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EXCELSIOR, You Fathead!
Seltzer Bottle!

One of the most common phrases known and used by Shep and his fans starting from his early years on WOR and lasting into the 21st century. Where did Shep get it from? It's the motto of New York, a famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a Ballet, and a packing material.

Who knows?

When someone would confront him with the famous "Excelsior! You Fathead!" Shep's response was the secret countersign "Seltzer Bottle".

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Parody of Excelsior by Edward Lear, undated
courtesy: Gene Bergmann

THE SHADES of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,

His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,

In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,

"Try not the Pass!" the old man said;
"Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!"
And loud that clarion voice replied,

"Oh, stay," the maiden said, "and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast!"
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But still he answered, with a sigh,

"Beware the pine-tree's withered branch!
Beware the awful avalanche!"
This was the peasant's last Good-night,
A voice replied, far up the height,

At break of day, as heavenward
The pious monks of Saint Bernard
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,
A voice cried through the startled air,

A traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,

There, in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell, like a falling star,

The shades of night were falling fast
As through a Hampshire village passed
A Pig who bore through snow and ice
A banner with the strange device

His brow was sad his eye beneath
Was hid by fat within its sheath
Like Mr Irving¹s unknown tongue
A strange fat voice around him sung

In happy home, he sees the light
Of kitchen fires gleam warm and bright
Like roasted crackling the glaciers shine
He sights and thinks, that fate is mine

Try not to pass, the old man said
You¹ll sell like bricks when you are dead
There¹s great demand for bacon here
And you¹ll go down unkommon with our beer

"Oh stay" the maiden cried "and rest
Pork is the meat which I love best"
He answered, winking his blue eye
Pork makes gals bilious, then they die

"Beware the pinetree¹s withered branch
Beware oakfaggot¹s shivered craunch"
This was the peasant¹s last goodnight
"We sweels* our pigs before daylight"

At break of day I had a dream
Methought I heard an awful scream
And a great pig with a claw like ice
Showed to the world this strange device

There in the twilight, cold and grey
Lifeless but beautiful he lay
And solemn voices seem to say
Fresh pork and sausages today

*Hampshire for singeing hogs

The reference in the second verse to "Mr. Irving's unknown tongue" is possibly a reference to the phenomenon of glossolalia or "speaking in tongues".  This was a feature of the religion of Edward Irving (1792-1834), a dissenter from the English Presbyterian church, who founded a movement known as Irvingism, later the Catholic Apostolic Church.  Irving used that exact term - "unknown tongue" - to describe the phenomenon.

Regards, Gene

Gerard Hayes
Australian Manuscripts Collection
State Library of Victoria

James Thurber's (1894-1961)  Illustrated "Excelsior"
From: "The Thurber Carnival"
courtesy: Sandy Hartenstine

July 3, 1965 - Limelight Show
July 4, 1975 - WOR Show -Reading of "Ludlow Kissel... Dago Bomb"
On his 7-4-75 show Shep comments that the use of the word "Excelsior" came not from the New York State slogan, nor from Longfellow's poem. It was the brand name of a famous fireworks company. He made a similar comment on his 7-3-65 Limelight show.

Shep gave these away at one of his gatherings at Washington Square on Sunday afternoons.