Monday, March 7, 2011

Kicking Up a Muss in the Irrepressable Melodeon

Yes, indeed, the Melodeon had a bad reputation. The saloon seems to have only been in business for less than two years, as the only period I find mention of the joint is in 1868 and early 1869. It was located on Postoffice, but I have yet to find the exact address. Does anybody know?

Reports of various "events" at the Melodeon made the newspaper police beat as early as April 11, 1868. A unnamed soldier on detachment in Galveston "was arrested and locked up in the jail last night, for kicking up a fuss at the front of the Melodeon. He was intoxicated."

A month later, on May 29th, the newspaper reported a fight at the bar: "John Rich alias Rickaby and Scottie [?] late a hotel runner, had a lively scrimmage in a box at the Melodeon last night. Rickaby was imprisoned."

On September 30th, When Alonzo Chinn and John Davis "were fined respectively $10 and $15 for kicking up a disturbance at the Melodeon last night" the editor of the paper, Willard Richardson, couldn't help but admonish them with, "Expensive fun, gentlemen."

Later that year, on November 5th, the Daily News reported on the 'Fatherly Advice' offered a unnamed miscreant, but I suspect that the young man in question was a local boy of some respectable family. The police chiefs efforts of "moral suasion" suggests to me that a sound beating was inflicted upon the pistol-packing bacchanalian.
"It was yesterday reported to Capt. McCormick, Chief of Police, that a certain young man drew a loaded revolver in the Melodeon on Tuesday night last. It was not seen by any of the police, and he consequently escaped arrest. Chief Mack, however, accosted the young hopeful on the street yesterday, and took it upon himself to give him some fatherly advice. Mack evidently has a high appreciation of the beneficial effects of moral suasion, and so he gave the gay and festive habitue of the Melodeon a moral lecture that we trust will sink into the soil, take root and bring forth the fruits of repentence and reformation.

"From what we can learn about the matter the lecture of Chief Mack was very complete in itself, and it is necessary for us to add to it a peroration of our own; but we improve the occasion to inform the young man referred to that he stands on dangerous ground, and that if he is found in a public place with arms on his person after what has already transpired his pockets will be made to bleed and his tarnished reputation will be further soiled and blasted by his name being published and held up to public censure and scorn."

A week later, on November the 12th, editor Richardson really tore into the Melodeon, probably after having his fill of the constant reports of pie-eyed and pugilisticly inclined patrons. Sadly, though, his post-Civil War racial bias really is rather disquieting.

"The Melodeon.—This 'free-and-easy,' on Postoffice street, is nightly the rendezvous for all the filthy, foul-tongued and hell bound negro harlots in the city, and hardly a day passes that some of these disgusting excrescences upon the body politic are now arraigned before the [court] Recorder to answer the various charges that are preferred against them.

"We presume that the Melodeon is a licensed institution, and that its proprietors have a perfect right under the law to 'run their machine' in any manner they see proper so the laws are not transgressed. But this mingling together of the white and black races on the same floor, as is nightly seen there, is too near social equality for our sanction or justification. We maintain that it should not be tolerated. Similar free shows are run and supported in other cities, but we have never before heard of negro women forming a part of the audience. We regard this portion of the arrangement as a nuisance; are we not right?"

In the next days issue, Richardson again reports the doings at the saloon in his usual succinct manner, that one H. Schulzenger was "charged with being drunk and disorderly at the Melodeon last night. The evidence was insufficient to a conviction, and the case was dismissed without cost." But, he couldn't let the dive-bar off without a darkly humorous poke; "The Melodeon rarely fails to furnish us with an item."

Richardson continues to add his feelings to the November 18th report that "John Lynn was taken to the station and required to give bond for his appearance this morning to answer the charge of kicking up a muss in the irrepressable Melodeon." The next day, Mr. Lynn was fined $5.00 and court costs.

The last report I've found on the Melodeon comes from January 19, 1869 when William McMullen was fined five dollars and court costs for being drunk and disorderly at the Melodeon. Because of the lack of further reports on this dive, I can only guess that the joint was either out-of-business, or simply plying its trade under a new name. Its location on Postoffice Street foretells the infamous brothels and barrooms that lined the street early in the next century. But its exact location is a mystery to me at this time. Perhaps a thorough search of the city directories of those years may provide the locale.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A beer-jerker at the famous Melodeon

Part of the fun in doing these write-ups is the odd bits-and-pieces of history that I stumble across while looking for something else altogether.

A case in point:

H. Barttele, accused of using insulting and abusive language to Mrs. Hyre, a beer-jerker at the famous Melodeon, (a friend at our elbow suggests "infamous," but we are opposed to calling hard names) was discharged, and the case dismissed without costs. [Galveston Daily News, November 15, 1868]

Some things never change, do they?

I did a little further research into the Melodeon, but I honestly didn't expect to find much about the saloon. To my surprise, I found that maybe the bar deserved its disreputable reputation.

It seems that earlier that year, on January 21, 1868, young Mr. James Day had committed suicide by taking morphine. Day, aged 18, was a native of Canada, and a clown and female impersonator [!!] with the Haight & Chambers' Circus. At the time of his death he was employed by the Melodeon Concert Hall in Galveston.

In March of that year it was reported that the circus stock of Haight & Chambers’ Palace Show and Menagerie was sold off by order of the Houston court. All the saddles, harness, tents, assorted livestock, and even the trick horse "Stonewall" (which brought $250) were auctioned off. All told the stock brought just over $2,400.

I have read that Galveston was used as winter quarters for travelling circuses. It could be that this circus was wintering in Houston, and ran out of funds. If anyone knows about this subject, drop me a line.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Old Red on a 1905 Victorian Postcard

Here's a nice early postcard of Old Red, also known as the University of Texas Medical College Building, with construction begun in 1890 under supervision of architect Nicholas J. Clayton. This view actually dates from before the 1900 Storm, showing the central cupola and a conical roof-cap on the visible wing, both of which were damaged in the hurricane, and removed. (See below for post-storm postcard view.)

This so-called 'Undivided Back Postcard' from 1901-1907, was postmarked June 24, 1905 in Galveston, routed through New York City, and arriving at its destination in Bergen, Norway on July 6. The card was published for Ferdinand Ohlendorf, a bookseller in Galveston, by the Tom Jones Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Ohlendorf's bookstore, which also sold stationery, fountain pens, pencils, students note books, magazines, newspapers and of course, postcards, was located at 2015 Market Street.

Ohlendorf was born in Hanover, Germany on October 11, 1862, and died in Galveston on August 31, 1953, almost 91 years old. He married Fredirike Kobrock in Galveston on January 22, 1888. She was born in 1863, probably in Germany, and died in Galveston on November 16, 1946.

This postcard shows the Medical College after the 1900 Storm with the reconstructed roof.  The damage to the roof of Old Red allowed for the addition of sky lights, which had always been wanted for the dissection room.