Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Patrick Lynch and the Signs of His Times

When I was a youngster,  the Ohio countryside was dotted with barns and sheds with large ads painted on their sides for Mail Pouch Tobacco.  Although faded now, those ads can still be seen.  Patrick Lynch, a whiskey dealer of St. Louis, Missouri, much earlier saw the merchandising value of putting his messages in big formats on the sides of buildings and, in his pre-Prohibition time, prospered greatly from those signs.

Lynch was born in Ireland in 1828 and immigrated to the United States as a young man.  He first entered the public record in the 1860 census.  It found him living in the Third Ward of St. Louis with his wife,  Anna.  She was approximately nine years his junior and had been born in Ohio of Irish immigrant parents.  At that time the Lynches had one child,  age three. Patrick’s occupation was given as “salesman,”  likely for one of the many liquor stores extant in the city.  In 1862, at the age of 34, he joined forces with Charles A. Mantz,  a well-connected former St. Louis city official and businessman who also may have run a liquor store. The partners founded wholesale liquor dealerships at two locations, 39 South Main Street and 11th South Commercial.   In 1867,  Mantz & Lynch Co. moved to 110 South Main Street.

After a decade in business together Lynch’s partnership with Mantz was terminated in 1872 and the Irishman struck out on his own.   His flagship brand of whiskey was “Old Lynch Rye,” likely compounded and blended in his own facility.  He set out to advertise it as widely as possible.  One result is shown here, painted large on the slatted frame sides of Ernest L. Bader’s Saloon, located at 7200 North Broadway in St. Louis.  Lynch’s slogan for his rye blend was “The True Whiskey.”  Note that his ad appeared on two sides of the building and, if you look closely, it is also was painted on the door behind the two gents standing out front.

Lynch also spread his signage throughout Eastern Missouri and into Illinois  A “ghost sign” advertising Old Lynch Rye and Links Bar was found and photographed in Carlinville, a town of 6,000 about 50 miles north of St. Louis.  Further away was Irondale,  Missouri,  a village tucked in the Ozark Mountains about 70 miles south of St. Louis.   The town was established as a stop on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway about 1858.   The Depot Saloon, now an abandoned building, faced the tracks with an  Old Lynch Rye sign directed so that thirsty travelers would know where to head for a quick snort.  Shown right, the ad now has been badly faded by time.

Ironton, Missouri, not to be confused with Irondale nearby, is the county seat of Iron County and adjacent to some of the highest peaks in the Ozark chain,  an region known as Arcadia Valley.  When a saloonkeeper of the town, agreed to stock Old Lynch Rye,  Patrick obliged him with a signboard covering the entire front of the establishment.  A local photographer took the picture and furnished it as a postcard.  The next image is from an illustration that appeared as an ad in a 1905 St. Louis newspaper.  It depicted a billboard within a country scene in which an Old Lynch Rye sign appeared as three slats nailed to a tree trunk.  On the right, off in the distance, was a barn with Old Lynch Rye painted large on the side.  Note that in just one ad Lynch has managed to cram multiple signs.

The three-slats-on-a-tree-trunk motif was closely identified with Lynch’s flagship brand.  He included the same image on labels of Old Lynch Rye and also on shot glasses. Like others in his trade, Lynch was prolific in his giveaway items.  They included shot glasses, tokens good in trade, and for saloons stocking his whiskey, a wall mounted match holder with a striker.  For the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis, he issued a brochure that he called “A Complete Guide” to that World’s Fair.

Meanwhile Patrick had been getting on in his personal life.  The family shows up in the 1880 census where Lynch’s occupation was listed as “liquor merchant.”  He and Anna now had a tribe of five children, three girls and two boys, ranging in age from 21 to 6 years.  They had moved from the Third to the fancier Fifth Ward of St. Louis.  They had one young Irish girl as a servant in the household.

Widespread signage and other creative merchandising techniques paid off in prestige as well as financial gain for Lynch.  By 1885  he was not only selling his own brands, but was the wholesale representative of some of the best known Kentucky distilleries,  including E. H. Taylor Co. of Frankfort;  W. S. Hume of Silver Creek;  Burnham, Bennett Warwick of Madison County,  and J.S. Taylor of Franklin County.  Lynch also was importing wines and cognac from famous French houses.   Another specialty was California grape wine used for sacramental purposes by area churches.  An 1885 publication called “The Industries of St. Louis,” said of Lynch & Company” “...This house has resources that make it a sterling one in the trade of this vicinity.”

Success also seems to have kept Lynch and his business constantly on the move.  From 1878 until 1881, his store was located at 307 North Second Street.  The following year he moved to 303 N. Main Street,  at the southwest corner of its intersection with Olive Street.  From there Lynch & Company relocated to 206 South Fourth Street for two years (1888-1900) and then to 23 South Fourth, advertised as a block south of the Court House (1901-1909) and then on to St. Charles Street (1910-1915) .   Its last location was at 423 North Fourth Street in 1916. The following year the company disappeared forever from  St. Louis business directories.

At this point Patrick Lynch would have been 88 years old.  Missouri was not a state that had enacted prohibition laws before the national ban on alcohol.  Thus the termination may have been dictated by his age or even death.  In business for 54 years,  Lynch & Company had been hailed in the St. Louis history referenced earlier.  The author described Lynch’s firm as   “A house of high character;  against it, in all the long years during which it has flourished, not the breath of suspicion has been heard.  Its management is a fine sample of that old-fashioned integrity and courtesy....”

From the perspective of today these many years later, we recognize that many pre-Prohibition whiskey men largely disappeared from view without a trace when the ban on alcohol sales shut their premises.   By contrast, we can remember Patrick Lynch by the signs of his times,  some now faint and fading but still legible and still in our midst.  Below is a Lynch 
label worth adding for its visual value.

Note: I have had a thoughtful email from Robert Oswald who owns the building in Carlinville that bears the sign shown above.  He says he can't believe how well the sign is preserved.  Patrick Lynch undoubtedly would be proud to know that.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Michael Bosak Claimed He Was “The Richest Slovak in America”

The function of a “breaker boy” in mining was to break coal into pieces and sort those pieces into categories of nearly uniform size, a process known as “breaking."  He also chipped away any impurities that might be clinging to the coal.  It was hard, low-paying labor.  How Michael Bosak went from breaker boy in a Pennsylvania mine to proclaiming himself “The Richest Slovak in America”  is a whiskey man’s tale.

Bosak was born in 1870 in Saris, a town then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but now part of the Slovak Republic.   He emigrated to the United States about 1887.  As many Eastern European immigrants did, he settled in the anthracite-rich region of Northeastern Pennsylvania and went to work in a mine at Hazelton as a breaker boy to make a living.  Finding the work unrewarding on many counts, he eventually shifted employment and worked for several Slovak liquor merchants in the area, taking orders and delivering merchandise.  Frugal in his habits, Bosak saved sufficient money to open his own liquor store in Hazelton during the 1890s.  When it prospered he opened a saloon called Glinsky’s Tavern in nearby Olyphant and subsequently a branch in Scranton, Pennsylvania on Lackawanna Avenue.

The Scranton branch was so successful that it outpaced the Slovak’s other outlets and became his headquarters for his operation, as shown here in an illustration.  He termed his business “importers
and wholesale liquor dealers.”  That designated omitted that he was also a “rectifier,”  that is, compounding whiskeys or adding neutral spirits to them, putting on his own label and merchandising them.   Unlike other rectifiers who issued a blizzard of brands, Bosak stuck to two:  “Old Dole Spring Rye,” and “Old Cold Spring Rye.”  He merchandised both vigorously to good effect,  selling them in quart and flask-sized bottles with attractive labels.   He issued shot glasses for each.

In the meantime Bosak was having a personal life.   He married when he was in his early twenties to another Slovak immigrant named Susanna, still in her teens.  The 1910 census found him, age 40, living in Scranton with his wife and four children, two boys and two girls ranging in age from 19 to a baby under a year.  Although listed in the census as “proprietor-wholesale liquor,” Bosak already was branching out in his business interests.

As an outgrowth of his liquor business,  he founded the Bosak Manufacturing Co. about 1894. It turned out bottles of Bosak’s Horke Vino,  a wine-based nostrum that was alleged to be a remedy for a variety of ailments, including constipation and loss of appetite.  Presumably the potion was taken from an old Slovak recipe in Bosak’s possession.  During a period
when other liquor was subject to a special tax, he was able to claim its medicinal value and thus avoid the levy, a fact that he displayed prominently in his advertising and on his labels.  He issued a fancy etched dose glass for Horke Vino, a product that proved to be a potent money maker.

Bosak’s wealth allowed him to pursue other business interests.
  Early on he moved into banking.  The force of his personality led other Slovak immigrants to trust him and seek his help in purchasing steamship tickets, exchanging foreign currency, and making small loans.   Bosak established a private bank in 1897 which grew into Bosak State Bank by 1915.  He organized numerous financial institutions in Northeastern Pennsylvania and was president of the Miners Savings Bank of Olyphant and the Pennsylvania Bank and Trust Company of Wilkes-Barre.   in 1915 he established the Bosak State Bank in Scranton. His operations reaped such a financial bonanza, that about 1920 Bosak proclaimed he was the  "richest Slovak in America.”  His signature could be found on U.S. backed bank notes. His mansion was featured on a Scranton post card.

Despite his business success, Bosak never forgot the place of his birth.  During World War One he organized collections to help the Slovak residents who were suffering from wartime conditions.   The government was exhausted by the war and could not take care of its people,  many of whom were refugees and prisoners of war.  From all over America concerned citizens sent new and used clothing, as well as money through Bosak who made the necessary arrangements for their transfer to Eastern Europe.  A Slovak newspaper hailed his efforts, saying “Oh, how they rejoice that their brothers in distant America remember them.

At the conclusion of the war and the final break-up of the Austro-Hungarian state,  strong efforts were made to create a new country called Czechoslovakia.  Czech and Slovak leaders,  including Bosak,
met in Pittsburgh in May of 1818 and agreed to cooperate in setting up a new nation for their peoples in the northern provinces of Austria.  The agreement they formulated after a two day meeting in the Moose Temple became known as the “Pittsburgh Pact.”  As a moving force and early signatory behind the agreement,  Bosak became a celebrity among the Slovaks.  He also is credited with building schools and churches in both the U.S. and Slovakia.

At home, however, Bosak was facing problems with U.S. officialdom.  In 1913, he was hauled into court by the State of Pennsylvania who accused him of  misbranding vodka.  He was found guilty by a District Court and fined.  About the same time the Internal Revenue Service began taking a hard look at Horke Vino.  Its officials
decided that the amount of alcohol it contained and its dubious medicinal value required it be consider liquor and subject to full tax.  The American Medical Association’s publication “Nostrums and Quackery” attacked Horke Vino as “booze medicine.”

A few years later the imposition of National Prohibition shut down Bosak’s liquor business entirely.   Shown here is the Bosak State Bank. Comparing it with the illustration of the building housing his liquor empire you find they were one and the same.  From “booze to banking” apparently was an easy transition.  Bosak also took the step of claiming a trademark for Horke Vino, under the category of “chemical, medicines and pharmaceutical preparations.” Despite the trademark, as Prohibition progressed, the IRS began to take increasing interest in Horke Vino as liquor in another guise.  Whatever the reason, Michael found it expedient to sell the Bosak Manufacturing Co.  The name was changed by the new ownership to the Gold Seal Manufacturing Co. 

The ultimate blow to Bosak’s business empire came in 1929 and the dawn of the Great Depression.  His banks faltered and finally in 1931, failed and closed.   His earning of a lifetime virtually were wiped out.   Bosak was 61 years old.  He would live another six years, dying on February 18, 1937.   Although gone, he has been far from forgotten.  Two of his descendants memorialized him in a book called “Michael Bosak: An American Banker from Saris.” In 1999 on the 130th Anniversary of his birth, the Michael Bosak Society came into existence.   The main aim of the Society, in addition to keeping alive Bosak’s contributions and legacy, is organizing a yearly competition for business and economics students in Slovakian secondary schools. They vie to win a monetary prize in Bosak’s name.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Martin Casey: An Irish Whiskey Man in the Wild West

Being in the whiskey trade in Forth Worth, Texas, could be dangerous business in the late 1800s.  It was a rowdy town attracting cowboys, gunmen, highway robbers, card sharps,  con men, and shady ladies.   Martin Casey, an Irish immigrant who supplied the saloons with liquor but apparently largely stayed out of them, survived and prospered.

Casey was born in the Emerald Isle in about 1853.  I have not been able to establish his immigration date but he showed up in Forth Worth in the 1880 census,  age 27, when the town looked just about the same as the map shown below.  Today it is the 16th largest city in the United States with a population in excess of 700,000.  In those days a critic claimed that was such a drowsy place that he saw a panther asleep next to the courthouse -- the largest building shown on the map.  When the railroad reached Fort Worth a year later,  a boom was created that ushered in several decades of growth and attendant violence.  The citizenry adopted the name “Panther City” for their wild and woolly town.

Fort Worth in 1876

Recognizing the large and growing thirsty Fort Worth clientele, Casey appears to have engaged in the liquor trade beginning in the late 1870s.  The 1880 census listed him as “wholesale dealer - whiskey.”  His business partner was a transplanted New Englander named Charles J. Swasey.  Swasey was five years Casey’s elder, a man who had arrived in town after serving on a ship hunting whales in the Pacific Ocean off California.   Sharing living quarters in downtown Fort Worth for a time, the pair called their company Casey & Swasey.  They sold both liquor and cigars.
Old Kentucky Club quart

The partners initially located on Houston Street where they featured a number of whiskey brands that they were blending and compounding on the premises using stocks drawn from distilleries in Kentucky and elsewhere.   Taking a brand name from Fort Worth’s designation as “Panther City,” the firm featured “Panther Club Whiskey” and  “Panther Club Gin,” as well as “Top of the Morning,” and “Casco” whiskeys.  They also billed themselves as sole proprietors of “Kentucky Comfort Whiskey.”

Among their clients undoubtedly was the White Elephant Saloon on Fort Worth’s Main Street.  Famous in its time for the opportunities it provided for drinking, dining and gambling, it was the scene of Forth Worth’s most notorious shoot out.  In February 1887, Luke Short, the manager of the saloon, gunned down on Main Street in front of the White Elephant a drunken ex-marshal who had come looking to kill him.  It could be dangerous being a whiskey man in Forth Worth.

Main Street, Fort Worth, 1880s

After some years in business together,  Casey and Swasey apparently sold out to a Jewish immigrant named Sam Levy, who had come to the United States with his parents about 1872 and early settled in Forth Worth.   The new owner kept the name Casey-Swasey and put an emphasis on wholesaling cigars throughout Texas and the Southwest.  Charles Swasey stayed on with Levy as a vice president of the firm.  Meanwhile Martin Casey about 1896 struck out on his own,  locating his liquor dealership on Houston Street at the corner of West Fifth, the first of three locations his business occupied on that avenue.  He called his enterprise Martin Casey & Co.

Casey christened his flagship whiskey brand, “Martin’s Best”  and advertised it heavily.  Shown here is an ad that appeared prominently on the back cover of a 1901-1902 Fort Worth City Directory.  He also advertised in local publications like the Texas Mining & Trade Journal and other area weeklies.   Like many successful whiskey men, Casey also provided advertising giveaway items to favored customers,  especially saloon owners and barkeeper stocking his products. Among the gifts was an attractive match safe.  Although safes were commonly bestowed by liquor wholesalers,  Casey’s was unusual by being shaped like a hip flask.

Panther Club flask
Martin Casey apparently never married.  The 1900 census found him living alone in a room over 208 West 6th Street.   His relationship with the other firm that bore his name is unclear.  They appeared one after the other in Forth Worth city directories.  Martin Casey & Co was listed as selling wholesale liquor and cigars.   Casey-Swasey was recorded as wholesaling liquor, wines and cigars and as agents for Schlitz beer.   Were they competing for the same customer base or working compatibly?  The answer is not clear.

Both companies, however, would have been deeply interested in the outcome of a “shootout” that was occurring in the more civilized environment of the courts over the use of the brand name,  “Kentucky Comfort.”   In 1883 Casey & Swasey had procured through the Boldrick-Callaghan distillery of Calvary, Kentucky, the right to use the words “Kentucky Comfort” in connection with the words “Casey & Swasey, Sole Proprietors.” The name was branded into fifty barrels of whiskey by the distillery and shipped to them in Fort Worth.  A photo of the Boldrick-Callaghan operation shows barrels being loaded to go to the railhead.  That may be Frank Callaghan, shown front left with the vest.

The Casey & Swasey purchase seemed to mean little to the Appeals Court of Kentucky when Rosenfield Bros. of Chicago and Louisville claimed an equal right to use “Kentucky Comfort” on their labels.  The Rosenfields alleged that they had widely advertised the brand and its value “has come in large part from the moneys expended in such advertisements.”  They also claimed to sell from three to five thousand barrels a year of “Kentucky Comfort”   In 1898 the court found for the Rosenfields.  Both companies, it ruled, could use  the brand name.

The Texas whiskey men were not prepared to settle.  They took their appeal to the Federal Commissioner of Patents.  In 1906, he reviewed the record and, in effect, dismissed utterly the decision of the Kentucky judges,  saying that the “judgment of the court was neither pleaded nor proved.”   The Commissioner thereupon dismissed the claim by the Rosenfields that they had as good a right to the trademark as Casey and Swasey.  He ruled it remained solely the property of the Fort Worth firm.

Meanwhile Martin Casey was having considerable success.  “Martin’s Best” whiskey was selling to the White Elephant and to its competitor for the “carriage trade,” Joseph J. Wheat’s fancy Stag Saloon at 702 Main Street.  The brand also had a market throughout Texas,  advertised by major liquor retailers such as L. Craddock & Co., a Dallas firm that billed itself as “the Largest
Bar at the Stag Saloon
Mail Order Whiskey House in the South.”   Unfortunately the long term trend in Texas was working against Casey.   Not only was Fort Worth becoming more civilized with diminished hard drinking, the Temperance Movement was gaining strength.  Increasingly strictures were being put on saloons and drink sales all over the Lone Star State.

In the meantime Casey had branched out into another enterprise.  In 1902 he and a partner had received the franchise from City Hall to build a telephone exchange in Forth Worth.  Not surprisingly, they called it the Fort Worth Telephone Company. The company had 900 subscribers, according to the Forth Worth Historical Society.  A few years later this telephone company was purchased by Southern Bell. Casey’s other business ventures probably made it easier for him to shut down his liquor business in 1916 as Prohibition forces loomed.  Levy's Martin-Swasey Co. was terminated the same year.  Both closings were indications that, for better or worse, the “Wild West” was being tamed.

Note:  I first “met” Martin Casey through a one-line reference in a book called “Legendary Watering Holes:  The Saloons That Made Texas Famous.” by several authors and published by Texas A&M University Press in 2004.  It caused me to pursue Casey’s story and I am happy I did.  It reveal the career of whiskey man who traded Ireland for Texas at a wild time, avoided trouble and definitely made his mark.

Note #2:  In January 2018, Ken Cromer, a Texas based collector of Texas whiskeys and shot glasses, was in touch with me to say that he had in his collection several Casey & Swasey items, including the two bottles and the shot glass shown above.  He graciously has allowed me to use his photos to upgrade this post, one that earlier had no images of bottles from of the Forth Worth-based liquor house.  They add a new dimension to the story and I am grateful to Ken for his help.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Eugene N. Belt: “Shame and Scandal in the Family”

Yes, Eugene Belt was a Baltimore liquor dealer, but his “blue ribbon” background makes him seem like an unlikely centerpiece in an 1880’s scandal that commanded newspaper headlines from coast to coast for two years and involved beautiful women, two U.S. Congressmen, a messy divorce, perjured testimony, and dramatic acts by a former Confederate general.  You can’t make up stuff like this.

Belt was born in 1828 or 1830, depending on the census you read.  His parents were Thomas Walter Belt and Louisa Ann (Steeper) Belt.  His father was of English and his mother of German descent.   According to a contemporary biography, on both sides his ancestors were among early settlers of America.  His father’s people settled in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in 1647. The town of Beltsville took its name from the family.  Belt’s father was born in Baltimore and had a career as a merchant and banker and was accounted among the most prominent businessmen of his day.  He died in 1840 while Eugene was still a young boy.

The son was educated by private tutors in Baltimore and at an institute in Louisville, Kentucky, even then a hub of the whiskey industry.  After finishing his education he went to New Orleans to work in a mercantile house but returned to Baltimore after several years.  Belt tried his hand in the insurance and banking businesses in his home town but clearly was looking for something more lucrative.  In 1859 he joined with a Baltimore local named P.C. Martin to found a liquor business they called Martin, Belt & Co.  For reasons not fully explained, this enterprise was forced into liquidation two years later, reputedly because of the outbreak of the Civil War.  Like many Marylanders,  Belt may have been a Southern sympathizer.

The war years are a blank in Belt’s biography but in its aftermath, in 1868, he again entered the liquor business.  This time his partner was Bernard Cahn of Baltimore, a German Jewish immigrant who had come to the U.S. as a boy of 15 and had found considerable business success.   Like Belt, he had invested in the wine and spirits trade before the war and lost all his capital, perhaps as part of Martin, Belt & Co.  Both men were willing to try once more and created one of the most successful Baltimore liquor businesses called Cahn, Belt & Co.  From 1870 until 1904 their establishment was located at several addresses on Lombard Street.

Cahn, Belt featured number of brand names, including "Belt,” "C B & C", "Cartwrig,” "City of Baltimore Pure Rye,” "Crown of Baltimore,”, "Jim Hackler" “Little Straight,” "M C,”  "Original Martin,”  and "Roadster."  Another label was “Emery Grove.”  One speculation is that the name was an attempt to annoy the abstemious Methodists for whom Emory Grove was a camp-meeting site.  The company flagship label was “Maryland Club.” It was advertised widely with the slogan, “It tastes old because it is old.”  The partners also made it a feature of their giveaway items to favored saloon customers,  particularly with attractive back-of-the-bar bottles, garnished with a shamrock.  Probably to insure a steady supply of whiskey for their blends,  they purchased Baltimore’s Monticello Distillery and its “Monticello Rye” brand.  Cahn became president of the distillery.

Both the 1860 and 1870 censuses found Eugene living with his widowed mother, Louisa Ann, and his three unmarried sisters, Louisa, 35 years of age; Georgiana (“Nannie”), 32, and Emily, 27. Still a bachelor himself at age 42,  he was surrounded by women, including a female servant.  Increasingly wealthy from his liquor business,  Belt seems to have found his social outlet in joining and being active in a plethora of organizations, including the Maryland Historical Society, in which he was an officer, the Archeological Society,  Merchants’ Club, the Maryland Club and the Elk Ridge Fox Hunting Club.  He was a pillar of the Episcopal Church, attending Baltimore’s St. Luke’s.

Enter the “shame and scandal.” In 1884, now 54 years old and quite rich,  Belt was vacationing at a seaside resort when he encountered a considerably younger and very attractive blonde widow.  Her name was Mrs. Mary Alice Godfrey.   Later Belt told the press that he had met her “among people of character and respectability and never imagined that she was other than a pure and virtuous woman.”  Moreover,  he probably was impressed that she was the sister of Mrs. Benjamin Willis of New York City, the wife of a prominent U.S. congressmen.  Both sisters were beauties.  One commentator claimed that they had become the “rage” of the Washington society.   Belt fell in love with Mary Alice, quickly proposed marriage and they were wed in October, 1884, in Morristown, Pennsylvania.  They may have chosen a remote location because of apparent opposition to the nuptials from Eugene’s sisters and other female friends.

Soon enough Belt came to regret his decision and, by his own admission, left his wife the following January.  Mary Alice filed for divorce in May 1885.  In his answer to her suit, he said he had found out to his horror that she had been connected with a well-known Washington, D.C., scandal known as the Congressman Acklen Affair.  Belt told the press, he had discovered additionally that she had lived “a life of infamy” and that he had been a victim of an abandoned woman.   Newspapers from coast to coast had a field day.  The New York Times made it front page.  A California paper headlined:  “Victim of a Wily Woman...A Prominent Merchant Insnared by a Sea-Side Demi-Monde.” (A demi-monde was a woman of dubious virtue.)
Welcker's Hotel

But the truth may have been otherwise.  Joseph Hayes Acklen, a wealthy sugar plantation owner and a congressman from Louisiana,  had taken Washington society by storm.  Shown here, the young bachelor was rich, eccentric and, perhaps signaled by his waxed mustache, a notorious womanizer.  He had courted Mrs. Godfrey, who was living in Arlington with her sister and congressman husband.  One evening at Washington’s highly prestigious Welcker’s hotel, Acklen reputedly forced himself on her.  The cries of Mary Alice were heard in the next room by a former highly decorated Confederate cavalry general named
Joseph Acklen
Thomas Rosser.  Rosser rushed to the damsel’s rescue but when the story got out, the local and national press had a field day of speculation.  Acklen later apologized to Mrs. Godfrey and proposed marriage.  She declined.

As for Belt’s other allegations that his wife had been a “loose woman” even before this incident, charges he made part of divorce proceedings, it subsequently was revealed that those giving damaging testimony had perjured themselves.  Who was behind these lies,  Belt himself, family members or others? That was never revealed.  Once more General Rosser came to the rescue, proving in criminal court of the District  of Columbia that one Benjamin Golly had falsely testified in the divorce suit brought by Belt.  Golly was convicted and Mary Alice was exonerated.   Throughout the entire affair Eugene Belt’s name was bruited nationwide by the press.
Gen. Thomas Rosser

When the dust cleared,  Belt went back to his usual pursuits,  running the liquor business and attending the meetings of his many memberships.   The 1900 census found him at age 70 and still listed as a “liquor merchant.”   His mother having died in 1881, he was living with two of his spinster sisters,  Louisa and Georgiana, in a large Baltimore house with four live-in servants.   I wonder if Belt ever thought about those weeks of marriage to the beautiful Mary Alice -- and regretted what he had done.

In 1901 Eugene Belt died.  In his will, probated in 1902, he left $1,000 to St. Luke’s Church. The Cahn, Belt Co. continued on another 18 years.  The firm moved to South Street about 1905 where it located until 1919.  Bernard Cahn died in 1906,  mourned by his wife and five children. He was hailed in the press as a highly successful businessman and philanthropist to Jewish and other charitable causes.  No breath of scandal there.  Members of the Cahn family managed the firm until its forced demise by National Prohibition.

Note:  The two ads for Maryland Club Rye are from a website maintained by the Ohio State University.  It is a good source of vintage advertising images.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

W.C. Peacock: The Whiskey Man Who “Built” Waikiki

The Moana Hotel, Early 20th Century
Today Waikiki Beach on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu is one of the most popular recreation areas in the world.   A British-born Honolulu saloonkeeper and liquor dealer named Walter Chamberlain (abbreviated to W.C.) Peacock more than a century ago saw the promise in a barren strip of land along the Pacific Ocean.  He built the Moana Hotel at Waikiki, still a landmark, and began a history of development that continues to this day.

Born in in 1858 in Lancaster, England,  Peacock, after a sojourn in New Zealand, arrived in the Territory of Hawaii about 1881.  In 1883 in Hawaii, he married Margaret, a women he had met in New Zealand.  They would have one child, a daughter.
 Not long after arriving, Peacock started a wholesale liquor business with a local named George Freeth at 23 Nuuanu Street. By 1890 Freeth had departed and the firm known as W.C. Peacock & Co. Ltd emerged, as shown on a porcelain bottle stopper.

In addition to selling liquor at wholesale, Peacock also ran a string of saloons in Honolulu.  A trade token names three:  Pacific, Cosmopolitan, and Royal.  For the Royal Saloon in 1890 he designed and constructed a brick building at the corner of Merchant and Nuuanu Streets in Chinatown.  Peacock was taking advantage of an opportunity that arose when Merchant Street had been widened the previous year.  The building, shown here, was relatively modest by current standards, featuring white stucco pilasters, cornice and balustrade, and a another spot of stucco over the bricks of the upper walls.  The Englishman gave it windows and door bays along the street creating a feeling of spaciousness.  Still a Honolulu landmark, the Royal Building currently is occupied by an Irish pub.

Housed in his own building, Peacock’s liquor empire continued to expand although his customer base was confined to the islands.  He packaged his wines and liquors in glass bottles, both amber and clear.  They are avidly collected in Hawaii today.  He also sold gin in the characteristic “case” shape, as shown here.  Peacock’s nephew remembered working at the company filling gin bottles.   According to family lore:  “Peacock sold 3 grades of gin increasing in price.  Many bought the most expensive kind. However, in the back room all the gin came out of the same barrel.”

For a short time, W.C. and his brother, Corbert Peacock,  branched out into the farm implement business in Australia.  Directories in Melbourne from 1899 to 1901 record the existence of the W.C. Peacock & Bro. firm on Sturt Street South, making and selling rotary disc plows in a design that the brothers may have invented and on which they held a patent.  Likely financed by W.C., Corbert ran the company for three years and then abruptly returned to Hawaii where he opened a saloon and assisted in his brother's liquor business.

Meanwhile W.C. Peacock was piling up riches from sales of liquor, both from store and saloons.  Like many whiskey men of time he provided bar tokens to retail consumers and shot glasses, some with fancy gold rims, to favored saloon owners and barkeepers. One glass had the seal of Hawaii lithographed in the base.  Peacock built a mansion for himself on a spit of land on the eastern side of Oahu that looked out on the gently rolling surf of the Pacific.   As the 19th Century drew to a close, he also noted that more or more steamships were docking at Honolulu and the influx of tourists was increasing rapidly.  Moreover, there was a dearth of hotel accommodations at the beach.

Peacock created a new company, capitalized at $100,000, later increased to $150,000.  He called it the Moana Hotel Company Ltd. and planned a new hotel. For this effort he engaged the well known architect Oliver Trephagen to design it  and hired a local contractor for the construction.  Owning the land on which the hotel was to be built, he arranged for his own house to be moved further back from the beach to accommodate the large building.

A hotel history tells the story:  “The Moana Hotel officially opened on March 11, 1901 ushering a new era of tourism for the islands. Designed in the old colonial style architecture of the period, it had 75 rooms and was the costliest, most elaborate hotel building in the Hawaiian Islands at the time. Each room on the three upper floors had a bathroom and a telephone - innovations for hotels of the times. The hotel also had its own ice plant and electric generators. The first floor had a billiard parlor, saloon, main parlor, library, office and reception area.“Ionic columns supported an elegant port cochere at the entrance leading to a lobby embellished with intricate plaster detailing on the ceiling. The Moana, which means "broad expanse of ocean," lived up to its name with the crowning achievement of a rooftop observatory 120 feet off the ground, lit by more than 300 lamps. It accommodated receptions while offering 360-degree views of Waikiki, Diamond Head and the Pacific Ocean.  The hotel’s first guests in 1901 were a group of 114 Shriners hosted by the local Aloha Temple Shriners. They paid a costly $1.50 per night for their rooms."

Peacock took a strong interest in many aspects of the Moana.  He is said by family members personally to have planted the giant banyan tree that still spreads over the grounds. Because of the remoteness of Hawaii in those pre-airplane days, the Moana may not have been the immediate profit center Peacock anticipated.  Or he may not have liked the hotel business.  In any case, he sold the property in 1905 to Alexander Young, a prominent Honolulu entrepreneur with other Hawaiian hotel interests.

Subsequently the Moana, with a number of additions over the years, became known as the “Grand Queen” of Honolulu hostelries. It also was the pivotal building that led to the massive development of Waikiki.  My parents stayed at the Moana in the 1950s and I visited regularly from 1970 until just recently.  It remains a marvelous destination after more than a century.

In 1909 Peacock, still young at 51, died.  He was buried in the Oahu Cemetery in a section known as the “Peacock Plot.” His mother, Margaret, age 82, three years later would join him in the grave.  Mother and son are memorialized on a joint headstone.  His wife, Margaret, returned to her native New Zealand after W.C.’s death.

Peacock's nephew took over management of the Peacock liquor interests. His time would be limited by the 1915 passage of territory-wide Prohibition in Hawaii.  The company was terminated as were W.C.'s and Corbet's saloons. In 1916 the Royal Building, which had been the center of Peacock’s empire, was leased to business interests.  Since Repeal the site has returned to being a bar and restaurant.

Although Peacock is gone from the Honolulu scene,  this far-sighted whiskey man is still celebrated for his pioneer work for the Hawaii tourist industry, the development of Waikiki and, above all, the magnificent Moana.  On the postcard view of Waikiki that follows, the Moana hotel is the first building on the left side of Kalakaua Avenue.  Find it and remember W.C. Peacock who made it all possible.

Note:  This is an amended version of the article occasioned by a thoughtful communication from a Peacock relative named Joe Hanke.  Drawing on family knowledge, he made it possible to correct  mistakes in the earlier version and to include additional information on the Peacocks.