Billy Sunday has been downtown preaching for the past couple of days, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed,” I began, pausing for the dismissive mumbling and laughter to clear the room. “Indeed, the aptly named Mr. Sunday has come to town to save your wretched souls…at least that’s what he says. Mr. Sunday has a bit of what you might call a colored past.
That is until he started preaching salvation for 25 cents a head. So, I’m sure that when we were closed yesterday, you spent your time away from the factory listening to the good preacher, right?” Of course, I knew, hoped even, that this wasn’t the case. The Latins weren’t church-going people. The Italians, after all, held their fraternal club meetings on Sundays at 10 A.M.
“The only church I saw was in the shape of a baseball diamond,” shouted one of the workers to the amusement of everyone within earshot. “Babe Ruth almost knocked Mr. Sunday in the head with the home run he hit yesterday!” I flipped to the sports page and read aloud: “‘It was certainly the longest run ever hit here as it struck the far edge of the racetrack at Plant Field, inside the playing field. A crowd of more than 4,000 saw the Sox nail the Giants to the wall.’” This brought unrest to the workroom, as everyone who had witnessed the fete leaned over to share the word with any of their co-workers who hadn’t.
“I was there. Believe me, it almost ended up in the Hillsborough River,” said one of the men, standing up to testify before the cigar-rolling congregation.
Apparently, baseball is the only religion these men need. With the Great War all but over, the Germans defeated, and Woodrow Wilson still trying to hammer out a peace treaty that the French could live with, baseball continued to sustain them. The Cuesta Rey factory team is on track to win the Cigar City League championship this season, and with the exhibition games between the Giants and the Sox, it’s been like a holiday around here. The factories have been closing early so the workers can see the games, and the streetcar over to Tampa from Ybor City has been overflowing. Everyone’s excited to have big-time players in tiny Tampa.
“The other story I thought you might be interested in concerns free beer,” I shout. Everyone in the factory responds by falling utterly silent for a fraction of a second before erupting into cheers, this time even louder than before, which draws nervous attention from the foreman. I’ve got to rein it and settle them down, but the story is too much fun.
Amid the gleeful chatter, I read the headline loudly, “‘River of Beer, Running Out of Sewer, Dipped Up by Kids and Sold for a Nickel Per Drink!’” At this point, all work has officially stopped, the men are grinning from ear to ear, and even the foreman has moved closer to my lectern as I continue to read from the Tampa Tribune, “‘Sounds like a dream of long ago. But it is true, and the mere fact that the glorious amber and sudsy fluid had run through the sewer from the Florida Brewing Company before it was gathered up didn’t seem to make any difference!’” With the prohibition on, I had to read this story when I saw it in the paper early this morning. I explain briefly: “The Internal Revenue Collector ordered the brewery to dump its remaining inventory. According to the article, eight vats were disposed of, each containing an average of 90 barrels worth of beer. The article says, “‘The spigot on the first vat was opened Friday morning, and the beer flow has been nearly continuous since then, where it has been flushed with water hoses into the sewer. Yesterday, dozens of kids gathered to slosh around in the torrent of beer, where they scooped it into buckets and empty soup cans and attempted to peddle it to passersby on the street!’”
“A river of Beer!” Exclaimed one worker, laughing. “My prayers have finally been answered!” answered!”
CIGAR CITY MAGAZINE- MARCH/APRIL 2008
Art & Photography Contributors: Hillsborough County Public Library, Tampa Bay History Center, The Florida State Archives, The Tampa Tribune/Tampa Bay Times, University of South Florida Department of Special Collections, Ybor City Museum Society, private collections and/or writer.
Manny Leto is the Executive Director for the Preserve the 'Burg in St. Petersburg, Florida. He also worked as Director of Community Outreach for the Ybor City Museum Society, then became the managing editor of Cigar City Magazine and Director of Marketing for 15 years with the Tampa Bay History Center.
FOLLOW CIGAR CITY MAGAZINE