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Bust-Head Whiskey

 Artwork : This photo is in the public domain.
Artwork : This photo is in the public domain.

For two days the quiet of the Rising Sun Tavern, in the quaint little town of Shearsville, Ohio, was disturbed by a drunken Democratic member of the Pennsylvania Legislature, who visited the town in order to address what he hoped would turn out to be the assembled multitude of copperheads, but which proved after all no great snakes!

For two days this worthless vagabond insulted travelers stopping at the tavern, until at last the landlord’s wife, a woman of some intelligence, determined to have her revenge, since no man on the premises had pluck enough to give the sot the thrashing he so well merited.

On the third day, after a very severe night’s carouse on bust-head whiskey, the Pennsylvanian appeared at the breakfast table, looking sadly the worse for wear, and having an awful headache. The landlady having previously removed the only looking glass in the tavern — one hanging in the barroom — said to the beast as he sat down to table:

“Poor man! oh, what is the matter with your face? It is terribly swollen, and your whole head too. Can’t I do something for you? send for the doctor, or — ”

The legislator, who was in a state of half-besottedness, listened with sharp ears to this remark, but believing the landlady was only making fun of him, interrupted her with —

“There ain’t nothin’ the matter with my head. I’m all right; only a little headache what don’t ’mount to nothing.”

But a man who sat opposite to him at table, and who had his clue from the landlady, said with an alarmed look —

“I say, mister, I don’t know it’s any of my business, but I’ll be hanged for a horse thief, if your head ain’t swelled up twice its natural size. You’d better do something for it, I’m thinking.”

The drunken legislator! (Legislator, n. One who makes laws for a state: vide dictionary) believing at last that his face must in fact be swollen, since several other travelers, who were in the plot, also spoke to him of his shocking appearance, got up from the table and went out to the barroom to consult the looking glass, such luxuries not being placed in the chambers. But there was no glass there. After some time he found the landlady, and she told him that the barroom glass was broken, but she could lend him a small one; which she at once gave him.

The poor sot, with trembling hand, held it in front of his face, and looked in.

“Well,” said he, “if that ain’t a swelled head I hope I may never be a senator! or sell my vote again at Harrisburg.”

“Poor man!” exclaimed the bystanders.

“Fellers,” said the legislator, “what d’ye think I’d better do?” Here he gave another hard look in the glass. “I ought to be back in Harrisburg right off, but I cant go with a head like that onto me. Nobody’d give me ten cents to vote for ’em with such a head as that. It’s a — ”

“Big thing,” interrupted a bystander.

“Fellers,” said the blackguard, “I’ll kill a feller any day of the week, with old rye, if he’ll only tell er feller how to cure this head of mine.”

“Have it shaved, sir, by all means,” spoke the landlady: “shaved at once, and then a mild fly blister will draw out the inflammation, and the swelling will go down. Don’t you think so, doctor?”

The doctor thus addressed was a cow doctor, but, accustomed to attending brutes, his advice was worth something in the present case; so he also recommended shaving and blistering.

“I’ll go git the barber right off the reel, shan’t I?” asked the doctor, to which the legislator assenting, it chanced that in fifteen minutes his head was as bald as a billiard ball, and in a few more was covered with a good-sized fly blister.

“Ouch — good woman — how it hurts!” he cried. But that was only the beginning of it.

“Ee-ea-ah!” he roared, as it grew hotter and hotter. One might have heard him a mile. The neighbors did hear it, and rushed in. The joke was “contaminated” round among them, and they enjoyed it. He had disgusted them all.

“Golly! what a big head!” cried a bystander.

The legislator took another look at the glass. They held it about a yard from him.

“It’s gittin’ smaller, ain’t it?” he groaned.

“Yes, it’s wiltin’,” said the landlady. “Now go to bed.”

He went, and on rising departed. Whether he ever became an honest man is not known, but the legend says he has from that day avoided “bust-head whiskey.”

Don’t you see it, reader? The landlady had shown him his face in a convex mirror — one of those old-fashioned things, which may occasionally be found in country taverns.


Continental Monthly, April , 1864

The eyes of , April , 1864

The Continental Monthly was a magazine devoted to literature and national policy, published in the North during much of the American Civil War. It began with the January 1862 issue and ceased publication with the December 1864 issue. You can find some of its issues in text-based formats at Project Gutenberg, and page images at the Cornell archive. This story was found in the April 1864 issue, which can be found here.


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