Boomers and Busybodies

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/May 30, 1911

From some bilious fellow comes a request that the following questions be embalmed in print:

  1. Has Superintendent Anderson of the Anti-Saloon League ever appeared before the Liquor License Board to protest against the reissue of a license? Has he ever offered evidence against an applicant?
  2. Did the said Anderson materially assist the Governor in his late investigation? If so, to what extent?
  3. Has the Anti-Saloon League materially benefited Baltimore in any way?
  4. Has any disreputable saloon ever been closed by its efforts? Name one.

Does the bilious one aforesaid think that these little questions dispose of Mr. Anderson? I think not. The aim of the Anti-Saloon League is not to improve the saloon, but to abolish the saloon. Any legislative or administrative process which would make every saloon in Baltimore a fit loafing place for retired clergymen and dear old ladies would at once make the league a hissing and a mocking and put it out of business. It has, as I understand the matter, undertaken to show, however absurdly, that all saloons are dens of iniquity, but it has certainly not undertaken to turn them into Sunday-schools. What it wants to do to to make the public believe that they must be dens of iniquity forever. or at least so long as they exist at all, and to convince the public, by that demonstration, that the only sensible and efficacious way to deal with them is to wipe them out altogether.

With Mr. Anderson I have no acquaintance, and with his jehad I have no sympathy whatever, but throughout his stay to our midst I have been constantly struck by his extraordinary skill as a dialectician. He has been denounced as a carpetbagger, wits have made jokes about him and all sorts of allegations have been made regarding his motives, but all fair men must admit that every time he has met his antagonists in a stand-up encounter he has made them look like children. Cool, well-informed and undismayed by abuse, he has delivered his rapier thrusts in a manner that must command the hourly applause of every connoisseur of controversy.

Mr. Anderson, I confess, has yet to convert me. Like most other Baltimoreans I am an opponent of prohibition in all its forms, and think that nine-tenths of its advocates are tedious windbags—virtuosi of virtue who would make the whole world as gray as their own lives—professional busy-bodies who believe, against all reason, that they alone know the way and the truth. But Mr. Anderson, though he may show something of this quality of a frenzied purifier, also shows the higher and rarer qualities of quick intelligence and superb self-possession. Being wrong, he easily out-generals and out-argues those who are right. What a killing he would make if he were on the other side!

Again, there is that direct steamship line to Cuba. The first ship was to have sailed on February 24, 1910, laden to the gunwales with Baltimore goods. Apparently there has been some delay.

Boston, like Baltimore, has its its boom and its boomers, but up there, it appears, not much reliance is placed in mass meetings of school children, dollar dinners, tournaments of windjamming and other such puerile wizardries. Instead, the Bostonians put up their hard cash and proceed to give a hospitable welcome to every fellow who happens along with a new industry that will benefit the town.

The boomers are not “publicity experts,” but bankers–such men as James J. Storrow, of the great firm of Lee, Higginson & Co.; Thomas P. Beal, president of the Second National Bank, and Russell G. Fessenden, president of the American Trust Company. These men of capital have incorporated themselves as the Industrial Development Company and propose to foster enterprise by extending credit to beginners. The capital of the company is $500,000, but only 10 per cent. will have to be paid up in cash. The balance will not be called for unless it is needed.

Here is the scheme in detail, as a Boston paper explains it:

The method of operation of the company will be to guarantee the notes of promising undertakings which are not in a position at first to obtain accommodation in the ordinary banking channels. The industrial development committee of the Chamber of Commerce, having investigated a new enterprise, and believing it meritorious, recommend it to the loan committee of the company. If this loan committee also finds the enterprise worthy, the Industrial Development Company will guarantee its paper in suitable amounts. While the company is not organized primarily to make money, the officers hope to make it self-supporting and if possible earn some return. The company will charge a commission for its services in guaranteeing notes and may also stipulate that a certain percentage of the profits earned by those helped shall be paid to the company for a limited number of years as a moderate return for the risks assumed and services rendered.

The trouble with this plan, of course, is that it gives no play to the imagination. Not a chance to make speeches! No room for the schoolchildren! What a dull and sordid town Boston must be!

Subscriptions to the fund for providing a special train to take the delegates to the Seeing-America-First Convention to New York over Sunday:

Cash . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . .10

A Boomer. . . . . . . . . . . . . .25

There are, in the world, 17 reasonably certain ways of making money—and 14 of them are beneath the dignity of a civilized man.

From “live wires” and “men of action” and “human dynamos,” good Lord, deliver us!

The following curious proverbs of the plain people are sent in by a student of folk-lore:

  • Lay low and shoot scattered.
  • Heaps sees, but few knows.
  • Kick at the moon if you land in a tree.

Why not a subway from the centre of the city to Peabody Heights and beyond? All that region between Twenty-fifth street and Belvidere Avenue is rapidly developing. In a dozen years it will have a population of 50,000 and within its bounds will be $25,000,000 worth of property. At present it is reached by but two cars, and both run, for the first full mile, north at Baltimore street, along very crowded streets. Baltimore, growing rapidly in area, and (counting the suburbs as part of the city) as steadily in population, must come to subways soon or late. Who will be the first to prepare a practicable plan?

No doubt the Baltimore of 1950 will have at least three main lines of subways—one running from Charles and Baltimore streets to Roland Park, another from end to end of Baltimore street, and the third from the City Hall, or thereabout, to what is now Walbrook, with, perhaps, a fourth running down Locust Point.


(Source: Mencken Society,


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