I complimented this police force in a letter some time ago, and felt like a
guilty, degraded wretch when I was doing it, and now I am glad I got into the
Station House, because it will teach me never to so far forget all moral principle
as to compliment a police force again.
- Letter to San Francisco Alta California, dated May 18, 1867; published June 23, 1867
MARK TWAIN PROCEEDED TO FAN THE COP
WITH THE CABBAGE LEAF
Mark Twain's Joke.
Before Mark Twain made his name famous in his first production of "The Innocents Abroad" he was attached to the staff of the old Alta California. It was while there that he perpetrated one of his jokes, which at that time had no more significance than that of an ordinary wag who enjoyed a little fun at another's expense. But since Mark has made his name known to the reading world the joke will bear repeating.
It was one of those hot summer days that occasionally visit San Francisco that Mr. Woodward, one of the proprietors of the Alta, stepped into the editorial room and there found Clemens drawing on the end of a brier root pipe. Woodward mopped his brow and when he cooled down he began to deliver himself forcibly.
"I'm disgusted," said Woodward, "at what I just saw on the street as I passed by the carriage way leading into Wells, Fargo & Co.'s yard down at California and Montgomery. Sitting on a chicken coop, either drunk or knocked out by the heat of the sun, is a police officer fast asleep."
"Let us take a look at the animal," said Clemens, getting up from his desk and walking out.
On his way down to the corner he stepped into the California Market and going up to a vegetable stall, he plucked a large leaf from a head of cabbage. When he arrived at the place where the big, fat policeman was fast asleep the humorist proceeded to fan him with the cabbage leaf. This amusing scene soon attracted a crowd, which inside of ten minutes had swelled into hundreds and California street was blocked to traffic.
To add to the excitement, some one had run to the old City Hall and informed Captain Douglass that there had been a robbery at Well, Fargo & Co.'s as the place was surrounded by armed men. Douglass summoned every available cop on his force, which at the time counted less than a dozen, and rushed to the place designated. After brushing the crowd to one side, he entered the gateway and there found Clemens whirling the cabbage leaf as though nothing unusual had occurred about him. To say that Captain Douglass was mortified would be but a mild expression. The drowsy cop lost his star and Clemens enjoyed the joke.
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