Monday, December 2, 2013

The Whiskey Dealer and the President

Pendergast in caricature
 Some say that Thomas J. Pendergast was just a Kansas City, Missouri, saloonkeeper and whiskey dealer who came to the rescue of a failed clothing store proprietor.  Others say he was a high powered political boss who helped make Harry Truman the 33rd President of the United States.  Both are right.

For many years in the early 1900s Pendergast controlled Kansas City, historians say, much like a CEO controls a large corporation.  Presenting himself as a businessman, he ran the city, providing jobs for the working population, choosing municipal and state leadership, and directing a political “machine” that helped fill his pockets with kickbacks and bribes.  Although he had many business interests,  Pendergast was first and almost always (with “time  out” for Prohibition) a dispenser of liquor.

Born in 1873, he was the last of nine children of Michael and Mary Reidy Pendergast, immigrants from County Tipperary, Ireland.  His father was a teamster, driving a team of horses. Tom attended school until at least the sixth grade.  He later claimed to have attended college for two years but no records have been found to support the claim.  City directories and newspaper accounts, however, indicate that he worked in a variety of jobs during his early years, including as a laborer, clerk, and grocery wagon driver.
Climax Bar token

Tom arrived in Kansas City at at 17 in 1889 to help out his older brother, James. Known as “Big Jim,” this Pendergast was a power in the local Democratic Party and ran a saloon in the seedy West Bottoms area of Kansas City. He called the establishment “Climax” after a famous race horse of the time.  Initially employed as an accountant by the brother,  Tom proved to be an able student of both the liquor business and politics.  A large, powerful man, he was reputed to be quick with his fists to get his way.

When Big Jim died in 1911, both the keys to the saloon and political power fell into Tom Pendergast’s willing and able hands.   Before long he was operating three saloons on 12th St. in Kansas City and had branched out into selling whiskey, becoming proprietor of the T. J. Pendergast Wholesale Liquor Company.  Beginning about 1911 Kansas City directories list this enterprise operating at 525-527 Delaware Street in the Midland Building.

Although he was a “new boy” on the Kansas City liquor scene,  Pendergast proved to be very successful at the trade.   Shown here is a liquor crate with his name.  It was found years later in a mysterious sealed room along with thousands of empty jugs,  many of them with the Pendergast label.  Tom’s featured brand early in his career was “Old Grimes Straight Bourbon.” He also was importing wines , including Baron del Rivera brandy from Spain, shown here with a Pendergast label. 

As his economic  and political fortunes grew, Pendergast married.  His bride was Carolyn E. Dunn,  a woman whose roots were in New York State.  She was nine years younger than her husband.  The 1920 U.S. Census found them living in Kansas City on Parkway at  57th Street.  In their household were three youngsters, Marceline, 10; Thomas, 7; and Aileen, newly born.  With them were Carrie’s sister and three household servants.  Their home was a mansion, shown here, located in a fashionable section of Kansas City.
The Pendergast Mansion

When National Prohibition dawned, by his own reckoning Pendergast had in stock 14,000 barrels and 1,500 cases of liquor.  Piously, he later  claimed he had a chance to sell his bonded distillery whiskey for a $2 million profit during Prohibition but turned it down because he believed the whiskey would be diverted to bootleggers.  Ending liquor sales in his own operation,  he moved into producing and merchandising mineral water and soft drinks.

"King Tom's" headquarters
Meanwhile Pendergast’s political power was growing rapidly  In 1924 he bought the Monroe Hotel at 1904 Main Street and several years later next to it built a two-story yellow brick building he called “The Jefferson Club.”  From that location Tom is said to have held court and dispensed patronage and controlled city, county and even Missouri state politics.  He also was building a business empire of construction and other companies to undertake public works and services that were fertile sources of graft money.

Enter Harry Truman.  Truman had served with distinction in World War I but found civilian life more challenging. Co-owner of a men’s clothing store in downtown Kansas City he saw the business go bankrupt within two years,  a victim of the 1921 Depression.  A comrade in arms of Pendergast’s nephew, the honest and hardworking Truman soon came to the attention of Pendergast himself,  who backed Truman’s election for presiding judge of the county court.  Truman won and kept the job for eight years.

For all his honesty, Judge Truman never took Prohibition too seriously.  As a youngster he had served a stint “tending bar” in a drugstore.  The druggist kept bottles of whiskey behind the prescription case and local citizens -- some of them vocal Prohibition advocates -- snuck around for a drink rather than be seen entering one of the local establishments.  In his Memoirs,  Truman said he learned “...To think more highly of those who frequented the saloons than I did of the prescription-counter drinkers.”  During Prohibition, the future President was a frequent guest at the 822 Club, an inner circle of Kansas City businessmen who met to play poker and evade the dry laws in congenial surroundings at an elite men’s club.  Truman’s mentor,  “King Tom” as he was called,  always saw to it that Kansas City was wide open to illegal liquor. 
Harry and Tom

All along Pendergast had calculated that Prohibition would not last many years.  In addition to his own sequestered and aging stock, throughout the period he was buying up whiskey receipts.  When Repeal came,  he was positioned to be able to provide aged and bonded liquor almost immediately, profiting handsomely on the return of legal drinking.  By that time most other Kansas City liquor businesses and their brand names had long since disappeared,  leaving Pendergast with virtually no competition.  In short order he became the city’s largest distributor of liquor.  Before long there were allegations in the press about alleged price-fixing of alcohol in Kansas City.  Fingers were pointed at the T.J. Pendergast Wholesale Liquor Company of  2101 Central Street. Nothing was ever proved.

Riding high, Pendergast celebrated by issuing a new brand “Old 1889 Whiskey,” commemorating the year he first came to Kansas City. It was advertised as Kentucky bourbon, aged seven and one-half years, and was a hefty 100 proof.  The brand was introduced in 1934, the same year Pendergast launched Judge Truman on the road to the White House when he handpicked him to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate.  Truman won and went to Washington where he served well. When Franklin Roosevelt sought a compatible Vice President a decade later Truman got the call.  A moderate drinker of bourbon and “branch water,” Truman was in his office with friends pouring a drink when he was told of FDR’s death and his own ascendancy into the White House.

But as Harry Truman’s star was rising, his friend and mentor, Tom Pendergast, was on the skids. A
Pendergast after prison
strong reform movement in Kansas City eventually kicked out machine politicians.  King Tom’s own gambling habits got him into heavy debt, which he attempted to pay off with money from crooked deals.  Arrested and convicted in 1939, he spent 15 months in prison.  While he was incarcerated and even afterward, his son Tom Pendergast Jr. took over the management of the family liquor interests.  Following his release Pendergast lived quietly at home until his death at the age of 73 in 1945.  With scores of family and friends attending his funeral, "King Tom" was laid to rest in Kansas City's Calvary Cemetery.  Despite many who urged him to do so,  Harry Truman never renounced his friendship with the political boss who gave him his start.

Today Tom Pendergast's  legend lives on as a bad man who gave America a good President.

Note:  Material for this vignette came from a number of sources, including two books, “Tom’s Town: Kansas City and the Pendergast Legend,” by William Reddig and “Truman” by David McCulloch.












Sunday, December 1, 2013

Otto Wagner and His Jugs of Distinction

Washington Street, Tiffin Ohio
           
At a time when many liquor dealers were putting their alcoholic beverages into glass containers,  Otto Wagner, a major retail and wholesale whiskey distributor in Tiffin, Ohio, persisted in employing  ceramics for that purpose.  As a result he left behind a variety of stoneware jugs second to none in the Buckeye State or perhaps anywhere else.

Wagner was born in Ohio in 1865,  just after the end of the Civil War.  His father was Francis Wagner, an immigrant to the United States from Germany as was his mother, Mary.   The parents settled in Tiffin, the seat of Seneca County in Northwestern Oho. The Wagners had six children,  four girls and two boys.  Of the latter,  Otto was the eldest. In a sense he was born to be a whiskey wholesaler and retailer. His father before him ran a liquor store in Tiffin.

It can be speculated that Otto began working in his father’s business at an early age and, as Francis aged,  took over the management during the latter part of the 1800s. He called his company, “Otto Wagner & Bro.”  The brother referenced was his younger sibling, Ervin.   Throughout its life the company was located at 173 South Washington Street , a major Tiffin commercial avenue shown here on a 1908 postcard.  His immediate neighbor at 174 South Washington was a funeral parlor, a juxtaposition that must have been the occasion for many jokey comments in Tiffin.  

Why Wagner preferred to use stoneware containers is not clear.  At the time the Great Western Pottery Company was located in Tiffin, the largest employer in town. Its products were generally ceramic kitchen and bathroom fixtures but an inventory of their pottery products indicates that they had ample capacity to turn out jugs for the whiskey trade. The assumption is that Wagner employed the local company.  Because he apparently was selling whiskey wholesale to saloons and hotels in Tiffin, Wagner often made use of large jugs.  Shown here are two stonewares clearly meant for the saloon.  One is marked two gallons and the other held a whopping three gallons.

Because Wagner also was selling to retail customers from his South Market Street store, he  needed containers holding smaller amounts of whiskey.  Shown here are three different quart jugs, each of them with a different style label.  The printing was applied by the potter with a roller to a partially fired body and then a clear glaze put over them.  Wagner’s jugs varied from fancy letters with serifs to block letters in cobalt to a commonplace san-serif motif.
  

Wagner’s gallon jugs could have been meant for either the retail or wholesale trade.  As shown here, they also run a similar range from fancy through block and plain lettering. This Tiffin whiskey man seems to have encouraged variety in labeling his ceramics.  While all  the jugs here are so-called “shoulder jugs,”  designed to stack easily in a kiln, note that each of the eight sported a slightly different label.

Meanwhile Otto was enjoying a personal life. The 1910 U.S. census found him living on Sycamore Street in Tiffin with his wife. Mary, also an Ohio native.   The couple had two children,  Alma, 10, and Frederick, 3.  Wagner’s occupation given in that census was “liquor merchant.”   Only six years later his participation in the liquor industry came to an abrupt halt when Ohio voted statewide Prohibition.  The 1920 census found the family at the same address.  This time, at age 54, Otto listed no occupation of any kind. 

The Wagner family next appeared in the 1940 census.  Otto was 75 and Mary was 70.  Both adult children were living with their parents on Sycamore Street.  Otto is given as “retired.”  His son, Frederick, was selling insurance.  Four years later Mary Wagner died, followed a year later in death by Otto.  The couple are buried together at St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in Clinton Township, Seneca County.

The Ohio whiskey man’s motivation for issuing so wide a variety of stoneware jugs remains unclear.  Given the frequency with which the jugs come up for sale on auction sites,  his liquor business produced hundreds of them.  They make a substantial collection and, more to our purpose, create a hallmark of distinction for Otto Wagner.










Friday, November 29, 2013

Jim Hogg: The Active Life in Poplar Bluff, Missouri

 During a highly energetic lifetime James R. “Jim” Hogg managed to juggle the responsibilities for making and selling a nationally recognized brand of whiskey, managing an array of successful local businesses, and serving as Mayor of Popular Bluff and four terms as County Sheriff.  With enough activities to keep most men exhausted, Hogg also found time for five marriages over his 74 years.

Hogg was born in Jennings County, Indiana, in July, 1863.  In 1870 his parents pulled up stakes and headed off in a covered wagon for Missouri,  a hazardous trip of several weeks.  There his father, a farmer, settled in the Oak Grove area of Butler County, whose seat was Poplar Bluff.  The elder Hogg, a farmer, helped organize the first schools and tried to get his son Jim as good an education as possible in those pioneer times.
Poplar Bluff circa 1907
As Jim Hogg grew to manhood, he showed unusual business ability and expanded from farming into a number of enterprises.  Among the most important as a money maker was a distillery he established on one of his farms.  It became a registered distillery with the Federal Government.  There Hogg began producing  liquor brands he called “Jim Hogg Whiskey” and “Jim Hogg’s Corn Whiskey,” illustrating his jugs with three swine munching on ears of corn.  Initially he sold it in the vicinity of Poplar Bluff, still a frontier town as seen in this 1907 post card.  He established a sales office on South Fourth Street downtown.  Hogg bottled his booze in large ceramic jugs, marked with his logo.  He also used small pottery jugs as merchandising items to favored customers.  Hogg’s customer base grew to regional and eventually national dimensions.

After the turn of the century, along with other distillers, Hogg moved from pottery to glass,   as automatic bottling machines drastically lowered the cost of glass containers. The local Poplar Bluff press in January 1915 marveled that the Hogg Distilling Co. had just received a shipment of 8,000 individual pieces of glassware,  gallon jugs from the Illinois Glass Company.  They were a full carload, the largest such shipment of glass containers ever recorded in Southeast Missouri.   Moreover, each jug had the Jim Hogg trademark blown right into the bottle.  It was an attribute, the newspaper opined, “that not even time itself can efface.” 
Illinois Glass Co gallon jug

Running a large distillery and tending to several farms might have been enough for some men, but not Jim Hogg.   Likely unsatisfied by the prices the blooded stock of cattle and pigs he raised were bringing at market,  he established his own slaughter house and began selling meat from the back of a wagon.  When that was successful in 1884 he opened his own meat market, the first of three he would own in Poplar Bluff.  Known as the Jim Hogg Markets,  during hunting season they made a specialty of fresh venison, wild turkey and bear. The photo here is attributed to be the interior of one of them.

Hogg's Meat Market (attrib.)

The juxtaposition of “Hogg” with a meat market became a common joke in Poplar Bluff.  The Daily American Republican newspaper told its readers that a local bank had received a received a check from Hogg payable to P. L. Pigg in payment for pork.  “If the statement was not sworn by reliable parties, we wouldn’t believe it, but anyone who doubts the veracity can go to the Bank of Poplar Bluff and see for themselves.”

His numerous enterprises, including a blacksmith shop and a boarding house, were not sufficient to absorb Hogg’s high octane energies. Reportedly at the insistence of his friends,  he ran for the office of sheriff of Butler County on the Republican ticket in 1892 and was elected.  During that first term he became highly popular for his kindly acts.  One of them later was reported in a Popular Bluff publication called the “Ozark Beacon:”  The story told of a $200 license fee charged to every circus that came to Poplar Bluff, a cost that one circus manager was unable to meet.  The publication reported:  “Although Mr. Hogg was not particularly fond of the early day circus people who came to the city, he had a soft spot in his heart for the many children who would be unable to witness their first circus unless the necessary license fee was paid. Mr. Hogg never discussed the incident but friends confided in later years, the beloved sheriff paid the $200 circus fee to the city and the children were not disappointed.”

Unable to succeed himself as sheriff by Missouri law,  Hogg ran to become the third elected mayor of Poplar Bluff and won a two year term.  But his true love apparently was being sheriff of Butler County.   In 1902 he was again elected to that office and served through 1906. Once again he was prohibited  from succeeding himself and he retired to private life at the expiration of that term but ran for the office again in 1920. He was elected and served through 1924.  Although hailed for his thoughtfulness and diligence in solving crimes,  Hogg also had difficult moments as sheriff.  In 1903 he accompanied two convicted murderers to the gallows, the first public hangings in 12 years in Butler County.  The first hanging went badly.  Although the condemned man’s neck was broken by the fall, according to press accounts,  he was able to speak for a while and his body twitched and contorted for almost 15 minutes before he died.

To his occupations as farmer, distiller, businessman and public servant, the indefatigable Hogg added a fifth career:  Marriage.  He was married five times, divorced four times, and married to one woman twice.   She was his first wife, Ida Dillard, the daughter of Louis Dillard, a pioneer farmer who was one of the founders of Hilliard, Missouri, and a man of some wealth.  Although the record is somewhat murky, it appears that Hogg married Ida about 1880.  From her father he also obtained a 160 acre farm in exchange for a wagon and a team of horses.  That marriage produced one son, Marion, in 1881.  By 1884, however,  Hogg had divorced Ida and was married to Susan S. Klutts who gave him twins, George and James in February 1885.  George seems to have died in infancy.

Ida Dillard Hogg gravestone
Fast forward to about 1887. Hogg had divorced Susan and had remarried Ida.  In December of 1888, she bore him another child, a girl they named Ida Belle.  Then, possibly as a complication of childbirth,  Ida Dillard Hogg died.  She was buried in Poplar Grove City Cemetery with a headstone, shown here, that identified her as “Beloved Wife of J.R. Hogg.”  Her husband’s grief, however, appears to have been short-lived.  Barely a year later he married Clara Catherine Smith of Poplar Bluff, possibly to have a mother for his children.  Jim and Clara would have three sons of their own in what appears to have been the longest of Hogg’s marriages.  Son Walter John was born in 1890, James Benjamin in 1895 and Cloyd in 1899.  The 1900 census found a family of five children,  two of Ida's, three of Clara’s, living with the couple.

Sometime during the next decade, Hogg divorced Clara. The 1920 census found him, now age 57, married a fifth time to Ruth Naoma Hawass (or Haas), a woman 23 years his junior. Jim’s occupation was given as “running meat market.”  Ruth was a clerk in a dry goods store.  Perhaps because of the age difference this union also was not fated to last. In the 1930 census Hogg gave his marital status as “divorced” and he was living with his brother.

Meanwhile the Jim Hogg Distilling Company and the lucrative market for the Missourian’s liquor had been terminated permanently with the coming of National Prohibition.  Over the years the distillery had given employment to dozens of Butler County residents. Because of his diversified business interests, however, Hogg did not suffer financially as much as other whiskey men did.  By then he owned multiple farms on good Black River bottom land and fertile plots near town.  He  operated his meat markets.   Hogg continued to be active in the local Republican Party and social organizations, including the Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias and the Red Men.

Jim Hogg gravestone
As he aged, Jim Hogg turned over management of his farm and businesses to relatives, some of whom stayed in the meat business until the 1990’s.  Death came to him in July 1934, just as National Prohibition was rescinded.  According to reports while out walking one day Hogg fell into the Black River and drowned. He was 74 years old.  Interred in the City Cemetery of Poplar Bluff, his headstone seems ironic, given the active, one might say frenetic, life Hogg had lived.  It reads: “Peace be thy silent slumber.”

This much-married farmer, distiller, businessman, and politician was greatly mourned in Popular Bluff. The tributes were many, including this one from a contemporary biographer:  “No resident of Butler County was ever closer to his  fellow men than the beloved Jim Hogg during his lifetime.”   The writer might have added “And closer to his fellow women.”

Notes:  This Sheriff Jim Hogg is not to be confused with a famous Texas sheriff known as “Big Jim” Hogg.  Information for this post principally was obtained from “Deem’s History of Butler County, Missouri” and the May 1973 issue of the “Ozark Beacon.”










Tuesday, November 26, 2013

William Fahle and “The Richest Little City in the World”

Teddy Roosevelt in Wallace, Idaho
Wallace has always been an Idaho town with big aspirations.  One mayor declared it “The Center of the Universe” and even today the municipal motto is “The Richest Little City in the World,” with mining as an economic engine.   William Fahle got rich by combining mining interests with serving the abundant liquor needs of Wallace and its surroundings.

Indicative of just how little has occurred in this town of currently fewer than 1,000 souls in the panhandle of Idaho is its annual civic celebration of the 1903 visit of President Theodore Roosevelt.  That seemingly would indicate it was the only time any notable stopped by. As Teddy was paraded in the rain down the main drag in a horse-drawn buggy, he undoubted was observed by Fahle, possibly in the doorway of one of the drinking establishments he operated in Wallace.
Thirsty Miners in Wallace

Fahle was of German ancestry and born about 1871. His birthplace is variously given; one record attributes Germany, another account says Missouri.  He appears to have arrived in Wallace in the late 1890s,  possibly drawn by the opportunities provided by mining.  In 1884, Colonel W. R. Wallace had been drawn to the area’s rich deposits of silver and gold. He purchased and developed 80 acres of land that eventually became the site of the City of Wallace and the seat of Shoshone County.  By 1887 downtown businesses were booming and mines were flourishing in the surrounding mountains.   Railroads brought in prospectors and miners, took out ore and put Wallace on the map. The locality became famous as the "Silver Capital of the World.”  Over 1.2 billion ounces of silver have been produced there since 1884, hence the title “Richest Little City.”

Fahle soon found that one opportunity to strike gold in Wallace was serving liquor to a thirsty population of miners who thronged to town on pay day.   He opened a saloon. In Fahle’s day everything was wide open.  Gambling and prostitution were thriving.  Not only did his saloon serve liquor over the counter, in a back room he was mixing up his own “rectified” brand of whiskey, selling it in gallon ceramic jugs and glass flasks. The latter he branded “Monogram Whiskey, A Blend.” Some of those bottles have survived showing Fahle’s highly elaborated labels in both red and gold.  The shape of the flasks also was notable and patented in 1898.  Fahle also was running a hotel, initially with a partner named Williams.  That establishment, of course, featured a saloon and like many Western saloonkeepers the partners issued tokens good for drinks at the bar.  The token shown here was worth 12 and 1/2 cents at the bar.

Meanwhile Fahle was having a personal life.  About 1909 he married Olive Leyde, known by family and friends as “Ollie.”  She was 16 years his junior, the daughter of Cyrus and Elizabeth (Clanton) Leyde.   Her father was a wealthy landowner from Morrow County, Oregon, who with his family had moved to Wallace where Olive met Fahle.  The couple would have one daughter, Irene.  Given the “fancy ladies” who frequented her husband’s establishments, Ollie must have been a broad minded woman.

In time the Williams & Fahle partnership was dissolved and Fahle went on to operate his own saloon, restaurant and hotel.  In 1890 a fire had wiped out the majority of the wooden buildings downtown. Persevering, townspeople rebuilt, this time with brick, stone and masonry.  Among the solid structures was Fahle’s hotel located on Cedar Street, the main drag of Wallace. In 1910  a giant forest fire roared through town but the hotel survived and is shown here as it looked in 1920.  Signs on the building advertised “Fahle’s Hotel,” “Gin Top Beer” and “Bull Durham.”  

As before,  Fahle issued bar tokens for his establishment. The one shown here was for five cents.  Although the advent of Prohibition meant that provision of alcohol in his hotel was done more discretely,  Fahle’s good times continue to roll even after the country went dry.  During the 1920s his hotel was the focus of a scandal when the Mayor of Wallace, Chief of Police, Shoshone County Sheriff and other officials were accused of corruption for letting the hostelry operate more or less openly as an illegal drinking establishment,  gambling den, and house of prostitution.  Those tribulations seemed to pass quickly in rowdy Wallace, however, and Fahle would own the hotel for decades to come.

Before, during and after Prohibition Fahle was dividing his attention to the mining sector which continued to be a vigorous industry in the Idaho panhandle and neighboring Montana.  A local paper in 1919 reported that Fahle had left for Lolo Springs near the Bitter Mountains to supervise work on a placer mining property that had been awarded him by the Supreme Court of Idaho.  The story noted that the ground “...Yielded much gold in the ‘60s and it is believed a rich return will be found in the gravel on the bedrock.”

In ensuing years reports of Fahle’s mining enterprises were numerous.  In 1920 he and three partners leased the Silverado mine near Osborne, Idaho, a well-developed property with thousands of feet of underground tunnels. The 1922 “Mines Handbook” recorded him as managing a placer mine
near the old camp of Moose City on the North Fork of the Clearwater River, 55 miles from Rivulet, Mineral County, Montana.
Part of Fahle's Mining Empire

The Spokane Daily Chronicle subsequently noted that Fahle as president and manager of the Independence Placer Mining Company was about to leave for the site with the coming of warmer weather.  To reach the mine, described as in a “remote region,” it would be necessary for him to travel through Montana and cross the Bitter Root Mountains divide.  Given the burden of supplying the enterprises, Fahle was quick to see the benefit of the airplane and beginning  in 1925 hired mountain pilots to transport supplies to his Moose City mine.  A landing strip was constructed there, he said, that:  ’Twas not so deep as a well or as wide as a church, but  ‘twas enough.”  As late as 1937, at age 66, Fahle was still adding to his mining empire.


With Repeal of Prohibition Fahle returned to serving alcohol openly at his Wallace hotel.  He also changed the decor.  During his years of traveling around Idaho, Montana and other parts of the West he had collected hundreds of artifacts from pioneer times,  called “curios” in those days.  He used them to decorate his bar which was tabbed an “oddity museum” and became an attraction for tourists venturing to Wallace.

By the time Fahle died it appears that his considerable fortune had dwindled.  In April 1949 Frank X. Wagner of Kalispell, Montana, who had been a brewmaster in Wallace, went to court to foreclose his mortgage on the Fahle Hotel.  He claimed that he had loaned $5,000 to its owner in return for a lien on the hotel, all its furnishings, the museum and other property.  The suit was filed against Fahle’s daughter Irene (now Rasmussen),  her husband, and other defendants.  Claims on the estate also were being made by other creditors and the Idaho Commissioner of Finance for unpaid taxes.

Fahle himself had been in the grave a year, dying in April 1948 at the age of 77.   His wife, Olive, had preceded him in death in 1937.  When he died, the town of Wallace still had much of the character of the Wild West that had greeted Fahle when he had arrived there about a half century before. As late as 1988 there were still four working bordellos in town and numerous bars. Today mining continues in the region but tourism has become a principal income producer.  The Fahle Hotel building still stands, part of the Historical District that encompasses most of downtown Wallace.  But the bar, the game tables and the women, even the museum, are long gone.  Known today as the Furst Building, the former Fahle Hotel houses nothing more exciting than a real estate company.









Saturday, November 23, 2013

Alfred Norris: Eastern Aristocrat -- and the Bootlegger

Alfred E. Norris was a certified “blue blood,”  born to well-to-do parents, well educated, a member of Philadelphia’s most exclusive clubs, and listed in the city’s high society “Blue Book.”  He lived in a mansion home where he and family were waited on by four live-in servants.   What then was Norris doing consorting with the likes of Joel D. Kerper, one of Philadelphia’s most notorious bootleggers?  The answer, as will be seen, might be found in National Prohibition.

Alfred was born in 1960, to a well established Pennsylvania family.  Apparently receiving some advanced education, while still in his early 20s he apparently went to work with a successful Baltimore wholesale liquor dealer named Edward B. Bruce.  After a relatively short time, possibly with the help of family money, he went into the whiskey trade on his own behalf, establishing an Philadelphia enterprise he called “Alfred E. Norris & Company.”  It was located at 209 South Front Street .

Meanwhile Norris was having a personal life.  In the 1900 U.S. Census he was living with his 36-year-old wife, Marie, one child three years old, and four servants in a fancy Philadelphia neighborhood.  Now age 40, Alfred’s occupation was given as “liquor merchant.”  In the meantime his business had grown significantly.   Needing larger quarters Norris moved to 118 Walnut Street in 1893.  For a time he maintained a store at 13 Granite Street and a branch office in Boston, located in the Tremont Building.

In addition to being a liquor merchant Norris was a rectifier, that is blending and compounding his own whiskeys, bottling them with his own labels, and selling them to saloons and restaurants as well as to the retail pubic.  The need for a constant supply of raw liquor from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Kentucky distilleries put him in constant contact with producers.  Unlike other dealers of his time, Norris concentrated his brands on a handful of labels.   Most prominent among them were “Trooper” and “Trooper Old Blend Rye,” which he registered with the Patent and Trademark Office in 1898 and 1905, respectively.  Additionally, in 1912 he registered his own name as a brand.  His flagship label, however, was “Garrick Club,” a rye whiskey.  As an aristocrat might do, Norris named it after one of the oldest and most prestigious men’s clubs in London.  He registered the trademark in 1897.

The Philadelphian advertised Garrick Club vigorously in local and regional media.  Often his ads showed a well-dressed gent -- coat, vest and tie -- grinning in pleasure as he poured from a bottle of the whiskey into a small glass.  The character seems to be mouthing:  “The Best in the House.”  Lest the reader miss the message that this was a drink for the “carriage trade,”  the ad reminded that it could be asked for “at all good places.”

To make sure that those “good places” were stocking his liquor,  Norris provided an array of advertising giveaway items to saloons and other establishments.  Among them were wall signs and mirrors that featured the Garrick Club grinning drinker and the familiar slogan.  Nor could any whiskey wholesaler ignore the man behind the bar, a figure who was able to steer customers to a particular brand. To the “mixologists” Norris gifted an attractive pen knife with a tools of the bartender’s trade, as well as a advertising. corkscrew. A fairly unusual giveaway was a round box holding dice that could be set on the bar to roll for drinks.

Most impressive of all were the several back-of-the-bar bottles Norris provided to his favored customers.  Four are shown here.  The most eye-catching was a Garrick Club label-under-glass bottle that also bore the Norris trademark,  a regal crown hovering over a monogram of the owner’s name.  Other Garrick Club bottles were shaped as decanters and had fancy stoppers, some with etched gold labels. A fourth bore the name of the company.

Norris advertised vigorously. A trade publication in 1901 remarked that:  “The Garrick Club advertisement...herewith is pronounced even by temperance men to be the strongest whiskey ad that ever appeared in a newspaper.  It was run 100 lines across four columns (400 lines in all) in a recent issues of the Philadelphia Record.” He also was able to obtain endorsements from publications that aimed at doctors and their patients.  In 1886 a magazine called the “Medical Bulletin” opined that they believed Garrick Club “to be the purest whiskey in the market” and noted that its price was almost as low as inferior brands.
 
Vigorous merchandising and a talent for commerce advanced Norris to the top of the Philadelphia business community.  He became a member of the Philadelphia Club, described as:  “The oldest and most guarded of the city’s old-guard clubs....This is the hardest club in town to join, limited largely to old Philadelphia families."  Further proof of the whiskey man’s elite status included a New York Times report that Norris and his wife were among the guests at a yachting party from Newport, Rhode Island, that had cast anchor off the New York Yacht Club.  The Philadelphia “Blue Book” recorded the Norris family living on Chestnut Hill in a mansion they called “The Elms.”  By this time Alfred and Marie had five children, three boys and two girls.  All were living with them.

Alfred E. Norris & Co and its lucrative business came to a screeching halt in 1919 with the imposition of National Prohibition.  Norris and family then appear to have moved to New York City where one directory has them living on East 72nd Street in Manhattan.  A national directory of the “Best Families in America” listed him as  “New York stock broker and capitalist.”  Despite the loss of his “cash cow” liquor business, Norris was doing all right.

Enter Joel D. Kerper, widely known as the bootlegger who bottled illegal liquor for the Philadelphia elite.  In 1910 Kerper, a native of the city, listed his occupation as “manager - wholesale house.”  It is possible he was working for Norris. During Prohibition, with all alcohol sales banned, Kerper had a clandestine facility on Philadelphia’s Walnut Street that was well known to the city’s upper crust.  He also regularly was sending disguised shipments of liquor to the Maine summer homes of Philadelphia’s rich and powerful.

The bootlegger and Alfred Norris joined into a kind of partnership in which Norris, identified as a “Manhattan broker,” sent Kerper express shipments of high grade liquor masquerading as ink, paint, olive oil and other unremarkable commodities.  This scheme apparently was successful for years until 1929 as Hoover Administration officials began to crack down on illegal booze.  When Prohibition agents raided Kerper's place they found liquor and a customers' list that included the names of many socially prominent individuals.

U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell was the prosecutor in the government crackdown.   Norris and Kerper became opening test cases. In 1929 Norris was charged with conspiring to transport liquor, a federal offense punishable by a long prison sentence and a hefty fine.  It resulted from telephone orders he took from Kerper to initiate liquor shipments.  The story of the New York money man being caught in a scandal made Time Magazine and newspaper headlines around the country.  According to one press account, a Federal District Court in New York City initially quashed the prosecution on the grounds that it had not been established that purchasing liquor was illegal.

But that was not the end of problems for Norris.  A second indictment came from a Federal grand jury for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  This time, apparently fearing conviction, Kerper pled guilty and was sentenced to 15 months in the Federal prison in Atlanta and given a $20,000 fine, ten times that in today’s dollar.  Norris pled “nolo contendre”  and was fined only $200, a much lighter sentence possibly because of his social standing. Subsequently Norris had second thoughts about this plea, perhaps concerned about its effects on his “Best Families” reputation  He appealed to the Circuit Court which agreed with him and reversed the judgment in his favor.

Dogged in pursuit of a conviction, Atty. Gen. Mitchell took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  There in May 1930 the Court let stand the original indictment. It said Norris’s “nolo contendre”  had “all the effect of a plea of guilty” and told him fork over the $200.  On the issue of whether Norris and Kerper were engaged in a “criminal conspiracy” -- Mitchell’s underlying reason for bringing the charges -- the Supremes refused to go along. On that issue the High Court pointedly stated: “...We express no opinion.

At that point both Norris and Kerper fade into the mists of history.  It leaves open speculation about whether, when Prohibition shut down his company, Norris, in a spirit of rebellion or revenge,  quickly had made a deal with Kerper, now possibly unemployed, to keep a liquor business going.  Using his abundant contacts in the whiskey trade and among Philadelphia’s elite, Norris would do the procuring from New York and Kerper would do the selling in Philly.  Criminal or not, were the blue blood and the bootlegger involved in a conspiracy?  Attorney General Mitchell just might have been right.