Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Trenton Haunting of Warren Quinn

On August 17, 1912, the Trenton, New Jersey, Evening Times featured a story whose opening paragraph read:  “‘The House of Mysteries’ is the name given to the two-story brick building at 728 Cass St., owned by Warren A. Quinn, a well known liquor dealer at 703 Cass Street.  The house, it is said, has been infested with ‘ghosts’ for many years….”  Although Quinn laughed off such suggestions about the house, shown here, he could not avoid being haunted by the racketing “spirits” of prohibition that would prove to be much more troublesome.

The complaint about ghosts came from Quinn’s tenants, John Nickold and his family, who said they had been forced to move because of the nightly visitation of spirits who pulled the sheets from their beds and turned down lamps in the house.   Neighbors whispered to a reporter that the building had once been an illegal drinking establishment where a fight ended with a man being stabbed to death and the murderer fleeing.  “The superstitious declare that the ghost of the murdered man haunts the building and is responsible for all the ghostly outbreaks.”

Quinn scoffed at the idea.  He refused to answer a letter from a Baltimore “spiritual medium” who offered to occupy the house, communicate with the spirits and see what the problem was.  Nevertheless, he soon tore the house down and on its ample lot built a row of houses.  Clearly of more concern to him was maintaining the prosperous liquor business he operated down Trenton’s Cass Street in a three-story building, shown below, that he had built and in which he and his family lived.

Warren Arthur Quinn was born in 1862 in Dryden, in upstate New York, the son of Northern Irish immigrants farmers, Henry Quinn from County Tyrone and Isabel Morrison from Donegal.  It would appear that two brothers died in infancy and Warren was an only child.  When he was still young the family moved ten miles north to Groton, New York, and subsequently to Harford, New York, another short distance.  

Details of his early education and employment are scant.  In the 1870 census he was seven years old, identified as “Arthur” and in school.  In the 1880 census he was still at home, called “Warren” and had no occupation.  Six years later city directories found him in Trenton working as a bartender.  About the same time Quinn met and married Helen Davids Enoch of New York City.  Warren was 25 and Helen was 24.  Their nuptials took place in August 1887 at the Hotel Stephens on Broadway, presided over by Alderman Fitzgerald.  The couple would have one daughter, Isabel, born in June 1889.

Quinn’s marriage appears to have triggered a significant change in his career.  Listed as a barkeep in 1886-1887, by 1895 in directories he already was a successful merchant, conducting a saloon and wholesale and retail liquor business in a building that still bears his name at 701-703 Cass.  Quinn’s letterhead declared he dealt in “bonded wines and liquors” and Bass dark and India pale ale. His flagship liquor brand was “State Seal Rye Whiskey.” 

For his wholesale trade he was receiving whiskey by the barrel and decanting it into ceramic containers, many of them attractive jugs of about gallon with his name in cobalt blue script.  As time went on Quinn chose less flamboyant ceramics for his whiskey, moving to all-white Albany slip containers and two toned jugs with stenciled cobalt labels.  The Irishman also issued blob-top bottles with metal closures that likely held beer or soft drinks.  Like the one shown below, they came in clear glass but also are found in amber.

Quinn advertised vigorously in local newspapers where he was not shy about making claims.  In the ad shown here he boasted of having the largest wine and liquor warehouse in New Jersey, and that he carried in stock “the finest selection of pure goods which the world can produce.”  Not satisfied with those assertions, Quinn added that his liquor house was the only one to have “the endorsement of each and every physician in the city of Trenton.”

The Irishman’s emphasis on physicians indicated the concern he shared with other whiskey dealers and saloon keepers:  the growing specter of National Prohibition.  He with others believed that emphasizing the medicinal benefits of alcohol would provide protection against the “zombies” of temperance. That proved to be an idle hope.   Although New Jersey stayed “wet” to the very end, National Prohibition was imposed in 1920 and Quinn was forced to shut down his liquor business.  Thoughtfully, the City of Trenton returned to him the $259.59 he had paid for his saloon license.

A national ban on alcohol sales, however, was not sufficiently discouraging to Quinn.  Although advertising that he had converted his establishment to soft drinks and cigars, stronger spirits continued to be available under his bar.  As this became more widely known, in December 1821 prohibitionists set a trap.  They sent 18-year-old Edmund Mason into the Cass Street establishment where bartender William Jones sold him a pint of whiskey.  Mason called the authorities who conducted a search of the premise where they found two quarts of what they declared was whiskey and one quart of gin.   They arrested Jones and Quinn on possessing liquor illegally.

In the resulting trial in Magistrate’s Court, Quinn pleaded “no contest” to the charges and was fined $250 (equivalent to more than $6,000 today).  Jones was ticketed for $100.  Chastened by the experience and subsequent bad publicity when he tried to keep the arrest secret from the press, Quinn appears to have stuck to sodas and stogies for a short time, shutting down his business totally in the mid-1920s.

Quinn lived long enough to see Prohibition repealed, dying in 1943 at the age of 81.  His substantial estate was willed to his daughter, Isabel, his only direct heir. He was interred in Trenton’s Riverview Cemetery next to his parents and his wife, Helen, who had died 31 years earlier in 1912.  The family monument is shown here.

Today in Trenton the Quinn Building on Cass St. still stands with the whiskey man’s name emblazoned on top.  At the site of the reputedly haunted dwelling, the row houses Quinn erected are themselves now are more than a century old and said to be in dire need of maintenance.  Apparently no sign of the ghost or ghosts who plagued 728 Cass St. has been detected around the neighborhood in ensuing years.

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