A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 04, 2007
Election Wagering ("peanut-and-toothpick” bet)

New Yorkers bet on more than the horses. Around 1900, it was popular to bet on election results.

Some bets involved money, and others involved performance. The peanut-and-toothpick bet required the loser to push a peanut a long distance with only a toothpick. This unusual bet began in Philadelphia in 1892.


18 November 1892, Frederick (MD) News, pg. 3, col. 5:
One of the most ridiculous election bets of the season was paid in Philadelphia by a faultlessly dressed young man who was obliged to push a peanut with a toothpick down Chestnut street, from Broad to Seventh. He had relays of toothpicks and peanuts, but found his task most laborious and painful. His back was nearly broken, by his stooping posture. He accomplished the task in two hours.

16 November 1894, Olean (NY) Democrat, pg. 4, col. 2:
Of all the foolish election bets ever made, that of a Buffalo man who bet that Judge Stern would be elected mayor, seems to take precedence. The wager was that he would roll a peanut a mile with a toothpick in the first snow storm if Stern was defeated. The wretched democrat was compelled to pay the price of his misplaced confidence. A jeering mob followed the peanut roller through a blinding storm, and howled as he occasionally straightened his aching back. 

2 March 1896, Middletown (NY) Daily Argus, pg. 5, col. 3:
STRANGEST BET ON RECORD
Rolling a Peanut With a Toothpick Up
a Steep Newburgh Hill.
From the Newburgh Telegram.
There are many crazy bets on record and the other night the list was extended by the extraordinary spectacle of a man rolling a peanut up Second street, from Water to Liberty, with a wooden toothpick as a lever. He wasn’t permitted to touch the peanut with his hands, and the operation was slow and laborious. Commencing at 9 o’clock he reached Grand street at 11 o’clock. His difficulty was greatest, of course, between Water and Montgomery, the peanut occasionally rolling half way down the hill to the great merriment of the party that accompanied the victim of a rash bet on the Fitzsimmons-Maher prize fight.

1 November 1900, North Adams (MA) Transcript, pg. 3, col. 1:
FREAK ELECTION BETS.
Some Peculiar Ones Contracted
Throughout the Country.
MOST NOVEL MADE IN MINDEN, NEB.
Loser to Roll a Peanut Up a Steep
Hill With a Toothpick...


The rabid partisans who make freak bets on the result of the election have not been much in evidence during the present campaign. Within a few days, however, they have commenced to get busy, and already a number of wagers have been recorded which rank well up with the best efforts of previous campaigns, says the Chicago Tribune. The most novel and musing bet so far recorded is that between two enthusiastic partisans of McKinley and Bryan to Minden, Neb. They got into a dispute recently, and as a result a paper was drawn up and signed which binds the loser to pay the most peculiar bet ever put on record.

In the case of Bryan’s election the McKinley advocate is to march to the foot of a steep hill which rises for more than a mile near the city limits. He is to be escorted by the Republican campaign drum corps, by his successful rival and by as many of the townspeople as may care to attend. Arrived at the bottom of the hill, the task before the losing politician is to roll a peanut from the base to the top of the hill with a toothpick. He is obligated not to touch the peanut with anything but the toothpick, and must stay in the beaten road during the entire journey. In case he does not get the peanut to the hilltop in a single day’s work he must sleep on the ground under guard and begin again in the morning. The same penalty will be paid by the Democrat is Bryan is defeated.

2 October 1904, New York (NY) Times, “‘Ware the Freak Bettor—He’s Looking For You,” pg. 32:
THE freak bet is freakier than ever in this Presidential campaign.
(...)
It is not only voters short of money who bind themselves to perform grotesque antics on the streets if their favorite candidate is defeated. Brokers, and even bankers, play barrel organs; dignified citizens have their whiskers trimmed in every conceivable fashion but the one they are accustomed to; stout men roll a peanut up a steep hill with a wooden toothpick; sedate storekeepers dressed as clowns wait on astonished customers; and men whom their family and friends have reason to believe sane commit themselves to absurd antics that seem to have had their origin in the brain of a lunatic.

New York Times
City Lore
Double or Nothing on the Democrat
By J. DAVID GOODMAN
Published: November 4, 2007

Long before political prediction markets sprouted on the Internet, election bets — whether the stakes were money or embarrassing public spectacles — were a ubiquitous part of the American political scene. The practice, which began informally with petty stakes in pool halls in the late 19th century, was by 1900 a multimillion-dollar trade on Wall Street.
(...)
These “freak bets” were not just the province of the less well off, as The New York Times reported after the 1904 election: “Brokers, and even bankers, play barrel organs; dignified citizens have their whiskers trimmed in every conceivable fashion but the one they are accustomed to; stout men roll a peanut up a steep hill with a wooden toothpick.”

THE “peanut and toothpick” bet became a trend after the 1900 election, one practitioner being a 22-year-old resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, named John Stein. He had bet a friend that William McKinley would not carry New York State by more than 60,000 votes, and on Nov. 8, 1900, he paid off his wager by rolling a peanut up Ten Eyck Street, preceded by a band playing the Christian spiritual “Roll, Jordan, Roll.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Sunday, November 04, 2007 • Permalink