Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day 12: Bull Durham

So we walked to a Bulls game tonight, my family and I. The fireworks are loud enough at home to scare the cats; we might as well see them up close. Jen got our tickets from a season ticket holder on the Old West Durham listserv, which thus far has proven way cooler than the Morehead Hill listserv, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time. Anyway, we wound up down in front in right field, able to put our beers right atop the Bulls' dugout.

Our bullpen was off to the right, while the visiting bullpen was way off in left field, below the "Hit Bull, Win Steak Bull." I've always heard, during my twenty-something years in the Triangle, that our bullpens were the origin of the word. Makes sense, though it's not quite the case. Assuming you buy the theory that the old Bull Durham ads were responsible for the term, which seems probable, they weren't just used here in Durham; they were found along the outfield walls in ballparks all across the USA in the early 20th century. But, yes, they did originate in Durham, it being Bull Durham Tobacco. But where exactly did that come from?

The American Tobacco Company had something close to a monopoly on tobacco by the first decade of the last century, a monopoly eventually broken up under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Company head James Duke was hell bent on acquiring his competitors, and one of them was Liggett & Myers. Now, Liggett & Myers got Bull Durham Tobacco when they bought out W.T. Blackwell & Company, which acquired the brand from J.R. Green, who got the idea for the brand from his friend James Whitted, who was inspired by a jar of Colman's Mustard, which has a bull's head for a logo (still does, to this day). It's called English mustard now, but it was sometimes known as Durham mustard, since the style of mustard was invented by a woman in Durham, England. The bull logo was presumably a reference to John Bull, a symbol of Britain at the height of its popularity in the mid-19th century, when Colman's adopted it. John Bull's surname, in turn, is probably a reference to the derogatory use of the phrase "les rosbifs" by the French to refer to the British. So, that is the chain of associations that led to me and 10,000 other people screaming, "Let's go Bulls!" time and again tonight (to no effect, alas), while a man in a Bull costume danced in front of me on the dugout.

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