Friday, January 10, 2014

Balderdash at the barber shop

The barber shop "peek-in" at Knott's Berry Farm's Ghost Town.
The following July 5, 1902 bit of piffle is either the fabrication of some writer at the Los Angeles Times (which published the piece), or a fine example of a small businessman "getting a story placed" by sending the Times a ready-made item it would be delighted to print -- free plug and all. The former scenario would make the story a self-serving breech of journalistic ethics on the part of the paper. The latter would make it a rare example of P.R. practice at a time when Edward Bernays was still in short pants. Which is to say that either way, it's entertaining balderdash and should seem strangely familiar to modern audiences. Here's the article, (which also happens to include the kind of anti-Irish sentiment you don't see much anymore):
Santa Ana, July 4 – A double-fisted, red faced son of Erin sauntered into the barber shop of J. W. Burt of this city a few evenings ago and was waiting for his turn, when he chanced to spy a copy of The Times on the reading table. Turning to Burt, the fellow asked, “Do you take that paper here?”

“I do,” answered Burt.

“Good evening,” said the S. of E. as he started for the door. Once outside he turned and shouted back, “I will not patronize a man who reads that infamous sheet.”

“My dear sir,” replied Burt, “I have lived forty years without your support and I am sure I don’t care a d—n if you never set foot in this shop again. In fact you haven’t money enough to hire me to pull your whiskers out with a block and tackle.”

The stranger has not been seen near this barber shop since, and Burt still asserts that The Times is the best newspaper on the Pacific Coast for the men who labor with their muscles and brains.
I don’t have ready access to a 1902 directory for Santa Ana, but I can tell you than nobody by the name of Burt appears in either the 1901 nor the 1903 editions.

The only J.W. Burt I could find haunting Southern California in those days was a San Diegan who traveled around the southland ginning up new chapters for an organization called the League of Loyal Americans. He held one such chapter-organizing meeting in San Bernardino in October of 1901, and another the following month at Santa Ana's G.A.R. Hall.

Burt of the LLA was certainly something of a promoter, if not a P.R. man.

At the Santa Ana meeting, Judge J. A. Willson was elected temporary chairman and A. B. Paul secretary. According to the Times, “A committee was appointed, consisting of Z. B. West, H. A. Stone and H. Fairbanks, to report at the next meeting, to be called by the chairman, to report on permanent officers and the adoption of a constitution and bylaws.”

Clearly, there have been numerous groups calling themselves the “League of Loyal Americans,” over the past 113 years, and it’s unclear what this group in 1901 was all about, aside from general claims of patriotism. They seem not to have had much staying power hereabouts. (I asked several Santa Ana residents today, and none of them had heard of the LLA.)

If you know more about J. W. Burt or the League of Loyal Americans, drop us a note in the comments section.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Very inspirational to hear about someone pursuing their dream and becoming successful instead of following the traditional path.
find a barber shop near me