The Striped Pig: Boston Liquor Folklore

striped pigI have an original copy of an obscure centennial celebration publication that was printed in honor of what is now the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston, MA.  Originally Hyde Park was its own town, first settled in 1856 and incorporated in 1868. It joined or shall I say was absorbed by Boston in 1912.

The 65 page 1968 publication does not give credit to any of the authors of the articles, only recognition of the centennial committee is given. Future Mayor of the city of Boston, the late Thomas Menino, is in one of the photographs of committee workers. Odd that they spelled is last name incorrectly.

As 2018 is the 150th centennial of the founding of Hyde Park, nostalgia of my former neighborhood had me reading through the old publication.  In it I found a quarter page piece written about the origin of “The Striped Pig” tale. I googled “The Striped Pig” and found a number of references to its supposed origin as well as bars and a distillery so named.

I have no idea who wrote this particular piece or if it was lifted from some other earlier publication. For the sake of old folklore I am adding this article to give a nod to my home town and to supplement the mention of “The Striped Pig” found on Google. Here it is in its entirety, as exactly printed in 1968:

“Upon The High Road”…THE STRIPED PIG

In all the wealth of yarns about Hyde Park’s adventurous, imaginative past, none shows more clearly the poignancy and flavor of American life in the early days than the story of “The Striped Pig.”

The incident is place by reputable historians in a Readville setting on the broad plains between the Neponset River and the tracks of the Old Boston and Providence Railroad. “The Striped Pig” is one of the most talked of episodes in the long and troubled record of the sale and serving of alcoholic beverages in America (as many persons in the liquor trade today will testify). It gave rise to legal controversies and arguments all over the land, and there are many collectors of antique curios who insisted that this was the original inspiration for the subsequently popular piggy bank. The man responsible for “The Striped Pig” remains unknown to posterity. Some say he was an itinerant Connecticut Yankee.

The time was September 11, 1838, when Readville as a remote village outpost of the thriving town of Dedham. A muster was being held there by militia men from a wide area, and apparently it was a gala event for the early chronicles say it had all the characteristics of a carnival.

The Massachusetts General Court had previously passed a law which prohibited the public sale of spirituous liquor in quantities less than 15 gallons, so here, on a late summer day on the sunbaked plains of old Readville, had gathered several thousand stalwart American war veterans, militia men and their friends with nothing but water, to wet their whistles. They could not buy a drink, they could not buy a pint, they could not buy a gallon.

Since very early morning the crowds had been passing, with scant notice, a tent with a sign outside portraying a huge pig of the common, farm yard variety except that it sported a full set of zebra-like black stripes. The price of admission to see this curious beast was around six cents, which might be worth forty cents today.  It took the soldiers some little time to realize what an interesting animal this was, but, when the word got around, the line formed on the right and on the left, too, for the solicitous exhibit of the Bengal hog was handout, free of charge to his paying spectators, an optical stimulant of old New England rum, the better to see the interesting spectacle.

“The Striped Pig” captured the fancy of the whole nation, and it brought down bitter denunciation of the temperance folks. Later, the head bartender of New York’s famous Hotel Astor invented a drink in honor of the local porker. The contemporary theatre exploited the episode for years. A Boston song writer, Thomas Power, gained wide recognition with a tune on the subject which accompanied the following lines: (in part)

“In Dedham now there is a great muster

Which gathers the people all up in a cluster;

A terrible time, and what do you think

They’ve found a new way to get something to drink.

A Yankee came in with the real nutmeg brand,

Who has sold wooden clocks throughout all the land,

And he it on a plan a little bit slicker

By which he could furnish the soldiers with liquor.

They would not allow him to sell by the mug

Unless he could furnish a fifty-gallon jug.

And as folks wouldn’t drink in a measure so big, 

He got out a license to show a “striped pig.”

I raise a glass to those who drank before us and to those who preserved the history of the early days of Hyde Park, Massachusetts.

If you are interested in more about Boston and liquor, there is a great book well worth reading by Stephanie Schorow called Drinking Boston.




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