Foreword: Most whiskey men profiled here have had careers that were straightforward, productive and prosperous. Except by prohibitionists, they were respected in their communities, often for their civic participation and their philanthropic giving. A small minority, however, became “pariahs,” social outcasts as a result of activities offensive to their peers. Described here are the stories of three such cases, each of them different in the perceived breaches of propriety.
The Whitlock brothers, Benjamin M. and Edmund A., were grocers in New York City who launched several popular whiskey brands and also were widely known for Southern sympathies and pro-slavery views during the 1850s and early 1860s. The Civil War cost them their once flourishing business and the resulting traumas may have sent both to early graves. Even after their deaths, for many people the Whitlocks remained outcasts.
The Whitlocks’ New York retail establishment was described as “one of the largest and important in its line in the country.” Their many visitors from Dixie clearly were discussing national politics with the Whitlocks along with the price of peaches. In the years running up to the Civil War, Benjamin actively supported Southern causes, including retaining slavery. That same year, Benjamin went further. As the Nation trembled on the brink of war, he invited to New York members of the “Savannah Republican Blues,” a Southern militia unit, and made them guests at his mansion farm home, shown above.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Whitlocks tried to move their business to Savannah, Georgia, but it was too late. According to a New York Times report, the result was that the Whitlocks “lost overwhelmingly.” Their Southern customers either ignored their debts to the New Yorker or were unable to make the necessary financial transfers because of wartime disruption. In the North, customers shunned them. The brothers were ruined financially. Benjamin was forced to sell his horses, stock, stables and his mansion, subsequently known as “Whitlock’s Folly.”
Southern sympathizer relatives and friends of the Whitlocks, in part because of the brothers’ fate, pledged revenge vowing: “These Yankees…will learn what…it is to incur the enmity of a proud and chivalric people.” The conspirators, including a Whitlock brother-in-law, set out to burn down portions of central Manhattan. Before their escape to Canada they succeeded in torching several hotel rooms and the Barnum Museum. No one was killed. Possibly as a result of stress both brothers died young. Afterward other Whitlock families were quick to disavow any relationship.
When Frederick G. Goetzmann, a French immigrant, took proprietorship of his liquor business in the midst of the U.S. Civil War, he succeeded in building this enterprise into major whiskey wholesaler in Rochester and throughout Northeast New York. He could hardly foresee the fate that would befall his liquor house after his death, and luckily so.
With growing prosperity Goetzmann ultimately built quarters at 9 Atwater Street, a building of three stories with large display windows in front. He also commissioned a mansion home in the prestigious Hyde Park District. shown below. In 1899, Frederick at age 71 died and was buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester. In the 1900 census, his three sons — Henry, Charles and William — were all listed as working for the liquor house. Henry now became the president and chief executive officer. Then something went terribly wrong. Within months the business that Frederick painstakingly had built for more than 35 years was in bankruptcy.
According to press accounts, company indebtedness to distillers approached $50,000 (equiv. to more than $1 million today) and its assets were only $22,515, including the value of whiskey in its warehouses. Moreover, criminal intent was alleged. Valuable warehouse certificates reputedly had been transferred illegally by the Goetzmanns. Worse yet, CEO Henry had disappeared. As related in the press: “It is charged that Henry Goetzmann, head of the company, left home in July for parts unknown….but that he has since been drawing funds from the company. It is claimed he has been heard from in Butte, Mont., Boston, and Chicago, but that he refuses to return to Rochester.”
In other words, Henry had left others, including his brothers, “holding the bag.” The Goetzmann name was reviled in the liquor industry. The bankruptcy proceeded and eventually the claimants received some compensation. The family was forced to sell their mansion and moved to a less pretentious homestead. Henry eventually returned to Rochester. Frederick Goetzmann & Sons Co., however, disappeared forever.
In the lore of Kentucky whiskey, Dan Russell is a distinctly minor figure. Most books on the history of the industry ignore him completely. In others he is at most a passing reference or a footnote. That obscurity, however, was not for Russell’s lack of trying. By pushing front and center his name, his face, a title, and his liquor he eagerly sought a place among the state’s acknowledged whiskey barons. Given Russell’s stature as president of a major Louisville distillery, shown below, called “Old Times” and his own strenuous effort to get himself known widely in Kentucky and, indeed, the Nation, why has whiskey history largely ignored him?
The reason was told in a Loujsville newspaper story of March 13, 1917. The headline read: “Alleged Conspiracy to Sell Stolen Postage Stamps, Dan H. Russell, a Prominent Louisville Man, Placed Under Arrest.” For whatever reason, Russell had been entangled in a national conspiracy to buy and sell stolen postage stamps, estimated by the government to be worth $40,000.
Also arrested were the ringleaders, a man named Henry Bronger and his son, along with a local druggist. According to postal inspectors, Louisville was the center of the plot, receiving and “fencing” stamps sent from points as far away as Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Hauled into Federal Court, Russell — identified by the paper as “a leader in fraternal circles and prominent in the business and social life of Louisville” — pleaded guilty to having knowingly received the stolen stamps. Possibly because of his prominence he got no jail time but a fine of $1,500 (equiv. $37,000 today).
Within three years National Prohibition shut down liquor sales. Having been disgraced, Russell was now without employment at the age of 55. These tidings may have taken a toll on his health. The following April, he died and was buried in Louisville’s Eastern Cemetery, one of the city’s oldest graveyards that, as shown here, subsequently was abandoned and largely forgotten. In a state where other distillers’ well-tended graves are marked with large monuments, Russell’s is lost among the field grass and wildflowers.
Note: Longer narratives on each of these whiskey men is provided on this blog: The Whitlocks, May 5, 2016; the Goetzmanns, December 7, 2016, and Dan Russell, August 14, 2016. Check the dates on the right side of the blog column.