Barrel organ available for losing bettors on the Iowa caucuses

Exemplary punishments from the 1892 US presidential election.

Cheque signed by Benjamin Harrison.

Cheque signed by Benjamin Harrison. Image: National Museum of American History.

Gloucester Citizen – Saturday 26 November 1892:

THE AMERICAN ELECTION. REMARKABLE “FREAK BETS.” The “New York Tribune” gives a long list of “freak bets” which have been lost on the recent Presidential election. The bets wherein the loser has undertaken to wheel the winner a certain distance in a wheelbarrow have been so numerous that their fulfilment failed to attract much attention. Bare-footed men, otherwise fully dressed; men with faces half shaven, and other peculiar losses were also numerous. One man had to walk backwards a distance of eight miles, and another to jump into the river with his clothes on. “I bet on Harrison and Reid” was the legend in red and blue chalk on a large placard which decorated the front of a hand organ on Vine-street. The stylishly-dressed man who turned the crank was William Nelson, who agreed if Harrison lost to play a hand organ in the streets of this city for six hours, and on inauguration day to go to Washington and play in front of the reviewing stand as the parade goes by. In addition, he also bet half his month’s salary advance and all his ready money, little over $50. John Leithead (a very appropriate patronymic, we should think) will sit in the street at Germantown as a target until William Bennett, horseman, throws four dozen eggs at him in from a distance of 30ft. The leading Democratic politicians of the ward have been invited to witness the performance. At Bordentown, N.J., quite a crowd of people gathered at a barber’s shop to witness the shaving of Abraham Garwood’s long whiskers, which he had grown 35 years, in payment of an election wager. He said that if Cleveland was elected president he would have them shaved off. This is not quite so bad as a Somerville man, who has to shave both head and face. At Red Bank one man has had to wear a high white hat with a deep mourning baud, with a rooster tied on top; at Philadelphia a party of four have started on a pleasure trip at the expense of the loser; two others have to take a swim in the river, however cold it may be; while another loser has to play a barrel organ through the streets and lose $50.

Where are you, Dan Hodges?

Wagers leading to posh boys taking up organ grinding for quite long spells were not uncommon in the late 19th century in various countries. More anon.


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