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Hurlothrumbo: Maggoty Johnson, Lord Flame, Mark Twain and the World's First Washing Machine: A Word Found and Lost

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Within a month Potter returned to Norton in San Francisco with $20,000 in gold. Norton make money trading in commodities. He had purchased a shipload of coffee at a low price from a Brazilian captain as nobody in the customs office could speak Portuguese. He made money buying oranges in Tahiti and selling them as a scurvy cure to miners who were subsisting on bacon and beans. But nothing was as profitable as the cigars, and they were running out. Norton was smoking 20 cigars a day and spending money faster than he could make it.

In April, 1851 Edward Dibble announced himself at Norton's hotel as "Edward Dibble Noble Grand Humbug of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampis Vitus." Norton's diary describes Dibble as dressed in a formal beaver hat (somewhat worse for wear), a leather vest with many ribbons and badges of "cryptic insignia," a red union suit, suspenders and canvas broadfalls [trousers] "several sizes too large."

Dibble announced that he had come to San Francisco to purchase one of "them thar hurlothrumbo machines," and that he had told the Noble Grand Gold Dust Receiver to "send out a call for gold dust" and that "the call had been deemed satisfactory and so recorded." After a fair amount of whiskey and no small number of cigars Norton, Potter and Dibble came to a mutual understanding as to what "one of them thar hurlothrumbo machines" was.

Old Dry Diggins was soon to be the terminus of a railroad to Sacramento, and the town was growing up. Dibble pointed out there were many places where miners still lived in tents without hot food, baths and, more importantly, a bar and cigars. The rum barrels stenciled with "HURLOTHRUMBO" reminded everyone of the day Potter had come to town with his cargo of hot baths, good rum and great cigars. Dibble wanted Potter to build a wagon that would carry a steam engine, bar, humidor, kitchen and baths. It would be hauled by mules and pump water from a stream. Business could set up wherever there was water and wood for fuel. When Dibble presented a sack with $10,000 in gold dust and a promise of $10,000 more on delivery, the Norton Hurlothrumbo works was born. Norton demanded the sole right to sell cigars through the Hurlothrumbo, but this never proved lucrative as the price of cigars fell once the shortage was relieved in the summer of 1852 by regular shipments from Panama.

One historian has suggested that the need for hot baths in the "diggins" was demanded by female "camp followers." Norton's diary includes Dibble's calling card which indicated he was "dedicated to the care of "widders and orphans, but primarily widders." Norton noted in his diary "I don't believe him, but the gold is real."

At the dedication of the first hurlothrumbo, Potter promised the crowd that the next hurlothrumbo he built would "make ice in the summertime." Dibble called for donations. Within a few minutes 1000 ounces of gold - $20,000 - was collected and presented as a deposit for a second hurlothrumbo to be delivered in August, 1852.

Almost a decade later Mark, Twain described the arrival of the hurlothrumbo in Angels camp in an unpublished manuscript he submitted to the "New York Saturday Press." The article was rejected as "too fantastic" and he replaced it with "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." The original manuscript is in the hands of the Sorocco family, long time residents of Placerville and active in the restoration of E Clampus Vitus in the 1940s.

The "second and grander" hurlothrumbo never was built.

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Eric Dietrich-Berryman Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

German-born (1940) immigrant (1958). US Army 1958-1964. Vietnam 1962-1963. USN 1969-1993. Hofstra University BA 1966; University of New Mexico MA (1968), PhD (1971). Fully retired. Married. Five children, three grandchildren. Resident in (more...)

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