Hi Guy,

Thanks for sharing this inquiry.  While the jury is still out on this one (Ann Romines found such a cranberry glass pitcher listed in a catalogue of Pittsburgh glass products), we had fun at last year's Pittsburgh International Cather Seminar speculating that the joke had something to do with red lemonade--the color of the beverage within rather than the container.  Red or pink lemonade has a variety of origin stories (Wikipedia is a good place to start), but it was tinted with cochineal--those beetle shells used to make striped candy--and was associated with carnivals and the faintly illicit behavior of the midway (not quite prostitution).  Country children, and even suburban cousins in Pittsburgh's East End neighborhoods, would experience red lemonade when the circus came to town.   Here's the caption from part of our tour of Cather's Allegheny City.  I think Cather may have got the germ of that scene from "Paul's Case" as early as June 1896, her first trip to meet the Gerwigs:  

The day of Cather’s arrival, Friday, June 26, 1896, the students of the Allegheny City public schools celebrated the end of the school year with a Children’s Jubilee.  The city parks, especially East Park along Cedar Avenue, were filled with eight to ten thousand children, parents, and teachers, and the rule against playing on the grass was suspended for the day.  Copenhagen, a traditional kissing game, was tolerated, but street vendors selling red lemonade were outlawed.  In “Paul’s Case,” Paul’s sisters serve lemonade to the neighbors from a cranberry glass pitcher like the one shown, owned by Dawn Uzdale [present owner of the Gerwig House on Cedar Avenue].  Paul’s neighbors joke about the “suspicious color” of the beverage because red lemonade was associated with circuses.  Origin stories abound for pink and red lemonade, but one holds that it was invented in nearby Bethlehem, PA, by Civil War veteran Levi F. Walter, who added cochineal to the summer drink and afterward made his fortune in circus concessions.

  The newspapers speculated that the local candy proprietors wanted a ban on sidewalk sales.  The city authorities provided ample icewater rather than red lemonade.
This is just one theory, but an entertaining one.  So the suggestion in "Paul's Case" isn't that the red pitcher disguises alcoholic beverage, as I once thought, but that Paul's sisters are providing a treat that reminds the neighbors of a trip to the circus, which we also see in "The Sentimentality of William Tavener."
I can send a pdf of the Allegheny City tour booklet in case you would want to forward it to Professor Shou and her students.

Best, Tim

On Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 8:30 AM, Guy Reynolds <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Hello everyone :

I’m forwarding an email from a Chinese scholar who has a question about ‘Paul’s Case’: What do you think? I have my own theories….but thought it interesting to ask.



Guy Reynolds


Director, Cather Project

Department of English

337D Andrews Hall

Lincoln, NE 68588-0333


(402) 472-1885

[log in to unmask]



From: "[log in to unmask]" <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 at 9:22 AM
To: Guy Reynolds <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: A Question about "Paul's Case" from China


Dear Professor Reynolds,

This is Helen Shou from Zhejiang University in China. I am from the English Department in our university and teach English short stories. 

When I was having a discussion on "Paul's Case" with my students, one of them asked a question about the following part, and I'm not very sure about why Willa Cather put this part in the story and why she wrote that "the girls put lemonade in a red glass pitcher and the neighbours always joked about the suspicious colour of the pitcher". 

I would really appreciate it if you could answer my email and help me to solve this problem, in that I know that you are an expert in Cather studies.

"When the weather was warm, and his father was in a particularly jovial frame of mind, the girls made lemonade, which was always brought out in a red glass pitcher, ornamented with forget-me-nots in blue enamel. This the girls thought very fine, and the neighbours always joked about the suspicious colour of the pitcher". 

Looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you very much.

Best Regards

Helen Shou

The English Department

Zhejiang University