Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Patrick Lancaster: “Once & Future” Whiskey Man


 When National Prohibition was imposed in 1920, those involved in the liquor trade had one of four broad choices: 1) permanently go out of business and retire, 2) find a different occupation, 3) attempt to carry on illegally, or 4) find interim things to do and await the uncertain day when Repeal would occur.  Given the odds, only a handful of whiskey men chose the fourth option.  Among them was Kentuckian Patrick Raphael Lancaster, the pipe-smoking liquor house proprietor whose photo opens this post.  He would find that waiting out Prohibition could have its pitfalls.

Patrick was born in May 1880, one of eleven children of J.R. and Ann Lancaster.  His father was accounted an early pioneer farmer of Daviess County, Kentucky, initially a slaveholder who freed his slaves before 1840.  His father, according to an obituary,  “was known all over a wide scope of country and was highly respected throughout his life.”


By 1870 J.R. Lancaster had moved to Owensboro, the Daviess County seat, and Patrick grew up there attending local schools.  There is little in the record about his early career.  In October 1905 at the age of 25, Patrick married Sue Elizabeth “Susie” Taylor, shown here.  According to the records they would have only one child, Patrick Junior, born in 1909.


Lancaster first surfaced in local business directories in 1901, working as a bookkeeper in what likely was a Owensboro liquor house.  By 1907 he was listed as the proprietor of P.R. Lancaster & Company, wholesale liquor dealer, located at 321 West Third Street.  He seems to have had early success, requiring a subsequent move to larger quarters at 310 Third Street. 



There Lancaster marketed his whiskey under the name “Premier Pure.”  Not a distiller, he was buying whiskey by the barrel from the many distilleries that dotted the Kentucky landscape and was “rectifying” (blending) it to achieve a desired taste, color and smoothness.  Key among his suppliers was the Green River Distilling Company of Owensboro whose owner, Col. J.W. McCulloch,  became a close friend.  [See post on McCulloch April 1, 2014.]



Landcaster decanted whiskey into stoneware jugs of half-gallon and larger sizes.  Some of these containers also suggested that Lancaster’s was “The whiskey for family use,” suggesting he was also selling directly to retail customers.  Another company brand was “Old Quality Whiskey.”  It was advertised on shot glasses that the proprietor would have provided to the saloons, hotels, and restaurants stocking his brands.


During the early years of the 20th Century, Lancaster prospered in his liquor dealership.  He was increasingly being viewed as one of Owensboro’s “up and coming” young businessmen.  He was reported in 1919 to have cleared a profit equivalent to more than $1 million in 2020 dollars. Then on January 1, 1920, National Prohibition arrived and after a relatively few years in existence, Lancaster was forced to close his liquor house. 



Later that year the family relocated to Louisville. Lancaster’s wealth from liquor sales allowed him to move his family into a mansion home, shown below, in one of Louisville’s prestigious neighborhoods at 2508 Longest Avenue.  Given its size the house almost certainly required live-in servants.



Lancaster’s took up an executive position as secretary and principal investor in a Louisville-based operation called the Thraman Oil Company.  Associated with him in the company was Colonel McCulloch.  They shared offices in Louisville’s posh Starks Building downtown.  Speculation in oil exploration stocks was soaring at the time and the Thraman outfit was adept at publicizing what it reported as “finds.”  The November 1919 issue of “Louisville Oil World” reported: “The Thraman Oil Company has brought in No. 1 Stevenson north of Ranger in Texas and is said to be showing for 2,000 barrels….No. 1 in the Somerset field near San Antonio is in. This is high grade oil and is showing from 20 to 50 barrels….Thraman has four wells completed in Texas and four drilling.” 


Given this and other positive accounts, it must have been a shock to the public to read headlines in September 1922 and find that P. R. Lancaster had filed for bankruptcy in U.S. District Court.  His liabilities were listed at $453,611.70 ($6.6 million today) and assets at $199,085.  The cause of the failure were “unfortunate investments in Eastern and Southern Kentucky oil,” according to the press.  


One result of the bankruptcy was the sale of the Lancaster mansion and a move to a more modest home.  At age 46 Lancaster was ruined.  A photo exists of his son showing off a new grandchild.  Patrick Sr., standing behind, seems to have been aged significantly by his financial disaster.


In ensuing years, Lancaster continued to work in Louisville, his occupation  recorded by the census taker as “salesman, stocks & bonds.”  Eager to return to the liquor trade again, he watched through the early 1930s as National Prohibition grew increasingly unpopular and began to unravel.  With Repeal Lancaster saw an opportunity to rejoin the liquor trade as a broker, acting as a “middleman” between the newly revived distilleries of Kentucky and the liquor dealers and drinking establishment opening all over America.  He worked from an office in Suite 1203 of Louisville’s skyscraper Washington Building, shown here, reviving his reputation in the liquor trade and his fortunes.  Lancaster was joined in this successful enterprise by Patrick Jr. and continued to work for many years, enjoying the adulation of ten grandchildren.


Patrick lived to be 83 years old, his bankruptcy of 1922 largely forgotten.  After several year in declining health with heart disease, he was felled by a stroke in March 1964 and died at Lady of Peace Hospital.  After a funeral at St. James, his parish church, he was buried at Louisville’s Calvary Cemetery next to Susie who had died several months earlier.  


 


Patrick Lancaster had chosen the fourth option, waiting out the “dry” years and rejoining the liquor trade at the opportune moment.  The fourteen year hiatus of National Prohibition had not been easy but despite a bankruptcy he had emerged triumphant yet again as a “whiskey man.”


































Saturday, November 21, 2020

Harry Johnson — A Bartender with Fancy Moves

 

From an ignominious beginning in San Francisco, Harry Johnson became one of the best known bartenders in America, operating drinking establishments across America while dispensing wisdom on bar-keeping success and supplying dozens of drink recipes.  Johnson published one of America’s first bartender’s manuals, gaining recognition as “The Father of American Bartending.”  A unique aspect of Johnson’s manuals was the drawings of cocktails and other libations, some reproduced here.

Born in Germany about 1845, young Johnson as a youth  is said to have sought adventure in 1861 by signing on as a seaman on a ship bound “Around the Horn” for California.  On the outward voyage he was badly injured in a shipboard accident, breaking an arm and hip.  Left behind by the captain to heal in San Francisco, Johnson found a job in the kitchen of the Union Hotel peeling vegetables.  Ever ambitious he eventually worked his way up to hotel bartender and then to manager.  “The drinks I invented and the way I mixed them attracted many patrons to the bar….”  At least that is the story Johnson, something of a fabulist, told.  A more mundane alternative version has him sailing from Hamburg with his parents and a sister in 1852, eventually fetching up in San Francisco and working at the Union Hotel.


Restless and wanting to see more of America in 1868 Johnson cashed out of San Francisco and headed east for Chicago.  There he opened his own saloon, one he later claimed was “generally recognized as the finest establishment of the kind in this country.”  Modesty was not a strong trait in Harry.  Something of a celebrity in Chicago, Johnson gave lectures and wrote articles and published drink recipes in local newspapers.


As his reputation grew Johnson was invited to participate in a national bartending competition in New Orleans.  The judges asked him to make a dozen whiskey cocktails all at one time.  The German immigrant is said to have placed 12 glasses in two rows of six each and then built a pyramid, apparently similar to one shown as pictured with him here.  “He mixed up the cocktails and strained them using a pair of large glasses without spilling a drop.” * That agility won him first prize, $1,000 in gold coins and a silver tumbler and spoon. Johnson subsequently crowned himself “Champion Bartender of the United States.”

When Mrs. O’Leary’s cow reputedly ignited the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Johnson’s popular saloon was reduced to ashes.  With a loss he estimated at $100,000 (equiv. $2 million today) and admittedly “financially ruined,” Johnson was forced to start over.  In the meantime he had found love in the Windy City in the person of Bertha and they married.  Ever on the move, he and Bertha abandoned Chicago for Philadelphia in time for the U.S. Centennial celebration.

There Johnson became head bartender at the Grand Hotel.  Within two years he had moved on to run the bar and wine cellar at Delmonico’s, among Philly’s fanciest eateries.  “There he regaled former U.S. President and whiskey-lover Ulysses S. Grant with original creations….” *


Johnson reputedly then briefly moved to Boston where he found work in an unnamed hotel as a bartender.  Apparently finding Bean Town too small for his ambitions, Johnson moved on to the (his term) “Metropolis” of New York City.  With his savings he was able to buy an existing saloon in the Bowery called “Little Jumbo.”  Represented by Johnson as “pre-eminently successful,” Little Jumbo drew both financiers from both Wall Street and politicians from Tammany Hall.  As the Bowery declined, however, Johnson sold out and opened another bar in the basement of a building in Hanover Square.


Throughout this period Johnson also was writing. His New and Improved Bartender's Manual, or How to Mix Drinks in the Present Style was published in 1882. The manual provided hundreds of cocktail recipes. What made it unusual were its detailed instructions on how to become a proper bartender.  Containing both English and German versions in one volume, Johnson had advice on such topics as : "The opening of a new place", "How ale and porter should be drawn", "Hints about training a boy to the business", "Handing bar-spoons to customers” and "To keep ants and other insects out of mixing bottles.”  He included an illustration of the tidy bar.


The first edition was rife with misprints, omitting 25 recipes listed in the index.  A major typographical howler was Johnson’s “Instructions relative to Bowels containing Punches.”  Nonetheless, he bragged that 10,000 copies had been sold.  This may have included the second edition published in 1888, one that corrected earlier mistakes but retained the German-language section.  Major changes marked the 1900 edition.  Gone was the German and in its place a highly desirable alphabetical index.  Moreover, the number of pages had swelled from 197 to 268.  Lots more advice. Lots more drink recipes.


The one constant through all editions were the line drawings of a variety of drink concoctions.  Among them was “Morning Glory Fizz,” shown below left, that included as ingredients a raw egg, absinthe, Scotch whisky and Vichy water.  Johnson recommended his Fizz for breakfast claiming that it “will give a good appetite and quiet the nerves.”  Similarly complicated was his “Whiskey Daisy,”  containing “good whiskey,” yellow chartreuse, and fruits in season.  “This drink…will taste good to anybody,” Johnson assured.



Johnson has been credited for the first recipe for a martini. In earlier editions he had called it a “Martine” and include a drawing of it both “on the rocks” and “up.”  The recipe for this drink differs significantly from modern ideas of a martini but by the 1904 edition the spelling had been changed to “Martini” and the mix, below left, was closer to the James Bond version.  Johnson also recognized the allure of the mint julep and included a picture and a standard recipe.



In the late 50’s the strain of Johnson’s frenetic lifestyle caught up with him.  Leaving New York behind, in 1896-1897 he and Bertha went abroad to Europe for a months-long therapeutic change of pace.  “He thought he would never own another bar again.”  Upon the couple’s return, however, Harry could not resist one last grand gesture.  In 1903 he opened an establishment he called the Pabst Grand Circle on Columbus Circle in New York. “With its unimpeded view of Central Park, Harry’s hotel sported a cafĂ©, dining room, roof garden restaurant, and an art gallery that housed his personal artwork collection valued at $4 million in today’s currency.”* It is shown right.


Assisted by a nephew as manager, Johnson actively engaged with patrons at the Pabst Grand Circle.  He also was continuing to update and revise his drink manuals. The 1904 edition shown below added a new section on wine selection and an artistic endpaper.  With the coming of National Prohibition, Johnson retired, spending his time traveling in Europe, sight-seeing and buying art, but always returning to New York, the one city that could satisfy his restless spirit.  He died there in 1933, about the age of 88, just months before the repeal of National Prohibition.  “No fanfare, no great tributes.  Yet Harry’s legacy of great whiskey drinks continues to this day.”*



Notes:  Considerable information exists online about Bartender Harry Johnson.  The most complete biographical material appears on a blog called “Homepage,”  author undisclosed.  It is from that source that all the “starred” quotes are drawn.  Four editions of Johnson’s drink manuals in their entirety with illustrations are available at a site called EUVS Digital Collection.
















































Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Restless Spirit and Tragic End of Max Ullman

After immigrating from Germany in 1868, Max Ullman spent most of the next dozen    years traveling over Georgia, changing jobs and cities frequently, looking for a place big enough to achieve his ambitions. Shown here, he eventually found opportunity in the Brunswick, Georgia, liquor trade. Ullman parlayed that success into a handful of enterprises that made him a fortune, only to meet his undoing in the national financial panic of 1893.

From an extensive biography of Ullman in “Biographical Souvenir of the States of Georgia and Florida” (1889), we learn that Max was born in Munich, Germany, in June, 1847, the son of Nathan and Theresa (Neustadter) Ulman. His family appears to have been wealthy, able to educate Max with private tutors and given a business education by serving an apprenticeship in a Munich banking house.  Ullman appears to have avoided conscription into the army.  Although his future in Germany would seem assured, exhibiting the restless spirit that marked his life, at the age of 21 Ullman boarded the steamship, Cimbria, shown below, for America.



Landing in New York, Ullman spent 1869 clerking in Pittston, Pennsylvania, but seeing better opportunities South, left after a year for Albany. Georgia.  That city had become prominent in the nineteenth century as a shipping and market hub, served by riverboats and railroads. Seven lines met in Albany, and the town bloomed as a center of trade.  Ullman worked as a clerk  there for a year, was dissatisfied, and in 1870 moved on to Camilla, Georgia, about 30 miles south.  There he went to work for Samuel Mayer, a merchant who would become important to him in achieving his future.


Ullman worked for Mayer for three years in a Camilla merchandise business “but finding the place was not large enough for him,” he sold out his share and returned to Albany.  “In order to improve his business capacity,” according to his biography, Ullmann then took a job with Myers & Brother, wholesale  tobacco and cigar dealers in Savannah, 225 miles on the other side of the Georgia.  While Savannah should have been large enough to satisfy his ambitions, Ullman stayed only three years before returning to Albany to work with Mayer in the cotton trade.


That move also might have been triggered by motives other than ambition.  Max had fallen in love with Mayer’s daughter, Francis.  She had been a little girl of 12 when they first met but the attraction was mutual and at the age of 19 she and Max, 25, were married in July of 1877.  But even marriage could not temper Ullman’s restless drive to get ahead.  He moved 40 miles north to Americus, Georgia, and started his own merchantile business.  Americus, more than twice the size of Albany, was known as the "Metropolis of Southwest Georgia," a reflection of its status as a cotton distribution center.  He remained there until 1882, “but the field not being large enough for him,” according to his biography, Ullman moved to Brunswick, Georgia, 200 miles east, a city he likely had visited as a traveling salesman from Savannah.  An Atlantic port city, Brunswick was experiencing boom times as timber harvests and sawn products from regional forests were being shipped from there all over America.


Another incentive for Ullman was the presence in Brunswick of Sam Mayer, his wife’s father.  Mayer offered Max an executive position in a wholesale grocery and liquor business he had started with a partner.  Called Mssrs. S. Mayer and Glauber, the firm rapidly became known for its large business volume, much of its profits from alcohol.  Within four years Glauber was gone and the company became S. Mayer and Ullman, doing business on Bay Street at the foot of Mansfield St.  The partners marketed their own brand of whiskey brought to them in barrels by land and sea.  They decanted the liquor into ceramic jugs and sold them to area saloons, hotels and restaurants.  Max rapidly was becoming rich.



He was able to move Frances and their growing family into a spacious frame house at 509 London Street, shown below. By this time, the couple had known considerable sorrow, as a daughter, Helen, had died in infancy.  They would know more heartache when another daughter, Theresa, died at only eight years. Three other daughters would grow into adulthood. 



Despite those losses, Max Ullman, after years of seeking a place adequate to satisfy his ambitions, found a home in Brunswick.  And Brunswick took to Max.  With a matter of months he was recognized as one of the city’s “up and coming” businessmen. When the Brunswick Inland Steamboat Co. was organized in 1844, Ullman was elected president.  With the erection of the Oglethorpe Hotel, shown here, he became a director.  While continuing to be connected with the liquor trade, he also was president of the Brunswick Brewing & Ice Company, selling beer, soft drinks and ice.


Ullman also plunged headfirst into the social and political life of Brunswick, becoming a member of the Royal Arch Masons, Knights of Pythias, American Order of United Workmen, and the Order of B’nai Brith.  From contacts made through these organizations he was encouraged to run for Brunswick City Council.  He won and served for three years raising his name and reputation in local estimation.


The high point of Ullman’s career was his organization of the Oglethorpe National  Bank in July 1887 with capital of $100,000.  Max was president, harking back to his early training in a Munich banking house.  For its initial years the bank flourished, growing significantly.  When Oglethorpe National Bank was chartered in 1889, it built an imposing 3-story red brick building on Jekyll Square West, shown here, featuring a distinctive cupola  As a national bank, the institution could issue its own currency.  Although its bills are very rarely seen today by collectors, they would look similar to the one shown below.



In 1893, after years of growth, Ullman’s banking business fell victim to a severe  national recession. Caused in part by a run on the gold supply, profits, investments, incomes, and the stock market all fell sharply.  Unemployment soared, some estimates reaching as high as 18.4%.  Particularly hard hit was the banking sector.  Ullman’s bank was over extended, weakening as people were defaulting on loans.


The Oglethorpe National Bank was closely tied to another Brunswick bank, run by a friend, W.E. Burbage, on which Ullman was a director. He owed Burbage money.  Max had reached out to a banking associate in Savannah for a $15,000 loan but had been refused.  On May 18, 1893, he walked to his office with Burbage, “chatting pleasantly,”  Unknown to anyone Ullman had hidden on his person an opiate pill and a pistol. When Burbage asked him about repaying the loan, he replied “All right, wait a moment,” and stepped into an adjoining bathroom.


The Atlanta Constitution told the rest of the story:   “Burbage, waiting, heard a report which he thought was a chair falling.  Finally when Ulllman did not return he went for him, and found his body sitting upright on a bench with a bullet hole in the center of his forehead and blood flowing in a rapid stream to a pool that had already formed below.”


The news of Ullman’s suicide spread rapidly and the streets around the bank crowded with anxious citizens.  The immediate effects on other Brunswick banks that day and later was minimal.  Burbage’s bank was expected to survive but Oglethorpe National was bankrupt, its liabilities hopelessly outweighing assets. Many with accounts, including the City of Brunswick, lost significant amounts of money.  Ullman’s other business enterprises, including the brewery, suspended operations, as the effects of the event rippled through the community.  The news of Ullman’s bank failure and suicide was reported in newspapers nationwide and even overseas.


While some citizens of Brunswick worried about their money, others, in particular his family, were mourning the untimely death of a man who had brought his restless spirit to the city, found wealth in selling wholesale liquor and other comestibles, used his resources to create local businesses, and gave his energies to public service.  Two days after his death, accompanied by a delegation from the Knights of Pythias and Ullman’s synagogue, a special train from Brunswick took Max’s body back to Albany.


Met there by another delegation, the mourners formed a long procession for a slow and solemn march to the cemetery.  At the grave, Jewish rites were conducted by two rabbis.  As reported by the Albany Daily Herald: “Then all that was flesh of Max Ullman, whose sad demise had touched the hearts of the people of the whole state, was laid to rest beside the graves of his two little daughters who had gone before.”  Later the family erected a large monument over the site, one capped by a figure of “Grief.”  The inscription for Max cites him as a “beloved husband” of Frances and in an unusual touch, the date of their marriage.



Note:  Once again it was just a single jug on an auction site that brought Max Ullman to my attention, prompting me to research his life, one of more than usual interest and accomplishment.   Most important in chronicling Ullman’s career was “Biographical Souvenir of the States of Georgia and Florida,”  published by F.A. Battey & Co. of Chicago in 1889. No author listed.  Details of events surrounding Ullman’s suicide are drawn from newspaper stories.




























Friday, November 13, 2020

Cowboy Whiskey Men

 

     


Foreword:   Media heroes from comic books to motion pictures, the American cowboy is the iconic symbol of the Old West.  Likely beginning as young ranch hands, as they aged some cowpunchers looked for less taxing, more lucrative employment.  What naturally came to mind was the saloon and the whiskey trade.  Here are the brief accounts of three such cowboys, each of them with a unique story.                


In 1886 a 26 year old Missouri-born ranch hand rode his horse up to a South Dakota stage coach station that held a saloon. The next day he owned the place and thereupon was launched the career of Daniel P. Roberts, also known as “Devil Dan.” Little did he realize that the trajectory of his career also would make him part of a Presidential Inaugural.


When that wilderness station subsequently grew into the boom town of Belle Fourche, Roberts in 1905 opened a new drinking establishment on the main street that he called The Stand-Up Bar.  Robert’s saloon was a cut above the average. As the centerpiece of the house he bought an ornate Chicago-made Brunswick bar and saloon outfit, featuring an elegant cherry wood back and matching front counter.  


No sooner had Roberts opened the Stand Up Bar, however, than he was embarked on the trip of his life. A cowboy acquaintance of his had been one of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. When Roosevelt was inaugurated as President in 1905 the man conceived the idea of having a cowboy section in the Inaugural parade, convinced the President-to-be, and recruited Dan. 



Shipping their horses by rail ahead of them, the cowboys, including future movie star Tom Mix, followed in their own railroad coaches, having a raucous time. In Washington, as shown here, Roberts and the others were reunited with their ponies and rode around streets of the Nation’s Capitol to exercise their mounts.

For the parade, security agents allowed the riders to carry pistols in their holsters as part as their costume, but the guns were unloaded. Riding eight abreast in the parade, they were cheered lustily by the waiting crowds. As they passed the reviewing stand President Roosevelt is said to have jumped up, clapped his hands and shouted: "That's bully!”  


Returning home, Roberts took up the role of saloonkeeper in earnest. Like other Western cow towns, Belle Fourche was a wild, wide open place. The main street was known as Saloon Street because of all the “watering holes” located there. Said one observer:  “The cowboys wanted to gamble, to drink and dance, and they wanted girls. The merchants of Belle Fourche saw that the cowboys had what they wanted.”  Among them was “Devil Dan” who operated the Stand Up Bar until South Dakota went “dry” in 1917.  


Shown below is a letterhead for the The Valley Saloon, a drinking establishment in the small but violence-ridden town of Saco, Montana.  It identifies the proprietor as a man named “Tom Dunn.”  In January 1897 the proprietor was writing to a wholesale liquor dealer to complain about shipping charges on his recent order.  But “Dunn” never existed nor would the saloon owner using that alias live beyond the following year. 


 

Tom Dunn was, in truth, Ed Starr, a member of several well known outlaw gangs.  According to Helen Huntington in her book, War on Powder River,  Starr was regarded as a “vicious nonentity” and “a killer for killing’s sake.”  When he arrived in Saco, shown here, Starr was on the lam from Wyoming, the cowboy gunslinger who had killed a United States marshal.  When he showed up in northern Montana, Starr/Dunn built a reputation as a skilled cattle broker and was appointed deputy livestock inspector for the region, reputedly compiling a good record.  


Old habits die hard, however, and in 1898 about nine miles from Saco Starr/Dunn, shown here, became involved in selling a string of horses, some of them apparently rustled.  In this scheme he had as a partner another notorious Western “bad man” named Henry Thompson, known as “Long Henry.”  When the time came for the two to settle accounts on the stolen animals, they could not agree on a division of the profits.  


The dispute led to gunplay.  Although Starr/Dunn wounded Thompson, he did not drop him. , Also an expert markman, Thompson almost simultaneously fired thee times.  The first bullet struck the cowboy saloonkeeper in the heart, killing him instantly.  The other two shots hit him in the body as he fell to the ground.  A Montana newspaper noted:  “Dunn was widely known as an expert with a gun and his friends could never understand his poor marksmanship on that occasion….[Dunn], probably, in getting off that first shot, lost the delicate balance which usually sent his bullets dead center.”   


The glass paperweight at left bears the photograph of a man riding a buffalo and bears the legend:  “Bob Yokum’s Buffalo, Pierre, S.D.”  It provides a window into the feats of a South Dakota saloonkeeper in training buffalo — the American bison — to pull a wagon or sleigh, be mounted and raced, and, most famously of all, engage in bullfighting in Mexico.  In his early  years, Yokum is said to have engaged in “the old ranching and cowboy life of the American West,” eventually becoming a United States marshal and later opening a saloon in Pierre.


Obsessed with training buffalo, Yokum after considerable effort taught them to draw a carriage.  Yokum’s next feat was training his buffalo being to be ridden.  The animals were said to “loathe” the saddling process and upon being mounted for the first time were known to buck fiercely trying to throw the rider.  With patience, the saloonkeeper was able to accustomed the shaggy beasts to a passenger, as shown above.  In addition, he was able to race them, both against other bison and against horses.  They were faster than the horses.


Yokum’s singular feat was introducing a bison into a Mexican bullring.  The idea was hatched during the winter of 1906-1907 to see which was the more dominant animal — a fighting bull (toro) or the American buffalo.   Loading one eight-year old male buffalo and one four-year old in a boxcar a group of South Dakota men that included Yokum headed to Mexico.  Yokum made sure there was plenty of alcohol in the baggage to make the trip a more pleasant experience.



After a seven day trip the group arrived in Juarez just in time for the afternoon show of four regular bullfights and as the finale the American buffalo vs. Mexican bull.  According to one account, the older buffalo, named Pierre, was released into the ring where it walked calmly to the middle:  “When the attendants released a red Mexican bull into the ring, he immediately spied the buffalo and charged. The bull aimed for the buffalo’s flank; but at the last second, the buffalo pivoted and the bull hit him head on…and was knocked back on his haunches.”  A second and third charge yielded the same result.  On the fourth attempt, the bull again hit the buffalo head, was stunned and fell to the ground.  Then the bull rose up, fled from the buffalo and tried to climb out of the ring.” 


Reveling in victory, Yokum, shown here, went back to his buffalo farm and to operating saloons in both Pierre and Ft. Pierre.  When the latter town under “local option” went dry about 1910, he reluctantly was forced to shut down one establishment.  The Pierre saloon was closed in 1917 when South Dakota voted in prohibition.


Note:  Longer vignettes on each of these cowboy whiskey men may be found on this website.  “Devil Dan” Roberts, April 18, 2012;  Tom Dunn/Ed Starr, March 5, 2020; and Bob Yokum, November 9, 2018.





















Monday, November 9, 2020

“Boss” Joe Kelly — His Personal War on Prohibition


Joseph F.  “Joe” Kelly, beginning in the early 1900s, parlayed a saloon and a liquor store into wealth and political power in Baltimore’s predominantly Irish Tenth Ward.  When National Prohibition banned any further sale of alcohol, Kelly — backed by his constituents — took his war against enforcement of the “dry” laws into the streets.  It proved to be a fight he could not win.  Shown here is a picture that may be a young Joe Kelly.


Details of Kelly’s parentage, education and early career are scant.  Born in Ireland and brought to America as a child along with a brother and three sisters Kelly seems never to have been recorded in a U.S. Census.  He first surfaced in Baltimore directories about 1901 operating a saloon at 893 Greenmount Avenue, near the center of the Tenth Ward, shown below on a map.



Much of the Eighth Ward that had been populated by the Irish became the Tenth Ward just before the turn of the 20th century, when the boundaries of the city’s election districts were reconfigured. The new boundaries, that still exist today, were the rectangle bounded by E. Preston Street, N. Caroline Street, E. Monument Street and The Fallsway.  Once they arrived in Baltimore in force, the Irish were a power to be reckoned with, particularly in the bare-knuckle era of bossism and political clubs.



Kelly rose rapidly in this environment, his reputation as a genial and generous saloonkeeper thrusting him into political power.  He also succeeded as a businessman, opening a second saloon and a liquor house he called “The Family Liquor Store” at the corner of Hillen and Forrest Streets.  At this location he offered free games of pool upstairs, a popular option.  He also gave away advertising shot glasses to favored customers.


As can be seen from the 1911 photo of his building, signage was of particular importance to the Irishman.  Kelly’s building could be seen from a long way off because of the large wooden bottle on the roof. City records indicate that in April 1909 the Baltimore Board of Estimates turned down his request for a new sign.  One of the five Board members voting against it was poet and Baltimore native Edgar Allen Poe.  The reason given was that the sign was “dead” at a time when neon signs were lighting up Baltimore’s night sky.  Kelly caught on and months later returned with a proposal for an eight by four feet electric sign.  This time the sign was approved. 


Married to a woman named Isabelle, Kelly and his wife not appear to have had children.  Their first home was living adjacent to the Greenmount Avenue saloon.  As he prospered, Kelly was able to move the couple, likely with servants, into a mansion home at 1649 East North Avenue.  Shown below as it looks today, the building serves as the “Great Blacks in Wax Museum.”



In 1920 things changed abruptly for Kelly.  With the imposition of National Prohibition he was forced to shut down his Family Liquor Store and ostensibly convert his Greenmount Street saloon into a “near beer” and soft drink emporium.  The anti-“dry” environment in Baltimore, however, emboldened Kelly to continue to make, distribute and sell illicit alcohol, while local and state officials looked the other way and the general public applauded his efforts. 


In time federal prohibition agents became aware of Kelly’s activities.  On May 17, 1922, accompanied by (reluctant) local police, two squads of law enforcement officers stormed into Kelly’s establishment where they found bootleg liquor estimated at worth a half million dollars (equiv. to $7 million today).  The raid triggered a riot as some fifty sympathizers of Kelly, cheered on by a large crowd of spectators, attacked the officers with sticks, stones and bottles.  Reported the New York Times:  “The rioting, which caused casualties on both sides, was attended by spectacular events in which police ambulances, trucks, thirty taxicabs, four undertakers’ wagons, fire apparatus, electric railway trouble trucks…figured, together with knives and firecrackers.”


As soon as a vehicle was loaded with Kelly’s confiscated booze, a rioter would slash the tires.  “Kill ‘em, kill ‘em,” the crowd roared as agents carried out cases of whiskey.  Thoroughly frightened, the men retreated into the saloon, sheltered by Kelly until the melee subsided.  Later that night the barrels and cases of liquor were loaded on trucks and taken to a government warehouse.  The authorities announced that the raid had “struck at the heart of the illicit liquor traffic in Baltimore.”



It appears that Kelly was arrested on bootlegging charges, made bail, and was able to get continuances on his court appearances.  The Baltimore Sun in December 1922 reported that Kelly, claiming illness through his attorney, had failed to appear in Federal District Court on charges of prohibition law violations.

He subsequently was acquitted of possessing and selling liquor.  Claiming illegal search and seizure, Kelly later petitioned the court for the return of the whiskey and wine on the basis that it was pre-Prohibition stock and not bootleg alcohol.  He does not appear to have been successful.


Despite his ongoing entanglement with prohibition enforcement, Kelly continued to flout anti-alcohol laws, moving his operation to a warehouse on Baltimore’s Homewood Avenue.  Now having gained the close attention of federal agents, Kelly’s warehouse was put under constant surveillance.  On the night of January 29, 1923, two agents saw a large covered truck leave the warehouse at a high rate of speed and gave chase.  Not far from Kelly’s home, the driver and a passenger jumped out, tried to prevent a search of the truck, and promptly were arrested.  A Baltimore policeman given custody of the two men promptly let them escape.


The truckers alerted Kelly who, with a crowd, came to the scene.  He challenged the authority of the agents and attempted to detain them.  Surrounded by the crowd and pushed away from the truck, the agents were unable to stop a Kelly ally from jumping into the driver’s seat and driving off at a high rate of speed.  Driver and cargo were never found.   Although the contraband liquor was gone, federal authorities had Kelly and charged him with impeding prohibition agents in the  execution of their duties.  


At his trial in March, Kelly denied seizing and holding the agents during the get-away maintaining he was “merely a casual passerby.”  The jury did not buy his story, however, and found him guilty on three counts.  A Federal District judge imposed a fine of $250 and nine months imprisonment in the Baltimore city jail. Kelly and his lawyers appealed the decision to the U.S. Circuit Court citing a number of technicalities.  The court sustained the original verdict.  Kelly went to jail where he immediately was made librarian.


After serving most of his sentence, Kelly was released from jail just before the stroke of midnight.  Regardless of the late hour a large crowd of cheering supporters awaited him as he passed through the gates.  During the next few years, Kelly was able to maintain his status as a political power in municipal affairs, even extending his sway outside the Tenth Ward. He also became known for his philanthropy with generous contributions to the St. Vincent’s Male Orphan Asylum, Carmelite Monastery and other charities.


When Joe Kelly died in August 1930 a crowd estimated at 1,000, including both Democratic and Republican leaders, attended his funeral, held at St. John’s Catholic Church in the heart of the Irish boss’s Tenth Ward.  Floral offerings filled five wagons.  Forty-five automobiles were in the procession, preceded by a line of motorcycle police.  Another large gathering awaited at the church. Inside mourners heard the pastor extol Kelly as “a true politician, a wise business man and a kind and gentle friend.”  When it came to Prohibition, padre, maybe not so kind or gentle. 


Note:  Starting with an interest in Kelly’s shot glasses, led me to the New York Times report of the May 1921 mayhem and then to the larger story of how a Baltimore Irish saloonkeeper and political boss tried to escape National Prohibition, was successful for a while and then caught and jailed.  Most of the information came from news stories in the Times and Baltimore Sun.