This hand-colored allegorical print depicts the course of destruction through drinking in a series of symbols. A train labeled "Alcohol" is stopped at "Drunkard's Curve Station." It has left a tranquil valley and is heading toward doom in a land of evil serpents (as in Eden), skeletons, a vampire bat, and what appears to be a dangerous route to destruction, with fictional station names like "Horrorland," "Maniacville", "Prisonton" and “Woeland." The train runs on grain alcohol with the piston working in a decanter. Numerous travelers who can no longer pay the fare are lying abandoned, sick or passed out along the side of the tracks, while others appear to be looking for ways to escape. Station names bear a cautionary tale of scriptural citations along the left and right borders and below the image is a considerable amount of interpretive text.
This print was created by the artist Emil F. Ackermann, who was born in Dresden, Germany in 1840 and came to the United States in 1848. Ackermann eventually went to work for the lithography firm of J.H. Bufford and Sons, which produced the lithograph in the 1860s. It was issued by the Massachusetts Temperance Alliance and published by S.W. Hanks in his book The Crystal River Turned Upon the Black Valley Railroad and Black Valley Country -- A Temperance Allegory (also known as The Black Valley: The Railroad and the Country). Hanks called the print "probably the most successful temperance lecture in the country." Stedman Wright Hanks (1811-1889) was a Congregational minister in Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as an author, artist, and fervent supporter of both the temperance and anti-slavery movements. Hanks spoke to audiences around the United States about the evils of overindulging in alcohol. In addition to his book about the Black Valley Railroad, his published works included Sailor Boys, or, Light on the Sea and Mutineers of the "Bounty and compiled a temperance song book and served as a representative in the Massachusetts General Court. He is also noted for performing the sermon commemorating John Quincy Adams deathat the St. John Street Congregational Church.
John H. Bufford (1810-1870) started his career in 1835 in New York, working for George Endicott and Nathaniel Currier. In 1840 he moved back to Boston and started his own lithography company. His sons decided to follow their father into the lithography business, and in 1858 John Bufford Jr. (1841-1893) and Frank Gale Bufford (1837-1912) partnered with their father to form the J.H. Bufford & Sons lithography firm. After John H. Bufford's death in 1870 his two sons continued to operate the family firm and changed the name to Bufford Sons.
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