Strange Times 67: Snakes Honored at Dinner

Today we have a plea for fish, a dinner for snakes, and potatoes hurled at a wall. Cast a wide net for…

March 8, 1921

  • Four are killed and hundreds are arrested in Italy after Communists open fire on a Fascist demonstration and the Fascists shoot back.

  • Despite rumors that Caruso is feverish, short of breath, and in great pain, his physicians continue to insist the tenor has not suffered a setback.

  • The Weather: Cloudy today; Wednesday showers; fresh southeast and south winds.

I've read this three times and still do not understand the closing anecdote about frozen fish still being alive. Is that supposed to make me want to buy fish?

Tomorrow is to be National Fish Day, when everybody is urged to eat at least one meal of fish instead of meat. By so doing it is expected that a drop in the price of food will result, and the people will see the benefits of eating more fish. At a meeting of housewives held in the City Hall yesterday Mrs. Louis Reed Welzmiller, Deputy Commissioner of Markets, and Dr. Copeland, Health Commissioner, told of the good that may be derived from making fish more prominent on their menus.

Dr. Copeland said that 765,000 pounds of fish were condemned by the Health Department last year because the people had refused to buy in sufficient quantities.

"About 1,500,000,000 pounds of fish are marketed annually in this country," he said, "including shellfish, and the city consumes 48,000,000 pounds. The per capita consumption in the country is thirteen pounds, but in New York City only eight. This should be multiplied by at least five.

"Many people will not eat fish because they fear ptomaine poisoning, yet there is no more danger of poisoning from fish than from any other food, providing there has been proper care and cleanliness in the handling of it. There is a prejudice against cold storage fish. I have seen frozen fish, when chopped out, swim away. An increased consumption in fish would mean a decrease in prices."

Perhaps the firmest connection between the 1920s newspaper and modern media is that the editors of the old-school Times are suckers for a weird animal story. 

Snakes and lizards which crawled about the tables last night in the Cafe Boulevard at the annual dinner of the Reptile Study Society were of more interest to the guests than the food and the speakers, who eulogized the tempter of Adam and Eve. Young girls and sweet-faced old ladies handled the crawling things and debated as to which had "the softest and loveliest feel" to the arms and throat.

One whole family from snakedom was there—mother, father and five little snakelets no bigger than worms which boys use to go fishing. There were lizards which seemed to have two heads and could run just as fast forward as backwards, boa constrictors, rattlesnakes, water snakes, black snakes, copperheads, and almost every variety one could wish.

Arthur L. Gillam of Flushing, who it was said had captured more than one hundred rattlesnakes and as many copperheads last Summer within one hundred miles of the City Hall, demonstrated the proper way to capture venomous serpents alive without danger to the hunter or injury to the captives. The way to do it was not made clear enough for a novice to attempt, but the expert members of the society agree that there was no danger. 

It says a lot about the 1921 Times that a police precinct's claim that it had no idea which of its three officers were blind drunk and hurling potatoes at a local chophouse is greeted with no skepticism whatsoever. I will be happily shocked if charges are ever filed.

J. Henry Smythe Jr., publisher of children's books and connected prominently with many civic movements, spent several hours in the East Thirty-fifth Street Police Station last night trying to identify three drunken policemen, one of whom attacked him early yesterday after the three had terrorized the neighborhood of Forty-second Street and Third Avenue. He, a waiter in a restaurant where the three men created a disturbance and where one of them dropped his pistol, and the chauffeur of a taxicab which carried the three away after one of them had made a pillow of his coat and stretched himself prone on the sidewalk in Third Avenue, all failed in their efforts at identification.

Inspector Thomas Underhill is investigating the affair, and Mr. Smythe said early this morning that it was up to the Police Department. He felt confident that the three could be identified by the department's own investigators.

Mr. Smythe was returning to his home, at the National Republican Club, he said, when the three staggered out of the Blue Point Oyster and Chop House, 161 East Forty-second Street. He learned that in the course of the altercation inside one of them had hurled a dish of potatoes at a waiter's head. They were in uniform, but carried no clubs, apparently just having come off a tour. 

The men's behavior was so conspicuous that Mr. Smythe joined the crowd which trailed them across Forty-second Street. As they reached the south side of the street one of them whirled upon the curious followers, seized Mr. Smythe and, drawing back his fist, exclaimed:

"Who are you, an inspector?"

The policeman seemed about to strike him when he had denied any connection with the department, Mr. Smythe said. He feared the effects of a blow from a recklessly drunken man, as he wore glasses, and shouted a warning to the policeman. Then, taking advantage of the instant in which the policeman relaxed his grasp, Mr. Smythe twisted away and hurried through the crowd to the Hotel Commodore. There he telephoned to Police Headquarters and was connected with the East Thirty-fifth Street station, at least one of the policemen having worn the numerals of that precinct. It was almost a half hour before the Lieutenant on desk duty there was about to get a Sergeant to the spot to investigate, Mr. Smythe said, and meantime the three had departed. 

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