Spittin’ Pretty

I am pleased to see that our colleagues at Duke Homestead State Historic Site are adding 282 spittoons to their collection (read the news article), making it the largest in the United States. Although they have virtually disappeared in modern life, spittoons were ubiquitous in nineteenth and early twentieth century America. In a time when tobacco was regularly chewed by millions, the need for a place to spit was acute, particularly indoors. Whether brass, glass, or porcelain, the spittoon was everywhere. This all reminds me of my own first and last experience with chewing tobacco. I was working in a textile printing plant between college and graduate school. A fellow worker offered me some of his chewing tobacco and, when I told him that I didn’t use it, responded that “it would pay a man who had never had a chew just to try one.” This made sense to me, and for the first few minutes I enjoyed the experience. Unfortunately, things went down hill from there. At the time I really appreciated a place to spit and have had a spot in my heart for spittoons ever since.