Here's a story kind of up the woodworking alley. When I would run away
from home at age 7 I'd wander downtown a little ways and pass this carved
statue in front of a tobacco store. I haven't thought of it much since then,
until I browsed the old hometown newspaper last month:
Punch brought to Terre Haute in 1867
By Linda Patrick/Special to the Tribune-Star
February 15, 2004
Before the days of radio and television commercials, merchants used carved
wooden signs and figures to advertise their wares. Each specialty shop had its
own symbol. For example, a bear and cubs for a furrier, a sailor for a ships
chandlery, or a wooden Indian for the tobacconist shop.
In 1865, Mr. Fred J. Biel went to New York to buy a figure to stand in front of
his tobacco store. Now, the characters of Punch and Judy were very popular at
this time, even appearing in their own magazine, Punch. Mr. Biel chose these
two characters instead of the more common cigar store Indian.
Our Punch was carved from the base of a mast from a sailing ship.
Unfortunately, his carver died before his companion Judy could be created. So,
the lone Punch was brought to Terre Haute in 1867 where he stood in at least
four locations near and along Wabash Avenue. The last location was 420 Wabash.
In those early days, our Punch had quite a social life. It was customary for
proprietors to move their outside displays inside the store before closing at
night. On those occasions when Mr. Biel forgot to bring Punch in, being on
wheels, it was not uncommon for people to cart him off for a tour of the local
drinking establishments. Drinks were on Punch, of course. I wonder how many New
Years Eve parties he attended. He would be returned to his spot the next
morning covered with IOUs, which Mr. Biel duly paid.
Things are quieter for Punch now. Mr. Biels granddaughters, Mrs. Mary R.
Williams and Mrs. Anna J. Bradford donated him to the Historical Society around
1951, where he stands in the Gift Shop. Come by and see him sometime. I'm sure
he'd be pleased as Punch to see you.