decanters, and glassware on the back bar. All disintegrated with a most satisfying noise. When Detective Park Massey, followed by curious guests, walked into the saloon, Carry had lifted one of the finest and biggest brass cuspidors in Kansas to the top of the cherry bar and was beating it furiously.
“Madam,” said the officer, “I must arrest you for defacing property.”
“Defacing?” she screamed. “Defacing? I am defacing nothing! I am destroying! ”
The general appearance of the Hotel Carey bar indicated Mrs. Nation had a better understanding of the niceties of the language than did Detective Massey. When she was taken before fudge O. D. Kirk, the charge was read and Mrs. Nation was asked whether she pled guilty. “I’ll have nothing to do with this court,” she snapped, “until that man over there throws away his cigar. It’s rotten and the smell of it poisons me.” And “that man,” who happened to be the prosecuting attorney, dropped the offending cigar into a cuspidor.
There was a terrible to-do about Carry Nation in the Kansas courts before she was released on bail, and at last the charges were dismissed because, said the prosecuting attorney, he feared for the crusader’s mental condition. The crusader’s mental condition was unchanged, or perhaps it was intensified, by the hundreds of congratulatory telegrams, letters, and callers that Hooded her. There were many requests for help from women in towns and cities all over Kansas and from other states. Carry Nation was delighted. She felt she was on the way to the martyrdom and fame she strongly .wanted. Even New York City and Boston papers had given front-page notice of her destruction of the Hotel Carey’s saloon.