Friday, November 27, 2015

The Zombie

The successor restaurant to Finn’s Grill located at East Grove Street on the site now occupied by the Boston Tavern was the Zombie, established in 1941 and likely named for the cocktail invented in 1934 by Donn Beach.

Following 1939, “tiki culture” became popularized through the Golden Gate International Exposition and the New York World’s Fair, and exotic drinks such as zombies, mai tais and scorpions became the rage. The zombie which originally included various rums, fruit juice, cinnamon syrup and other ingredients featured in popular culture, most notably Fats Waller’s “Abercrombie Had a Zombie” (1941) which recounted the effects of the potent drink on a normally law-abiding man.

Abercrombie was so meek and quiet
Abercrombie was the tea room type
Oh you’d never think he’d start a riot
Then Abercrombie had a zombie.

Abercrombie never stole a hansom
Abercrombie never did a bum
Never thought of crawling through a transom
Then Abercrombie had a zombie, yes, yes.

He never passed a stop
He never sassed a cop
He never drove a car into the Astor Bar
He didn’t try to wade in the Aquacade …

But like that other famous sinner
Abercrombie met his Waterloo
He’s the man who never came to dinner
Cause Abercrombie had a zombie

Or was it two or was it three or four or five or six?

In a 1943 film Frances Dee mentioned the drink noting “I tried one once, but there was nothing dead about it.”

The Zombie operated for nearly a decade until fall 1950 when it remade itself into a new restaurant known as the Half-Way House. With the increase of post-war traffic bound for the Cape, the restaurant sought to capitalize on its location mid-way between Boston and the Cape resorts. Following a May 1954 fire, the Half-Way House was sold to Eugene Starvish who established Eugene’s restaurant.

[To prevent competitors from recreating his signature drink, Beach kept the zombie recipe a closely guarded secret with his bartenders mixing from pre-made coded bottles. Because of this, numerous recipes for the drink have since developed. The generally accepted version of the 1934 classic calls for ¾ ounces fresh lime juice, ½ ounce falernum, 1 ½ ounces each of Puerto Rican rum and gold or dark Jamaican rum, 1 ounce 151-proof Lemon Hart Demerara rum, 1 teaspoon of grenadine, 6 drops of Pernod or Herbsaint, a dash of Angostura bitters, ½ ounce of Don’s mix (being 2 parts grapefruit juice and 1 part cinnamon-infused sugar syrup) and 6 ounces of crushed ice.]

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Turkeys, 1876


Middleborough was once known for a Thanksgiving day meal staple other than the cranberry. In 1876 the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial reported that "the best turkeys in the county market this year were raised about Middleboro."

Source: Old Colony Memorial, "County and Elsewhere", November 30, 1876, page 4.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Earth Shoe

When the Plymouth Shoe Company ceased operations in Middleborough in 1970 it left 800 local workers unemployed and the former Leonard & Barrows manufactory on Center Street vacant. In summer 1972 the Earth Shoe Company, a subsidiary of Kalsø Systemet, Inc., a Danish company best known for its production of Earth Shoes, acquired the former Leonard & Barrows plant and commenced production a few months later. At the time Raymond Jacobs of the Earth Shoe called Middleborough “a shoe industry ghost town” in reference to the large number of residents that had once been employed in the industry.

Developed in the late 1950s and 1960s by Danish yoga instructor Anne Kalsø, Earth Shoes featured a “negative heel” which shifted the wearer’s weight from the front of their foot to the back, thereby improving both posture and comfort. While on a vacation in Copenhagen in 1969 with his wife, photographer Raymond Jacobs discovered the shoe which he began to sell as the awkwardly-named Kalsø Minus Heel Shoe at a store he opened on East 17th Street in Manhattan on April 1, 1970. That date coincided with the first Earth Day and in a stroke of marketing inspiration, Mrs. Jacobs named the shoe Earth Shoe. The shoe immediately became popular and in 1972 the Middleborough plant was opened as the company’s sole American manufactory.

Demand for the shoe was driven by ads in national magazines and mentions in the Whole Earth Catalogue while television programs such as the Tonight Show, What’s My Line and To Tell the Truth also featured the shoes. By 1975 there were 100 outlets in the United States selling Earth Shoes which were also available through mail order. Celebrities such as Sidney Poitier, Tony Curtis, Peter Fonda and Bob Dylan were all noted to wear the “fan-toed clodhoppers”. So great was the demand that the Middleborough factory could not keep up. Newsweek magazine’s October 14, 1974 edition noted that the Middleborough plant had quadrupled its staff to 200 over the previous year and had similarly quadrupled production to 250,000 pair annually.

The Earth Shoe was a unique product. Judy Wiksten, writing for the Middleboro Gazette in 1972 described the shoe for her readers. “An Earth Shoe, to put it mildly, is an extraordinary object….Although they’re frankly not beautiful, they are marketable dynamite.” Time magazine referred to them as “clumpy footwear that defies most principles of shoemaking.” Even Jacobs acknowledged their apparent lack of fashion appeal. “The basis is not style, but function”, he said. Consumers agreed and lines formed outside stores of customers eager to buy.

Ultimately the failure of the company to meet this demand created issues between Earth Shoe and retailers which in turn led to legal action. Only five years after the Middleborough plant was established, the company was dissolved in 1977. Still the brand survives today.

Plymouth Shoe Company manufactory, Center Street, Middleborough, MA, photographic half-tone from the Middleboro Gazette, January 8, 1970.
The image accompanied an article concerning rumors of the possible closure of the plant, an action blamed on increased foreign competition. The plant in fact did close later that year. The photograph was taken from near the corner of Pearl Street and shows the Center Street façade.

Earth Shoes
A sample pair of the iconic Earth Shoe.

Earth Shoe advertisements, 1974
Much of Earth Shoe's advertising was geared towards explaining the shoe's concept and benefits. The top ad appeared in newspapers across the country while the bottom was seen in national news and fashion magazines. Due to advertising like this, the demand for Earth Shoes soared and production could not keep up.