Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Whallen Brothers Ran Politics in “Whiskey City”

 Louisville earned the title “Whiskey City” as the center of the Kentucky distilling industry, a place where many leading liquor producers and wholesalers operated.  The Whallen Brothers, John Henry, shown left, and James Patrick, dominated politics in Louisville for many years as well as being whiskey men in their own right.

John was the elder of the two brothers, born in May 1850 in New Orleans to Irish immigrants Patrick and Bridget (Burke) Whallen.   Soon after the family moved to Maysville, Kentucky, and then settled near Covington.  In 1862 at age 11,  John enlisted in the Southern Army.  The Confederate Veteran Magazine of 1908, called him “the youngest Confederate veteran in the United States,”  and told this story:  “...When some youths of the neighborhood formed a party to cast their fortunes with the South, Whallen who was well grown for his age and of most adventurous spirit, persuaded them to accept him. On their first start a band of home guards who had learned what they were about undertook to intercept them. There was a sharp brush, and Whallen shot one man, wounding him seriously.”

Joining the 4th Kentucky Cavalry,  John chiefly saw duty in Southwestern Virginia and although he participated in few big battles, his outfit was engaged in countless skirmishes with Union troops and bushwhackers.  He was credited with saving the life of his commanding officer by holding off a band of marauders until help arrived.  Shown here as a Confederate soldier,  he served three years until the South surrendered and was mustered out at the age of 14.   Subsequently he was singled out by the Kentucky Cavaliers in Dixie organization for its “Legion of Honor” and called “a superbly brilliant youth, model soldier and graceful courtier in any society.” The Daughters of the Confederacy gave him the “Cross of Honor,” its highest award.  John also would become a “Kentucky colonel” and carry that honorific for the rest of his life.

John Whallen’s charm and charisma would be his lifetime hallmark, although details are scanty about his immediate post-war activities.  One account says he did detective and police duties in Cincinnati and worked on the railroad.  He also clearly was gaining experience in business,  likely in the entertainment field.  About 1876 he moved to Louisville to work and four years later had accumulated sufficient capital to open the Buckingham Theater on West Jefferson Street.   He would go on to own several theaters including the Grand Opera (later Savoy), shown here.  Although John undertook legitimate theatrics, his made his money with burlesque, notorious because of its ties to prostitution and gambling. 

As his business interests increased,  John called his brother James, seven years his junior, to join him in Louisville as his partner.  Shown here, James proved to be a valuable ally. The Kentucky Irish American newspaper proclaimed that when “the Whallens buy a pair of shoes, one belongs to Jim and the other to John.”  It was the older brother, however, who managed the Whallen interests.  Meanwhile, John was not finding his partnerships in marriage as successful as that with his brother.  Whether the result of divorce or death, John Whallen was married three times.   His first wife was Marian Hickey who gave him three children,  two girls, Ella and Nora, and a boy, Orie.  By 1800, however, at age 29, he was married again to a woman named Sarah Jane.  She had been born in Tennessee of a French father and Irish mother.  The 1880 Census did not indicate any children living with them.  By the time of the 1900 census Sara Jane was gone and Whallen was married to Grace Edwards Goodrich, whose roots were in New York State.  She had one daughter whom John adopted.

In the 1900 census, John Whallen gave his occupation as “capitalist.”  Indeed, the brothers were branching out in their business activities.   John became half owner of the Whallen & Martell Mammoth Company.  He also was a principal in a national vaudeville circuit.  Perhaps appreciative of the money being made in Louisville by the whiskey barons, about 1902 the brothers established their own whiskey wholesale and retail business.  The Whallens advertised “mail orders our specialty,”  a trade that was booming as states and localities were going “dry” but shipped-in liquor was still legal.  Locating their business at 219-227 West Jefferson St., Whallen Brothers were “rectifiers,” that is, blending whiskeys to taste, then bottling, labeling, and selling them.

Their flagship brand was Spring Bank Whiskey, advertised here on a paperweight.   In fact, many of the Whallen’s products bore the name, including “Spring Bank High Ball Split,” “Spring Bank Lithia High Ball Splits,” and “Spring Bank Lithia Cherry Phosphate,” all trademarked in 1903.  John named his sprawling Louisville estate “Spring Bank Park.” As on the jug shown here, the Whallens pushed the medicinal value of lithia water, a mineral water with purported health benefits, particularly for the kidneys and liver.  Whallen beverages also came in glass bottles.

It was neither rectified whiskey nor phony medicinals, however, that thrust the Whallens into the political arena.  It was the need to protect their entertainment business.  Having abandoned serious theater for shows featuring scantily-clad women who provided “female companionship” and off-stage services to male patrons.  Although the Whallens gave free passes to members of the Louisville police force and usually were repaid with a blind eye, in 1880 an undercover police taskforce raided the Buckingham Theater and closed down a production called “Female Bathers in the Sea.”  A Louisville grand jury of thirteen men,  all workers or unemployed, were unimpressed by the evidence, however, and refused to indict the Whallens on a charge of obscenity.

John immediately recognized that his theatrical enterprises would be under constant pressure from the more respectable elements in Louisville.  By the mid-1880s the upstairs “Green Room” in the Buckingham Theater had become the hub of local Democratic politics  and John was dubbed the “Buckingham Boss.”  Others called him “Boss John” and some “Napoleon.”  In 1885 he engineered the election of Louisville’s mayor and for his efforts was rewarded with being named Chief of Police.  No more surprise raids on Whallen theaters.  One biography asserted that Whallen “... influenced every Louisville and statewide Kentucky election for the rest of his life. In addition to bribing officials and controlling assistance programs, at his peak Whallen controlled the awarding of 1,200 city patronage jobs.”

The Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Arthur Krock recalled Whallen’s dominance of Louisville politics in his memoirs, describing the Buckingham Green Room as “the political sewer through which the political filth of Louisville runs.”  Not all in Louisville shared that attitude.  John was noted for his charitable work, providing food to the out-of-work and assisting the poor.  As a result he was popular among immigrants, blue collar workers, and Catholics. They saw him as their champion against the Louisville establishment.

Even as his power increased, however,  John was to know multiple tragedies.  His third wife, Grace, died in the early 1900s.  Then, in December 1909,  his only son, Orie, died at St. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital after a short bout of pneumonia.  Orie had been deputy clerk of the Circuit Court and later worked for his father as superintendent of the Spring Bank Lithia Water Company.   John was devastated with grief and it was his brother James who claimed the young Whallen’s remains and arranged for the wake, funeral and burial. 

John Whallen would live four more years, dying at  age 63  while still wielding political influence in Louisville.  With his passing in 1913, the reins of the Whallen machine were handed to James.  The brother, although he had been important in the rise of the family fortunes, was unable to maintain the power of the political organization John had built.  James lacked the charisma of his older brother and gradually the power of the Whallen political machine faded.  James lived another 17 years, dying in 1930.   Partners in life, the brothers were reunited in death in a mausoleum bearing their name in Louisville’s St. Louis Catholic Cemetery.  Their caskets are stacked one above the other.  Appropriately,  John’s is on top.

The Whallens left few legacies of their once dominant role in Louisville.  John’s Spring Bank Park estate became public open space known as Chickasaw Park.  James’  mansion at 4420 River Drive was razed in 1947 and became the site of Bishop Flaget High School.  One remaining relic is a stained glass window in the mausoleum.   It features a wreath in which are intertwined two letters,  “W” and  “B”:  the Whallen Brothers.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Aronhimes: Winning and Losing Virginia Liquor Battles

Steeped in the liquor trade,  members of the Aronhime family found themselves locked in combat with Virginia’s prohibition forces for years during the early part of the 20th Century, winning an important battle in 1909 but losing the war just seven years later.

The Aronhime whiskey men were three.  Father Samuel was born in Germany in 1836.  He emigrated to the United States in 1855 at the age of 19, and eventually settled in Charlottesville, Virginia.  He married Hannah, 20 year his junior, in 1880 and sired three sons, Gordon, Morris and Percy.  Samuel was a saloon keeper, running a Charlottesville drinking establishment and billiards parlor on Main Street at the corner of Market.  He also was the proprietor of the classy-sounding “The Opera Bar,”  located beneath the Jefferson Theater in the 600 block of West Main.  Shown here, it was the focus of Charlottesville's entertainment scene.   Samuel advertised his “up-to-date” service and claimed mixed drinks to be a specialty.  The father’s ads also emphasized “family trade solicited.”

The Senior Aronhime also was providing opportunities for his sons to join him in the liquor business.  The 1900 census found the family living together in Charlottesville.  The father’s occupation was given as “merchant.”  Son Gordon, still just 18, was already working, his occupation “salesman,” likely for his father.  Morris, 16 years old at the time, soon would be inducted into the whiskey trade.  Charlottesville business directories of that period listed the Aronhime Bros. liquor dealership.

Eventually Gordon and Morris, probably financed by their father,  headed to Roanoke, Virginia, and established a distillery there about 1907. Their  leaving Charlottesville may have been prompted by increasing pressure from pro-Prohibition forces.  The Virginia WCTU was founded in Richmond in 1882 but had developed a chapter in Charlottesville by the very next year.   Roanoke by contrast was more of a “boom town” and a hotbed of liquor dealers who sold whiskey by rail express into totally “dry” North Carolina and other non-alcoholic localities.

A 1908 Roanoke business directory listed the brothers’ operation as the Aronhime Distillery Company, located on Tinker Creek Road.  The facility was noted in government revenue logs as Registered Distillery #275, Tax District #6.  Shown here is a mini-jug from the company with that name and federal distillery designation.   The brothers received a charter from the State of Virginia in 1909 for their distillery and also opened the Aronhime Liquor Company at 127 Salem Avenue.  Shown here, the street was a major Roanoke commercial area.

It is startling to understand that the brothers both were still in their 20’s when they began operations in Roanoke, although they may have posed as being older.  In the 1910 U.S. Census Morris’ age was given as 35 when in reality he was only 26.  He had been married about three years to Sara, a Kentucky-born woman, and they were boarding with another family.  Early in their marriage the couple would deal with grief as when a daughter died shortly after birth. The occupation listed for Morris by the 1910 census was “liquor merchant.”

The Aronhimes issued their whiskey in embossed quart bottles, shown here, as well as in larger containers.  They also sold a line of California fruit brandies under the “Old Abbey” label.  Like many of their competitors they issued shot glasses to saloons and other favored customers that advertised their  “Flying A” brand.  Their advertising emphasized that they were a “Mail Order Liquor House” and suggested that the railroad express companies operating from Roanoke “make us next door neighbors.”

The brothers were finding, however, that sometimes neighbors could rejected being “next door” to liquor.  The year was 1909 when four far western Virginia towns -- Radford, Marion, Saltville, and Glade Springs -- officially went “dry” under local option laws operative in Virginia. Alcoholic beverages were strictly forbidden to be sold within their city limits.  Violations meant stiff fines.  The Southern Express Company, the carrier of choice, refused to deliver booze from Roanoke to the four towns, apparently fearing arrest of its agents.  This did not sit well with Roanoke’s whiskey merchants,  particularly those who were heavily involved in the mail order trade.  Although much of their whiskey went to North Carolina where prohibition was statewide, Virginia consumers also were important. 

Although usually business competitors, the Roanoke whiskey men joined forces to do battle with the four towns.  The Aronhimes were lead plaintiffs, spearheading the battle against the four dry communities.   They took their case to the Virginia Corporation Commission, a body clearly sympathetic to their cause.  After hear arguments from both sides, that body handed victory to the Aronhimes and their Roanoke colleagues.  The Commission declared the four ordinances void.  It also ruled that the whiskey merchants could sell liquor up to five gallons at a time to customers in any of the towns. Furthermore, the Commission required Southern Express to deliver the goods to consignees.

After their victory over the Western Virginia communities, the Aronhimes flourished for several years with their mail order trade.  Their price list book, available from the company by mail, ran to 31 numbered pages within stiff covers.  Their inventory covered a wide variety of whiskeys and other liquor items to be shipped into those otherwise non-alcoholic areas.  During this period Gordon Aronhime married.  His wife’s name was Fedora and they would have two boys,  Charles born in 1910 and Samuel (after his Grandfather) born in 1912.

In 1913, however,  the U.S. Congress by law curbed the mail order traffic of liquor into dry localities.  As Prohibition forces grew ever stronger and markets for whiskey continued to close, the brothers may have anticipated further curtailment.  About 1914 they sold their distillery to Charles H. Martin who promptly changed its name to the Martin Distilling Co., Inc.  In 1916 the entire state of Virginia voted statewide Prohibition. The Aronhimes continued to operate their Roanoke liquor dealership until the very end.

Although the brothers now were completely out of the whiskey trade, they were still young men, had proven business abilities, and one assumes had amassed sufficient capital to enter into other enterprises.  In 1917 the brothers announced the creation of the Aronhime Packing Company located in Bristol, Virginia, on the border of Tennessee.  Morris was president and Gordon secretary-treasurer.  With capitalization recorded at $50,000 (15 times that in today’s dollar), they announced the opening of an new slaughterhouse with a capacity to handle 30 cattle and 250 hogs daily.

The meat packing business apparently did not go well for them, however, and after about three years the Aronhimes either sold out or went bankrupt.  In any case, the 1920 census found Morris Aronhime residing in Louisville with wife Sara.  His occupation was given as “advertising salesman.”  Gordon was living in Bristol with his wife Fedora and their two sons. His occupation was listed in the census as the owner/proprietor of a automobile parking company.

The subsequent activities of the Aronhime brothers, living apart and out of the liquor trade, are shrouded in time.  Both of them spent the rest of their lives in the towns where they settled after Roanoke.  Morris died first at age 47 in 1931. He is buried in the Temple Cemetery in Jefferson County, Kentucky.   Gordon followed in 1950, age 68, and was buried in Bristol’s Glenwood Cemetery.  The Aronhimes had fought the good fight for whiskey in Virginia and won an important battle but, in the end, lost the war.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How Mary Dowling Outwitted National Prohibition

 Having for several years tried to find a female who played an important role as a “whiskey man” in America,  I have at last come across an extraordinary woman.  She is Mary Dowling of Anderson County, Kentucky.  Not only did she own and run a major distillery, shown above, she found a way to stay in the liquor business after 1920 and, in effect, thumbed her nose at National Prohibition.

She was born Mary Murphy in 1858 in the State of Kentucky, the daughter of Irish immigrants.  Little of her girlhood or education is recorded until she reached the age of 17 when in 1875  she married a man at least 17 years her senior.   His name was John Dowling.  They would have nine children of whom eight would live to maturity.

Born in Ireland in 1841, John Dowling had come to the United States with a brother, Edward, and was already established in the Kentucky whiskey trade at the time of their marriage.  He was a partner in a distillery in Anderson County, located on Bailey’s Run about four miles south of Lawrenceburg Courthouse.  The facility had been built in 1810 and after several owners the facility had come into the hands of J. M. Waterfill and G.G Frazier during the Civil War.  They produced a brand of whiskey they called “Waterfill & Frazier.”

During the early 1880s Dowling joined the original partners and the firm became Waterfill, Dowling & Company.  At the time the distillery was mashing 60 bushels a day and had a storage capacity for about 3,000 barrels for aging the whiskey.  Over the next few years the facilities were greatly expanded.  By 1890 mashing capacity had been increased to 125 bushels and warehouse capacity exceeded 9,000 barrels.  Insurance records from 1892 noted that the entire distillery was ironclad with metal or slate roofs, including four bonded warehouses and one “free” (from Federal regulation) warehouse.  Slops from the fermentation process were being used to feed hogs that were housed in pens near the still house.

By 1890 the Anderson County distillery was mashing 250 bushels per day and had a warehouse capacity for 21,000 barrels.   Over the years John Dowling increased his ownership of the facility and in early in the 1900s became the full owner, with his brother Edward assisting him.  They kept the “Waterfill & Frazier” name for their flagship brand and also did business as the Pilgrimage Distilling Co., with offices in Cincinnati.  About the same time, apparently recognizing the business acumen of his wife, John brought Mary into the company.   Not long after,  he died at age 61.  His grieving widow inherited the firm and its management, becoming one of a handful of women in that era to run a major distillery.

During ensuing years,  Mary Dowling became part of Kentucky whiskey lore in her evident ability to control a major operation.   Even a major fire in 1904 that destroyed the distillery did not deter her and the facility was quickly rebuilt.  When Mary’s sons came to maturity, they too were brought into the business.  As her reputation as a businesswoman rose in Anderson County, she followed other economic opportunities.  She became a founding stockholder of the Anderson National Bank in 1907, capitalized at $100,000.  Mary was not, however, given a seat on the bank board.

Mary’s success of almost two decades, however, came to screeching halt with the imposition of National Prohibition.   Federal records shown her withdrawing large quantities of whiskey from her bonded warehouse in the run up to the ban on alcohol.   Some of this whiskey she is reported to have sold to those Kentucky distillers fortunate enough to be licensed to sell liquor for “medicinal purposes.”   Other stocks, it would appear, she was bootlegging.  It was during this period, I assume, that she earned the reputation for being “mysterious” and caused at least one writer to term her “infamous.”

Her illegal business worked for about four years until 1924 when revenue agents set a trap for the Dowlings, who were operating both out of their home and from an office next to two distillery warehouses, supposedly sealed, in which large quantities of liquor were stored.  Federal agents arrived with two “turncoat” bootleggers in their automobiles, men who had done business with Mary in the past.   The agents watched as the bootleggers entered the house and bought out two sacks of whiskey, each containing a dozen bottles.   They watched as the sacks were placed in one of the autos, then searched and seized them, as their stool -pigeons reputedly ‘fessed up.  The “sting” had worked. The agents thereupon entered the Dowling home with search warrants.

In the basement they found and sized 478 sacks, each holding 12 quarts of whiskey, exactly like the ones deposited in the bootlegger’s car.  They seized the liquor and arrested members of the Dowling family, including three of Mary’s sons. This was in spite of her contention, as a court record later narrated, that the whiskey had been there before Prohibition and was “to be for the use of family and guests, whom she entertained on a large scale.”

The Dowlings were prosecuted for a conspiracy to possess, transport, and sell intoxicating liquors in violation of the National Prohibition Act. There ensued three years of court cases both in Kentucky and Federal courts as the Dowlings through their attorneys contended that the search warrant was flawed, that criminal charges should be dropped,  and the seized liquor returned.  An initial trial was adjourned when Mary Dowling became sick.  The indictment was renewed by the government in 1925 and this time the Dowlings were convicted.   Then fate intervened.  Upon the Dowlings' appeal of the conviction to the U.S. Sixth Court of Appeals, it was found that the stenographer who had taken the record of the earlier trial had died and no one could read his notes. That was enough for the Circuit Court and they threw out the convictions.

By this time Mary Dowling had hatched a new -- and more successful -- business plan.  About 1926 she hired Joseph Beam, one of Kentucky’s premier distillers but now out of work, to dismantle the Waterfill & Frazier distillery, transport the pieces to Juarez, Mexico, reassemble it there, and resume making whiskey.  Mexico had no prohibition so the liquor production was completely legal.  Beam, shown right, was all too glad to oblige.  With two of his seven sons, Otis and Harry, he decamped South of the Border and built the facility shown here on a postcard.  They called it the “Dowling Mexican” (D.M.) Distillery.  Beam stayed several years on the job and a relative said his son Harry “essentially grew up in Mexico.”

The primary market for this Waterfill & Frazier whiskey was in Mexico and Central and South America.  Compared to the local whiskeys,  Mary Dowling’s “bourbon,” (actually a blend) was a quality product and highly successful.  As a result a number of artifacts bearing Spanish language and theme,  particularly trip trays, can be found on auction sites.

Because Juarez, in the state of Chihuahua is so close to the U.S. border,  thirsty American tourists also could enjoy it and even, as an ad hinted, bring a bottle or two with them back to the U.S.  There also is evidence that Mary Dowling had found other ways to get her whiskey to the American consumer.  A letter exists to her from Julian Van Winkle, one of those lucky distillers with a “medicinal” license.  He complained that his sales reps were having trouble selling her Kentucky-made Waterfill & Frazier Bourbon because of competition from other quarters selling her Mexican product.  Van Winkle did not even hint at how Mexican bourbon might have made it onto the legal market in the United States.   He knew Mary already knew.

In 1930, four years short of Repeal,  Mary Dowling died and was laid to rest in Section 5 of the Lawrenceburg Cemetery in Anderson County.   In the grave next to her is John Dowling whom she outlived by 27 years. As shown here, the remaining buildings of the Anderson County  distillery were allowed to decay as the forest grew up around them.  After the end of Prohibition in 1934,  one of Mary’s sons,  also named John, built a new distillery at Fisherville, just outside Louisville at Echo Trail at Ford’s Fork.  Sometime later he sold the property to a Kentuckian who closed the facility but kept the Waterfill & Frazier brand name and label design, transferring both to Bardstown where he had another distillery.  Thus some U.S. bottles and artifacts designated “Waterfill & Frazier” are post-Prohibition.

Although she died before witnessing Repeal, Mary Dowling had forged a path for women  -- and men --  in whiskey history that may never be surpassed.  Unlike most of the male Kentucky distillers who quietly shut down, Mary actively rebelled against the “Dry Laws” and after one attempt to circumvent them proved to be problematic, created a second strategy that succeeded beyond all expectations.  Call her “mysterious" or “infamous,” as some have done,  I call her a genius for having thumbed her nose at National Prohibition and beaten it.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Frank Fettic and “The Oldest Thirst Parlor in Nevada”

Why a Canadian youth of German immigrant parents would choose to settle in one of the most remote hamlets in America and buy a saloon remains unknown.  That is exactly what Frank Fettic did when in 1884 he bought a Genoa bar, a drinking establishment that became known as “The Oldest Thirst Parlor in Nevada.”

Even in the latter part of the 1800s,  Genoa (pronounced “ge-no-a) defined the meaning of a frontier town.  Located not far from the California border and Lake Tahoe, the community  was founded in 1850 as a trading post on the Emigrant Trail to California.  Mormon pilgrims found it a convenient stopping place and called it “Mormon Station.”  The original Mormon settlers left in 1857 when they were recalled by Brigham Young to Utah to join the conflict there with non-Morman settlers.  Shortly after, the town was renamed “Genoa” possibly a local joke since the dryland location was so unlike the Italian city.  A  sketch by H.V.A. von Beckh during a U.S. military expedition through the region shows a scattering of wooden buildings nestled along the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Despite its remote location,  Genoa was home to Nevada’s first hotel,  court, and newspaper.  In another first the town was the location of the state’s first saloon, the one Fettic bought.  The initial owner was Al Livingston who constructed his “thirst parlor” building of brick and called it “Livingston’s Exchange.”  As the only place to get a drink of alcohol for miles around,  Livingston’s saloon, shown here in an artist’s sketch, did a healthy business.  Notice the hitching post out front.

Meanwhile Frank Fettic, shown above, was growing to maturity.  He had been born circa 1846 (census data differs) to parents who had come to North America from Germany.  At the age of 15 he left Canada in 1963 for the United States,  eventually finding his way to Nevada and Genoa.   There in 1884, he bought Livingston’s place and changed its name to “Fettic’s Exchange.”  Now a mature 38 years old, Fettic apparently had achieved considerable experience in running a drinking establishment.  Announcing that his was a “gentleman’s saloon” he is said to have allowed no drunkenness or fighting.   His establishment, Fettic declared in an ad, was “kept in first-class style in every particular way, serving fine wines, liquors, and cigars.” In another forum he emphasized that he “would be pleased to have all my old friends call, and they would be treated in a most cordial manner.”

Fettic’s saloon was classy.  Its bar featured a mirror that came to be named “The Diamond Dust Mirror,”  because of reputed bits of diamond dust that had been imbedded in the glass.  The mirror had been manufactured in Glasgow, Scotland, and shipped around Cape Horn to San Francisco.  Subsequently it was brought across the mountains by covered wagon to Genoa.  The ceiling of the place featured fancy medallions and red oil lamps that eventually were converted to electricity.  Frank’s place definitely was a cut above the usual Western saloon

As one of the few watering holes in the region,  Fettic’s Exchange proved very popular.  Legend had it that two American presidents,  Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt stopped there for libations during travels through the West,  Grant in 1879 and Roosevelt in 1903.  Both reputed Genoa stops, according to a Nevada newsman, were spurious.  Although as an ex-president Grant with wife and son visited Nevada at the end of a world tour,  following a speech in Reno,the party boarded a special train bound for Omaha, Nebraska, and then headed back to the Grant home in Galena, Illinois. They never got near Genoa.  Roosevelt visited a number of Western towns during his Presidential tour and his itinerary took him closer to Genoa, but no evidence exists that he stopped there and visited Fettic’s saloon.

An American celebrity who probably did drop in on Fettic’s place was Samuel Clemens,  better known as Mark Twain, who adopted that “nom de plume” while a reporter for the “Territorial Enterprise,” a newspaper that originally was founded in Genoa but later moved down the road to Virginia City, a boom town with more population and more potential.  A careful review of Twain’s writing likely would reveal a visit to Genoa and as a man who like his drink, a stop at Fettic’s Exchange.

Meanwhile its owner was having a personal life.  In 1880 Frank had married Cerissa,  a woman about 16 years his junior.   Over ensuing years they would go on to have six children,  four boys and two girls.   Fettic continued to operate his saloon for at least a quarter century.   He shows up in the 1900 and 1910 U.S. census forms with his occupation listed as “saloon keeper.”  That latter year Fettic’s Exchange had a close call when flames tore through Genoa, destroying the original fort, station and hotel.  Although the famed Diamond Mirror had to be evacuated from the building,  his structure survived the fire.

As he aged,  Frank counted on assistance from other family members to help in the bar.  A photo from 1929 shows him at 81 standing with Cerissa and their grown children in Genoa.   The senior Fettic would live another four years, dying in 1933.  He was buried in the Genoa Cemetery, shown here, in the shadow of the mountains in which he had lived for so long.   By that time saloon had been closed by National Prohibition

As shown on a plaque,  the original building survived and subsequently has had a series of owners, the most recent of whom has called the revived drinking establishment “The Old Genoa Bar.”   Since the end of Prohibition a number of film stars making movies in Genoa or in the vicinity have “bellied up” to Fettic’s old bar.  They reputedly include Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Clint Eastwood and Walter Mathau.  John Wayne is said to have rented the Genoa Bar for three days while filming his movie, “The Shootist.”  Subsequently the establishment featured a 16-ounce John Wayne Bloody Mary with such ingredients as bacon-infused vodka, bacon salt on the rim of the glass, and peperoncini.

Perhaps the most famous artifact to be left behind in the saloon occurred in the 1960s.  Here is the story as it is told in Genoa lore: “...Raquel Welch visited the bar and noticed the hundreds of bras hanging from the ceiling and asked the bartender why they were on display. The bartender told Welch the bras had been left by patrons over the years. After Welch had a few drinks, the bartender politely asked Welch if she would leave her bra hanging from the ceiling. The catch, Welch demanded, was all the other bras had to be taken down so that only her bra could be displayed in the bar forever. The bartender agreed.”   Shown here, the bra  is left of the elk’s head.

More than a century and a half after its founding,  this Nevada saloon, shown as it looks today, is still serving drinks to customers and reveling in its reputation as Nevada’s “oldest thirst parlor.”  Frank Fettic as he lies in the burying ground just outside of town surely must be proud.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fred Schiek Bought “Good Taste” to Minneapolis

 As a boy growing up in an impoverished German town,  Frederick Schiek probably never dreamed that one day he would be hailed in the United States not only for the quality of  cuisine in his Minneapolis restaurant but also for the excellence of design on the labels of the whiskey he bottled and sold.

Schiek was born in 1836 in Sinsheim, Germany, established as a city about 1192.  Throughout history it had been a rather poor town, affected heavily by the wars that raged over its environs from the 16th to the 18th Centuries.  It is not clear how much education Schiek received but as soon as he was able, at age 16 in 1852,  he took a ship to America. As a boy in Germany he likely had been engaged in brewing and upon arriving in New York he was employed in both the brewery and grocery trades.   Shown above as a young man,  Schiek was married in 1857 to Barbara Kehr, like himself an immigrant from Germany.

A year later the couple moved to Iowa, a state with a substantial German population and located in Center Township, Allamakee County.  The area lies along the Mississippi River at Iowa’s extreme northeast.  There Fred, as he became known, purchased 75 acres of land which he farmed until 1862.  Apparently tiring quickly of working the land, in 1862 he and his family moved to nearby Lansing, a Mississippi river town of about 1,000 population.  There he opened a saloon.  After twelve years of success in the liquor trade Schiek expanded his building in 1874, adding a stock of groceries and other provisions.  With business success came other recognition as townspeople elected him to both the Lansing School Board and the City Council.

During this period, the Schieks also were busy raising their family.  They had five children. The eldest was Louis, born in 1861.  Then came four girls,  Carolina, 1863; Mathilda, 1866; Louise, 1873, and Emilie, 1875.  Also living with them was Barbara’s younger brother who worked as a clerk in Schiek’s store.   Then in the late 1870s or early 1880s (dates differ),  Fred pull up stakes in Lansing and relocated his family and business up the river to Minneapolis. 

While the reason may have been an ambition to succeed on a larger stage, Iowa’s continual flirtation with Prohibition must have been a contributing factor.  The Hawkeye State started to go “dry” early, passing restrictive laws on alcohol in 1847, just a year after statehood.  Legislators successfully added an amendment to the state constitution in 1882, making all manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal within the state.  The Iowa Supreme Court quickly declared the amendment unconstitutional the following year but other Prohibition legislation quickly followed.

After arriving in Minneapolis, Schiek opened a retail liquor store, with a separate saloon nearby, both located on Washington Street.  There he began to import name brand whiskeys from their distillers in bulk and then bottling them with his personal labels for retail sale.  He also was buying raw whiskey, blending and compounding it in his facilities and producing unique labels for those house brands. The labels of Schiek’s designing, demonstrated an artistic taste unusual in the whiskey trade.

Among the national brands Schiek bottled were “Lotus Club,” “Finch’s Golden Wedding,”  “Gaines’ Hermitage Rye, “ “Gibson’s XXXX,” and “Guckenheimers Pure Rye.”  Principal among his own brands were “Press Club Bouquet Pure Rye,” and “Mount Hosmer Bourbon.”  The latter name was a reference back to Schiek’s life in Iowa.  Mount Hosmer was a bluff at the Mississippi River that looms 450 feet above downtown Lansing.  Fred saw it as an appropriate name for his flagship whiskey.

With the success of his liquor trade,  Schiek moved into the restaurant business. In 1887 he opened an eatery at 45-37 South Third Street, one of the major thoroughfares of Minneapolis.  A photo caught the cafe sign as a well-attended circus parade marched down the avenue.  

Here is a description of Schiek’s restaurant interior from a local publication:  “Sumptuous Victorian interiors sparkled with beveled glass, carved fretwork, intricate tile, and ornate plasterwork.  Dark and moody by design, the fanciful environment enveloped diners while they contemplated an extraordinary dinner menu or an equally long and and diverse list of after-theater and midnight snack offerings.”  There were two entrances to Schiek’s.  One opened onto the main dining room; a side entry was for ladies only.  A shy woman could proceed down a long corridor leading to the rear of the restaurant, thus shielding her from being ogled upon entry.

The elegance of the restaurant is captured in a photograph from archives of the Library of Congress, shown here.  Note the elegant carved bar, the mirrored alcoves and the statuary both behind and on the bar itself.  Moreover, Schiek’s food  was reported to be of exceptional quality.   In short,  this was not a typical Minneapolis saloon.  It was “Schiek’s Cafe,” another example of the German immigrant’s good taste brought to the Twin Cities.

The 1900 U.S. Census found the mastermind of this elegance, now age 63, residing with wife Barbara in a fashionable section of Minneapolis.  Son Louis, still a bachelor, was engaged in the business with with his father and living at home, along with two as-yet unmarried daughters.  Although Schiek’s last name is misspelled on the census form, his occupation is correctly given as “restaurant and liquors.”  He had never ceased to be in the retail whiskey business despite the success of his cafe.

Four years later,  Fred Schiek died in April, 1904, a few days shy of his 68th birthday.  Surrounded by grieving members of his family he was buried in Lakewood Cemetery, Hennepin County, Minnesota.  His son Louis, thoroughly schooled in the family businesses, continued to manage the restaurant and liquor sales after his father’s passing. When National Prohibition put a stop to all alcohol sales Schiek’s establishment became strictly an eatery. The restaurant has continued to this present day although locations and cuisine have changed over the years.

A photograph taken on January 1,1934, features a happy bartender at the Schiek Cafe. The man is serving up steins of beer on the stroke of midnight, the moment that the repeal of Prohibition became official.  It had been 14 years between drinks. Fred Schiek, a man who brought style and “good taste” to Minneapolis, would have savored the deliciousness of this historic moment.