Thursday, August 18, 2011

“Fatty” Squires and his Cartoon Saloon

“Fatty” Squires and his Cartoon Saloon by Alan Borer

We are used to seeing cartoons and comics advertising products. Snoopy sells insurance. Popeye hawks spinach. Bart Simpson is a spokesman for Butterfingers candy bars. Some cartoon ads are genuinely funny, some are embarrassing; some are original, some bring to mind the adage that “too much is never enough.”

Once upon a time there was a saloonkeeper in Toledo named Oliver H. Squires, although he was universally known as “Fatty.” In an effort to increase his customer base, he used cartoons (today we would call them “comics” as this was long before the animated cartoon) to lure the curious who came to view his art collection. A clever idea, but Squires crossed the line on what kind of cartoons he displayed. And what happened to Fatty Squires may explain why SpongeBob Squarepants is never seen drinking beer, or why Garfield the Cat never smokes cigars.

Oliver Squires was born around 1837 in Indiana. In 1860 he was living in a boarding house in Lafayette, Indiana, working as a carpenter. He may be the Oliver H. Squires who did a short term of duty in the 109th Indiana during the Civil War. How he came to live in Toledo is unknown. We also don’t know why he was called “Fatty,” although we can guess.

Like many saloon keepers of the era, Squires lived on the premises of his Toledo establishment. In 1880, Squires was listed as the saloonkeeper; also on the premises were Edward Black, bar keeper, Billie Hostler, a cook, and Alex Rex, porter. The saloon at that time was listed in the census as being on Summit Street, nestled in a neighborhood of small tradesmen, clerks, journalists, and the like. Saloons were notorious for being hotbeds for petty crimes. Prostitution, assault, drunk and disorderly, and sanitation offenses were commonplace.

When Fatty went into the saloon business, around 1876, he attempted to run a “tastefully furnished” establishment. There is no record of how he came up with the idea of using “cartoons” as a draw for customers, but there is no question that it was a selling point. A contemporary Toledo guidebook described Fatty’s saloon thusly:

While his patrons pay close attention in sampling the quality of his goods, not a little comment is excited by his gallery of cartoons, furnished by Thompson, the eminent artist….

And in an advertisement,

Who’s got more fun on his walls
Than is found at any plays or balls,
And treateth well whoever calls

Then when you’ve got an hour to spare,
To FATTY’S Cartoon Show repair,
And best of all men you’ll declare

Perhaps not the best verse Toledo has rendered, but it found its mark.

Squires was drawing enough customers that in 1878 he relocated to Cherry Street. Now calling his business the “Oliver H. ‘Fatty’ Squires Cartoon Saloon,” he went on selling beer and showing comic drawings until nearly the end of 1881. On that fateful date, Fatty was arrested for possessing fifteen “obscene” pictures. The prosecutor in the case had “tender feelings,” and did not want to upset the grand jurors by showing the pictorial evidence. Two of the pictures were described, but not shown. Apparently, some of the cartoons were definitely adult.

Fatty Squires pleaded guilty on December 23, 1881, and was fined $50 with the understanding that he would destroy the lewd cartoons. Squires was put in “protective custody” in May of 1882 for unknown reasons, and was arrested several more times before going out of business by the end of 1883.

We cannot judge Fatty Squires by his pictures, which do not survive. The only illustration that survives related to his cartoon saloon may be the advertising card shown. It shows what was very much a part of 19th century saloon keeping: a drunk or ne’er-do-well being tossed out the door. Fatty Squires likely knew this scene intimately.

No comments:

Post a Comment