In the Habit: A History of Catholicism and Tobacco
| John B. Buescher | Catholic World Report
Saints who smoked, popes who puffed, and others who snuffed.
Ad Maioram Dei Gloriam Sold to American
In 1873, impoverished Confederate veteran Chiswell Langhorne (left) moved his family from Lynchburg to Danville, Virginia and began looking for work. The owner of a Danville tobacco warehouse had recently developed a new system of selling tobacco by auction: Instead of having farmers’ tobacco hogsheads sampled for interested buyers, the warehouse owner had all the tobacco laid out in long rows for auction. Langhorne, a lively character with a taste for showing off, got the idea that he would make his mark somehow in the newly flourishing Danville tobacco trade.
He was an Episcopalian, but while visiting a Catholic friend in Richmond around this time, he attended Mass with him one Sunday morning and heard the priest’s Gregorian chant. Langhorne “reasoned that maybe he could supply the entertainment needs of warehousemen back home by emulating the priest’s stimulating chant, along with what he later coined, a ‘pitter-patter’ and ‘gobble gook’ that would stimulate the buyers and be pleasing to the gathering public.”
He added his own rhythmic body language and thereby created a fast-paced and entertaining auctioneering chant that allowed buyers moving along the rows of tobacco to track the rapid progress of the sales.
It served Langhorne well, as it has the generations of tobacco auctioneers that came after him, each one adding his own style. After his auctioneering success brought Langhorne some money, he began investing in the railroads that transported the tobacco from Danville, left the auctioneering business, and eventually made a fortune, allowing his family to move to an estate near Charlottesville and work itself back into the Virginia aristocracy. His daughter Irene married illustrator Charles Dana Gibson and became the model for his Gibson girl drawings, and his daughter Nancy married Waldorf Astor in England, was elected to Parliament, converted from the Episcopal Church to Christian Science, and became virulently anti-Catholic, despite the fact that, as we may say, her family’s success wound back, like a twist of tobacco, to her father’s having heard Gregorian chant one Sunday at high Mass. (Right: Danville auction warehouse postcard, 1946)
Ex Fumo Dare Lucem
At the time just after Spanish explorers were introduced to tobacco by way of Columbus’ voyages, smoking or snuffing it—as the New World natives did—carried with it something of an air of deviltry because natives saw in it a connection to invisible spirits. To some of the most earnest missionary clergy, the wreaths of its smoke and its action upon the spirits of those who imbibed it were a kind of sacramental parody of the Church’s sacraments, established in the New World beforehand by the Devil in order to hinder its evangelization.