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In 1917, the bottler of Pluto Water, the trademark of the natural mineral spring sourced in French Lick, Indiana, needed over 450 boxcars to ship that year’s output to America. The water, naturally carbonated and salted with sodium and magnesium sulfate, was a very popular product, strongly laxative. The prehistoric spring had been tapped by humans for a long time and was always regarded as medicinal and restorative. That year, Art Smith, The Bird Boy of Fort Wayne, was commissioned by former U.S. Senator Thomas Taggart, owner of the grand resort, The French Lick Springs Hotel, to affix “America’s Laxative,” Pluto Water’s other motto, “When Nature Won’t Pluto Will,” over the pristine karst region that generated the refreshing cure. It took a long time to construct the slogan above the resort, and its articulation could be read as well by the clients situated in rocking chairs and chaise longues on the grand portico of the other de luxe hotel rival at nearby West Baden Springs. Pluto Water’s published advertisement guaranteed effective relief within a half hour to two hours after ingestion. And it did take Art Smith the better part of the morning to complete the task, the zigzagging double-ues being particularly tricky. Pluto Water remained profitable for many years after, growing in popularity until the operation was shuttered in the seventies when lithium, which was found in trace amounts in the water, was deemed a controlled substance by the federal government and hence no longer legal to purvey.
T O M A T O J U I C E
That same year, on a Tuesday, in 1917, world famous chef, Louis Perrin, began to prepare breakfast for the guests of the French Lick Springs Hotel only to discover the kitchen had run out of orange juice and oranges to create more. Improvising, he began to squeeze tomatoes, of which he had bushels, combining the acidic juice with sugar and his special sauce that, to this day, remains secret, and served the new drink in the resort’s dining rooms. The concoction was an instant success, and its fame quickly spread by means of departing conventioneers, spa vacationers, and the gambling gangsters and bootleggers who would park their private rail parlor cars on special sidings at the front door of the hotel. Management had extended Art Smith’s skywriting contract, and, after a heated discussion with Chef Perrin on what to call the new beverage, settled on what was then a startling appellation—Tomato Juice. It is interesting to think that Art Smith was there at the moment of inception for so many innovations and inventions. And just as interesting, no one at the time, at those times, knew how it would all turn out, how things would unfold, how history would express itself at long last. And Art Smith, it seemed, would be there to mark so many of these occasions with his sky writing even though that writing was not indelible and the content of each message soon forgotten whilst the grandness and surprise of the gesture would remain fixed only in the consciousness of the witnesses of each temporary, transitory display. Art took to the air, creating a kind of a palimpsest of smoke and vapor, overwriting that day’s tribute to Pluto Water in the sky above the tiny village of French Lick, now barely remembered as the original source of these two important digestive aperitifs.
Michael Martone is the author of Alive and Dead in Indiana, Return to Powers, Safety Patrol, Fort Wayne Is Seventh on Hitler’s List, Pensées: The Thoughts of Dan Quayle, Seeing Eye, The Flatness and Other Landscapes, The Blue Guide to Indiana, Michael Martone, Unconventions: Attempting the Art of Craft and the Craft of Art, Double-Wide: Collected Fiction of Michael Martone, Racing in Place: Collages, Fragments, Postcards, Ruins, Four for a Quarter, Memoranda, Winesburg, Indiana, Brooding: Arias, Choruses, Lullabies, Follies, Dirges, and a Duet, The Moon Over Wapakoneta: Fictions & Science Fictions from Indiana & Beyond, and The Complete Writings of Art Smith, the Bird Boy of Fort Wayne, Edited by Michael Martone. He lives in Tuscaloosa with his wife, the poet Theresa Pappas.