View Full Version : Alleged saloon doors of the wild west.

02-06-2000, 02:51 PM
You can't watch a western or anything western-themed without seeing this cliché: the swinging saloon door. It occurred to me the other day: those have got to be the most useless doors ever used... IF they were ever used. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that we've been duped by a Hollywood interpretation of history.

1. Where these things actually used in western saloons?
2. If so, where they as ubiquitous as they are in Hollywood westerns?
3. And, if so, what was the point? They don't keep out the dust. They don't keep out bad guys. They don't keep out after-hours theives (who could crawl under them). They don't keep out bugs. NO door at all would provide more efficient ventilation!

Ursa Major
02-06-2000, 03:13 PM
The swinging doors are the sort that would likely devide rooms WITHIN a saloon or restaurant. Ideal for waiters and barmaids with their hands full. Your right that it wouldn't make any sense to use them for the entrance (especially when you consider the dust produced by an unpaved street).

Here's a link to some photos of buildings in Bodie, Calif. Not a single one has those types of doors.

02-06-2000, 03:27 PM
Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" was probably the only western to accurately portray an Old West saloon; no swinging doors, dark as night, cold and unfriendly.

"My hovercraft is full of eels."

Arnold Winkelried
02-06-2000, 03:41 PM
By the way, movie trivia: On the Universal Studios tour, when your bus goes through the western set, the guide explains how the movie set has two different saloon doors: an extra-large one to make the lady appear small and demure, and an extra-small one to make the cowboy appear taller and broader of shoulders.

02-06-2000, 06:31 PM
Gotta hand it to ya, Ursa -- your eyeballs are better than mine if you found a single photo of a 'saloon' on that link. The Wheaton & Hollis Hotel may have served as one, but I can't see where the photos prove anything as to the presence or lack of swinging doors. In any case, it stands to reason that the classic 'batwing' swinging doors wouldn't be the only doors on any building. Not much protection from the elements there, and hardly burglar-resistant. I've seen several period drinking establishments that had both conventional and 'batwing' doors, the 'batwings' being mounted inside the standard doors.

I can think of several legitimate purposes for those swinging doors.

(1) Easy ingress/egress. Travelers in those days often carried their 'traps' -- saddlebags, bedroll, rifle, etc. -- with them, rather than risk having them stolen. As you yourself pointed out, swinging doors are pretty handy for someone with his/her hands full.

(2) Privacy. The swinging doors effectively blocked a passerby's view of the interior of the building, unless said passerby walked right up to the doors and looked over them. Some of the goings-on inside a saloon were best shielded from public view.

(3) Ventilation. Saloons, then and now, are notoriously smoky, stinky places. (I loved how Kevin Kline's character in 'Silverado' used his nose to guage the quality of a new saloon!)

Of course, some of the above is WAG'ing on my part, but sensible, yes?

I don't know why fortune smiles on some and lets the rest go free...


02-06-2000, 06:53 PM
Having trooped repeatedly with various tourists through various ghost and mining towns throughout the great state of Montana, I can tell you that saloons did in fact have those types of doors -- why, I don't know. But, as someone else has already said, they generally were secondary doors, used when the saloon was open and the main (locking) door was open and out of the way. I know nothing about the history of these doors, but I find it hard to believe that historical preservationists in towns like Virginia City and Bannock would restore the saloons and include a detail (the swinging doors) that didn't really exist at the time.


Fiat Justitia

02-07-2000, 12:18 PM
Thanks for the pics of Bodie! I have been there (it takes some getting to to get there!!) and it was a wonderful place! Course, being located next to the Sierra Nevada at over 8000' altitude helps! :)

02-07-2000, 02:52 PM
David Feldman answered this exact question (in great detail, also) in his book "Why do dogs have wet noses?". So, uh, yeah. No, this isn't a useful post at all, but I just felt I should point that out.

02-07-2000, 09:42 PM
Originally posted by occ:
David Feldman answered this exact question (in great detail, also) in his book "Why do dogs have wet noses?". So, uh, yeah. No, this isn't a useful post at all, but I just felt I should point that out.

Jeez, OCC, you don't mind if we waste our time, do you?

I don't know why fortune smiles on some and lets the rest go free...


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