Monroe County Library System,  Monroe, MI 48162


Bygones of Monroe:


A Thousand People Attend Annual Muskrat Banquet. New York, Chicago and Seattle Represented. 

Here it is, in a nut shell:
Attendance, about 1,000.
Number of muskrats prepared, 2,100;
number eaten, 1,800.
Receipts, $1,500; expenses, $1,200; balance, $300. These amounts are only approximate.

Time, from 6:00 p.m., Thursday, December 28 th , to Friday, to any time Friday morning, December 29 th .

Cities represented. New York City; Seattle, Wash; Bismarck, North Dakota; Saginaw, Bay City, Detroit, Ypsilanti, Mt. Clemens, Adrian, Blissfield, whole of Monroe county; Toledo, Cleveland, Put-in-Bay and other Ohio points.

Chairman of committee on arrangements, Com. Charles E. Greening.
Provider of Muskrats, Com. W. C. Sterling.
Caterer, George C. Wahl.

The attendance figures and the number of muskrats consumed no doubt are disappointing to those who have depended for their information upon the glowing accounts of the advance agent and the reporters for the Detroit and Toledo dailies, according to whom over 5,000 muskrats had been eaten and 3,000 people did the job.

Preparations had been made on an extravagant scale and the expected 3,000 people could have been handled. An annex 100 by 40 feet had been built south of the Armory and almost the entire length of this was used as a bar, upon whose receipts depended in a great measure the success or failure of the project, for the $1.00 admission failed to cover the expense of the theatrical entertainment and the cost of catching, preparing and serving the muskrats. Two reasons were mainly responsible for keeping down the attendance from out of town - rain in the evening and the fact that the day came too soon after Christmas, with no even one pay day in between. It was also a noticeable fact that, outside of Monroe Yacht Club enthusiasts and business men who patronize all events given by local organizations, there were but very few Monroe people in attendance. Many who formerly attended were absent, and when asked the reason, almost invariably answered that they thought there would be too big a crowd to make pleasure possible and that they were afraid that it would be nothing more than a drinking bout. Both these fears proved groundless. Preparations had been made so complete that there was not a minute when the crowd could not be readily handled; and those who did attend were not as a rule "good spenders," but, after the feast, were content to sit at ease in the theatre and enjoy the program until car time. Of course there were many who were very liberal, as may be seen from the fact that one volunteer waiter alone took in $3.50 in tips during a few hours' work.

But after all it was a big event, the biggest of the kind given in the city. While the profits will not be very great, the main object was to give an example of Monroe Yacht Club hospitality and give Monroe unique fame in cinch its title being the "mushrat town" of the world. They evidently succeeded, for everybody was telling everybody else what a bully good time they were having and that they would come to old Monroe again. The rhymesters also got busy and began to express their sentiments in meter adapted to popular tunes.

Detroit furnished the following, to the air of "Tammany:"
"Muskrat town, muskrat town-
Detroit is all right to see,
But Monroe is the place for me.
Roast 'em brown, roast 'em brown,
Gravy, gravy, gravy, gravy-
Choke 'em down."

The Columbia Yacht club, of Chicago, had a bushel of songs, but their favorite was this:
"Give our regards to Monroe;
Remember us to C. E Greening, too.
Tell all the gang and Com. Sterling
That they're the best we ever knew.
Say that in our hearts we have a longing
To eat our muskrat here
Give our regards to the Monroe Yacht Club
And say that we'll all come back next Year.

The Columbia Yacht club delegation of twenty came in a special car on the Lake Shore, being headed by Com. Osborne, with U. J. Herrmann as spokesman. They marched in a body to the table of honor at the west end of the banquet hall, where they unfurled numerous C.Y.C. burgees and proceeded to have a right merry time. They were not here solely to eat rats, however. The club is the avowed champion of the 21-footer class of sail yachts and has succeeded in making it the most popular all-round boat on fresh water. So much so that Com. Lipton, of England, gave a cup to be raced for in Chicago waters under the auspices of the club, all comers welcome. Naturally, the more the merrier, and hence the C.Y.C. yachtsmen never neglect an opportunity to attend yachting events and to carry on a campaign of proselyting for their pet boat. Their efforts here were not without result, for plans are well matured for organizing a syndicate to build a yacht to compete in next year's event.

Detroit and Toledo, of course, were strong numerically at the banquet, but did not come in a body, as the electric line ran an all night half-hour schedule. Among the long distant visitors were Alfred Nadeau, of Seattle, Washington, who timed his visit in this city so that he could take part in the event. Henry J. Geiermann, of Bismarck, N. Da., did the same, but had to take an oath before he came that, if the game laws did not forbid it, he would ship a consignment to his Dakota and Chicago friends, with complete directions for cooking them. There was also a representative of Com. Oliver Iselin, of New York, famous as a member of various syndicates owning America cup defenders. Detroit, Toledo and Chicago papers gave special illustrated articles on the event and the Western Union telegraph company thought it of sufficient importance to run a special wire to the Armory and to send an expert down to handle it.

The drill hall, where the banquet was held, never presented a more festive appearance. Flags and bunting in lavish amount decked ceilings and walls and almost the entire west hall was taken up with a huge electric "Welcome" sign. The centre of the floor was left clear and here was displayed a muskrat house, just as seen in the marsh. A monstrous rat was perched at its peak and the two exits, arranged with glass to give the ice and water effect, each had a big rat. It was the idea of Com. Sterling, who by the way also made the house, and it made a great hit, as fully %90 of those present did not know what a rat or house looked like.

There was music everywhere. In the annex was the Monroe Cornet band, in the banquet hall Mann's orchestra, of Detroit, officiated for the theatrical program. The musical hit was the German band from Detroit, lead by an Irishman, Tom Lynch, and dressed in old French uniforms and playing the "Marseilles" almost continuously. At unexpected moments they would break out and wind their way through the crowds, generally choosing an awkward time for their appearance. Thus in the theater they entered while a quartette was singing, marched up and down the aisles and even onto the stage, where they stopped and gave their selection with double energy, the regular program being suspended for the time being.

All the catering privileges were let to George J. Wahl, manager of the Wahl House. From parboiling the rats to serving them at the table, he handled all the arrangements, and the bar privileges were also his. The banquet tables looked as neat as those of any hotel, seated fifteen or twenty people apiece, with a combined seating capacity of 300. Considering the number of muskrats served, they were remarkably good and no fault could be found with them. He brought seven professional waiters to supervise the serving, while thirteen volunteers from the yacht club assisted. Their work was excellent, there being no waits at all during the entire evening. The rats were stewed in sweet corn; mashed potatoes and butter, slaw, celery, bread and coffee being served with them. There was no limit to the number of helpings and on Tuesday morning we ran across an individual who confessed he had eaten five rats, but had eaten nothing since. In the annex Mr. Wahl had ten expert bar tenders from Detroit and Toledo, whose specialty was "Muskrat cocktails" at 20 cents per drink. Only one brand of beer was called for - that of the Koppitz-Melchers Brewing Co., of Detroit, who had prepared a special brew for the event and designed a suitable muskrat label for the bottle. Beer and label both proved popular, for nobody cared for any other brand and many soaked the labels off the bottles and took them home for souvenirs.

After most of the banqueters had satisfied their appetites, a program of speeches and vaudeville numbers was given in the theater, to which all were welcome. Gen. George Spalding acted as master of ceremonies. The address of welcome was given by Mayor Sisung, who in a humorous welcome put everybody in a jolly mood. "Rats" formed the key to his remarks, which were so well put that for the balance of the evening "rat" calls took the place of cat-calls and applause. One of the best speeches of the evening was that of Hon. Burton Parker, of this city, on "Michigan, the Muskrat State." Other numbers of local interest were remarks and song by Com. Greening, in answer to calls from the audience; and comic songs by S. O. Burgdorf, of Bay City, formerly of Monroe. Then there was a boxing contest for a silver championship medal. The visitors were prepared for the real thing and when it was announced that Sheriff "Jimmy" Burns, of Detroit, would referee the contests, they wondered what would happen at Lansing when the news leaked out. The laugh was on them when the curtain rose and two little youngsters, Brodbeck and Schaske, were introduced respectively as Jeffries and Corbett. They gave three delightfully interesting and harmless rounds, the decisions going to Schaske. The "battle royal" later in the program was even more amusing. Six urchins were put in the ring at once and given the word to get at each other. Whenever a contestant was forced to his knees, he had to retire, the one remaining on his feet the longest to get the silver medal. In this young Brodbeck was the victor.

The number that aroused the most curiosity was that given on the program as "Madame LaDue, in Oriental Dances." When the dancer appeared and went through some amazing oriental stunts, everybody was delighted and when as an encore the performer sang "Teasing" in the purest soprano tones, they voted that the dancer was the best ever. But they had a sudden comedown when the dancer unmasked and revealed himself as a rather bald headed man.

Other numbers were:

Tom Pattinson, Rube Comedian in songs and dances.

George Leipziger, German comedian in stories and parodies.

A. McPhee, banjoist and dancer with imitations.

"The 21-foot Class," U. J. Herrmann, Chicago.

"One Full of Rats," Northam Warren, Detroit.

Leo Lester, Hebrew Impersonator.

"Rough on Rats," F. H. Kruse, Toledo.

Pattinson and Leipziger, parody singers.

Frank Shannon, black face comedian.

Impromptu remarks by Hon. Robert Cantwell, of Illinois, who presented the Monroe Yacht Club with the C.Y.C. burgee; Com. Osborne, Chicago; Com. Alexander, Put-in-Bay; Skipper Beakes.

Com. Greening was chairman of the committee on arrangements. Undertaking at first to do practically all the work single handed, it was soon found that the affair was reaching proportions too huge for any one man to handle and he named other committees to look after the sundry details. As the expenses were running up and everything depended on one throw of the dice, the yacht club officers and members cancelled all other engagements for the week and buckled in to help make it a big success.

The cooking of the muskrats was under the direct supervision of Chef Ed Lemerand, the best muskrat cook in the land. Another man that was everywhere at the right time was Sergt. Fred Gutmann, of the Armory association, who kept a sharp look-out that nothing went amiss, being especially watchful against fire, in which endeavor he even several times climbed out onto the roof of the annex, where sparks might have found a lodging. And then there were the scores of the rank and file of the club who always can be relied upon to do their utmost.

Already plans are being discussed for next year's event, even before the affairs of the last one are settled. But the time to start is while the enthusiasm is still high and when ideas and plans more readily suggest themselves, with the late banquet fresh in mind. Whatever plan is adopted, it will certainly be different from the present one, for no two muskrat banquets can be alike. Some of the neighboring yachtsmen come to every one, others, after the novelty of eating muskrats has worn off, want a change in the amusement offered. And so the M.Y.C directors and committees are kept busy thinking of something new. For the annual banquet (growing out of the suggestion of Major Godfroy three years ago, when something had to be done to lift the club's debt) has become an established event that neither the M.Y.C. nor the sister yacht clubs in Michigan and Ohio will permit to be abandoned.

(Monroe Democrat, January 5th , 1906.)

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