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March 9, 2010

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: Johnny Appleseed

look mommy, it's johnny appleseed!

If you asked my friends, they'd tell you I'm something of a history buff. But I've never fully researched the tale of Johny Appleseed. Owl Meat Gravy to the rescue!

In what I think is one of his better guest posts, Owl Meat delves deep into the core of the man, the myth, the legend:

If you wander around Baltimore wearing a pot as a hat and spreading your seeds, you're a promiscuous crackhead. In the Nineteenth Century you would be Johnny Appleseed.

I am pleased to present the first Tipsy Tuesday Unsung Hero – Johnny Appleseed.

The myth that we teach children is that Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) travelled across the land planting apple trees from seeds. Mmm... apples: wholesome, delicious, and nutritious. The apple is a symbol of the Righteous American Way: Apple-cheeked (chaste yet fertile), apple pie (true American), and Satan's sin-candy. Strike that last one ...

John Chapman did exist. He planted apple trees in nurseries in western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. The apples were cider apples for making hard cider. His agents sold the trees to settlers.

Because you can't grow good apple trees from seeds, the manic seed tosser image is false.

There is a perception that hard cider is an unusual use for apples, but in the 1800s it was the primary use. Fermenting cider to make an alcoholic beverage has been around for millennia.

Because water was unsafe to drink, fermentation of cider was a way to preserve it for the whole year, not just to get ye olde swerve on. Even if you kept fermentation to a minimum, it is amusing to think of people drinking hard cider from breakfast on.

He didn't wear a pot on his head, but he was a bona fide eccentric. My favorite biographical detail is that he avoided relations with women, because he thought that abstinence would allow him to have two female spirits in Heaven. You dawg!

I guess the true story of Johnny Appleseed would blow kids' minds, so a more wholesome fiction was created. The pot on the head part does make you question his sobriety.

Let's end with a live performance of "Johnny Appleseed" by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. It breaks my heart every time. Cheers to you Joe and John Chapman.

(Photo courtesy of

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:00 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays


Let's bring back cider apples. Those varieties went to the wayside around prohibition time, so if the GenMod folks can whip up a johnagold, honeycrisp, and so forth, we can definitely come up with something good and bountiful for hard cider!

And kudos on the Mescaleros link, OMG!

Fun fact: Though generally dressed in particularity rank and tattered attire, John Chapman was actually hilariously wealthy. Apple trees were popular due to a proviso in homesteading law of the time stating that one had to plant fruit trees and farm to establish ownership.

Fun trivia fact: The first book written by now-best-selling author Annie Proulx ("Brokeback Mountain" and other western novels) was a textbook (written along with Lew Nichols) on making hard cider. All the way back in 1980.

I never knew Johnny Appleseed was such a compelling person. He sounds like America's Saint Francis of Assisi, Homer, and John the Baptist, all rolled into one.

I wonder if children were also given the hard cider to drink if water was unsafe. Also, why would the water have been so unsafe? Surely it would have been more potable back then than it is today.

Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick with love.

@Camille -- Sure, the water was potable if you lived next to a gurgling brook or had your own well out in the countryside. But if you lived in some kind of town or city, forget it. You think our sewage systems are bad now? Imagine how nasty it was back then, when people emptied their bedpans in the street.

Apparently I'm a direct descendant of John Chapman...or that is the story that has been told by my family anyway, heh.

Well g$, Chapman never married but legend has it he planted a lot of seeds. Oh wait, I already refuted that.

Ba ... zing?

Johnny Appleseed, wasn't he in the Wu Tang Clan?

I remember in our college days we would take "nature hikes" in the woods around campus. We rolled joints, tossing the seeds away in the woods and wondering why there was never a Johnny Pot-seed.

Well, perhaps it is time for some urban farming. Maybe a cider apple orchard on some under-utilized land, like that gas station on Central Avenue or the Phillips at the Harbor Place.

Apparently, he took in a young girl --fed her, clothed her, and educated her -- for the sole purpose of marrying her when she became of age. She ran off before that could happen and he was bitter and mean about it.

I also heard he made poor business decisions -- renting what was the frontier and could be had "dirt" cheap, when he should have been buying land. Many farmers screwed him over.

Apparently, he did meet Abraham Lincoln at some point and Lincoln thought he was a little off.

I'd like to hjear the true story of Johnny Crabcake

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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