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January 30, 2016

A Good Solution?

Georgia's A.O. Halsey
Facing Mercer at Alumni Athletic Field in front of 1,500 spectators, the UGA football program played its initial game on this date 124 years ago today. I've blogged about this momentous and historical event on several occasions, including mentioning how the end result should not have been what the record books indicate: Georgia 50, Mercer 0.

Instead, exactly why should the Red and Black have prevailed by a 60-0 score that afternoon on what would be renamed "Herty Field"?

According to A.O. Halsey, Georgia's starting right tackle for the contest, "the official scorer had made two trips across to the dispensary during the game," missing two Red and Black touchdowns, counting four points each, and an extra point, worth two points at the time.

I have always been intrigued with Halsey's claim ever since first reading it in John Stegeman's The Ghosts of Herty Field. Similarly to how someone nowadays would walk from North Campus, cross Broad Street, and walked into, say, Blue Sky, I have pictured the official scorer leaving the field early with the score 50 to 0, crossing Broad Street (while maybe watching out for passing horse-and-buggies), and entering the Broad Street Dispensary.

Yet, turns out, the Broad Street Dispensary was not your run-of-the-mill, well-established bar but rather, despite "dispensing" alcohol, what was considered a new "solution to the alcohol problem in Clarke County."

Years before foot-ball came to the UGA campus, Athens attempted to implement a city-wide prohibition, only to discover it produced black market liquor. In turn, the corruption caused more drunkenness, crime, and health issues in the city. A "dispensary" was believed to be a solution, guaranteeing only high quality liquor would be sold in Clarke County while bringing in new revenue to Athens.

A few months prior to the Dispensary's grand opening in late September of 1891, The Athens Banner outlined "the dispensary plan," or "A Good Solution," which included the elimination of "blind tigers":

I'm reminded of a t-shirt I recall occasionally seeing on campus when I was a student during the 1990s, declaring that Athens was "a drinking town with a college problem." Apparently, the same was true a century before in the 1890s as the Dispensary provided little "solution" at all. You could say, the Auburn and Clemson teams weren't the only "tigers" Athens had to contend with as "blind tigers," or illegal bars, would prevail in and around the city. In time, the controlled liquor sales of the Dispensary, which was also believed to be a "corrupting influence" on Athens politics, was just as much frowned upon by many residents as their disdain for illegal liquor. 

Alas, the Broad Street Dispensary, or the reason why Georgia wasn't credited with 10 points it had earned against Mercer in 1892, finally closed its doors on New Year's Eve, 1907, the day before state-wide prohibition went into effect.

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