Wednesday, April 09, 2014


Obscurity of the Day: The Culludville Alphabet

McKee Barclay was a highly respected editorial cartoonist whose cartooning career spanned thirty years or more (1890s-1920s+), most notably with the Baltimore Sun.

What possessed him in 1901 to branch out into comic strips I don't know, but we can only wish he'd resisted the urge. Barclay's only known continuing comic series is The Culludville Alphabet (or sometimes Coloredville Alphabet), a thoroughly racist bit of illustrated doggerel for which no apologies can be made. The series ran from February 10 to March 17 1901, in the St. Louis Star's comic section.

Looking for something, anything, positive to say about this, I will point out the use of a piece of interesting period slang. I had no idea that a snipe was a partially smoked cigarette.

Speaking of terminology, does anyone know what the term is, or if there is a term, for a poem in which the letters of the alphabet begin each line? We see this often in early comic strips, and of course in children's elementary spelling books, and I imagine there's a term for it, but I can't come up with it.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the sample strips!


"Guttersnipe" shares the same root I believe: it used to describe someone who would scan gutters by the curb for partially consumed cigars and cigarettes to get a free smoke from what was left.
I Googled the words "Alphabet Poem" to see if I could find what they're called; apparently they're called "Alphabet Poems." Makes sense.

I also find it interesting that his entry for "N" acknowledges that Blacks don't like to be called that word any more. My father told me that when he was rowing up in 1920s Connecticut, he heard adults use that word all the time--not in anger, but in a matter-of-fact way, as though that were the correct term. He said, "No one ever told us that it was a bad word or that we shouldn't say it." I wonder when it became a widespread taboo?
"Growing up" not "rowing up." I always spot these goofs AFTER I post.
The large initial letter, in this case, is a drop cap because it drops down from the first line. A stick-up cap would start on the first line and be larger than any capital letter. And there is the hybrid which can do both.
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