“And bragging about how they’re going to cover up the tell tale scent with Sen-Sen.”
Music Man Reference
When I taught American history one of the activities I did was have the students watch and dig into the Robert Preston-Shirley Jones version of The Music Man (the more modern version is simply dreadful, avoid it if possible). The movie is literally chock-ablock full of popular culture references of the day, from the changing transportation and the shift to shopping in population centers instead of the general store to the pest house, it paints a full picture of what everyday life was like in an American small town at the beginning of the 1910s. (If you haven’t seen the movie yourself, go and watch it, I’ll wait…… if you have watch it again and really pay attention to every word they are all in there for a reason.)
The line above is from the wonderful song “Trouble” where Professor Harold Hill professes the danger the town is in without a boys band. I didn’t know anything else about Sen-Sen than that line, what it is, or what it was used for. So imagine my shock on trip to the Stringtown Grocery in Kalona when sitting on the counter was a box of foil packets of Sen-Sen. Well, of course I just had to get a packet.
What’s Sen-Sen Like
I opened it up and inside are little black pieces kind of like a thin sheet had been hit on something with a straight edge and broken into irregular pieces. The surface is matte and it’s harder than licorice. I put some in my mouth and I immediately understand the reference. It takes a little like licorice, but laced with a flavor similar to straight liquid smoke. It would definitely mimic the smell of cigarette on your breath. Here I thought it would cover it up with like a peppermint, but it’s just an excuse for the scent. Sen-Sen wasn’t all that pleasant to me, but it’s still manufactured and you don’t have to go to Stringtown to get it, so some people must like it. It was apparently a big seller in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Read more about its history below:
UPDATED November 22, 2015: I found that the link was broken and sadly they no longer offer sen-sen, but you can still read its history at the link above. I also added headings.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.