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A dry way to celebrate the New Year Susan Walter | Sat, Jan 01 2011 12:00 PM

Fascinated by rural life, I decided to look in the Otay Press to see what the community of Otay was up to at the end of 1889 and beginning of 1890. What were they planning for around Christmas and for the New Year's observance?

What I found really wasn't what I expected.

There were tiny notices of the Literary Society's planned readings, songs and recitations, and a no doubt lively meeting of the Otay Horticultural and Improvement Society. Both these events were slated for the evening of December 31, 1889.

But the big social event of the community, described in the front page of the Dec. 26 issue, was the production of a five act drama called "The Social Glass," or the "Victims of the Bottle." It was performed on the third floor of the Otay Watch Company building.

"Everybody in the valley turned out and a number from the Mesa and San Diego were present." It was such "a grand success" that a repeat performance occurred to great acclaim later at the same venue, and then the company was engaged to perform it at the Louis' Opera House in San Diego.

Written by T. Trask Woodward, The Social Glass was a temperance drama. This was a tremendously popular topic, as alcohol abuse was rampant in our country. Alcohol was seen as the destroyer of individuals, entire families, and society at large as well.

By 1825 the American Temperance Society, which focused on short cutting the progress towards alcoholism by persuading the moderate drinker to abstain entirely, was formed. In the 1830s, renamed the American Temperance Union, over 2,200 branches of the society were extant. Continuing to grow over the decades, the anti drinking paradigm resulted in the nation wide fame of Carrie A. Nation, and the ultimate passage of 1919's Volstead Act, commonly known as Prohibition.

By the 1870s anti liquor dramas had become well established in California. "Drink", "Ten Nights in a Bar Room and What I Saw There," "The Bottle," "The Drunkard's Dream," "The Fatal Glass or the Curse of Drink," "Drifting Apart," "The Drunkard's Family," "Under the Spell a Temperance Play in Four Acts," "Broken Promise," and "Dick Wilson the Rum Seller's Victim" were a few of the plays that made the rounds, spreading the anti alcohol message to the American public.

One of the commonest themes was the victimization of the drunkard's family.

For instance "Lost!" or the "Fruits of the Glass," climaxed with the inebriate slaying his wife, then committing suicide. "Under the Curse" depicted the drunken head of household murdering his wife and injuring his daughter with a broken furniture leg. He ended up drinking himself to death.

Our local production, The Social Glass, told the story of a husband, who under the influence of delirium tremens, kills his wife-whom he believes is a monster-with a broken booze bottle.

So, there it is. Otay's 1890 holiday message.

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