Ashtabula materials

A Piece of Saloon Life

AUTHOR: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander

K. A. Jurwa

One of the Finnish books published in Ashtabula was a short light comedy “Kappale kapakkaelämää” (A piece of saloon life), written by K.A. Jurwa in 1889. Short comic drama pieces were popular in Finland at the end of the 19th century, they were performed in social evenings of temperance societies and labour movement associations. The small booklet includes a list of other short light comedies, which were available in the bookshop of the newspaper Amerikan Sanomat.

K.A. Jurwa lived in Ispheming, Michigan, and earned his living as a music teacher. He founded the Finnish Lutheran parish in Ispheming and served as a lay preacher. Later he moved to Tower, Minnesota, and in 1902 to Oregon. Jurwa submitted articles for the newspaper Pohjantähti (1886-1887). In the first issue of Pohjantähti he writes about the Americanization of the young generation, and promotes the Finnish schools: “Many [young people] don’t want to speak Finnish, if they can speak some broken English.”

‘A Piece of Saloon Life’ comedy

The short comic piece takes place at a saloon in a fictional immigrant community. Saloon keeper.  Mr. Pöhnälä (“Drunken stupor”) is serving three Finnish men, who are frequent customers. One of the men is Esko, who starts calculating how much money he has carried to the saloon. The sum is remarkable: more than 1200 dollars. Esko’s wife has been nagging about the money, but Esko is convinced that he deserves to have some amusement after hard work. The wife stopped nagging after some good beatings, Esko boasts. Another Finnish man, Mikko arrives. He also has a nagging wife, Leena, at home, but Mikko is a more gentle character.

Suddenly, Mikko’s wife Leena enters the saloon with their two children (8-10 years). She orders Mr. Pöhnälä to fill her coffee pan with booze. Her husband is terrified, but Leena argues that booze must be healthy for her and the children, as Mikko has praised its good effects. “It is odd that you don’t accept the wives as your companions to a saloon, but in the home chores you find us very much needed.” Leena’s words wake up Mikko’s conscience, he begs her to forgive him all the misery that he has caused, and promises to start a new life and join the temperance movement. This is of course Leena’s goal. Another man, Hannu, joins them to start the sober life. Mr. Pöhnälä is outrageous, and when Esko demands him to serve booze on credit, Pöhnälä shoots him dead with his revolver.

K.A. Jurwa’s short comedy is quite rough and clumsy, but it reflects the rough life in immigrant communities. An interesting detail is that there are two children in the play, even though they don’t say anything – and these children are about the same age as T-Bone Slim was when this play was published.

Text: Front cover of K. A. Jurwa's booklet
Front cover of K. A. Jurwa’s comedy piece booklet: A Piece of Saloon Life, comedy in one act, published by Amerikan Sanomat publishing. Available at the National Library of Finland.