1872, Joe Smith’s Saloon in Manhattan is where the first event supposedly took place. Nobody knows whether the story is true, but it was used as the basis of a poem written by John Henry Titus, about a man who stumbles into the bar with a tale of how he lost Madeline, the love of his life, when she ran off with another man. Claiming to have been a famous artist, he offers to draw a portrait of his beloved on the floor for the price of a drink. The other patrons take him up on his offer. He finishes the portrait and falls dead across the beautiful face.
In 1887 another poet, Hugh Antoine D’Arcy, adapted and wrote a new version of the poem titled “The Face on the Floor.” This version was published in the New York Dispatch and became quite popular. Someone else set a similar poem to music and published the song. To avoid copyright conflicts, they titled it “The Face on the Barroom Floor.” Over time, D’Arcy’s poem came to be known by the title of the song (much to Mr. D’Arcy’s displeasure). The entire poem is quite long, but here are the last couple of verses as a sample.
“Say, boys, if you give me just another whiskey I’ll be glad,
And I’ll draw right here a picture of the face that drove me mad.
Give me that piece of chalk with which you mark the baseball score –
You shall see the lovely Madeline upon the barroom floor.”
Another drink, and with chalk in hand, the vagabond began
To sketch a face that well might buy the soul of any man.
Then, as he placed another lock upon the shapely head,
With a fearful shriek, he leaped and fell across the picture — dead.
Segue to the second event—Central City, Colorado, 1939. The gold mining boom town from the mid 1800’s was still a popular tourist attraction. Artist Herndon Davis had been commissioned to do a series of paintings for the Central City Opera House and also for the Teller House hotel where he was staying. Alas, things didn’t go well for him. Davis got into a violent argument with the director of the project and was fired.
A hotel busboy, Joe Libby, suggested that the artist “give them something to remember him by.” That night Libby smuggled Davis into the hotel bar. By candlelight, the artist painted a face (thought to be the face of his wife) on the barroom floor.
Davis never signed his work, but the bar’s owners chose to capitalize on it. They advertised the painting as the one from the poem, and people flocked to see it. It is there to this day, as Central City’s most popular attraction.
I was unable to find a copyright-free image for this blog. But here’s a link to the face and the entire poem.
Sarah Parker had tried to escape her past in a dusty mining town. But any hope of redemption was lost once Donovan Cole arrived, carrying battle-seared memories and a bellyful of hate—all for the woman she’d been during a time she’d hoped to forget!
“The Angel of Miner’s Gulch,” they called her. Fallen angel, more likely, Donovan swore. For the “sainted” Miss Sarah had been a lying, coldhearted Yankee spy who knew how to capture a man and make him her own—forever!
Here’s a link to the Kindle edition