They seem to have been forgotten in most places, but the subject of our current Blackhall story, charivaris, were a real practice.
The custom dates back to the Middle Ages and originated in France… In the early 1600s, the Council of Tours forbade charivari and threatened its practitioners with excommunication. Nevertheless, the custom continued in rural areas.
The writer of the wikipedia article states:
North American charivari is noted as less extreme than those in Europe. They were unique and the depended on the family as well as who was participating. While embellished with some European traditions, the North American charivari were often more so dipping the culprits in horse tanks or forcing them to buy candy bars for the crowd.
This actually runs contrary to my own findings – it may simply be the case that a non-violent charivari wasn’t worth the news-space, but there are plenty of examples of something more than roughhousing taking place.
Here’s an excerpt from the Perth Courier, Sept. 12, 1873 – the telling takes up after old Mr. Chapman has already been dragged from his home, his door having been smashed in with rocks. He fainted, so the intruders held a mock funeral:
After maltreating the old man for a length of time in this manner, one of the villains deliberately fired a shot at the prostate body, the charge taking effect just above the knee… The ruffians then left Mr. Chapman to his fate. Medical aid was summoned… doctors concur in the belief that his case is an extremely doubtful one, and that the chances are very strong against his recovery.
The same issue of the paper also noted:
Such exhibitions of atrocity as are so frequent at charivari are simply disgraceful, without one mitigating accompanying circumstance. That the strong arm of the law should step in and quell all such disturbances of the peace,… no law abiding citizen can deny.
Still, I did love this detail from the wikipedia article:
From an 1860 English charivari against a wife-beater a chant was created which was sung during this particular man’s charivari:
“Has beat his wife! Has beat his wife! It is a very great shame and disgrace To all who live in this place It is indeed upon my life!”