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"Ten Nights in a Barroom"

Published November 24. 2012 09:02AM

(Editor's Note: Bob Urban, weekly contributor to the Back Again column, is out buying a Christmas tree this weekend. Pinch hitting in his absense is Summit Hill native Bruce Frassinelli, a 1957 graduate of Summit Hill High School and an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College.)


Nearly seven decades ago, in 1943, a former English teacher in the Stroudsburg School District died, but a curious provision in his will has assured that his legacy will live on.

Samuel M. Schoonover, a temperance leader, set up a $25,000 trust honoring his mother and guaranteeing an annual grant to the school district and community he loved.

Curiously, the school district didn't learn of the bequest until 1952, nearly 10 years after Schoonover died. Although the district was to receive the profits of the trust - about $1,200 to $1,500 a year - there was a catch: "It is my desire," reads Schoonover's will, "and the school board is hereby directed to buy 10 copies of 'Ten Nights in a Barroom.' This is the first purchase from the Susan Rouse Schoonover Fund. Ten copies are to be permanently kept in good condition for the use of all Stroudsburg pupils to read."

The fictional novel was hardly on the 'Top 10" list of 1952. The board found out that the book had been out of print since 1908. The school library had one copy. Where would school officials find the rest?

The district's plight caught the attention of The Associated Press and United Press International news services. Time and Life magazines did feature articles, and then-Superintendent of Schools Earl Groner made numerous speaking appearances to curious groups .

School officials received more than 1,000 responses to its search. Some people misinterpreted the Life story and thought that the district would come into $25,000 if it came up with the 10 copies. Some reasoned, therefore, that the district should be willing to pay $2,500 for each copy. The district received 70 copies of the book from interested and community-minded people free of charge

There are still at least 10 copies in the library, but just one is kept in the stacks, with the others tucked away for safe-keeping. There is not much demand for the book; in some years, no one asks to borrow it.

The Schoonover will stipulated that the income from the $25,000 trust be used for 'books of reference, science apparatus and any other such educational purpose as are not usually ordinarily provided for by the regular funds in school districts the size of Stroudsburg."

The fund has grown to about $45,000, with about $8,000 available for eligible purchases.

Author Timothy Shay Arthur was a strong temperance advocate. 'Ten Nights" was published in 1855, sold thousands of paper-bound copies making it a successful 'dime novel." In fact, next to 'Uncle Tom's Cabin," it was the biggest-selling novel of that era.

Later, "Ten Nights" became a melodrama performed by acting troupes of the day. The book set a whole nation singing, "Father, dear father, come home with me now." The line comes from the lips of a fragile child coming to take her alcoholic father home from the Sickle and Sheaf saloon.

The book contains cover-to-cover moralizing about the evils of alcohol. It recounts the story of a good, hard-working man, Simon Slade, who opens a saloon. The story is told through the eyes of a traveling businessman who returns several times during a period of years to Slade's saloon.

He sees the moral decay and how it reaches out to pull down Slade, Slade's teen-age son and some of the saloon's regulars. The climax comes when the 10-year-old daughter appears at the barroom door for her drunken father. Slade, who becomes furious when the father, torn between his love for his daughter and his love for booze, chooses the "demon rum." In a rage, Slade flings a glass at the drunkard, but the glass misses its mark and, instead, strikes and kills the young girl.

The disconsolate father mends his immoral ways, Slade closes the saloon, and the incident is a catalyst which leads the citizenry of the mythical town of Cedarville to enact prohibition.

"Ten Nights" is credited with being one of the books which proponents used to help enact the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Prohibition) in 1919. The amendment was repealed in 1933 when Prohibition was branded as unworkable and unenforceable.

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