Who was Lois Long?


Lois Long was only twenty-three when she started writing for the new magazine, the New Yorker. The Vassar-educated daughter of a Congregational minister, Lois must have horrified her parents with her wild flapper ways. The stereotypical “minister’s daughter,” she covered the city’s nightlife scene with its speakeasy lifestyle, mixed race crowds, drinking and dancing, and flappers. But she didn’t use her real name–she signed her columns “Lipstick”–so maybe Daddy never knew . . . I got some good tidbits for my novels from her writing: for example, her choice of words and slang and her descriptions of the customers and speakeasies.


Click here to see the excellent Ken Burns 7-minute film about Lois Lang that includes some of her biting commentary on New York speakeasies.

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Published in: on July 7, 2019 at 4:40 pm  Comments (2)  

Prohibition in Virginia Beach

While on vacation at Virginia Beach, we dined at the beautifully renovated Cavalier, a historic hotel that has sat high on a hill overlooking the ocean since 1926. They have a distillery in the basement, and I noted an interesting wall display that gave a brief, romanticized history of Prohibition in Virginia Beach for visitors who are unfamiliar with the topic.

In part, the script reads: Virginia had a long-established tradition of moonshining in the mountainous western part of the state. The Cape Henry area, from Norfolk to Virginia Beach, was a mecca for ‘shiners due to the demand for drink along that dry stretch. So dry, that region was actually referred to as the Desert.  . . . ladies and gentlemen flocked to the Cavalier, eluding the authorities as they satisfied their thirst for the illicit.”

For a longer, illustrated article about Prohibition on Virginia, click here.

Published in: on June 1, 2019 at 8:31 am  Comments (1)  
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SLEUTH: What sort of word is that?

What do you think of when you hear the word “sleuth?” I think of Nancy Drew.

That made this post on Merriam-Webster’s word origins site pretty interesting, especially for someone like me who writes mysteries.

The etymology of SLEUTH:

“They were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” Those canine tracks in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles set the great Sherlock Holmes sleuthing on the trail of a murderer. It was a case of art imitating etymology. When Middle English speakers first borrowed sleuth from Old Norse, the term referred to “the track of an animal or person.” In Scotland, sleuthhound referred to a bloodhound used to hunt game or track down fugitives from justice. In 19th-century U.S. English, sleuthhound became an epithet for a detective and was soon shortened to sleuth. From there, it was only a short leap to turning sleuth into a verb describing what a sleuth does.

Examples of SLEUTH

“Farmer would go sleuthing in the archives of Arizona State University’s Center for Meteorite Studies to find evidence of an undiscovered landfall in Canada, and Ward could build a rig that trailed an 11-foot metal detector behind a combine, which is how they unearthed $1 million in pallasite fragments from several square miles of Alberta farmland.”
— Joshuah Bearman and Allison Keeley, Wired, January 2019

“For more than five decades, Morse has sleuthed out long-lost family trees for a living. From his home base here in Haywood, Morse travels the world tracking down missing heirs.”
— Becky Johnson, The Mountaineer (Haywood County, North Carolina), 20 Nov. 2018

Published in: on January 31, 2019 at 1:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Teetotalers Unite!

Well, what do you think the Merriam-Webster Dictionary word-of-the-day was for Jan. 18? (Hint: that is the first day that Prohibition was fully in effect.) Where does the word come from?

I was interested to learn that the word Teetotaler did NOT originate with prohibition, as I had thought.

Teetotaler–one who practices or advocates teetotalism : one who abstains completely from alcoholic drinks

A person who abstains from alcohol might choose tea as his or her alternative beverage, but the word teetotaler has nothing to do with tea. More likely, the “tee” that begins the word teetotal is a reduplication of the letter “t” that begins total, emphasizing that one has pledged total abstinence. In the early 1800s, tee-total and tee-totally were used to intensify total and totally, much the way we now might say, “I’m tired with a capital T.” “I am now … wholly, solely, and teetotally absorbed in Wayne’s business,” wrote the folklorist Parson Weems in an 1807 letter. Teetotal and teetotaler first appeared with their current meanings in 1834, eight years after the formation of the American Temperance Society.

Published in: on January 24, 2019 at 10:40 am  Comments (2)  

Tap Dancing History

I stumbled across this interesting video. Don’t worry-it’s short. Have a look. Tap Dancing History

 

 

Published in: on January 18, 2019 at 3:36 pm  Comments (1)  

Happy New Year!

It wasn’t a very happy new year in 1920 for most people. Sure, those who backed the prohibition amendment were eager for the arrival of the liquor-free world, where there would be no violence from drunken husbands and no hungry children whose father drank up his paycheck. Most women were eager to vote for the first time. But for the majority of Americans who drank beer, wine, cider, or spirits, 1920 looked bleak.

People who had money and storage space had stocked up on their favorite beverages, but no one at the time labored under any illusion that prohibition would be temporary. With hindsight, we know it was repealed 13 years later, but they didn’t know that, and frankly, no one believed a constitutional amendment could ever be repealed. It had never happened, and there was no mechanism for it. Prohibition looked permanent.

On Jan. 17, 1920, the country went “bone dry.”

Published in: on December 28, 2018 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  

A commercial break

We pause our regularly scheduled programming for a brief commercial break.

Severn House Publishers brought Murder in Disguise out in paperback for the holiday season. This, the fourth in the Roaring Twenties series, is now available in stores and online for prices that vary from $14-$17. (E-books from $6; hard cover from $25) Find out what Jessie is doing and who she’s doing it with . . . who’s dead and who’s accused and how does the little deaf girl figure into everything?

 

Published in: on December 11, 2018 at 6:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Origins of Ritzy

Here’s what I learned this morning from Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day:

César Ritz (1850-1918), a Swiss hotelier, earned worldwide renown for the luxurious hotels bearing his name in London and Paris. (The Ritz-Carlton hotel company is a contemporary descendant of these enterprises.) Although they were by no means the first to cater to high-end clients, Ritz’s hotels quickly earned reputations as symbols of opulence. F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer who often focused on the fashionably wealthy, titled one of his short stories “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” and the phrase “to put on the ritz” means “to indulge in ostentatious display.” The adjective ritzy, describing either something fancy or stylish, or the haughty attitudes of the wealthy elite, first checked into the English language in 1920.

Therefore, I can safely used the word ritzy in my Roaring Twenties mysteries!

Published in: on November 29, 2018 at 7:35 am  Comments (2)  

Prohibition Abroad

We forget sometimes (or I do, at least) that alcohol prohibition was not solely an American phenomenon. I was reminded of that recently, as I traveled through Central Asian countries of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. In each country, our guides mentioned the prohibition era of 1985-1987, when Gorbachev launched a campaign that seems to have been partial prohibition. Prices on alcohol were raised and sales were restricted, but more serious than that, existing wineries and breweries were shut down and farmers were forced to cut down their grape vines. It sounded a lot like the 1920s in America. One of our guides said that his grandmother had to cut down her vines, but since the prohibition was rescinded after only a couple of years, the roots hadn’t been dug up and the vines came back, giving Grandma back her home-made wine production. Since Prohibition lasted 13 years in the U.S., farmers here weren’t as fortunate.

Russia (pre-Soviet Union) did have a go at complete prohibition back in 1914 when World War I broke out. In an effort to make sure soldiers didn’t drink, they banned all sales of alcohol, except in restaurants, which allowed the tiny number of rich Russians to continue consuming whatever they wanted. Predictably, it had about as much success as Prohibition in the U.S., which is to say, very little.

Today, I was glad to see, the secular countries of Central Asia have no such restrictions on alcohol. Wine, beer, and liquor is sold in bars and clubs and restaurants and hotels, and we were able to visit two active wineries. We enjoyed tasting the local wines whenever possible, even though they were not generally the sort I like. Central Asians prefer sweet red wines and don’t make or drink much white–I like my wine dry, red and white.

As an aside, if you are trying to come up with an unusual, safe, and fascinating trip, consider Central Asia. The best country is Uzbekistan. Its cities–Tashkent, Bokhara, Khiva, and Samarkand–have magnificent sights. The only drawback (besides the sweet red wine) is the distance.

Published in: on October 30, 2018 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

When Vaudeville Got Tired

Long before vaudeville ended, it got tired. Some insiders warned that the medium was becoming stale. Years of profits made owners like Ed Albee think they had a magic formula for success, a formula they clung to rigidly. Some tried to point out this error: “Big Time vaudeville theaters in most cities were antiquated buildings run by local manager who never tinkered with tradition. The Big Time stars came back year after year with their same songs, dances, and jokes,” said William Morris (of the William Morris Agency). The editor of one of the more important theater magazines criticized the “blind reverence for, or slavery to, tradition that resists every effort to shake the variety show out of the old routine, the traditional way of choosing and staging acts.”

Some shows bored their audiences with a string of similar acts, such as nearly all dancing acts or nearly all comedians. And audiences were growing impatient with the censorship rules. According to A.F. Wertheim in his book, Vaudeville Wars, the Keith-Albee Circuit (the leading circuit) continued to order performer to delete objectionable jokes, such as “I’ve been studying abroad,” or “Give us this day our daily bread, yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum.” Moving pictures were newer, more exciting, more risqué, and more exciting to audiences. The vaudeville magazine, Variety, (founded in 1905) reflected this shift when it moved vaudeville news to the back pages and movie news to the front in 1925.

Published in: on September 29, 2018 at 1:22 pm  Leave a Comment