Social History for Every Classroom


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Cartoons Offer Two Perspectives on the Neighborhood Saloon

Death and dissolution are the predicted outcome in this 1874 Harper's Weekly cartoon as a grinning death's head dispenses "the demon rum" while patrons brawl in the back room and horrified innocents look on. While alcoholism posed a serious health threat to the Irish immigrant community, the neighborhood saloon also played a more benign role, as the altered version at right suggests. As even unsympathetic observers like reformer Charles Loring Brace admitted, in the saloon a poor immigrant could find "jolly companions, a lighted and warmed room, a newspaper, and, above all, a draught which… [can] drive care and labor and the thought of his burdens and annoyances far away."

Source | "Bar of Destruction," wood engraving, Harper's Weekly, 21 March 1874. Second panel has been altered by ASHP/CML. Brace quoted in Tyler Anbinder, Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum, (New York: Free Press, 2001), 194.
Creator | Unknown
Item Type | Cartoon
Cite This document | Unknown, “Cartoons Offer Two Perspectives on the Neighborhood Saloon,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 28, 2023,

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