The Face on the Barroom Floor

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The Face on the Barroom Floor

Face on the Barroom Floor Painting - Face on the Barroom Floor

Venus? Madeline? Nita?

 

The Painting

 

Somewhere around 1936, commissioned to paint a number of works about Central City’s history, as a premier Colorado mining town, and as the city was beginning to make the transition into an opera town and tourist destination, Artist Herndon Davis got into an argument with the project director and came close to getting fired. An unhappy Davis sought to strike back at his employers in an unusual way. Recruiting help from a staff member, he was able to sneak in at night and paint a woman’s face on the barroom floor at the Teller Opera House. He modeled the image after his  wife Nita, whom he thought perfectly pictured the beauty described in the poem.
The next day, after the portrait was discovered , any hope of revenge evaporated with the drying paint. The bar, had decided to capitalize on the work, credited the painting to the poem’s original author and commenced to turn turn this unique work of art into the best attraction in the city for many years. Even with the modern addition of gambling in Central City, the painting is still bringing in revenue. Today, the work is correctly accredited and carefully protected form careless feet and unpaid looky-loos.

The Poem

The poem was originally written by the poet John Henry Titus (1864 – 1930) in 1872. Hugh Antoine d’Arcy (1843 – 1925) adapted a later version from the Titus poem which he called “The Face Upon the Floor”. It was first published in the New York Dispatch in 1887. According to d’Arcy, the poem was inspired by an actual happening at Joe Smith’s saloon at Fourth Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan. When it was reprinted in a d’Arcy collection, he wrote a preface explaining the confusion of the two titles:

 Hugh Antoine d’Arcy - The Face on the Barroom Floor

Hugh Antoine d’Arcy

“My only excuse for offering this little book is the fact that my friends want to get a few stories out of my scrap book—so here they are. One popular mistake I desire to rectify. When I wrote “The Face Upon the Floor,” which was in 1887, I had no idea that it would receive the favor which it has. The popularity of the story induced the publisher of a Bowery Song Sheet to issue a song which was a bad plagiarism and, to get away from my copyright, called it “The Face on the Barroom Floor.” Strange to say, the public has accepted the latter title, which is not correct. This book contains the true and original story.”
D’Arcy.

The Face Upon the Floor

‘Twas a balmy summer’s evening and a goodly crowd was there,
Which well-nigh filled Joe’s barroom on the corner of the square,
And as songs and witty stories came through the open door
A vagabond crept slowly in and posed upon the floor.

“Where did it come from?” someone said, “The wind has blown it in.”
“What does it want?” another cried, “Some whiskey, rum or gin?”
“Here Toby, sic him, if your stomach is equal to the work —
I wouldn’t touch him with a fork, he’s as filthy as a Turk.”

This badinage the poor wretch took with stoical good grace;
In fact, he smiled as though he thought he’d struck the proper place.
“Come boys, I know there’s kindly heart among so good a crowd —
To be in such good company would make a deacon proud.”

“Give me a drink — that’s what I want — I’m out of funds you know;
When I had cash to treat the gang, this hand was never slow.
What? You laugh as though you thought this pocket never held a sou:
I once was fixed as well my boys, as anyone of you.”

“There thanks, that’s braced me nicely; God Bless you one and all;
Next time I pass this good saloon, I’ll make another call.
Give you a song? No, I can’t do that, my singing days are past;
My voice is cracked, my throat’s worn out, and my lungs are going fast.

“Say, give me another whiskey, and I’ll tell you what I’ll do —
I’ll tell you a funny story and a fact I promise too.
That I was ever a decent man, not one of you would think;
But I was, some four or five years back. Say, give me another drink.

“Fill ‘er up, Joe, I want to put some life into my frame —
Such little drinks, to a bum like me are miserably tame;
Five fingers! — there, that’s the scheme — and corking whiskey too.
Well, here’s luck, boys; and landlord, my best regards to you.

“You’ve treated me pretty kindly, and I’d like to tell you how
I came to be the dirty sot, you see before you now.
As I told you once,was a man with muscle, frame and health,
And, but for a blunder, ought to have made considerable wealth.

“I was a painter — not one that daubed on bricks or wood,
But an artist, and for my age I was rated pretty good,
I worked hard at my canvas and was bidding fair to rise,
For gradually I saw the star of fame before my eyes.

“I made a picture, perhaps you’ve seen, ’tis called the ‘Chase of Fame.’
It brought me fifteen hundred pounds and added to my name.
And then I met a woman — now comes the funny part —
With eyes that petrified my brain, and sunk into my heart.

“Why don’t you laugh? ‘Tis funny, that the vagabond you see
Could ever love a woman and expect her love for me;
But ’twas so, and for a month or two, her smiles were freely given,
And when her loving lips touched mine it carried me to heaven.

“Did you ever see a woman for whom your soul you’d give,
With a form like the Milo Venus, too beautiful to live;
With eyes that would beat the Koh-i-noor, and a wealth of chestnut hair?
If so, ’twas she, for there never was another half so fair.

“I was working on a portrait, one afternoon in May,
Of a fair haired boy, a friend of mine, who lived across the way.
And Madeline admired it, and much to my surprise,
Said she’d like to know the man that had such dreamy eyes.

“It didn’t take long to know him, and before the month had flown
My friend had stolen my darling, and I was left alone.
And, ere a year of misery had passed above my head.
The jewel I had treasured so had tarnished, and was dead.

“That’s why I took to drink, boys. Why, I never saw you smile,
I thought you’d be amused, and laughing all the while.
Why, what’s the matter friend? There’s a teardrop in your eye.
Come, laugh like me; ’tis only babes and women that should cry.

“Say boys, if you give me just another whiskey, I’ll be glad,
And I’ll draw right here a picture, of the face that drove me mad.
Give me that piece of chalk with which you mark the baseball score —
And you shall see the lovely Madeline upon the barroom floor.

Another drink, and with chalk in hand, the vagabond began,
To sketch a face that well might buy the soul of any man.
Then, as he placed another lock upon that shapely head,
With a fearful shriek, he leaped and fell across the picture — dead!

The Face on the Barroom Floor - color - The Face on the Barroom Floor

 

The Face on the Barroom Floor - Chaplin movie poster (1914) - The Face on the Barroom Floor

Chaplin 1914

 

barbed wire divider2 - Work FileEnd: The Face on the Barroom Floor

{001} C 08/18; E 08/18; F 08/18; P 08/18

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