Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Fate Entwined Seattle’s Luna Park & Weixel’s Liquor

 

Above is a 1908 photograph of two couples photographed at Seattle’s Luna Park, an amusement venue billed as “The Coney Island of the West.”  Sitting in the front passenger seat in a bowler hat is Simon Weixel, proprietor of the Keystone Liquor Company.  Little did anyone realize at the time that within five years both Luna Park and Weixel’s business would be shut, their fates inexorably linked.


Simon Weixel was born in Germany about 1865, educated in the good German schools.   Details about his early life are scanty but at the age of 25 in 1890 he left his native land for America, settling in Seattle.  By 1894 he had a found a wife, Jane “Jennie”,Barmon, born in Detroit of German immigrant parents.   At time of their wedding, Simon was 29 and Jessie 17.  They would have one child, Bessie Buttercup, born in 1895.


My assumption is that shortly after arriving in Seattle, Weixel went to work for one of the many liquor houses in the city.  The 1900 census listed his occupation as “liquor merchant.”  By 1902, according to Seattle business directories, he had founded own establishment, naming it “The Keystone Liquor Company.” Advertising as “wholesale and family trade,” Weixel featured quality Kentucky brands, including Old Crow, Hermitage and McBrayer whiskeys.


The German immigrant had selected an ideal spot to locate his liquor business at the Colonial Hotel, the address 1123 First Avenue, at Seneca Street in downtown Seattle.  As shown here, his enterprise was nestled in a ground floor corner of the Colonial Hotel, perhaps the city’s premier hostelry.  Designed by one of the Seattle’s foremost early architects, during the Yukon Gold Rush, this was the preferred hotel before rushing off to seek a fortune. As one writer has said:  “Outside the tradition of the grand hotel, it catered specifically to men of modest means who favored its inexpensive rooms and easy access to the port.” 


Weixel seems to have been immediately successful at that location.  As sales of established whiskeys rang his cash registers he was able to offer his customers “house brands,” likely “rectified” (blended) in a back room from barrels shipped in by railroad from Eastern States. The whiskeys would be mixed to achieve the taste, smoothness and color he had learned were favored by his customers.  His flagship proprietary brands, ones Weixel never bothered to trademark, were “Transport Rye’ and “Keystone Rye.” The former was sold with a colorful well designed label that featured Seattle as a port city.  In the background right can be seen the towers of Luna Park.


As Weixel was climbing up the economic ladder, an amusement park hailed as the “Coney Island of the West” in 1906 was being constructed on a Pacific Ocean site along the shores of Alki Beach at a northern point of Elliott Bay.  Charles I.D. Looff, the Eastern moneybags developer, along with fascinated Seattle residents, watched as workers drove pilings into the tidal flats and a Coney Island-like amusement park arose. 


Shown above, when it open as Luna Park in 1907 the site include a figure eight roller coaster, a classic carousel, chute-the-chutes, other thrill rides and a water slide, along with a host of games. It soon would add a salt water natatorium, with fresh and saltwater swimming pools, and a dance hall for evening guests. As one newspaper put it, Luna Park was “an amusement park the likes of which had not been seen before in the Northwest.”


Another feature of Luna Park that did not escape notice was an enormous drinking pavilion, with a bar that was deemed the longest in the Northwest and the best stocked in the Seattle area.  My assumption is that as a wholesale liquor dealer Weixel was a major supplier and perhaps THE major supplier of alcohol to Luna Park.  Standing behind the regiment of bartenders likely could be found the quart bottles of Keystone Whiskey shown here.  As the aproned barmen poured individual drinks for eager customers they may well have used shot glasses Weixel provided to the saloons, restaurants, hotels and other drinking establishments using his liquor


The artifacts bring us to the photograph that opens this vignette.  Weixel’s success had attracted the attention of one of America’s most notable liquor barons, Jack Danciger [See my post on Danciger, June 26, 2012.]  Shown here, Danciger, aided by family members had grown a liquor house impressively in Kansas City.  He was selling his “rectified” whiskey to dealers over a wide region of the West. My assumption is that Weixel was among his customers.

With Danciger was his wife, the former Queenie Bailey, in her own right a writer, cartoonist and songwriter.  She is seated behind her husband with Jennie Weixel.  My assumption is that Weixel did not take the visiting couple to Luna Park just to experience the amusements but to show Danciger the long bar and the ample opportunities to sell whiskey.

No one in the party could know in 1908 that the availability of alcohol would lead to the downfall of both Keystone Liquor and Luna Park. Liquor at Luna Park sparked a public outcry from prohibitionists who alleged drunkenness and wanton behavior there.  In early 1911 the Seattle Post Intelligencer reported: “(At) Sunday night dances at Luna Park ... girls hardly 14 years old, mere children in appearance, mingled with the older, more dissipated patrons and sat in the dark corners drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and singing.” Additionally, the park manager was found to be part owner of a 500-room Seattle brothel.


The forces of “dry” and “moralism” pounced.  Beset with scandal, muckraking and outcries against “boozers from Seattle,” Luna Park was forced to shut down in 1913 after a short life of six years.  With it went the glittering lights on Elliott Bay, the sounds of the calliope, and “the longest bar on the bay.”  The desolate site eventually saw its amusements and rides sold or torn down.  Only the natatorium remained open until torched by an arsonist in 1931.

Not only had Weixel lost a potential major customer for his liquor, he now faced a prohibition movement triumphant and energized by its victory over Luna Park.  In November 1914, following vigorous Anti-Saloon League lobbying, the voters of Washington approved a statewide ordinance that prohibited the manufacture and sale of liquor statewide.  The vote was  189,840 for, 171,208 against.  Although Seattle and other major cities had voted against it, the referendum won handily.


Forced to close Keystone Liquor in January 1916 after more than15 years of successful business, Simon Weixel was made clear his intense displeasure with this turn of events.  As shown here in an iconic photograph, the proprietor plastered his the front windows of his store with four large signs, all bearing the same message:  “We’ve Got Ours, Come In And Get Yours Before It Is To Late.”  The photo seems to symbolize the pain of loss associated with prohibition everywhere.


Still relatively young at 51 when the blow fell, Weixel appears to have moved onto other occupations.  A 1920 Seattle directory lists him as the owner of the Coast Drug company and manager of the Atlas Candy Company.  By the 1930 census, Weixel, now 65, was selling life insurance.  At some point the couple moved to Los Angeles, perhaps to be closer to their married daughter.  Living long enough to see National Prohibition repealed, Simon died in 1937 at the age of 72.  Jane “Jennie” followed him to the grave in 1964.  Their columbarium plaque is shown here.

Note:  This vignette was drawn from a wide range of resources, spurred on by coming across the photo of the two couples in the automobile that opens the post. The Colonial Hotel is still standing and now on the National Register of Historical Sites.  The store front where Weixel once sold whiskey is now devoted  to hairdressing supplies.












































 




 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Whiskey Men as Mid-Sized City Mayors




 
Foreword:  I am constantly amazed at the contributions made by so many pre-Prohibition distillers, liquor dealers, and drinking establishment proprietors to their communities.   Pilloried by the “drys” as forces of evil, many devoted time, energy and resources to improving the quality of life their cities and towns.  Sometimes their good works were recognized by their fellow citizens and they were raised to political office.  Briefly told here are the stories of three whiskey men who served as mayors led smaller cities. 

Alexandria was a Virginia town with  strong Confederate sympathies that greatly resented federal occupation during the Civil War. That animosity failed to deter a New Jersey lad of twenty-three who arrived in 1862 to sell whiskey to thirsty Union troops. Despite this problematic start, he became Alexandria’s mayor and a leading citizen while founding a liquor business that prospered until the advent of Prohibition. His name was Emanuel Ethelbert (“E.E.”) Downham, seen here in maturity. 

Downham’s liquor business was on the lower end of Alexandria’s King Street. Whether he truly was a distiller, making whiskey directly from grain on his premises, is open to question. More likely he was a “rectifier,” someone who bought raw whiskey or grain alcohol from others, refined it, mixed it to taste, added color and flavor, bottled and labeled it.  


In 1867, in the wake of the Civil War, the Alexandria City Council, seeking to raise additional revenues, put a series of taxes on alcoholic beverages imported into the City from outside the state, thus discriminating in favor of Virginia-made products. When the young upstart Downham refused to pay the tax, the Alexandria City Council sued him and won.


That incident seemed to stimulate Downham’s interest in politics. In 1874 Downham sought and won election from Alexandria’s Third Ward to the same City Council he had sued seven years earlier. He served there for two terms before seeking office on the Board of Aldermen and was elected there for five two-year terms. Following the sudden death of Alexandria’s mayor at Christmas 1887, the Board met to select an interim mayor from among their number. On the sixth ballot, Downham was chosen. He was reelected in his own right in 1890, serving a total of four years, during which he championed a number ambitious projects. Downham died in 1921 at the age of 82.


The “rags to riches” story is common in American folklore. But a man with the improbable name of Guido Marx followed a “refugee to riches” road as a whiskey and wine merchant that led him eventually to becoming the mayor of Toledo, Ohio.

Marx was a revolutionary fighting for German political rights against Prussian authoritarianism. The Revolution of 1848 was crushed.  As participants were being arrested and executed, he fled to the United States, part of a German refugee group known in history as the “Forty-Eighters.”  Settling in Toledo,  Marx tried several occupations until 1860 when he bought a partnership in a whiskey “rectifying” and wholesale liquor business -- the oldest and largest in Toledo. It had been founded in 1850 by another German immigrant, Rudolph Brand. After Brand’s death five years later, Marx took over the firm.


 Becoming wealthy and well-known, the former revolutionary began his American political career in 1869 when he was elected to the Toledo City Council. He subsequently was elected to the Ohio Legislature in 1871 and reelected in 1873.

In 1875, Marx was elected Mayor of Toledo, serving as the city’s first chief executive of Jewish heritage. It was a time of great mercantile and industrial expansion in that Lake Erie port. Guido was in the forefront of efforts to bring business and jobs to Toledo, retiring from politics in 1877 to become U.S. Ambassador to Chile.


Following that assignment Marx returned to Toledo.  He continued to be appointed to local posts: Ironically for a former revolutionary, he served for six years on Toledo’s Police Board. In 1884 he became a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Toledo. Afflicted by a kidney disease, he died in 1899 at the age of 72 and is buried in Toledo’s Woodland Cemetery. 


It may be a stretch to call Dr. Frank Powell, aka “White Beaver,” a whiskey man—but only slightly.  A medical school graduate, comrade of Buffalo Bill, Western hero of dime novels, and inventor of patent medicines, Powell sold potions containing more alcohol than most whiskeys.


In the 1860s Dr. Powell was named as a surgeon in the Department of the Platte and later made medical director for the Winnebago Indians.  According to legend, Frank got his name, “White Beaver” from riding into the camp of a hostile group of Indians, in order to inoculate the residents against small pox.  Others say he got it by rescuing a Sioux princess.  Regardless, he embraced the title, let his hair grow long, and began to polish his legend. 


With his Indian nickname, his time in the West, and his association with Buffalo Bill Cody,  Powell was a natural for dime novel fiction, a boom business in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The stories were about his “daring do” against a string of fictional adversaries.  


In reality, much of the time Powell was working as a small town doctor in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. He also was putting his energies into mixing up and marketing a series of highly alcoholic patent medicines.  This was an era when Indian remedies were very popular with the American public and Dr. Powell was quick to jump on the bandwagon. Best known of these concoctions was “White Beaver Cough Cream,”  described as:  “A soothing compound of lung healing root and herb juices, an unrivaled remedy for the cure of coughs, colds, croup, pleurisy, bronchitis, and all other diseases of lungs or bronchial tubes.”


His nostrums made him rich and launched Powell into politics.  He won two elections for mayor of LaCrosse, a placid Wisconsin town located along the Mississippi River, serving at a time when the city, largest on Wisconsin’s western border, was gaining recognition as a medical and educational center.  His local success spurred him to run to become the Badger State governor in 1888.  His campaigning involved handing out a card with his portrait, one without the long hair and leather garments.  Nevertheless “White Beaver” remained part of his signature.  Powell died in 1906 at the age of 61 on a business trip to the Far West.


Note:  Longer biographies of each of these “whiskey men” mayors are posted on this site:  E.E. Downham, May 26, 2011; Guido Marx, May 21, 1911; and Dr. Frank Powell, February 25, 2019.





























Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Charles Vincenti’s “Million Dollar Whiskey Conspiracy”


The year was 1920; the month January.   A fast cutter intercepted a steamship in British waters headed for Bimini in the Bahama Islands.  With guns drawn the cutter occupants clambered aboard the ship, confiscated cargo and put a single passenger in chains.  No, they were not pirates but American federal officers enforcing National Prohibition just days after it went into effect.  The cargo was whiskey; the passenger was Charles Vincenti, a well-known Baltimore liquor dealer, shown here.


To understand how Vincenti had come to this crisis, one must retreat at least 30 years earlier to when he and his brother-in-law, Andrew Ciotta, already with a small store, had purchased an existing Baltimore liquor house from fellow italian Marcello Triaca.  According to census data, Vincenti had immigrated to the U.S. in 1890 and Ciotti in 1898.  Flasks with their company logo are shown here.


The original names were dropped and the combined businesses became Triaca’s Exchange, located at 312-318 Light Street.  Another change occurred in 1906 when the organization was renamed simply the Triaca Company.  About 1909 the firm moved to the southwest corner of Pratt and Light Streets.   Each location of the company was in the vicinity of the Baltimore wharves where steamboats regularly plied up and down the Chesapeake Bay and beyond, carrying passengers and consumer goods, including cargoes of whiskey.



The partners marketed their whiskey under the Triaca label, selling it wholesale in large ceramic jugs to saloons, restaurants and hotels in Baltimore and south in Washington D.C.   They added new brand names to the familiar Triaca label.  Among these were “Old Troy Maryland Rye” and “Colgate,”  the latter a brand that Ciotti & Vincenti registered with federal authorities in 1907.  A shot glass touts Colgate as the “best whiskey bottled expressly for family & medicinal use.”  The name suggests that Vincenti and Ciotti were drawing whiskey supplies from the local Colgate Station facility of the Federal Distilling Company.  


The Triaca liquor dealership avoided the great disaster that befell many in the Baltimore whiskey trade:  The Great Fire of 1904.  From February 6 to 8 of that year, a major conflagration in the downtown and wharf area claimed 140 acres, some 70 blocks. More than 2,500 business were burned out, including many of the city’s major liquor houses.  Although the conflagration came dangerously close to its location the Triaca Company continued unabated at its address after the fire.  Vincenti and Ciotti profited greatly from reduced competition.


That prosperity came abruptly to an end when National Prohibition was imposed, requiring that liquor sales end as of midnight January 1, 1920.  Vincenti appeared to be unfazed by the ban.  The U.S. Government was allowing distillers and liquor dealers with large remaining liquor stocks to ship them out of the country and sell abroad but set a removal deadline of January 17.  On behalf of the Triaca Company, Vincenti boasted to the press that he had leased space in the Bahamas at historic Fort Charlotte, shown below, for thousands of gallons of unsold whiskey.  “It was dirt cheap,” he bragged,  I got it the whole thing for $100 a month.  Think of it!”



He told the newspapers that a “liquor fleet” of three steamships loaded with local and Kentucky distilled liquor shortly would be leaving Baltimore’s docks for the Bahamas.  The first to go would be the Steamer Ellersile, followed shortly by the Steamers Adelheid and Maumee.  Already on the dock and being loaded were between 18,000 and 20,000 cases of Baltimore-made whiskey and 10 carloads of Kentucky whiskey, he declared.


Vincenti also claimed that Triaca Company had in transit another 20 carloads of whiskey purchased from Kentucky distillers, already gauged for tax purposes and ready for immediate loading aboard ships in Baltimore.  He bragged he had no apprehension about getting his whiskey out of the country by the January deadline.  How much of this story was fact and how much fiction is unclear.  Future events would disclose that Vincenti also had other schemes in mind.


On January 14 Vincenti applied for this passport, using the photo shown above.  He said he was going to the Bahamas aboard the Steamer Elsemere for “commercial” purposes on January 16.  Was this last minute lurch into the Caribbean occasioned by a holdup of the Kentucky liquor supplies or some other problem?  Whatever the reason, Vincenti apparently did not leave with this stash of booze until after the deadline.



The Feds were watching, ready to pounce.  After boarding the steamer, a Department of Justice official and two Internal Revenue officers seized the liquor and Vincenti. They delivered him into custody in Miami, heedless of the fact that their operation was a significant violation of international law.  The headline in the New York Tribune read:  "US agents accused of abducting wine man”.  An embarrassed State Department was forced to apologize to the British Government, sovereign in the Bahamas, claiming that the raid had being carried out by rogue individuals who had “had acted on their own initiative and without the knowledge or approval of this government.”  The arrest was declared unlawful and Vincenti was released.


By now the liquor dealer had become a major figure in Baltimore and national media, however, and federal authorities began to look more closely into his activities.   A Federal “Grand Inquest” (Jury) was convened in Maryland to investigate.  Attention initially turned to an alleged earlier attempt to circumvent anti-alcohol laws.   Abetted by Triaca Company employees, Vincenti was accused of hatching a scheme in 1917 to bribe Federal officials charged with enforcing restrictions on liquor production during World War One.  He was reported to have reaped a profit of $500,000 -- $5 million in today’s dollar -- from selling 95,000 gallons of illegal whiskey. 


When investigated by authorities, it also turned out that Vincenti’s 1920 story about his liquor entirely being shipped overseas was a falsehood.  He actually had been distributing cases to cooperative households throughout the Baltimore area.  Among them was A.T. Cardozza, a wealthy road contractor who maintained a large estate and mansion called Ingleside in Catonsville, Md.  Cardozza’s property also contained several tenant houses.



During court proceedings, Cardozza related that around Christmas 1919, Vincenti and his partner, Ciotti, came to his Baltimore residence with a proposition that they store some whiskey in the spacious cellar of his Ingleside mansion. Cardozza refused but said the liquor dealers could use the basement of a tenant house to store 35 or 40 cases.  On January 2, ignoring his instructions, they sent 250 cases and followed on January 11 with 320 more cases.  


Meeting Vincenti on the street shortly after,  Cardozza asked the liquor dealer why he had sent all that whiskey to him.  Vincenti, he said, seemed nervous and in a great hurry, and replied:  “I cannot talk to you now; it is your whiskey, what do you care, you are not going to pay me for it.”  Cardozza, while claiming the whiskey as his own, did not pay for it and subsequently the cases were seized by prohibition agents who also raided other Vincenti-arranged basement stashes.


After seizing the bootleg whiskey, the authorities arrested Vincenti, Ciotti, and other executives of the Triaca Company, along with drivers, salesmen, and those who allowed their cellars to be used.  The government put the culprits on trial.  The 1922 court  proceedings made headlines across America for months, becoming known as the “Million Dollar Whiskey Conspiracy.”  Vincenti, as kingpin of the operation, was fined $10,000 (equivalent to $154,000 today) and sentenced to prison, along with many of the others he had suborned.  The Triaca Company disappeared.


After his release from prison Vincenti, a confirmed bachelor, had a limited time to live.  He died at the age of 53 in October 1930 and was buried in the New Cathedral (Roman Catholic) Cemetery, his plot at Section WW, Lot 143, Grave 4.  Wikipedia notes:  “It is the final resting place of 110,000 people, including numerous individuals who played important roles in Maryland history.”  I doubt Charles Vincenti is counted among them.

 

Notes:  This post was gathered from a wide number of sources, including articles from Baltimore newspapers, the proceeding of the “Grand Inquest,” and the website “pre-pro.com.” I have been unable to ascertain whether Vincenti actually sent some whiskey to the Bahamas for (legal) storage or whether the entire story of the shipments was concocted to hide his conspiracy.
































Saturday, September 19, 2020

Peoria’s Lehmanns Came Late to the Party

Boasting more than 73 distilleries, Peoria, Illinois, was known in the late 1800s and early 1900s as the “Whiskey Capital of the World.”  At peak production the Peoria tax collection district supplied nearly one-half of the federal government’s entire revenues. The “boom” years for Peoria’s liquor industry were the 1860s and 1870s when the number and capacity of distilleries nearly doubled. The Lehmann brothers, Arthur and Edwin, were still children.  By the time they arrived in Peoria to make and sell whiskey, alas, the party was just about over.

Sons of German immigrants Joseph and Barbara Lehmann,Sons of German immigrants Joseph and Barbara Lehmann, the brothers were born in Burlington, Iowa, Edwin in 1868 and Arthur in 1873.  Of their early lives, details are scant.  The assumption is they received the education offered by the local school system.  Arthur, had some training in accounting. His earliest reference in Peoria city directories was in 1895, age 22, as a “bookkeeper,” likely in one of Peoria’s many liquor houses.  Shown here in maturity, Arthur Lehmann by 1901 had stepped up to owning and operating his own Peoria whiskey dealership. 











Edwin earlier had left their parents’ home in Burlington and moved to Chicago where he worked for several years as an insurance salesman.  By 1903 he had relocated to Peoria where he joined Arthur in the liquor business.  Edwin’s first occupation listed in city directories was “compounder” — someone who blended whiskeys to achieve specific color, taste and smoothness.  The Lehmann’s “May Bloom” label, for example, was a blended whiskey.  By 1904 Edward had been advanced to manager of the liquor house and by 1907 to “general manager.”


Meanwhile the brothers each found a wife.  In 1898, Arthur married a Peoria woman named Laura Schradski, daughter of immigrants Abraham and Bertha (Sharps) Schradski.  The couple would have two children, Alvin, born in 1905 and Dorothy, 1910.  Edwin married Minetta “Min” Watson, daughter of John Quincy and Lucy Watson in Peoria in January 1906.  Although this couple does not seem to have had children, records indicate they never lacked for other family members, young and old, living with them.


Under Arthur and Edwin’s leadership, the liquor business flourished to the point that they were able to buy out one of Peoria’s oldest and strongest liquor firms.  Founded by Mathew Henebery in 1851, it was accounted “one of the most prosperous, best known and did the largest business of any whiskey house” in Illinois.  After Henebery died his estate ran the business until the heirs sold out in 1907.  With this accession the Lehmanns’ business more than doubled in size;  Arthur became president of the combined companies and Edwin secretary-treasurer.


By that time, however, the noose was tightening on the liquor industry in Illinois.. The state's first local option law, passed in 1839, stipulated that a majority of voters in any county, justice's district, incorporated town, or city ward could petition local authorities to stop granting liquor licenses.  Although that law was repealed, the subsequent Towns and Villages Act of 1892 gave city councils the power to license, regulate, and prohibit the selling or distribution of intoxicating liquors.  Many jurisdictions took the opportunity to go “dry.”


While recognizing the potential loss of markets, the Lehmanns redoubled their efforts to sell their whiskey.  “Jersey Pure Rye Whiskey” became the flagship brand.  Advertised as “richer than cream,” the brothers trademarked the brand in July 1910.  They sold it at retail in glass bottles with a colorful label that features a Jersey cow on the label.  The whiskey came in a range of sizes from half-pint to full quart.



The Lehmanns were particularly notable for advertising items gifted to the saloons, restaurants and hotels featuring Jersey Pure Rye and their other house brands, and to individual good customers. Lehmann molded glass back-of-the-bar bottles were particularly notable.  Made to resemble cut glass carafes, these would have been kept on a prominent shelf behind a bar and employed by bartenders to pour out individual shots of the company whiskeys. These decanters added a touch of elegance.  Lehmann brands were also marketed on giveaway shot glasses. 


For a time these vigorous merchandising efforts seemed to work.  As shown on the letterhead below, Arthur Lehmann & Co. opened a branch office in Detroit, Michigan in 1910,located initially at 56 Jefferson Street, moving in 1916 to 227 Jefferson.  The brothers also began referring to their enterprise as “distillers,”  claiming ownership of the Richland Distillery in Carrollton County, Kentucky.  They issued a brand of whiskey under the “Richland” name.


While the firm might have been buying a large proportion of the output of this facility (in federal parlance, RD#5, 6th District) the Richland distillery in fact was the property of the Jett family who had built it in 1881 and had incorporated as Jett Bros. Distilling Co.  The Lehmanns continued as whiskey blenders.  One of the Jett brothers moved to Peoria and presumably was collaborating closely with Arthur and Edwin employing Richland  his family’s whiskey for their brands.


The Lehmanns could see Prohibition closing in. Temperance advocates, aided by Henry Ford, had targeted Michigan in the industrial Midwest.  When Michigan voted to go “dry” in May 1917 and the Lehmann’s Detroit outlet was forced to shut down, the brothers seemingly envisioned a bleak future for their trade.  Although Illinois would stay officially “wet” until National Prohibition in 1920, markets were shrinking as states and counties increasing voted to ban sales of alcohol.  The Lehmanns exited the liquor trade.


When they sold their business the brothers were still relatively young — Arthur 44 and Edwin 49.  Edwin apparently tried to start his own wholesale liquor house, but apparently was forced to close it after a short time by National Prohibition. Then he made seemingly unsuccessful attempts to become an automobile dealer.  Along the line Edwin dabbled in insurance, non-alcoholic beverages, paving contracting and a knitting mill. With Repeal in 1934 he made another try at the liquor trade, founding Lehmann Distilling Co. in 1934.  The business apparently lasted only a year.


Arthur may have fared better.  He apparently had been investing in Peoria real estate over the years.  In 1916 he had been the principal financial backer for the construction of a twelve story building shown here in downtown Peoria at 415 Main Street.  At the time considered the city’s finest, the structure was known as the Arthur Lehmann Building.  Arthur kept his office there, looking after his real estate and other investments.  Among them was a large stake in the Civic Center Plaza Building downtown that subsequently sold for $7.8 million.  He also engaged in philanthropic work, serving as state chairman of the United Jewish Appeal.

Arthur died in May 1954 at the age of 81 in Peoria and was interred in the family mausoleum, shown below, beside his wife, Laura, who had preceded him in death by seven years.  Edwin also died earlier, in March 1941 and was buried in Peoria. 


 

If the Lehmann brothers had arrived in Peoria a generation earlier they might be remembered among the liquor barons who helped make that city “The Whiskey Capital of the World.”  Arriving after the start of the 20th Century, however, the brothers faced diminishing prospects for liquor sales.  Nevertheless, young Arthur and Edwin in the short 14 years of their enterprise nevertheless managed to make a mark before National Prohibition doomed their enterprise.


Note:  This post was drawn from a range of sources.  Particular thanks goes to Terry Riegel for the material from his online article “Edwin Lehmann” on his website   https://reigelridge.com/roots/. Edwin was Mr. Riegel’s great-uncle by marriage.

































Monday, September 14, 2020

John Horting and His “$5,000 Surprise”

Foreword:  This is just to announce that since my last post this blog has achieved more than 1,000,000 hits.  My thanks to all who made this possible.

   
Trying to make a living for himself and his family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, around the turn of the 20th Century,  John C. Horting,  liquor dealer and distiller, concocted a highly alcoholic remedy, he called “Ash Tonic Bitters,” claimed to cure a wide range of diseases and complaints.  He market it in a green bottle with a distinctive label. There was nothing to predict, however, that in 2020 the bottle would sell for $5,000 plus a 21% auctioneer premium. Hortings’ “surprise” had one bitters bottle collector exclaiming “Hoochie Mama!”

The label of Ash Tonic Bitters, shown here in detail, has a Grecian motif.  A half-nude muscular young man wearing laurel wreath and carrying a staff contemplates bowl of liquid while a comely girl in a long robe offers a refill from a pitcher in her right hand.  There is little in this picture to suggest the claims Horting made on the rear label: “…Sure cure for Dysepsia, Liver Complaint, Kidney Disorders….An infallible remedy against Fever…Colic, Cholera Morbus…Costiveness [constipation].  Ash Tonic Bitters further claimed to “…Enliven the spirits of invalids of either sex….”  The label, in both English and German, recommended that a full wine glass of the tonic be taken three times a day before meals.  Highly alcoholic, Ash Tonic might have had patients “buzzed” all day long.

The reason for this bottle fetching so outlandish a price is its rarity.  In the world of bitters collectors Ash Tonic is a previously unrecorded, possibly one-of-a-kind bottle.  The reason well may be because Hortling did not emboss the glass of his bottles with any identification.  His containers were less expensive that way, of course, but when the paper label was washed away or the bottle disposed in an outhouse, no way exist of identifying contents or manufacturer. 



Who was John Horting?  Information about his early life and education are scanty.  He was born in February 1861 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of John Cornelius and Josephine Houghey Hortling, who were respectively 21 and 19 at his birth.  He had one sister.   According to the 1870 federal census, his father was a clerk in a Lancaster store.  Perhaps as early as 1871, however, John Sr. opened a wine and liquor store at 246 North Queen St., the major Lancaster commercial thoroughfare shown above.  

It would appear that as John Jr. reached maturity, he went to work in his father’s liquor store.  After John Sr.’s death in 1888, young Horting took over the liquor house, partnering for a time with John W. Keller in a partnership called Keller & Horting.  A  bottle-shaped corkscrew bears that company name.  By 1899 Keller had departed, leaving Horting the sole proprietor of the liquor house.  Meanwhile, John had taken a bride, a native-born Pennsylvanian woman named Mary Alice. They would have one child, John M., born in 1888.

Although Horting continued to operate the liquor business he had inherited with success, he did not hit his stride until 1904 when he bought the Rome Distillery, located near Lilitz, Pennsylvania, about 14 miles northwest of Lancaster.  This distillery dated its founding to 1815 and had had multiple owners.  One of them, possibly the owner who sold, was D.D. Burkholder who advertised in 1883 “double distilled rye whiskey” and a willingness to exchange his whiskey for good rye grain.

Although one account claims that Horting proceeded to tear down the original distillery and installed all new equipment, the new owner claimed in the ad shown above only to have “entirely renovated and remodeled” the facility.  His distillery, shown here, included a four story warehouse with the stillhouse adjacent.  Horting and his small family moved to Lilitz, likely living at the distillery.  Meanwhile he maintained a separate store and salesroom at 142 North Queen Street in Lancaster.

Owning a distillery allowed Hortling an assured supply of whiskey and enabled him to move into high gear.  He issued a series of proprietary brands.  They included labels that bore his name, as the two bottles shown here.  So far as can be determined, while his containers might be clear or amber, none were embossed, with only their paper labels to identify them.

Hortling trademarked only one label.  In March 1890 he filed an application with the federal government for the exclusive use of the brand, “Colonial.”  He attested that the name had been in his use since August 1896.  He bottled the whiskey in amber quarts and flasks as “pure rye.”  The quart bore the portrait of man in a tricorn headgear, presumably a colonist.  Hortling also featured “Ridge Rye."

Still another brand referenced his location, called “Lilitz Springs Straight Rye Whiskey.”  Hortling was supplying this and other brands at wholesale to saloons, restaurants and hotels in the vicinity of Lancaster.  Like other successful wholesalers he also was giving away advertising shot glasses and fancy back-of-the-bar bottles to his customers. 









Still another label was an evident knock-off of Warner’s “Safe” Cure nostrum, a whiskey he called “Hortling Safe.”  Judging from the crate in which he shipped it, Horting’s Safe” came in quart and half pint sizes.  While not impossible, because the owner apparently used bottles without embossing, it is highly unlikely Pennsylvania diggers will unearth any identifiable Hortling bottles.  The Ash Tonic Bitters bottle is likely to remain a rarity.

Horting personally ran the Rome Distillery for a dozen years, before turning it over to other management and moving back to Lancaster, where he apparently for a time operated a brewery.  With the coming of National Prohibition, all his activities halted.  The 1920 census found John and wife Mary living at 18 East James Street in Lancaster.  His occupation was given as “none.”  In August 1924, Hortling died at the age of 64.  The cause given was an unspecific “complication of disease.”  His funeral was conducted from his home with burial at Lancaster’s Greenwood Cemetery.  An unusual monument marks his grave.

John Horting’s “surprise” undoubtedly would be astonishing to the whiskey man himself if he returned.  He had sold Ash Tonic for a dollar or so. The bottle and label were there just to convey the contents.  Soon everyone would know that his cure-all was complete nonsense and, in fact, illegally labeled.  Nevertheless, his bitters bottle had fetched more than $5,000 at a 2020 auction. In 1890 that was almost four times the average annual family income.  Might Horting conclude that the 21st Century was proving just as gullible as the 19th? 

Notes:  This post was drawn from a variety of sources.  After seeing other Hortling bottles on the Internet, I read Ferd Meyer’s Peach Ridge post where he discussed the astonishing sale of the Ash Tonic Bitters and exclaimed “Hoochie Mama.”  That led me to Lowell Wenger director of the Lititz Historical Foundation (LHF) who in turn referred me to Cory Van Brookhoven, president of LHF and an authority on Lancaster area distilling.  Both were helpful in documenting Horting’s Rome Distillery period, including providing a photo of the facility before it was torn down.  Unfortunately, no photo of Hortling himself has come to light.
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Subsequently both Cory and Lowell have noted corrections that needed to be made in the text. Again thanks to them.