Saturday, July 4, 2020

How Vincent Chicco Bested a Notorious Governor


 Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, Governor of South Carolina and a man of dictatorial instincts, in 1893 decided to make an example a lightly-educated Italian immigrant Charleston saloonkeeper and liquor dealer named Vincent Chicco in order to enforce his hold on the sales of alcohol in the Palmetto State.  In targeting Chicco, shown here, Tillman had picked the wrong man.

In trying to placate prohibitionist forces in South Carolina, the wily Tillman, shown left, had proposed a halfway solution:  Saloons would close along with all liquor dealerships but whiskey, wine and beer would still be available everywhere through a state dispensary system. Just before Christmas in 1892, compliant legislators voted to establish the scheme, in part because some recognized the significant revenues (and possible opportunities for graft) it would generate when the only alcohol that legally could be sold in South Carolina had to be purchased through a government bureaucracy.


In Charleston where drinking beer, wine and whiskey was heavily entrenched, the residents viewed the use of alcohol not merely as a tradition but as a right.  The order to close up saloons and liquor sales was widely ignored and in that atmosphere, extremely difficult to enforce.  Speakeasies called “Blind Tigers” became rampant throughout the city.  Tillman was outraged.  He vowed that if Charleston did not comply he would make it “dry enough to burn” and would send enough compliance officers “to cover every city block with a man.”

In July 1893, Tillman’s officers made their first arrest. Vincent Chicco. He was alleged to have opened his first Blind Tiger just two weeks after the dispensary bill became law and was continuing to sell alcohol, including an illegal beer to one of Tillman’s detectives.  Chicco likely was targeted because of his Italian ethnicity, being an immigrant, and not part of Charleston’s establishment.  He was born in 1851 in Livorno, Tuscany, the son of Charlotte and Salvator Chicco.  With only limited education, Vincent had left home in his teens and shipped out as a merchant seaman on an ocean schooner.  When the ship docked in Charleston, he liked the place, and decided to stay.

Chicco first found work on a local rail system but left to join the Charleston police force.  Becoming an American citizen in 1874, in 1885 he met and married Mary Ann Burke, a local girl.  Vince was 34; Mary was 24.  They had five children during their marriage, three girls and two boys. Soon after his marriage Chicco left the police force and opened an establishment he called a “grocery” on Market Street.  In fact it was far more than that — delicatessen, cigar shop, saloon, and liquor store.  The building was captured on a postcard with a portrait of the young Chicco superimposed.


Chicco’s arrest occasioned a near riot as locals supporters rallied to protest the action.  Taken to court, he faced a friendly judge who freed him immediately and, it was reported, arrested Tillman’s officer for committing assault on the saloonkeeper.  Overnight Chicco became a local hero in Charleston, dubbed as the “King of the Blind Tigers.”  He was emboldened to issue a five cent token in which the obverse shows a tiger wearing a blindfold.


In short order Chicco had become a nemesis to the Tillman, a man whom the governor publicly called “a kind of Dago devil.”  Hauled into court repeatedly over the years, Chicco repeatedly walked away a free man.  One of his appearances before the courts in 1909 is in the public record and gives a clue to his methods.  Chicco was accused of operating a business at 83 and 85 Market Street “where people are permitted to resort for the purpose of drinking alcoholic liquors and beverage” in a manner not authorized by law.”  To allow him to continue would allow “great injury to the public,” according to the prosecution.  The court was asked to issue a cease and desist order.

While admitting that he operated a restaurant and grocery store at 83 and 85 Market Street Chicco averred nothing illegal went on there.  His family lived above those addresses at 83 & 1/2 Market. That address had not been included in the complaint.  When asked what he did or kept at 83 & 1/2, Chicco declined to answer on the grounds it would incriminate him, implying that anything illicit might going on at that address — not part of the indictment.

In fact, Chicco was advertising quite openly his sales of wines and liquors at his Market Street addresses.  He also was said to be running “blind tigers” in other parts of Charleston.  Shown here is postcard view of another Chicco establishment in Charleston identified as a cafe and store, almost certainly selling alcohol in defiance of South Carolina’s dispensary law. 


Tillman’s attacks on Chicco heightened into a personal battle, one that the Italian immigrant seemed to relish.  He introduced a line of cigars he called “The Two Determined.”  They came in a box with his picture and Tillman’s on the lid.  Chicco explained the concept to newsmen this way:  Tillman was determined that he should stop selling liquor;  Chicco was equally determined to continue selling it.  I find the illustration fascinating depicting militant objects above and the figure of Cupid with a lyre below, usually a symbol of love, not conflict.

In addition to openly flouting Ben Tillman’s unjust and corrupt dispensary laws, Chicco saw an opportunity in his Charleston celebrity to embark on a political career.  He ran for alderman in his neighborhood, Ward Three, and was elected.  Apparently serving with the continuing approval of his constituents he was elected four more times.  His business directory listings prominently listed “Charleston alderman.”

Despite his aldermanic duties and constantly being hauled into court, Chicco proved to be a loving husband and caring father.  For the first thirty years of their married life Mary Ann and his children had lived above his restaurant and store.  About 1915, Vincent moved the family into a large mansion in the fashionable Ansonborough district of Charleston.  Built in 1843, the home featured an Italianate front door leading to an open air piazza that stretched around building. The interior decor included one-of-a-kind etched glass panes, Greek Revival moldings, and marble fireplaces.  Shown here as it looks today, the Chicco house has been divided into three spacious apartments.

Meanwhile, Tillman’s South Carolina alcohol dispensary system had “crashed and burned.”  Awash in money, the dispensary became so potent a political machine that it alarmed Progressive-era reformers as well as preachers and their flocks who wanted to ban alcohol completely.  Moreover, hearings in he South Carolina Legislature had revealed rampant corruption.  Officials regularly were siphoning off dispensary money, soliciting bribes from suppliers, and selling liquor on the sly. In 1907 legislators abolished the central state dispensary, allowing each county to decide for itself whether to go “dry” or to continue its local dispensary.   

Meanwhile, in 1895 Tillman had moved on to the U.S. Senate.  Once again he picked a formidable opponent.  Known for his bombastic speeches on the Senate floor, Tillman gained the nickname, “Pitchfork Ben,” after an 1896 address in which he announced his determination to go to the Oval Office and stick a pitchfork into the rump of President Grover Cleveland -- a sizable target.  The South Carolina senator, a Democrat like Cleveland, subsequently was barred from the White House.

Chicco’s liquor trade suffered a blow in 1915 when by referendum the entire Stat of South Carolina went “dry.”  He sustained another loss in December 1918 when Mary, his wife of 33 years, died.  The 1920 census found Chicco, age 68, living  in the Hassell Street mansion with three unmarried children, Natalie, 32;  Vincent Jr., 31. and Joseph, 26.  In 1920 he sold his grocery and delicatessen, now sans liquor, to the Cockinos brothers of Charleston who at least initially kept his name on the business.

As he aged, Chicco developed a chronic heart condition.  In October 1928, at 78-years old, he was felled by the flu, developing acute bronchitis leading to heart failure, according to his death certificate.  He was buried next to Mary Ann in Charleston’s St. Lawrence Cemetery.  Their joint monument is shown here.

According to Journalist Timmons Pettigrew:   “The city nearly shut down for his funeral in 1928, as well it should have. The "King of Blind Tigers" is someone we can all draw inspiration from. He was an underdog, a free spirit, an independent thinker….”  His obituary in a Charleston newspaper characterized Chicco as "possessing a forceful personality" and as a "raconteur of ability.”

Vincent Chicco’s battle with Ben Tillman has elements of a “David versus Goliath”  story.  The “Dago devil” had proved a more than worthy foe for the racist governor, seemly besting him at every turn.  Deservedly, he continues to be remembered in Charleston.  Several years ago when a new Italian restaurant opened in the city, as shown here, it bore the name “Vincent Chicco’s.”  Appropriately, it sold alcohol.  

Note:  The information for this post was gathered from a wide range of sources.  Principal among them was the book “Southern Spirits:  Four Hundred Years of Drinking in the South, with Recipes,” by Robert F. Moss, no date.  The court material is from “State ex rel. Lyon, Atty. Gen. vs. Chicco,” Supreme Court of South Carolina, Jan. 11, 1909.  This blog featured a post about Ben Tillman and the South Carolina Dispensary on November 20, 2013.














Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Cook Bros. of Virginia — Bartenders in Bondage

          
The Cook Brothers,  Fields and Jim, were born into slavery in King William County, Virginia, about 30 miles east of Richmond.  Early in their careers, both men were involved in the liquor trade before their life stories sharply diverged.  Jim became a world famous bartender;  Fields became a Baptist minister and  major early civil rights activist.

The names of their parents and the name of the family who owned
them is not known, nor the origins of their surname.  Fields who left a handwritten narrative of his early life says that he “never knew what the yoke of oppression was” so peaceful was his childhood.  Although less is known of Jim Cook, the elder of the two, born about 1808, it appears the owner allowed him to be hired out, although the practice was strictly forbidden by Virginia law.  Jim went to Richmond and while still a slave became a well known bartender and restaurant manager, associated with the Ballard House Hotel, shown here.Shown here in later life, Fields Cook at 17 years old circa 1834 asked to be able to join his brother in Richmond.  His relationships with the family were close, especially to a son, and the owner agreed.  As a child he had been taught to read, write and spell by the son and had books given to him by his masters — also against the law.  In Richmond Fields likely worked with his brother at the Ballard, listed in the 1860 census as a waiter.  He also was tending bar.  As one writer put it:  “He was six feet tall, literate, personable and industrious.”  One could add, thrifty.  By 1850 he had purchased his freedom, supplementing his earnings by working as a “leech doctor,” using traditional methods of healing.

Within a few years of arriving in Richmond, Fields met and married Mary, a domestic servant and they soon had a family of two sons and a daughter.  By the onset of the Civil War, he had managed to free Mary from her bondage and purchase and free his children.  In 1852 Fields had sufficient funds to buy several city lots and houses in Richmond, including a residence for his family.  He also was baptized into the Baptist Church.

Meanwhile Jim Cook was carving out a high profile career as a
Richmond bartender and saloon keeper, famed for his ability to craft mint juleps. His reputation spread across America and overseas when Edward, Prince of Wales, the playboy son of Queen Victoria who later became King Edward VII, visited Richmond.
As one reporter noted:  “Having heard that Richmond boasts the best compounder of cooling drinks in the world, the prince undertook to try one.”


Cook provided a very tasty julep piled high with ice.  Edward was so impressed with the drink that he ordered two more before leaving town the next morning.  Followed by newsmen wherever Edward went, the prince’s favor made Jim Cook a global celebrity.  It is said that the only thing his royal highness later recalled of Richmond was Cook’s julep.

Jim Cook also was an individual given to “soft soaping” the white population.  When Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan visited Richmond in 1864, Jim sent him letter and a gift of food and liquor.  Written in the third person, his letter said in part:  “As a slave he bids General Morgan speed in his good and righteous work.”   This sentiment apparently masked his true feelings.  Just a few months before Appomattox, Richmond newspapers were reporting that Jim Cook had left Richmond and gone over to the Yankees, making a living by giving anti-South speeches in Washington, D.C.   He subsequently was reported having died among African-American troops in the battle of Ft. Gilmore.  Reports of his demise were premature.  When the war ended and Union troops entered Richmond Jim soon was back in the city, a freed man, presiding over the bar at the Franklin House Hotel and mixing up mint juleps.

Meanwhile throughout the war Fields Cook had remained in Richmond, managing the bar and restaurant at the Ballard House.  According to his narrative from his youth Fields believed “that God has called me to the ministry.”  The Virginia Legislature in 1823, however, had enacted a law that prevented blacks from preaching or conducting religious services.  After the war he was able to be ordained as a Baptist minister.  Fields also became an ardent civil rights advocate.

The war had barely concluded when reinstated local officials and Federal troops began imposing the need for passes and a curfew on newly freed African-Americans and expelled hundreds of them from Richmond.  Fields fought back.  With other local church leaders, he spearheaded a drive to collect evidence of military and civilian mistreatment of blacks.  He then chaired a delegation to make the case to President Andrew Johnson,  In August 1865, Fields represented Richmond in the first state convention of African Americans, which met in Alexandria. He was named a vice president and designated to write the convention's address to the public.

As a result of his activism, Fields was chosen as one of the black men on the grand jury that indicted Jefferson Davis for insurrection.  This action came two days less than one year after Davis had been captured, a period in which he languished without a trial in prison at Fort Monroe, outside Norfolk.  The indictment, as one commentator put it, was “short and its language peculiar and some of its averments most singular.”  For example, the indictment accused Davis in abetting the rebellion of “not having the fear of God before his eyes, nor weighing the duly of his said allegiance, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil…” 



 Despite the Northern wartime chant of “hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree,” the judicial process did not move forward for another year while the former president of the Confederacy languished imprisoned under harsh conditions until he finally was released without a trial.  The civilian jury that indicted Davis had a number of photos taken.  On the photo below in which African-Americans are featured, I believe that Fields Cook is among them.




In 1869, Cook attended the National Convention of the Colored
Men of America in Washington, D.C., and was elected to the national executive committee.  Later the same year he was elected as a delegate to the Colored National Labor Union that also met in Washington. 
  
In 1870 Cook and his wife moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where he initially worked as an agent for the local Freedman's Savings and Trust Company bank.  After serving for a time as pastor of the Alexandria’s Third Baptist Church, Rev. Cook became founding pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, a congregation that still exists and numbers some of Alexandria’s most notable citizens among its members.  Its first meeting place was the now historic black Old Fellows Hall on S. Columbus Street, shown here as it looks today.

 Meanwhile Jim Fields was encountering problems.  Despite his celebrity as a bartender, some Richmond residents resented his support of the Union and may have directly voiced them to him.  There are rumors of stabbings in which Jim may have been involved.  No long after he returned  to Richmond he was arrested and accused of stealing money from the Franklin House.  Only upon receiving good character references from the proprietor and his son was he released from jail.  Not long after Jim Fields departed Richmond.


Then this Cook faded into the mists of time. There is evidence that he settled in Burkeville, Virginia, about 55 miles southwest of Richmond.  A New York Times reporter writing about traveling in the South by rail got off the train at that small town and found the restaurant and bar at the depot, shown here, was run by “a gentleman of color who rejoices in the name of Jim Cook.”  He reported that this Cook had a well-patronized establishment and a card behind the bar that read ”The celebrated new drink by JIM COOK.”  Enigmatically, the proprietor called it “Squint you foolishness.”  Little else is known about Jim other than by 1873 he had died.Meanwhile in Alexandria, Fields Cook continued as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church,  a post he held until his death in January 1897, at age 77. He also remained politically active in Alexandria, arguing for a bi-racial coalition to stem the tide toward segregationists who were regaining control of Virginia’s government.  Fields was buried in Alexandria’s Bethel Cemetery where his gravestone can still be seen. 


The Alexandria Gazette felt obliged to give the Rev. Cook a lengthy obituary because of his prominence in the city.  Nonetheless the tone of the article was condescending, stating (incorrectly) that: “…Most of his knowledge of politics or history was acquired in ante bellum days in listening to groups of gentry while he was a servant.”   In contrast, the piece was laudatory of Jim Cook, terming him: “…The famous barkeeper of Richmond, who was well and favorable known throughout Virginia.”

Born as slaves before the Civil War and working together as bartenders in Richmond,  the Cook brothers took diametrically different pathways in life, Fields as a man of the cloth and civil rights activist; Jim as a saloon manager and acclaimed mixer of alcohol drinks.  Both Cooks deserve to be remembered for their accomplishments in Virginia history.

Note:  This post was gathered from a wide range of sources.  Key among them were three:  1. “The Dictionary of Virginia Biography” and its entry on Fields Cook by John T. O’Brien,  2. In 1980, historian Mary J. Bratton introduced a previously unpublished narrative, titled "Fields's Observations: The Slave Narrative of a Nineteenth-Century Virginian," in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 3. “Southern Spirits:  Four Hundred Years of Drinking in the American South, With Recipes,” by Robert Moss, no date.




















Friday, June 26, 2020

“Spoon” Was the Other Distilling Motlow

Jasper Franklin Motlow, known during his lifetime as “Spoon” and in death as “Frank,” is an obscure figure in pre-Prohibition whiskey history, unlike his brother, Lem Motlow, a familiar name because he was Jack Daniel’s favorite nephew.  Leaving his native Tennessee, Spoon, shown here, sought his fortune in Alabama as a saloonkeeper and later as a distiller.  His notable success was cut short when parts of the state voted “dry.”




Spoon was born on December 7, 1868, in Tennessee to Nancy Bobo and Zadock  Motlow, a farmer.  His brother, Lemuel, was born a year later.  When the boys were six and five, their mother Nancy died, leaving Zadock with children to raise.  He remarried two years later.  Spoon received an elementary education and then likely worked with Lem at Daniel’s Lynchburg distillery. 

In 1890 at the age of 22, Spoon decided to strike out on his own.  He moved the 125 miles south from Lynchburg to Gadsden, Alabama, and likely with help from Jack Daniels, opened a saloon. He had selected a city that was on the move.  Beginning in the late 1800s and into the 20th Century, Gadsen was a center of heavy industry, including the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and Republic Steel.  The town boasted plenty of thirsty workers with money in their pockets.



Although Gadsden’s Broad Street already teemed with saloons,  Motlow’s Saloon, shown above, was an early success at 400 Broad as Spoon proved to be an amiable and popular proprietor.  That may be he standing in the doorway.  The interior had the requisite elegance with a long carved bar, brass railings, and an ample staff of bartenders.

Despite his achievement in Gadsden, Spoon was ambitious for more.  In 1898 he partnered in the opening the Deep Springs Saloon in Huntsville, Alabama, some 73 miles northwest of Gadsden.  He also was working with his brothers, Lem and Jesse, in Tennessee on improved distilling techniques, They created Motlow Brothers Distillers with the aim of branching out from Lynchburg.  Early in 1901 they visited Birmingham, Alabama, and decided to open a distillery there.

As the story is told:  The brothers approached the Farmer's Bank of Lynchburg, in which Jack Daniel had a minority share, for a loan, but were denied. They quickly raised enough capital to buy out the majority owners and installed Lem as president and a younger brother, Thomas, still finishing his studies at Vanderbilt University, as cashier.   No surprise —the loan was approved,Dividing his time between Gadsden and Birmingham 63 miles away, Spoon with his brothers purchased a large plot of land on Avenue B between 12th and 13th St, opposite the Birmingham Rolling Mills, and  built a distillery.  The Motlow Distillery is the silo-shaped structure to the left according to the caption of a photograph from the Samford University Library.  The headquarters building carried an ad for Motlow’s corn whiskey and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey.

Meanwhile back in Gadsen, Spoon in May 1903 bought 2.7 acres of land at Fifth Street and Tuscaloosa Avenue, paying $1,365 for the property. He began to make plans to build another distillery, selling an interest to brother Lem and a local named W. S. Boyd.  When city approval was granted in 1904, Spoon saw to the quick erection of ten buildings, to include the still house and storage warehouses.  The main building was two-stories with an exterior of vertical planking.  All structures were painted red.  The property, named the Gadsden Distilling Company, also contained a reservoir. 




The product of Spoon’s distillery he called “Coosa River Corn Whiskey,” distilled using processes learned from his Jack Daniel’s experience.  He packaged some of it in quart ceramic jugs that bore an underglaze transfer label that read in part“Spoon Motlow Distiller, Coosa River Corn, Sandifer Springs, Lincoln County.”

The last were allusions to a spring in Lynchburg, then in Lincoln County, and to Daniel’s distilling methods.  The jugs are extremely rare, one selling recently for $2,125.  Spoon also sold his products in flask sizes, some covered in leather, that carried a similar message as the jug and indicating that Spoon was selling Coosa River Corn at both wholesale and retail.

While all of this entrepreneurial activity was going on, Spoon Motlow was having a personal life.  In 1900 he married a woman named Fannie Byrom in Franklin, Tennessee.  Spoon was 3 l, Fannie was 20.  To his sorrow, she died a few months later.  There were no children.  He  would wait eight more years, time marked by significant change, before marrying again.

In Gadsden, saloons like Motlow’s were being blamed for a rise in the city’s crime rate.  Alarmed, a group of prominent citizens organized to close such establishments using Alabama’s local option laws allowing counties to vote “dry” if they wished.  A vigorous campaign was waged by both sides with Spoon strongly on the “wet” side, arguing that the question of alcohol and the open saloon should be left up to each individual's own freedom of choice.

Among the crimes prohibitionists could point to was one committed in a saloon Spoon had opened in nearby Mountainboro, Alabama.  His bartender and manager, a man named John Davis, was found brutally murdered and the saloon robbed in September 1906.  Davis had been shot three times in the head and shoulders, his throat was cut from ear to ear, his head being almost severed from the body and he was beaten about the head and body in what the press described as “a frightful manner.”  To my knowledge the killer was never caught.

The election was dominated by women, who were not allowed to vote but demonstrated noisily at the polling places.  When the votes were counted, 1,632 had voted for prohibition and only 474 for the legal sale of alcohol. County-wide Prohibition became law Jan. 1, 1908.  Spoon was forced to shut down the Motlow Saloon and his distillery.  In time the Gadsden Distillery became a derelict property.

At the same time Birmingham had gone through the same voting process and like Gadsden, had voted “dry.”  The Motlow Distilling Co. was forced to shut down and family members involved, except Lem, retreated to Tennessee.  Now owning the Jack Daniel’s distillery, Lem bided his time and when prohibition laws affecting Birmingham were repealed in 1911 he re-opened the distillery under the Daniel’s name.



Meanwhile Spoon returned to his home turf in Tennessee where he took up farming and raised prize mules to sell, trade, and exhibit at shows.  He also bred and raised fox hounds, an offshoot of his passion for fox hunting.  A color photo shows Spoon, right, surrounded by his dogs who obviously seem enthusiastic about him.  Replacing Lem, he also became president of The Farmer’s Bank of Lynchburg, the Motlow-owned financial institution. His brother, Thomas continued as cashier.

Spoon also remarried.  His bride was Floy Sebastian, a 24-year-old woman from Bedford County, a short 15 miles from Lynchburg.  The groom was 15 years older.  They would have two daughters, Nancy Virginia born in 1914 and Clara Sue who died in infancy.   Four years later Floy, after 12 years of their marriage, also would die, age 36.

Spoon himself lived another five years, dying suddenly at age 57 on October 10, 1925, leaving his eleven-year-old daughter Nancy an orphan.  Because he died intestate his entire estate went to her.  Spoon was buried in the Lynchburg Cemetery next to Floy.  His gravestone identified him as “Frank,” a name some may have deemed more appropriate than Spoon.  Although less well remembered than brother Lem, Jasper Franklin “Spoon” Motlow has been hailed by at least one writer as “a favorite son of Gadsden, who made a mark on the world.”




Note:  This post was compiled from a variety of sources, the principal ones were a newspaper story with no byline from the Gadsden Messenger of May 2, 2014; an article for the Jack Daniels Collector’s Page by Joel Pitts, great grandson of Spoon Motlow;  and an Internet entry dated June 12, 1813, about the Motlow Bros. Distillery that was posted on “Bhamwiki, an encyclopedic resource for anyone curious about Birmingham, Alabama and the region around it.”  My post on Lem Motlow can be found at November 16, 2019.




















Monday, June 22, 2020

Whiskey Men of Science

                                              
Foreword:   Making good whiskey is both an art and a science.  Subtle changes in the chemistry of the distilling process can mean the difference between a good bourbon and rotgut.  Few of the men and women involved in making whiskey before 1920 had any scientific training but through experience and onsite experimentation often achieved good results.  A handful of whiskey men approached the process from a more scientific perspective.  Three of them are briefly profiled here, none of whom in the final analysis, succeeded.

David D. Cattanach of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was a true “polymath,” that is, someone whose expertise spans a significant number of different fields, allowing the individual to solve problems that others can’t.  Born in Scotland in 1835, he emigrated to the United States about 1855, already having invented and sold an improved method for making gunpowder.  He first made his name on these shores as a stained glass artist and decorator of churches.  

Cattanach never stopped inventing.  Among his innovations was an improved furnace that reputedly would give the same amount of heat with one-third of the coal required by ordinary furnaces.  It also consumed its own smoke, something environmentalists today would applaud.  He also invented processes for refining and treating oils and in May, 1776, with other investors spearheaded a new company in Rhode Island called the “Chattan Oil and Paint Works” for the manufacture of paints and varnishes.

Then Cattanach turned his attention to making a whiskey that, he claimed, would be unlike other spirits that were “injurious…because of acids and alkalines.”  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1885 awarded him two patents.  One was for an “apparatus for the manufacture and distillation of alcohol, hydrocarbons, and acetic acid, and for aging and refining liquors.” The illustration he submitted with the application is shown here.  A second patent was for the process involved in employing the distilling apparatus. 

Perhaps unable to sell his system to established distillers, Cattanach determined to employ it himself.  In 1895, with other investors, he formed the Beverly Hill Road Distilling Co., capitalizing it at $100,000 and naming its principal product “Heather Blossom.”  The inventor advertised the product heavily to physicians:  One such ad read: “The B.H.R. Distilling Co. calls attention to their Heather Blossom pure malt Whiskeys, Brandies, Wines, etc., which through its new system of distillation by phyisco-chemical means, are rendered chemically pure, and are of reliable and uniform quality and adapted to the requirements of the Medical Faculty in its demand for a pure and nutritive stimulant.” 

Despite Cattanach’s efforts things did not go well for the Beverage Hill Road enterprise.  Perhaps the distilling process gave an off-taste to his whiskey.   Whatever the reason, only three years after it opened the company summarily shut down. Heather Blossom Whiskey disappeared forever. 

“The Cushing Medical Supply Company,” and its proprietor, Dr. Ira Barrows Cushing,  in their very names carry a certain expectation of authenticity and worthiness.  That is, until one discovers that the “medicine” mainly supplied by Cushing was whiskey that he mixed up in his Boston headquarters, presumably using the “Cushing Process for Purifying Alcoholic Liquors,” that he invented and patented in 1892. 

Shown here is the Rube Goldberg-like contraption that Cushing assembled for a process of and apparatus for purifying and maturing liquors or distilled spirits.”  His patent application explanation of how it worked ran to more than three highly technical and abstruse pages.  An example of his description: “My present invention consists in commingling a suitable quantity of oxygen gas with the atmospheric air employed for treating the liquor, whereby the air which is disseminated through the liquor is energized or rendered more active for the purpose of rapidly oxidizing the fusel-oils into their avoring-acids and the process of maturing the liquor thus accelerated and rendered more perfect than heretofore.   Whatever the examiner understood of “energized…atmospheric air,” “avoring acids,” and the rest, on November 1, 1892, the United States Patent Office issued Cushing Patent No. 485,984. 


A homeopathic doctor, Cushing had practiced in several Massachusetts towns before opening his “medical supply house” in Boston.  Along with other patent medicine nostrums he offered a variety of whiskey brands, many of them with “Cushing” in the title, e.g. “The Cushing Process Old Rye Whiskey.”  He continued to emphasize the importance of his “discovery” of the Cushing Process, telling a biographer: “It utilizes nature’s own means, and consists of forcing heated atmospheric air — which is first purified according to Professor Tyndall’s method of destroying germs of animalcule — through the liquors, thoroughly oxidizing the fusel oils and eliminating the poisons.”

Throughout his years selling alcoholic liquids from Boston, Cushing continued working as a homeopathic doctor.  He is recorded as being the “examining surgeon” for several Boston area charitable organizations and a member of both the Boston Medical Society and the Gynecological Society.  At the age of 61 Dr. Cushing was diagnosed with an advanced case of colon cancer.  An operation ensued but sepsis occurred and in August, 1908 he died. The Cushing Medical Supply Company appears to have survived for three more years under different management but went bankrupt and along with the doctor’s whiskeys  disappeared about 1912.  

It may seem like a stretch to call a Japanese pioneer of biotechnology, credited with the first isolation of adrenalin, a “whiskey man.”  Nonetheless, for several pivotal years in his life, Jokichi Takamine, a true scientist,  was financed for his research into a less expensive method of whiskey production by the Peoria, Illinois-based “Whiskey Trust.”
Born in Japan in 1854, Takamine came to the U.S. in 1884, married an American woman, and in rapid success had two sons.   He sought employment in America and decided to pursue his interest in distilling.  The key was adapting the methods of brewing Japanese sake (rice wine) to making whiskey.  In Peoria, Takamine sparked interest in one of the most important liquor executives in the Nation. He was Joseph Greenhut, the head of the Distilling and Cattle Feeding Company, a monopoly controlling dozens of distilleries in the Midwest and known popularly as “The Whiskey Trust.” 


After meeting Jokichi in person Greenhut was sufficiently impressed to give the Japanese scientist a contract to allow him to set up a research laboratory.  This facility, given heavy security by the Trust, was located inside the malt house of the Woolner Grove Distillery, along the river on the south side of Peoria.  Takamine called his lab “The White House.”  In 1891 word got out what Takamine was up to:  His use of rice rather than malt in the distilling  process would be simpler and faster, resulting in a lower cost for whiskey — Trust whiskey.

Hampered by arson at his original distillery, thought to have been set by malt workers, Takamine finally was able to put his distilling methods to the test.  He manufactured a lower cost whiskey which Jokichi called “Bonzai,” a greeting given to the Emperor of Japan meaning, “May you live ten thousand years!”  Under pressure from dissident distillers and experiencing financial problems, in 1894 the Whiskey Trust ousted Greenhut and broke off its relationship with Takamine.  It took Bonzai whiskey off the market and reverted entirely to creating its whiskey from malt.

Disappointed and broke, the Japanese scientist turned to the pharmaceutical business, inventing a remedy for indigestion that made him a multi-millionaire. He continued to be active as a scientist, including credited as the first person to isolate adrenalin.  He also started new biotechnical enterprises in Japan and the United States.  Takamine is remembered in the Nation’s Capitol for donating 3,020 Japanese cherry trees in 1912 to decorate the Tidal Basin.  Their blooming annually brings thousands to Washington.

Note:  More complete biographies of each of these men may be found elsewhere on this post:  David Cattanach, November 14, 2013;  Dr. Ira Barrows Cushing, October 9, 2017, and Jokichi Takamine,  August 5, 2018.













Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Tragedies and Triumph of Jacob Schmidlapp

     
Few men have experienced the tragedies that during his lifetime beset Cincinnati liquor dealer and entrepreneur, Jacob Schmidlapp. Fewer still have been able to rise above their pain and sorrow to do so much for their fellow Americans in need and to advance the cause of world peace.

Jacob Godfrey Schmidlapp, right, was born in Piqua, Ohio, on September 7, 1849, the son of Adam and Sophia F. Haig Schmidlapp.  He received his education in the local public schools of Piqua, a city of some 20,000 in Miami County, in the southeastern quadrant of the state.  Perhaps seeing a lack of opportunity in his home town, not long after the end of the Civil War he launched his career working in a large Memphis department store called B. Lowenstein & Bros., shown below. Jacob worked as a cashier, likely in the liquor and cigars department.  After a year learning the trade, in May 1868 he opened his own cigar store in Memphis and, according to a biographer also “became interested in distilling enterprises.”


Schmidlapp as a Liquor Dealer. In the aftermath of the war Memphis struggled during Reconstruction.  The economy suffered; race riots ensued.  Yellow fever epidemics periodically engulfed the Tennessee river town as deaths and residents fleeing from the disease depopulated the city.  Assessing the situation, Jacob decided that Cincinnati, 80 miles directly south of Piqua, offered better opportunities.  He moved there about 1974 and opened a liquor store at 22 Vine Street.

Schmidlapp from the outset was a “rectifier,” that is blending his own whiskey on premises from liquor stocks likely purchased from Kentucky distillers across the Ohio River.  He was bottling them in glass with proprietary labels and selling them at retail.  His early brands included “Amazon,” “Ceres,” "Clifton Springs,” “Venus,” and “Live Oak.”  He appears to have trademarked only two of his brands,  Live Oak Bourbon and Live Oak Rye, registering those labels in 1876,1895 and 1907.  By 1885 his company had become Schmidlapp’s Live Oak Distillery.


Jacob had a flair for advertising and from early on was marketing his whiskeys to all parts of the country.  Shown above is an ad from the Pacific Wine and Spirits Review identifying his San Francisco outlet. At left is a 1900 ad that appeared in Buffalo newspapers.  He issued advertising shot glasses for Live Oak and other brands.  They would have been given to saloons, restaurants and hotel bars stocking his whiskeys.


Although Jacob actually would not own a distillery until 1889, he apparently had an assured supply of raw whiskey that encouraged him as the Live Oak Distillery to issue a blizzard of brands.  They included “Antelope,” “Applewood,” “Brookvale,” "C. T. Harvey,” "Clifton Club,” “Eastbourne,” "Fernvale", "Four Seasons,” "Good As Gold,” "Hard To Beat,” “Imperial," "King Lear,” "Lake Mills,” "Maple Grove,” "Old Todd,” “Palmetto,” "Pleasant Run,” ”Reindeer,” "Rock City,” "Runnymede Rye,” "Silver Star Rye,” "Southern Cross,” "St. James,” “Starbuck,” "Stone Ridge,” “Tiger,” "Tom Peck,” ”Village,” "Virginia Club,” and “Zebra.”

As a result of his strong business sense, Jacob’s profits from his liquor enterprise were substantial and allowed him with partners to acquire a distillery in Hamilton County not far from Cincinnati, shown below.  Established in 1849 the facility was located between the Mill Creek, the B&O Railroad, and the Miami-Erie Canal. It had a troubled past, in 1857 destroyed by fire and in 1872 shuttered by the government for non-payment of taxes.  Jacob and his partners bought the property in 1889, incorporating it as the Clifton Springs Distillery Co.  Eventually the property, shown above, included a plant with a mashing capacity of 4,000 bushels of grain per day, a 100,000 bushel capacity grain elevator, three warehouses holding 35,000 barrels, and three drying silos producing 6,000 tons of feed annually.  As shown below it was a major operation.


Schmidlapp as a Family Man. Despite his growing wealth, Jacob already had known great sorrow.  In 1877 he had married Emelie Balke, a local Cincinnati woman, the daughter of Charlotte and Julius Balke, a billiard table manufacturer. Emelie was 19 at the time of their wedding;  Jacob was 28.  Their first child, a son they called Julian, was born in September of the following year.  After seven months of winning the hearts of his parents, to their great sorrow, Julian died.

The 1880s, however, brought joy as in rapid succession four more children were born healthy, Emma in 1881, William in 1883, Charlotte in 1887, and Charles in 1888.  Then death came again.  Rudolph, a son born in September 1893 lived only five months before dying in January 1894.

By this time Jacob could afford to move his family into a large home in the East Walnut Hills area of Cincinnati, shown here.  He called the mansion, “Kirchheim,” after the town in Baden-Wurttemberg from whence his family had originated.  It was located on 49 acres overlooking the Ohio River.  Indicating the kind of wealth he had amassed selling whiskey, he purchased the mansion in 1895 for the equivalent today of $3.3 million and put more than $300,000 into remodeling.

The 1900 census found the family there, augmented by Jacob’s brother- and sister-in-law and their young son, and a live-in staff of six, including a housekeeper, governess, laundress, nurse, food server, and general servant.  Missing were Jacob’s wife and daughter, Emma.

During February of the previous year, possibly to escape the Cincinnati winter months, Jacob had sent them off to enjoy the warmth of  California.  We can image the excitement of the 42-year-old Emelie and 19-year-old Emma as they traveled around the West, sending postcards back to Jacob and the children still in school.  Then came the awful news.  Both had been killed in a railroad accident.  Their bodies were returned to Cincinnati where they were buried in Spring Grove Cemetery at the Schmidlapp plot (Garden Lane, Sec. 29) next to Julien and Rudolph.  After 23 years of marriage Jacob, 51, was now a widower.  Remembered as a “loving and caring father,” he never remarried.

The fates had one more blow to deal Jacob. When his daughter, Charlotte, reached maturity, she yearned to travel in Europe, especially to see France and Germany.  Recalling what had befallen Emelie and Emma, the father likely hesitated but eventually acceded to the girl’s desires.  In the autumn of 1908, age 19, Charlotte departed from ship from New York for Europe, on the trip of her lifetime, likely landing in Le Havre.  Days later the message reached Jacob — she had been killed in an auto accident in France.  Her body was returned and laid beside her mother and three siblings.  For many fathers it might have been a blow from which there would be no recovery.  But not Jacob.

Schmidlapp as Banker and Beyond.  About 1890, with his profits from his liquor business, Jacob organized a group of local business men to found the Union Savings Bank and Trust Company, serving as its chairman and guiding light.  The bank met with almost immediate success, with its $500,000 in assets growing to $5 million, paying liberal dividends for most of its existence. Union Trust was accounted as one of the foremost financial institutions of the Midwest. Under Jacob’s leadership, in 1900 the bank erected the first tall building built in Cincinnati, shown here. 

Describing his occupation as”capitalist” to the census taker, Jacob could point to a dozen or more enterprises in which he was a director or trustee.  They included the American Surety Company, Equitable Life Insurance Society, The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Degnon Contracting Company, Degnon Realty and Improvement Company, Queens Place Realty Company, Electric Securities Corporation, Montana Power Company, Champion Fibre Company, the Monitor Stove and Range Company, and the Export Storage Company.  He also sought to improve transit in Cincinnati by offering a plan for a tunnel to facilitate railroad and interurban rail access to downtown.

Schmidlapp as Philanthropist and Peace Advocate.  Jacob is best remembers in Cincinnati today, not as a liquor dealer or banker or wealthy business man, but as an outstanding philanthropist in city history.  Following the deaths of his wife and daughter and accelerated by Charlotte’s death, Jacob began giving away large portions of his millions.  He financed a “magnificent annex” to the Cincinnati Art Museum, built a dormitory for the Cincinnati College of Music, and created an institution for women’s education in the name of daughter Charlotte.  He also gave a library and memorial monument to Piqua, his home town.


Jacob is said to have been particularly proud of Washington Terrace, Walnut Hills, a development of more than 400 homes he built to house working class African-Americans, “in whose welfare he was deeply interested.”  Said an observer: “His model homes form the most outstanding effort along this line in the country.”  Jacob also was a trustee and contributor to Cincinnati’s McCall Colored Industrial School.

Jacob’s philanthropic works did not end with his death.  He did not leave his money to his two sons, William, a prominent Cincinnati attorney, and Charles, a New York City banker.  Having given most of his money away during his lifetime Jacob willed his residual estate, then amounting to about $1 million, to the Union Bank to create a charitable trust.  Roughly a quarter of that amount went to the Charlotte R. Schmidlapp Fund, created to empower and advance young girls and women.  What started as a $250,000 fund has grown to almost $30 million in assets. It began by awarding interest-free loans to aid young women in pursuit of higher education and continues to finance scholarships for women.

Funds in the Schmidlapp Trust also go to other worthy causes in Cincinnati.  For example, in 2014 the bank’s trustees awarded $1.5 million to a charitable coalition dealing with 1) reducing preterm births in neighborhoods that are disproportionately affected by poor pregnancy results and infant mortality, 2)  strengthening health education systems for pregnant women, and 3) assisting children vulnerable to “toxic stress” from unfavorable home environments.

Jacob’s other concentration was on international peace and arbitration of conflicts.  He was a director of the Carnegie Peace Fund and treasurer of the American Society for the Judicial Settlement of International Disputes. Noting the years he devoted to these causes, one biographer commented: “It is to such men that the world looks for leaders in the movement for peace…when all the races of the earth shall dwell in harmony.”

Active into the last days of his life, Jacob as peace advocate lived just long enough to see the end of World War I;  as a whiskey man he died just before the imposition of National Prohibition.  He passed away on December 18, 1919, in Cincinnati and was buried in the Schmidlapp plot next to Emelie and the other family members. 


The encomiums written about Jacob after his death were voluminous and full of praise.   I have chosen one to end this vignette about a truly extraordinary man who rose above the grief and pain of personal loss to assist his fellow human beings in need:  “Mr. Schmidlapp represented American manhood in the ideal — courage, honesty of purpose, simplicity and the power of preserving friendships. He has left a record after which the youth of America might well pattern their lives.”

Note:  This post was gathered from a variety of sources. Most useful were two short biographies, one written while Jacob was living, the other after he had died.  They were Cincinnati, the Queen City, 1788-1912,” edited by Charles Frederic Goss, Clarke Publishing Co., Cincinnati & Chicago, 1912, and “The Historical Register,” edited by E.C. Hill, 1921.