“to hell in a handbasket”
This archaic phrase popped into my head after watching a portion of last night’s final presidential debate. Then this morning I woke up wondering: What the hell is a “handbasket” anyway?”
I was familiar with the idiom, but I had never really asked myself what type of container it might refer to.
So I looked it up and it’s basically any “small portable basket” like the one on the right (for sale now on 86 Vintage for $30.)
Most definitions you find will also mention the figure of speech. The idiom about hell-in-a-handbasket that Wikipedia calls “an American allegorical locution of unclear origin, which describes a situation headed for disaster inescapably or precipitately.”
A Conspiracy in All Its Startling Details
Winslow Ayer used the phrase in his 1865 polemic entitled, “The Great Northwestern Conspiracy in All Its Startling Details.” See page 53 of the attached pdf file.
At a meeting in the autumn, Judge Morris [of the Circuit Court of Illinois] was present and made a speech. … He spoke, as was his custom, of the tyranny of the President; he said the rights of the people had been trampled upon, and the constitution had been violated by him. ….that it was our duty to wage a war against them… that when the Democrats got into power they would impeach and probably hang him, and all who were thus incarcerated should be set at liberty; that thousands of our best men were prisoners in Camp Douglas, and if once at liberty would “send abolitionists to hell in a hand basket”…He added that the tyranny of “Abraham the First” was fast drawing to a close, and those who were anxious to fight, would not have to wait long. He also spoke in favor of retaliation.
Sound familiar? A lot of this rhetoric could have come from the current presidential election. Accusations that the President is a tyrant, trampling the constitution. (See: Ted Cruz) Locking up (or killing) a political foe. (See: “Lock her up” and 2nd Ammendment).
But I digress. The topic here is handbaskets.
Retail Politics in a Supermarket Handbasket
A more contemporary example is the supermarket handbasket like the one on the right. (This one is manufactured by Instore Products Ltd.)
This is the type of “hand basket” that I am actually more familiar with. Sometimes they’re hard to find in my supermarket. Most people seem happy to push a shopping cart around, but if I just need to carry a few things to the cash register, I apparently prefer to carry one of these around.
I took the liberty of animating Instore Product’s double handle handbasket in electoral map colors. A container for swing states, it actually started out red, but now continuously changes from red to purple, and then blue… (You get the picture.)