For good or for bad the legend of the Hot Tamale pushcart peddler (a.k.a. the Ice Cream pushcart peddler), lurking around every schoolyard, lasted well into the late 1950’s. Perhaps these two versions (I suspect plagiarism) written in 1938, 1952 respectably, best detail the legend.

Science Speaks Narcotic Menace

SCIENCE SPEAKS To Young Men on Liquor; Tobacco; Narcotics; and marijuana by George Thomason MD [1938]


The story of Baptiste Chautemps, the New Orleans dope peddler, and how he sold marijuana cigarettes to high school boys and girls.

BAPTISTE CHAUTEMPS was as blue as indigo. Dejection and despondency were to be seen in his every step as he walked Slowly, head down, hands in pockets, along Avenue Esplanade in New Orleans' old French quarter, the Vieux Carre. Baptiste was a dope peddler, but alasl he had no dope to peddle. Federal officers had swooped down on New Orleans a fortnight before, had raided the dope headquarters near the Place d'Armes, had confiscated nearly $50,000 worth of "Mary Ann" (morphine) and "snow" (Cocaine), and had jailed five of the big smugglers who brought narcotics into the port of New Orleans from foreign lands.

As a consequence, Baptiste's supply was shut off. For days he hadn't as much as a single bindle to sell. "Hopheads" and "snowbirds" all over that part of the city were dogging his steps day and night, demanding and pleading that he sell them their usual dose of the drugs.

"Que faire! Que faire!" ("What shall I do! What shall I do!"), exclaimed Baptiste to himself distractedly in his native French.

Baptiste himself was an addict, and his own personal supply would not last more than thirty-six hours. He had seen other addicts in their excruciating suffering when they could not get the drug, and he didn't want to go through that agony. Besides that, without his usual profits on drug selling, how could he eat? Where would he sleep? And how could he keep on dodging his customers, a number of whom might do him bodily harm if their dope was not forthcoming soon?


'Tis always darkest just before the dawn. When Baptiste's gloom was deepest, suddenly he had an inspiration. "Ah, what about my old friend Jean Courvoisier?" Baptiste exclaimed to himself. "I heard the other day that he is now peddling ‘muggles' [marijuana]. I'll look him up, and maybe he'll let me have enough to supply my customers until 'Mary Ann' and 'snow' start coming in again."

Baptiste himself had never tried marijuana. It was rather a newcomer among the narcotic drugs in New Orleans, and he, like most addicts and peddlers, had stayed by morphine or cocaine. But "any port in a storm," and Baptiste knew a storm of cyclonic proportions was fast brewing about his head.

In less than an hour Baptiste had found Courvoisier, the marijuana peddler. "Jean, how is your supply of 'muggles'?" breathlessly asked Baptiste almost before he had entered Courvoisier's "apartment" in a cheap lodging house just off Canal Street. "I can't get any 'Mary Ann' or 'snow' for days yet, and I must get something quick for my customers and for myself. How much do you have?"

"Oh, don't get excited, Baptiste, for I have plenty, and there is lots more of it out on the 'farm' near Pontchartrain. If you have the money, I can get you all you can sell."

And then dropping his voice to a confidential tone, Jean said, "Baptiste, don't worry about 'Mary Ann' and 'snow.' The supply is too irregular, and the price goes up and down too fast. If you'll start peddling ‘reefers' [marijuana cigarettes] for me, you will make more money, and you'll always have as much as you can sell, for we grow it right here in Louisiana. Besides that, the number of customers is increasing, for we are working on high school kids. Once we get them sold on smoking 'reefers,' they are steady customers as long as they live."

Jean gave Baptiste some "reefers" to smoke. Baptiste liked them. He bought a dozen packs, and in a few hours had peddled them throughout the underworld haunts of the city where his customers lived.

In a few days he was back for more. "Why don't you expand your peddling a bit, Baptiste?" asked Jean. "There is a big high school over on the other side of town where we haven't worked yet. I think you could start a good business there."

"How do I start?" asked Baptiste.

"Oh, just get yourself an ice-cream push cart. Park yourself near the school, and start selling cones to the kids. After a few days, when they are used to seeing you there, just mention to some boy you see smoking a cigarette that you have a cigarette with more of a 'kick' in it. Then give him a free ‘reefer.' Make the same suggestion and offer to others of your ice-cream customers, and soon they will want to buy your special brand of cigarettes. Sell them at two for a quarter. Later, when they become addicted, you sell them for two bits apiece. Then you will be making some real money, for there's money in 'muggles.' Baptiste!"

So Baptiste began his marijuana peddling to high school youngsters, both boys and girls. In a few weeks he had more than forty steady customers at that school. At nighttime he peddled "reefers" in his old haunts below Canal Street. Soon he was making more money than he had in prior days with "Mary Ann" and "snow." Everything was going lovely for Baptiste, when suddenly one noon hour in front of the school, when he was selling cones interspersed with "reefers," three men suddenly walled up.

"Baptiste, you're under arrest!" said one of the men, pulling back his coat and showing his badge as inspector of police.

"What for?" asked Baptiste in a nonchalant way.

"For peddling marijuana cigarettes to these school kids," sternly answered the inspector. "Mr. Tourtillot, the principal here, has sworn out a complaint, and this man from my squad has been watching you for three days. In his pocket he has a half dozen 'reefers' you sold less than a half hour ago. So come along, Baptiste, we are on the way to police headquarters right now."

A few days later, when Baptiste came up before the police judge for his hearing, a sorry and tragic story was told by the principal of the high school and by several parents.

"My boy, Charles," tearfully testified one mother, "steals and lies every day. A few months ago he was a good boy. Now I can't trust him out of my sight. Since he started smoking 'muggles,' he is so changed I hardly know he is my son."

"Emilie, my daughter, flies into a rage whenever I correct her or make the slightest suggestion," declared one father. "A few nights ago she grabbed a butcher knife and threatened to kill her mother when she was told she must get back from a party at midnight. Heretofore, she has always been obedient. Now I am actually afraid she will kill some of the family if they cross her at all." Under the judge's questioning it was found out that Emilie had become truculent and mean after she began smoking "reefers" sold her by Baptiste.

Mr. Tourtillot, the principal, testified that the grades of all the boys and girls smoking Baptiste's cigarettes had gone down terribly, and that disciplinary problems were much worse with these marijuana users than with the other students. “They are openly defiant about breaking the regulations of the school," declared the principal. "Despite all our precautions, these particular students flagrantly violate the rules of decency and propriety. Many of them have gone 'sexy' to an extent that I and my faculty are at our wit's end to know what to do with them. Every boy and every girl who has been smoking these particular cigarettes seems to have undergone a change of character, a change of psychology, and in every instance the change has been for the bad."

The trial of Baptiste Chautemps did not last long. The verdict of the jury was soon returned. Baptiste was sentenced to ten years in prison, and given a scathing, withering rebuke by the judge for so debauching and degrading these unsuspecting youth of New Orleans.

"You are an assassin, Chautemps!" said the judge. "By luring these boys and girls into the use of this terrible drug you have assassinated their characters, you have blasted their lives. We hope to reclaim most of them from drug addiction; but those we cannot reform would be better off dead. Chantemps, may your conscience-if you have one-give you rest neither day nor night during all your years in prison. You are worse than a murderer, and lower than any other criminal who ever entered my court. No drug will be allowed you in prison. You are going to suffer agonies. Every spasm of pain that contorts your body will burn into your soul the realization of the unspeakable injury you have done to our youth. No suffering you will go through can ever compensate for the irreparable damage you are responsible for. "Mr. Bailiff, take the prisoner away!"  

by Alwyn J. St. Charles [1952]

THE STORY OF JOHNNY C., a Los Angeles peddler.

Johnny's face was sad. Dejection and despondency haunted his every step as he walked slowly, head down, hands in pockets, along notorious Main Street in Los Angeles. Johnny was a dope peddler but, he had no dope to peddle.

Federal officers had swooped down on a large dope distributor in the Angel City and had seized nearly $50,000 worth of heroin, morphine and cocaine. They jailed nine wholesalers and had cut off Johnny's supply.

For days now Johnny hadn't as much as a single bindle to peddle "Hopheads" and "snowbirds" all over town were following him around begging for their usual dose of the drugs. Some of the even threatened him with violence unless he got them some dope in a hurry.

"Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?" He thought. 'How can I eat without the money I earn from dope peddling? Where will sleep? How will I dodge my desperate customers." He knew some of his patrons were getting to the stage where they might act on their dangerous threats, and Johnny was a coward at heart.

When Johnny's gloom was deepest, a promising thought struck him. "Ah, how about my old friend Bob?" be asked himself. "I understand he is now peddling 'reefers.' III go see him. Maybe he'll have a connection who'll let me have enough 'stuff' to keep my customers happy until I can find a new wholesaler of heroin, morphine and cocaine."

Johnny knew he 'had to do something quickly, as a storm of hurricane proportions was fast heading his way.

Johnny himself had never used any of the drugs he sold. He was too smart for that. It was strictly an easy way to make a living. Before he took to pushing dope, he was a bookmaker for horse bettors, but things got too hot, what with Senate Crime Committees stirring the police into action against bookies, so Johnny switched over to dope peddling.

Johnny didn't have much trouble finding his friend, Bob, the muggles" (marijuana) peddler. "Bob," he told him breathlessly, .are you still pushing reefers? I am desperate. My wholesaler and his whole gang got knocked over by the cops, and I haven't been able to get dope for my customers. They are going crazy and might kill me unless I can get some for them right away. Do you know where I can get it?"

'Take it easy, Johnny, I can get you all you need---if you've got the price.

"But," he whispered confidentially, "why don't you get wise to yourself, Johnny. Why do you worry about heroin, morphine and cocaine. The supply is too unsure. And prices go up and down too fast. I'II make you a good deal. If your peddle 'reefers' for me you'll make plenty of money and you'll never have to worry about your supply.'

Bob reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette, "See this,' he said, and he handed it to Johnny.

Johnny took it and looked it over. "Funny looking cigarette," he commented. "That's a reefer," Bob told him. "Smoke it." Johnny smoked it, carefully noting the effects. He liked it. "Our customers are increasing very fast," Bob said, "for we are working on high-school kids. When we get them sold on smoking, they really go for the stuff, and, they usually are customers as long as they live."

Johnny bought a couple dozen packs of reefers and Bob told him how to get started. "There is a big high school out on the west side of town which we haven't worked yet. You could probably do a big business there."

"How do I go about it?" asked Johnny.

"Well," Bob explained, "just get yourself an ice-cream pushcart. Park it near the school and start by selling cones to the kids. Later, after they have gotten used to seeing you, just say to some boy you see smoking a cigarette. 'Say, I have a smoke with a better kick in it.' Then present him with a reefer for free. Tell him that it is a new special kind of cigarette. Don't tell him it is marijuana. That might scare him off. Do the same thing to others of your ice-cream customers. You'll be surprised how soon you'll be doing a thriving business in selling 'reefers' to teenagers."

Bob taught Johnny all the angles. "To begin with sell the 'sticks' two for a quarter. Later, when they get into the habit, raise the price to fifty cents and a dollar, or at least three for a dollar. Then, Johnny, you'll be making some real dough, for there's plenty of that folding stuff in peddling 'muggles'."

Johnny thought he had a good deal, so he began peddling marijuana to high school teenagers, both boys and girls. In a short time he built up a big business. He had about 50 customers at the high school where he worked.

Every day he made big money. Everything was going fine and Johnny thought he was a 'Big Shot.' Then it happened---

One day, during the noon hour, Johnny was approached by three grim looking men. One of them barked, "You are under arrest." Johnny's eyes bulged out of their sockets as he looked at the police badge flashed at him.

"Why, I'm only selling ice-cream cones, officers, what's the trouble?"

The police detective smiled derisively. "Oh yeah, well that's a new name for 'reefers' then. Don't try to kid us Johnny, we know what you are selling."

He nodded toward one of the men, 'Mr. Jones, principal of the school has sworn out a complaint against you. We have been watching you for several days. Here are some reefers you sold during the past hour. Come along now, Johnny, we've got a place for you."

When Johnny's trial came up, a tragic story was related by Mr. Jones. And a few parents also gave their testimony. "My boy, Andy," tearfully testified one of the mothers, "steals and lies every day. Before he began smoking marijuana he was a good boy. Now I can't trust him out of my sight. He is so changed, I scarcely can believe he is my son."

A father testified that, "Elsie, my daughter, flies into a rage whenever I try to talk to her about her behavior, or when I try to make the slightest suggestion to her. The other night her mother ordered her to be home from a party before midnight and she grabbed a butcher-knife and said she was going to kill her own mother.

Shaking his head wearily, the father continued,-'Before she began using marijuana she was always obedient and respectful. Now, I am afraid she will kill some of her family if they try to manage her."

The school principal, Mr. Jones, testified that the grades of the boys and girls who were smoking marijuana had taken a deep plunge to mediocrity. He said that discipline had suffered because the marijuana users were so hard to handle.

'"They are openly defiant," he said. "They continue to break the regulations of the school, and despite all our precautions these students manage to flagrantly violate all our rules of propriety and decency. Some of them have become so sex-minded that we really do not know what to do with them."

Mr. Jones paused thoughtfully, then continued, "It has been my studied observation that every girl and every boy, who has been smoking marijuana cigarettes in our school, has undergone a complete change of character. And in every case, the change has been for the worse. No matter how good they were before they became marijuana smokers, they are invariably bad ones now."

Many parents testified how their children acted at home after starting to smoke "reefers." Their stories were sordid and tragic.

The jury wasted no time in coming to a verdict. And Johnny was handed a stiff prison sentence by the court. The judge minced no words in the lecture he gave Johnny after the verdict. "You are an assassin," roared the judge. "You lured these girls and boys into using this maddening drug. You have ruined their characters. You have wrecked their lives."

Looking sternly down at the prisoner before him, the magistrate continued, "We have hope that we may salvage some of these wrecked youths from their addiction; but those who fail to reform would be much better off in their graves."

The judge paused and slowly punctuated his further remarks with much contempt, "Johnny C., may your conscience let you rest neither day nor night during your incarceration in prison. A murderer is a gentleman compared with you. You are the lowest form of a criminal I have ever had the misfortune to sentence to prison. My misfortune arises from the fact that I am unable to commit you for life."

The judge remanded Johnny into the custody of the sheriff, revoking the bail which had allowed Johnny his liberty pending the trial.

"I am giving you the maximum sentence provided by law," the court stated sternly. "No punishment could be too severe considering the gravity of your offense. The despicable wrong you have done to these innocent children is inexcusable".

The judge eyed the cringing prisoner contemptuously, then turned to the sheriff, "Take this man and lock him up," he ordered.

"And," said the sheriff to Johnny as he led him away, "I wish I could throw the key away."


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