Sanders abstains from smoke.


Rocky Mount Telegram, 11 August 1944.

Will Sanders cannot be identified with certainty.

I post this piece not to feature the writer’s casually racist mockery, but to highlight lost slang expressions and social practices. The use of canned heat, or Sterno, as an alcohol substitute was widespread in the early 20th century. (See blues guitarist Tommy Johnson‘s Canned Heat Blues. “Crying canned heat, mama, sho’ Lord killing me ….”) Often called “squeeze” because the gel was strained through cloth before consumption, in local idiom the intoxicant was known as “smoke.” As to “Center Brick orange brandy,” I have not found other references to the intentional consumption of paint remover, which, whether in solvent or caustic form, is highly poisonous.

Centre Brick Warehouse, by the way, was for decades a major player in Wilson’s tobacco market. Photograph courtesy of Images of Historic Wilson County, Images of North Carolina,