Bar Room Floor

I am not what you would consider a well traveled person. Other than several visits to Virginia, I had never been out of the state of North Carolina when I graduated from high school in 1950 except one visit to New York City right before graduation. I remember very well cashing in War Bonds ( U.S. Savings Bonds) so I could make that trip with the journalism classes from Hugh Morson and Needham Broughton high schools in Raleigh. To top it off, I had to go and fall in love for the first time on that trip, so my memories of events are clouded to say the least.

For some reason, I became fixated on the state of Florida while in high school and used to pester my mother to let me travel to that exotic land pictured in many of the magazines of the day like Collier's, Saturday Evening Post and Life. She kept saying maybe I would get to visit Florida someday and that I should be patient. Man, is being patient for a teenager hard to do or what? The irony of this story is that I lived in the state of Florida for 3 years after I went into the service in 1951.

I did get to travel a little after I went into the Air Force. I visited Iceland, England, Newfoundland, the Azores, and French Morocco. I will never forget the choice I had to make while stationed in England on temporary duty. I could visit Copenhagen for 3 days at my own expense or I could visit Casablanca for 2 weeks at military expense. I chose Casablanca and the first night I was at the Air Force Base near Casablanca, there were civil disturbances and the city was declared "off limits" for military personnel. For once in my life I bucked authority and went into town anyway and, fortunately, didn't get into any trouble. I wasn't going to travel that far and not even see the place if it meant that I would have to serve some time in the stockade. All the while, I was thinking of how nice it would have been in Copenhagen.

I did see a couple of U.S. cities early in my service tenure. My basic training was at Lackland AFB which is just outside San Antonio and after 4 weeks, they let us go into town for the weekend. I remember that weekend well because I had my first beer and I liked it. Later I went to Denver, Colorado for advanced training but had t wait for 4 weeks for a space to open up in the school to which I was assigned and when I was finally admitted, I was on C shift which meant I attended class from 6 p.m. to midnight. That took care of any night life I might have had in mind.

I did take a trip one Sunday from Denver to Central City, Colorado which stands out from all my other travels. Central City was a bustling mining town at the turn of the century but in the early 50's and even today, it is more of a tourist attraction than any thing else. Near the heart of town was a bar/saloon named the Toller House and inside encased in glass on the floor is " The Face On The Barroom Floor."

Now I would like to be able to tell you that the legend associated with the picture is true but that would make me an untruthful person. Sometimes, I wish I wasn't so inquisitive. I might enjoy life more but I have no real complaints.

"The Face On The Barroom Floor" is supposed to have been written by Hugh Antoine D'Arcy but most people feel it was written by Robert Service under a pen name. If true, why he did this is not known. Mr. Service did not live during the era associated with the picture and I doubt he ever visited Central City, Colorado. The story goes that a gentleman was hired to help establish a historical society and he had a violent disagreement with the principal benefactor of this endeavor. As he was leaving the hotel where they had their disagreement, the bellhop who had overheard the argument said to the gentleman, " You know you're going to be fired, don't you?" The two proceeded to have a few drinks together and decided a good trick to play on everybody would be to sneak into the building and draw the picture on the floor. That picture later became the inspiration for the poem "The Face On The Barroom Floor." In keeping with my effort to make as many of my articles sports related as I can, let me point out that the picture is supposed to have been drawn with chalk used to post the baseball scores according to the poem. I doubt that any poster of scores would have had as many different colors as are represented in the drawing.

It's a good poem though even if I generally don't like very many poems. I have more difficulty than most understanding what the authors are trying to say. I feel like I understand TFOTBF.

I am posting the poem in it's entirety for those who might have encountered it somewhere along the way and also for those who may not be familiar with it. If you like this kind of thing, you might also enjoy a poem named, "The Creation of Sam McGee." I had a friend once who loved nothing better than to get half snockered and recite that poem flawlessly at parties even though he might be having difficulty navigating around the room.



The Face on the Barroom Floor

By Hugh Antoine D'Arcy

'Twas a balmy summer evening, and a goodly crowd was there, Which well-nigh filled Joe's barroom, on the corner of the square; And as songs and witty stories came through the open door, A vagabond crept slowly in and posed upon the floor.

"Where did it come from?" someone said." The wind has blown it in" "What does it want?" another cried. "Some whiskey, rum or gin?" "Here, Toby, sic 'em, if your stomach's equal to the work -- I wouldn't touch him with a fork, he's filthy as a Turk."

This badinage the poor wretch took with stoical good grace; In fact, he smiled as tho' he thought he'd struck the proper place "Come, boys, I know there's kindly hearts among so good a crowd -- To be in such good company would make a deacon proud.

"Give me a drink, that's what I want - I'm out of funds, you know, When I had cash to treat the gang this hand was never slow. What? You laugh as if you thought this pocket never held a sou; I once was fixed as well, my boys, as any one of you.

"There, thanks, that's braced me nicely; God bless you one and all; Next time I pass this good saloon I'll make another call. Give you a song? No, I can't do that; my singing days are past; My voice is cracked, my throat's worn out, and my lungs are going fast.

"I'll tell you a funny story, and a fact, I promise, too. Say! Give me another whiskey, and I'll tell what I'll do -- That I was ever a decent man not one of you would think; But I was, some four or five years back. Say, give me another drink.

"Fill her up, Joe, I want to put some life into my frame -- Such little drinks to a bum like me are miserably tame; Five fingers -- there, that's the scheme -- and corking whiskey, too. Well, here's luck, boys, and landlord, my best regards to you.

"You've treated me pretty kindly and I'd like to tell you how I came to be the dirty sot you see before you now. As I told you, once I was a man, with muscle, frame, and health, And but for a blunder ought to have made considerable wealth.

"I was a painter -- not one that daubed on bricks and wood, But an artist, and for my age, was rated pretty good. I worked hard at my canvas, and was bidding fair to rise, For gradually I saw the star of fame before my eyes.

"I made a picture perhaps you've seen, 'tis called the `Chase of Fame.' It brought me fifteen hundred pounds and added to my name, And then I met a woman -- now comes the funny part -- With eyes that petrified my brain, and sunk into my heart.

"Why don't you laugh? 'Tis funny that the vagabond you see Could ever love a woman, and expect her love for me; But 'twas so, and for a month or two, her smiles were freely given, And when her loving lips touched mine, it carried me to Heaven.

"Boys, did you ever see a girl for whom your soul you'd give, With a form like the Milo Venus, too beautiful to live; With eyes that would beat the Koh-i-noor, and a wealth of chestnut hair? If so, 'twas she, for there never was another half so fair.

"I was working on a portrait, one afternoon in May, Of a fair-haired boy, a friend of mine, who lived across the way. And Madeline admired it, and much to my surprise, Said she'd like to know the man that had such dreamy eyes.

"It didn't take long to know him, and before the month had flown My friend had stole my darling, and I was left alone; And ere a year of misery had passed above my head, The jewel I had treasured so had tarnished and was dead.

"That's why I took to drink, boys. Why, I never see you smile, I thought you'd be amused, and laughing all the while. Why, what's the matter, friend? There's a tear-drop in you eye, Come, laugh like me. 'Tis only babes and women that should cry.

"Say, boys, if you give me just another whiskey I'll be glad, And I'll draw right here a picture of the face that drove me mad. Give me that piece of chalk with which you mark the baseball score -- You shall see the lovely Madeline upon the barroom floor."

Another drink, and with chalk in hand, the vagabond began To sketch a face that well might buy the soul of any man. Then, as he placed another lock upon the shapely head, With a fearful shriek, he leaped and fell across the picture -- dead.