Ebisu

by david on 4 December 2010

In Japanese mythology and folklore, Ebisu is the Japanese god of fishermen, workingmen and good luck, and is one of the Seven Gods of Fortune. Although slightly lame and deaf, he is happy and auspicious. He is often displayed with Daikokuten and Fukurokuju, two more of the Seven Gods of Fortune, in shopkeeper windows.

Paul Elder published this doggerel about Ebisu exactly 100 years ago, as a greeting for the Christmas season of 1910. It is a large format piece—25″ wide—that folds in thirds to a 8.5 x 10″ finished size. Cutouts reveal photographs of the front and back of a pottery Ebisu figure. It’s unclear whether Elder also sold the figurines along with the greeting.

The poet was William O’Connell McGeehan (1879-1933) a sportswriter and editor of the New York Herald Tribune. He wrote primarily about boxing (which he euphemistically called “the manly art of modified murder” or “The Cauliflower Industry”). The Herald Tribune sent McGeehan to Dayton, Tennessee in 1925 to cover the famous John Scopes trial, no doubt sensing a metaphorical boxing match between the attorneys Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan. McGeehan had written Ebisu long before, while he and his wife, journalist and playwright Sophie Treadwell, were still reporters for newspapers in San Francisco.

Ebisu p1

Title page of "Ebisu"

Ebisu p3

W. O. McGeehan's poem "Ebisu"

Ebisu p4

Ebisu sculpture, with more poetry

Ebisu p5

Back of Ebisu sculpture, with more poetry

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