After the Civil War, in Nevada Territory in 1868, a newspaper office was inundated with Christmas presents, of the (mostly) alcoholic kind. Or was it?
That is the premise of a Christmas Day editorial that year in the Gold Hill Evening News – the “gold in them there hills” days in old Nevada. The editor, in a slightly dissociated tone that features periodically in American comedy since the 1800s, mused on the riches sent by town merchants and personages like Captain Vesey.
Below you see the journal’s headquarters, the editor surely among the suited group shown (source: Special Collections of the University of Nevada, Reno).
Captain Vesey, a “truly pleasant friend and philosopher”, made the editor a present of Tom & Jerry, a gallon no less. This venerable American mixture is a kind of heated milk punch, or warmed egg nog. So good was it the newsman thought himself “Jeremiah” – Jerry Thomas that is, who made an éclat in the decade with his bartending arts.
To enjoy the regale and provide musical accompaniment, musicians were called in, who drank the Tom & Jerry with the editor:
It had a truly magical effect on the musical notes, for we imagined they played “Biagen on the Rhine,” Edinborough Town,” “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” “Hail Columbia,” “Dixie,” etc. The Band enjoyed it, and so did we—that is, the Tom and Jerry—as also the music—the occasion being one of rejoicing, of adoration, of general admiration of “all the world and the rest of mankind.” Another pitcher of delicious egg-nogg came from the Bank Exchange, with the compliments of Mr. Ferguson and his polite attaches. Then came half a dozen bottles of superior old Bourbon, sherry, cognac, etc., from the family grocery of Stern & Son; after which followed a pitcher of foaming egg-nogg from the Express Saloon, kept by Messrs. Hay & Ross. Mr. Geo. Stockle (he who makes gentlemen’s hoots which last two years, constant wear) smilingly invaded our sanctum and presented us with a “Dutch Turkey”, a most acceptable dish for anybody from “Faderland”.
This Dutch Turkey was probably from the repertoire of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, “Faderland” in this case probably referencing accurately the German origins of this American sub-ethnicity (a Yankeefied “Deutsch”).
George Frederick, founder as I wrote earlier of the Manhattan-based Gourmet Society (1930s-1960s), wrote the Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book. It sets out a recipe for Dutch Turkey Scallop.
Sometimes scalloped turkey was eaten in sandwiches and termed Dutch Turkey Barbecue, although it is not a true barbeque.
And so went the festivities, related in a spaced-out fashion that brings to mind modern comedians like Bob Newhart, Tommy Smothers, Steve Martin, Aubrey Plaza, or Sarah Silverman. Americana is remarkably consistent, despite the multiple generations elapsed and many changes in society since the gold rush times.*
At the end of his account, we learn the editor has awoken from a dream whence his tale told. This makes me think the whole thing was made up, perhaps to lampoon upstanding citizens in town, perhaps to chasten a few for not making seasonal tribute to the Fourth Estate.
If it did all happen the way told – so the dream just a jape at a post-libations snooze – the episode can be viewed as a kind of brewery or distillery tour. I related examples earlier of journalistic treks though a brewery or distillery, a kind of junket that endures in reduced form to our present time and media.
With the difference though, for our editor, that the products came to him, the reverse of the usual procedure. Whatever degree of reality attended the proceedings related, it seems doubtful any music sounded through the brick structure, the drinks providing a music of their own.**
But for readers of my notes today, it may interest to hear a song mentioned in the account. YouTube provides a stirring example, Tennessee Ernie Ford’s rendition of the English folk march, The Girl I Left Behind Me.
That will help evoke the time when a weary citizenry, building its quarter in a remote patch of the nation, was offered down-time in the daily paper.
The gold rush is long gone, tapped out by the 1890s. The Gold Hill News and its editor, long gone. Captain Vesey, bootmaker Stockle, grocer Stern. All gone.
But we are here to read and think of their days, or I do.
N.B. I add in the Comments a link to a Twitter thread where David Wondrich, the cocktails historian, adds further interesting information.
*Speaking of Nevada, journalism, and humor, the name Mark Twain cannot be omitted. As far as I know though, he had no connection to the Gold Hill News.
**See my Comment added below.