Assumptions I’ve made about the late 1800’s from watching Deadwood

8 Jul

For the last few weeks, the folks from the city water department have been tearing up my street. It’s made for unpleasant parking and biking conditions in my neighborhood. The situation really hit home when I went to turn on my bathroom faucet the other day and brown water sputtered out. Aside from the fact that plumbing abnormalities usually take me back to the first terrifying time I saw this scene in Ghostbusters II…

…the sputtering wasn’t too big of an inconvenience. At least I live in a place where clean water is piped right to me.

I’ve recently been exposed to a world in which the water supply, among other things, is not so pristine. I’ve started watching the HBO show Deadwood (about five years too late, I know). The show takes place in a lawless town in South Dakota around 1870 or so. In one episode, a widow’s dead husband’s body is kept in a nearby creek to preserve it until it is shipped to New York. Though unsanitary, this practice is at least more humane than the accepted disposal method of feeding corpses to pigs. Let’s go ahead and add the FDA to the list of things I’m grateful for in my 20th/21st-century existence.

Appreciation for infrastructure and regulatory agencies is just one of many insights I’ve gained from watching Deadwood. Here are some other conclusions I’ve reached about America in the late 1800’s:

– There was a time when Americans were racist towards Scandinavians. One of the slurs dropped in the first episode, Squareheads, is a reference to Norwegian immigrants. Nowadays, attitudes towards the physical attributes of Northern Europeans are a bit more favorable.

– It was hard to stay alive. Someone died pretty much every day either from disease, a gunshot to the back, or simply from trying to take a trip out of town.

– Men wore giant, thermal onesies under their clothes, which really complicated the whole crapping in buckets thing.

– Doctors handed out opium like throat lozenges, which brings me to the most glaring difference between present day and Deadwood-era times….

– Even prostitutes had a health plan. Their employer made sure the doctor saw them regularly. And they weren’t restricted to one gynecological visit per year either.

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One Response to “Assumptions I’ve made about the late 1800’s from watching Deadwood”

  1. andreakneeland July 8, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

    We were such geek-fans of this show that a friend and I went several hundred miles out of our way during a cross country road trip JUST to visit Deadwood.

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