Thursday, December 9, 2010

Archival High Jinks

Once in a while an archival image fools me. When this happens, it is usually because I have looked at the image in a cursory manner or I have not had the cultural reference points to interpret the scene. Whatever the cause, I have missed a key detail. Occasionally, as is the case with this image, the photograph is intentionally misleading.

I have previously looked at this image a number of times without really understood what is going on. A group of men are sitting around a table enjoying a pipe of tobacco with what seems to be a crock of "salt", a can of "Pure Old Kerosene" and a clam shell on the table. To make the image a bit more confusing, they all appear to be happily imbibing in some liquid. Now call me crazy but for some reason I just can't imagine the salt and kerosene cocktail gaining much of a following. Even if it was served in a festive clam shell, this drink is just a bit too strong.

So, now that the image had captured my interest, I decided to see if I could figure out what was going on. The men all seem to be dressed in clothing that I would expect people to wear around the turn of the twentieth century. While two of the gentlemen are sporting very stylish mustaches, this does not provide much additional contextual evidence.

The first tangible clue is written at the top right of the picture. Here we can find the words "High Jinks". This leads me to surmise that there is some sort of trickery at work. This would explain the wry expressions on the faces of the three gentlemen. At the bottom of the image is a label which tells the remainder of the story. Here we find the words "Close Season - Scott Act".

The Scott Act, properly the Canada Temperance Act of 1878, was named for the Upper Canadian politician Sir Richard William Scott. Under the terms of the act, a petition signed by one quarter of the electors in a region could trigger a vote to ban the sale of alcohol. What we see in this image is a comical political protest against prohibition. The jars of "salt" and "Pure Old Kerosene" are doubtlessly rum or moonshine. Raise a glass boys.

All for now,

1 comment:

  1. Cool and funny! I like that you walked through your thought process.