Friday, March 28, 2014

Byron Veatch Was a “Man Who Dared” Mix Liquor and Literature

If your parents named you “Byron,” after the famous British poet shown here, it might be expected that you would have literary inclinations.  Byron Veatch indeed did exhibit writing talent, authoring well- received books of fiction in the early 1900s, while at the same time contributing a well-recognized brand of whiskey to the Chicago liquor scene.  Veatch, somewhat ingeniously, found a way to combine his literary aspirations with selling liquor.

The Veatch family originated in Scotland.  The family emigrated from there to Ireland and then joined the thousands of “Scotch-Irish” who helped populate America before the Revolutionary War.   From that beginning the clan spread throughout the United States. According to a family history Byron’s father, William,  was an Illinois doctor and “an eminent man in his day.”  In 1857  William married Elizabeth Sweet, also an Illinois native.   Byron Elbert Veatch was born the following year. Within a short period tragedy  struck the family twice.  In 1860, the Veatchs’ infant daughter died after living less than six months.  Two years later,  in May 1862, Elizabeth also died.  Perhaps looking for a mother for young Byron,  William Veatch was married the following year to Martha Klipper. They would have two additional children, one of whom also died in infancy.

The 1870 U.S. Census found the Veatch family living in Pawnee, a town of about 3,000 founded in 1854 in Sangamon County, a place almost dead central in Illinois. Originally the community was called “Horse Creek”  but, so the story goes, when the petition for a post office by that name it was rejected by postal officials in Springfield as too inelegant.  The name “Pawnee” from a well-regarded Native American tribe was suggested and the citizenry agreed.   The census found Byron, age 12, going to school in Pawnee, living with his 31-year old stepmother and his 39-year-old father.

Because Byron Veatch did not show up in the census again for 40 years, details of his youthful years are scanty.   Because his fictional writings are largely set in the West and Southwest,  it may assumed he spent at least some of his early years in that locale.  Moreover, the family history says he married  a woman from Denver, Colorado.  Her name in the Veatch family history was given as “Libbie”  Roworth.  Later census data gave her name as “Fannie E.”  My hunch is that the “E.” stood for Elizabeth, often rendered as Libbie. Her father was a New Yorker; her mother an English Canadian. Byron and Fannie would have one daughter, born in 1885.  It apparently was a happy marriage.  Later, Veatch dedicated a book to his wife, as “one whose faith and cheery confidence have been a constant source of inspiration.”

Veatch first appeared on the Chicago liquor scene in 1897, listed in business directories as located in room #805 at 279 Dearborn Avenue.  It is likely his principal activity was as the Midwest agent for one or more California winery, among them the Barton Vineyard Company, Ltd., of Fresno.  Within two years Byron had moved to 284 Wabash Avenue.  By 1904 he had expanded from wines to a wide range of alcoholic beverages and founded  a firm he called the Security Distilling Company, located at 46-48 East Van Buren It was located in the tall office building shown here.  Two years later Veatch moved again to 37 South Water Street,  subsequently to be renumbered as 69 East South Water.

Veatch advertised heavily, with emphasis on his “10 Year Old Security Rye Whiskey.”  He emphasized the honesty and purity of his product, stating that:  “In consideration of your own, as your family’s health, it is your duty to ascertain beyond the possibility of doubt, that the whiskies, wines, brandies or cordials which you or they may be using are absolutely pure.  There is nothing more dangerous to health than impure and adulterated whiskey and wine.”  The label of Security Rye had a similar purity message, citing the Pure Food and Drug Act as a guarantee.

Veatch was a liquor dealer, not a distiller.  He likely also was a rectifier, compounding and blending raw whiskeys and other ingredients to get a desired taste.  He was bottling his whiskey in glass, both reasonably plain bottles and fancy fluted ones.  Veatch also featured a “Peach and Honey” cordial, shown here in a mini-bottle, as well as a proprietary nostrum he called “Father Joseph’s Tonic Bitters.” Like many other Chicago liquor dealers he provided shot glasses to the saloons and other establishments carrying his liquor.

Meanwhile, as he was carrying on his thriving liquor business,  Byron Veatch was writing fiction.  His major work was “Men Who Dared,” published in 1908 by Homer Harisun & Co, a Chicago firm.  Opening with the motto, “The bravest are the tenderest, the loving are the daring,” it was a compendium of seven long short stories, all but one with settings in the West  or Southwest.  They were yarns that provided lots of gunfire and knife play.  Although Veatch’s book may seem stilted by modern standards of literature, it was the kind of fiction avidly read more than a century ago.

Despite Veatch’s immersion in the liquor industry only one of his short stories had its major setting in a saloon, called Nate Salmon’s, located in a nameless Arizona frontier town.   A shooting has occurred in Nate’s place and a bad actor named Mexican Pete is killed.  During the trial, all the participants regularly repair back to Nate’s to discuss the day’s doings.  Among them is the judge, brought from out of town, a man with a taste for gin fizz.  Just before the culmination of the trial the hero buys the judge a number of drinks but substitutes for gin a liquid that induces vomiting.  When the judge is unable to continue, the defendant escapes, aided by the hero who, as it turns out, was his boyhood friend. 

The book went to at least two editions and Veatch was sufficiently encouraged to extract one of the stories, “Two Samurai,”  and publish it separately as a book. His “Men Who Dared,” achieved some critical acclaim.  A mention in the Dial, a Chicago literary magazine, cited it as “One of the most remarkable books of short stories ever written.”  The social critic, Elbert Hubbard, calling Veatch a “spicy raconteur,” was enthusiastic about the” The Two Samurai,” calling it the best thing the author had done  “...better, stronger and, to my way of thinking, more interesting and thrilling....”

Ever the promoter, Veatch saw an opportunity to mix his liquor and literary interests.  In October 1910 he sent a letter to customers along with a magazine he published, called “Good Cheer.”  It contained articles on authors such as Victor Hugo but was principally a merchandising vehicle for the alcoholic beverages to be obtained from Security Distilling.  The magazine also pitched his fiction:  “As the book is written by the patriarch of our firm,”  we want every customer doing business with us to avail himself of the liberal offer there outlined.”  It went on to say:  “Men Who Dared” is one of the most interesting and fascinating books produced in a decade....It will give a mental, moral, physical and spiritual boost to all who read it, as is alive with action from the first page to the last.”

The 1910 U.S. Census found Veatch, age 51, residing on Chicago’s prestigious Madison Avenue with wife Fannie and his unmarried daughter Mary.   Living with them was Fannie’s elderly mother,  Margaret Roworth, and a servant girl.  Byron’s occupation was given as “Merchant, Wholesale Wines.” During the ensuing decade there were signs of contraction in his liquor business, perhaps the result of growing Prohibition forces. Security Distilling disappeared from Chicago directories by 1914.  With its closing Veatch moved his wine sales to the 4th floor of a building at 323 West Randolph.  He appears to have been representing the To-Kalon Vineyard Company of California. In 1918 his firm disappeared totally from business directories.  The 1920 census found the identical Veatch family at home --  mother-in-law still alive and daughter still unmarried.   No occupation was listed for Byron.

Through the years,Veatch continued to write.  There were the obligatory Christmas stories and a series of essays on the Old West.  But none attained the popularity achieved by “Men Who Dared.”  In the end it was the Chicago liquor dealer’s writings that prevailed.  His Security Whiskey quickly faded from public attention and was not revived after Repeal. Today we have only a few artifacts by which to remember it ever existed.  While none of Veatch’s writings are counted among the 100 best of the 20th Century, “Men Who Dared” has survived into the 21st.  In 2005 Amazon saw fit to reproduce his the book in a new format, as shown here.  The hard cover version costs $33.80 and the paperbound,  $26.28.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hermann Klatte: The State He Fought for, Fought Him

One of the last Confederates to leave the field after the defeat at Fort Walker on Hilton Head,  Hermann Klatte, shown here, three years later returned to his home in Charleston following the Civil War to open a liquor business. There he was hindered at every turn by Prohibitionist forces and finally put out of business by the governor of South Carolina two decades before National Prohibition.  There may have been times when Klatte wondered if his military service had been worthwhile.

Born in Bremen, Germany, in 1934,  Klatte emigrated to the United States in 1851 at the age of 17, settling in Charleston.   He appears to have gone to work in the whiskey trade early in his career.  Within a decade of his arrival, he was a partner in a local liquor outlet called “Lilienthal & Klatte.”  This enterprise was located on East Bay Street, right next to a slavery market.  Charleston was a hotbed of Southern secessionist activity and the young German seemed drawn to it.   In 1855, fully five years before the Civil War,  he joined a local paramilitary outfit that had been organized by other German immigrants.  It became known as the German Artillery, Company B.  He was commissioned with the rank of junior second lieutenant.

Despite having gained a position of relative affluence but owning no slaves, Klatte immediately went on active duty with his company on December 20, 1860, the day South Carolina voted to secede from the Federal Union.  An illustration from that period shows Charleston as it prepared for war with marching units prominent on its streets.  The firing on Fort Sumter off Charleston that precipitated the Civil War followed soon after in April 1861.  A letter  Klatte wrote on April 13 betrayed his excitement about events:  “Yesterday morning at 4:30 they began fighting at Fort Sumpter...the United States flag was not raised again....Somewhat after 2:00 Sumpter surrendered unconditionally to the southern Confederacy, and soldiers from the same government will take over soon, and the bells are playing...victory.”

Klatte and his unit were among those Confederate forces that physically took over the fort. Subsequently he was sent to Hilton Head where he was in the garrison at Fort Walker for the battle of Port Royal in November 1861, one of the earliest amphibious operations of the war. Combined U.S. Navy and Army forces attempted to seize Port Royal Sound, cut off Atlantic trade and establish a “beachhead” on Southern soil. Fort Walker was one of two bastions on opposite sides of the entrance. The attacking force concentrated their fire on Fort Walker where Klatte and his comrades manned the guns.  An illustration by a contemporary artist provides a view of the battle from the Confederate heights.  In the end the Yankee fire power proved to be too strong and a retreat was ordered.  According to one account, Lt. Hermann Klatte was the last officer to leave the field, cannonading the Yankees until the last moment.

In the aftermath of the Port Royal defeat Klatte’s German artillery was employed protecting South Carolina assets,  primarily defending the state’s coastal defenses.  When those were evacuated in February1865 as Confederate resistance crumbled, Klatte now a full lieutenant, because of attrition among senior officers, was in command of a full artillery battalion.  He tried to join other Confederate forces, was deterred by Gen. Sherman’s march into South Carolina,  and surrendered at Greensboro at the close of the war. Ending his service ranked as a captain, his heroism subsequently was hailed by several contemporary Southern commentators.

Before surrendering to the Yankees,  Hermann already had surrendered his heart to Julia F. Kalb, marrying her in Charleston in January 1865.  Julia was 8 years younger. They would have two children, Dorothea, born in 1870 and Charles born in 1874.  Meanwhile Klatte was reestablishing himself in the Charleston liquor trade.  With his brother John he opened “Hermann Klatte & Bro” as wholesale dealers in foreign and domestic liquors and wines.  He also advertised sales of mineral water, “segars,” tobacco and both foreign and domestic beers.  His address was 185 East Bay Street, not far from his business address with Lilienthal.  Now a largely a district of attractive homes at that time, as shown here, the neighborhood was a hodge podge of both commercial and residential uses. 

Among Klatte’s liquor offerings was “Old Hickory” whiskey.  On a bill dated May 1882 he recorded the sale of a full barrel of the brand for a whopping $92.75, almost $1,400 in today’s dollar.  This whiskey was the rectified product of James Walsh & Company of Cincinnati who sold it nationwide.  The brand name had definite marketing appeal in South Carolina because Old Hickory,  nickname of former President and General Andrew Jackson, had always been a protector of Southern traditions including slavery.  Shown here are two shot glasses that would have been provided to Klatte by the distiller to give away to favored customers.

Klatte’s military and business success also brought him recognition as a community leader in Charleston.  For eighteen years he was one of the alms house  commissioners, serving successively as secretary and treasurer, vice chairman and ultimately chairman of the board. He was a director of the Germania Savings Bank and of the People’s National Bank, and was secretary for thirty years of the Carolina Mutual Fire Insurance Company.

No insurance existed, however, against the forces of Prohibition in South Carolina.  Those zealots cared not for Klatte’s outstanding war record, his business prowess or his community service.  Their only concern was that he and others sold liquor.  Prohibition forces began  knocking strongly at the door in South Carolina.  One “dry” bill in 1889 only narrowly failed in the South Carolina House and a second in 1890 passed there only to be defeated in the State Senate.  South Carolina stood on the threshold of banning alcohol completely.  The governor, Benjamin Tillman,  hatched a scheme that went halfway toward that goal:  all liquor dealerships  and saloons in South Carolina would close but whiskey, wine and beer would still be available everywhere through a state dispensary system. (See my post on Tillman, November 2013).

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 liquor that could be legally sold in South Carolina had to be purchased through a government bureaucracy.  The monopoly was all-encompassing.  Wholesale and retail sales of alcohol were controlled by a state board that at the outset consisted of Tillman, his attorney general and the state controller.  The state that Klatte had fought hard to protect had in virtually a moment -- and almost two decades before National Prohibition -- put him out of the whiskey business.  Directories show that Klatte struggled on with tobacco and nonalcoholic products for several years and then, at age 61, folded his business.

Klatte did not disappear from public life.   His photograph that opens this article was taken in 1903 when, looking jaunty in a bowler hat,  he attended opening of the Charleston centered South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition, a regional trade show. Shown here, the fair was plagued by financial and organizational problems.  Klatte might have had an investment interest in the Exposition.

Hermann Klatte’s later years were spent in retirement with wife and family.  At age 82 in December 1916, he died and is buried in Bethany Cemetery in Charleston.  Beside him lies his wife, Julia, who joined him there in 1924.

We are left to wonder if this German immigrant, so eager to fight for South Carolina and the Confederacy,  ever regretted defending a state and its people that not long after were so eager to strip him of his livelihood as a liquor dealer.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Saloon Owner “Joe” Went Gunning with Grover Cleveland

Joseph “Joe” Seelinger, shown here, was well known in Norfolk, Virginia, as a saloonkeeper and restauranteur. But his real claim to fame around town was as a favorite duck hunting companion for the former two-time U.S. President, Grover Cleveland.  Linked in life, the two almost were united in death as they narrowly escaped drowning in March, 1901, attempting to return from a day of shooting.

Seelinger had hailed originally from Erie, Pennsylvania.  He was born there during the midst of the Civil War in 1863.  His parents were Joseph and Elizabeth (Stemmer) Seelinger, both Catholic  immigrants from Switzerland, who arrived in America about 1850.  The father was an Erie saloonkeeper and also for a short time may have operated a brewery known as the Erie City Brewery. The record shows a Joseph F. Seelinger operating a brewery on Poplar Street between 25th and 26th Sts. from 1870 to 1872.

At the time  of the 1880 Census,  the Seelinger family had seven children, three girls and four boys.  Joseph was the eldest son, at the age of 18 recorded as being “at home,” which almost certainly meant he was still going to school.  His three younger brothers,  Henry, Steven, and Anthony also were in school.

From that time until he showed up in Norfolk in the late 1800s,  Seelinger’s activities are obscure.  It is likely that as he matured his father employed him in his saloon and the youth learned the whiskey trade there.  At the age of  30 Joe found a wife.  She was Laura, born in Pennsylvania of German immigrant parents.  The Seelingers would go on to have a family of five children, three boys and two girls.

Joe also must have been saving his money because he was first recorded in Norfolk as the proprietor of the Onyx Saloon, located initially at 221 Main Street.  His choice of a location for his drinking establishment indicated that he had both good sense and the financial wherewithal to site it in the heart of the city’s bustling commercial district.   As shown above in a postcard view, Main Street was thronged with pedestrians,  horses and buggies, and on a main streetcar line.

The saloon occupied the ground floor of the Onyx Building,  constructed in 1894, apparently with financing and supervision from Seelinger himself.  Several years later Patrick Mathews, a civil engineer, hauled the saloonkeeper into the local Court of Law and Chancery,  claiming that he was owed $125 for the plans he had furnished Seelinger for the construction of the building.   After a day long trial, the jury was unable to agree on a verdict.  The elaborate interior of the Onyx Saloon is shown here on a trade card, apparently with the proprietor, Seelinger himself, standing in front of the bar.   Note the fancy chandeliers and electric ceiling fan.

That saloon apparently proved to be too small to accommodate a growing clientele.   Subsequently Seelinger moved to larger quarters, still on Main Street, at 411 East.  But there is something curious about the situation.  The proprietor issued a photograph of the new Onyx on a desk blotter, shown below, that provides the mystery.  Although the address differs from 221 Main, the interior looks virtually identical to the earlier establishment.  It does appear, however, that the bar at the new saloon extends somewhat farther and that the saloon front is glass enclosed.  My conclusion:  Seelinger took the accouterments of his old saloon with him when he moved and recreated the decor at 411 East Main.

The new address also featured an equally elaborately decorated restaurant on the second floor that became a favorite dining spot for the rich and socially prominent of Norfolk and the Tidewater.  One writer said of the Onyx that it “became widely known throughout the city by fastidious diners with whom cost was not a factor.  In the gay days of Norfolk his [Seelinger’s] place was the center of fashionable gatherings, especially around the holiday season.”

In fact, Norfolk was becoming a town of Seelinger saloons.  Perhaps drawn there by the success of Joseph,  three of his brothers opened their own establishments, possibly with his financial backing.  Henry owned H. Seelingers Stag Hotel and Ladies’ and Gentleman’s Cafe and Restaurant,  located 39-41 City Hall Avenue.  He advertised:  “Everything the Best.”  Brother Steven ran Steve Seelinger’s Cafe at 10 Bank Street, “In the Heart of the Business District.”  Even the youngest brother, Anthony, could boast his own watering hole.

Meanwhile, the Onyx Saloon was making Joe the genial saloonkeeper very rich indeed.  He was able to indulge his passion as a sportsman and duck hunter.  The marshlands east of Norfolk were a favorite wintering grounds of millions of ducks of a wide range of species and hunting clubs proliferated.  A prime location was held by the Back Bay Gunning Club of which Seelinger was president and treasurer. It had been chartered by a local judge in 1899.  One report indicates Joe owned it with one of his sons.

Enter Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States and the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms (1885-1889 and 1893-1897).  Always a sportsman and hunter, with a passion for shooting ducks,  even as President-elect in December 1892, he traveled to Broadwater Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore to hunt,  accompanied by friends and a sketch artist.  He is shown here on one of his expeditions.

After declining to run for a third term and leaving the White House, Cleveland lived in retirement at his estate, Westland Mansion, in Princeton.  That gave him plenty of time to indulge his sporting desires.  How Cleveland connected with a Norfolk saloonkeeper is not clear but the two quickly became hunting partners and the former president was a frequent guest in Norfolk.  Every time Cleveland arrived Seelinger would entertain him, either in his home or at the Onyx Saloon where, as one author put it, “Cleveland regularly gorged on game and seafood.”  Then the pair would head out to the Back Bay Gunning Club.

Cleveland clearly loved those sojourns.  In retirement he wrote a thin book called, Fishing and Shooting Sketches.   In it he describes in detail a duck hunting trip he took to Virginia:  “We arrived at the very comfortable clubhouse of the Back Bay Club in Princess Anne County about noon one Saturday.”  After spending several days there waiting for appropriate weather the party finally got on the water and shot dozens of ducks.  Although the shooting was the high point for Cleveland, he also cast an admiring eye at the gunning club.  “So far as the good things and the comforts of the clubhouse itself entered into the enjoyment of our trip, it would be strange if they did not present great allurement; for nothing in the way of snug shelter and good eating and drinking was lacking.”   Joe Seelinger clearly had thought of everything.

Shown here is an illustration of Cleveland scanning the horizon for prey while being steered in a sail dingy to the hunting grounds, towing the decoys in a rowboat behind. My assumption is that it is Seelinger at the helm.  It was on just such a trip that the two almost lost their lives.  Papers across America like the San Francisco Chronicle of March 1, 1901 headlined:  “Grover Cleveland is Caught in Storm;  Former President Narrowly Escapes Drowning While Duck Shooting.”    The story went thus:  Cleveland and Seelinger were far out on the water having shot 75 ducks and many geese and pigeons.  The weather threatened.  The ex-President refused to leave before nightfall and by then a full fledged storm had arisen. The boat was nearly swamped by high wind and waves.  Apparently through Seelinger’s skill at the helm, after considerable time and in full darkness the two were able to make shore.

Cleveland appeared to be unfazed by the experience.  Supping at the Onyx the following evening, he was in an expansive mood and even agreed to a press conference.  After Cleveland had discussed several subjects, one reporter noted that he had just dined in a private room over Seelinger’s “splendidly appointed” Onyx Saloon. He then asked what the former President thought of Carrie Nation’s saloon smashing crusade.  Cleveland looked flustered but finally said:  “That is a social question upon which I am not qualified to speak.”  That evening the former chief executive took the train back to Princeton.  The dead ducks had gone earlier to New Jersey, addressed to his wife.

For Seelinger there would be limited future hunting escapades with Cleveland.  The former President’s health soon began to decline.  In 1908 he suffered a heart attack and died.  Seelinger must have mourned the passing of someone who had been a companion and, moreover, put The Onyx Saloon into the national spotlight.  Another blow occurred in 1916 when Virginia by referendum went “dry” (Norfolk had voted NO). Seelinger and his brothers all were forced to close their saloons. By that time Joe was 53, wealthy, and doubtless had other investments to tend.

Seelinger would live another 24 years at his mansion home along fashionable Mowbray Arch, the street shown above,  living through National Prohibition and witnessing its repeal.  When he died in October of 1939 at age 76, he was buried in Norfolk’s Forest Lawn Cemetery beside his wife, while his four surviving children and his grandchildren stood by the gravesite.  Even in death Joe remained identified with Grover Cleveland. Their relationship was the first line in Seelinger’s obituary in the Norfolk Pilot.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lawrence McGreal Leaped from Landscaping to Liquor

Lawrence G. McGreal, the son of poor immigrants, as a young man gravitated to the thriving nursery business in Rochester to make his living and then found that not trees and flowers but selling whiskey was the key to financial and social success.   Joined by his  brothers, the young man never looked back.

McGreal was born in Upper New York State, in 1856.  His father James had emigrated from Ireland about 1850 with other family members and settled in the town of Macedon in Wayne County.  There James married Anna Gannon, also an Irish immigrant, and raised a family.  Although his parents were not rich,  Lawrence was able to achieve some education before going to work in the nursery business in Macedon.  It was an industry in which he seemed to be well fitted.  Before long he was able to gain employment in the nearby big city of Rochester., going to work for the Lakeview Nursery run by partners Tones and Palmer.   He stayed there ten years, learning the nursery trade and being educated in commerce. 

At the time Rochester was accounted the leading city on the globe, not just the United States, for the production of nursery stock.  A contemporary account said:   “The nursery industry of Rochester has done more for bringing our city into honorable and favorable repute throughout the world than can be easily estimated, and every firm and individual engaged in it have reason to be proud of their past achievements, and may look forward with confidence to a future of continued prosperity and more extended opportunities.”

Perhaps embolden by the promise of a bright future,  McGreal, after a decade of working for Tones and Palmer,  opened his own nursery business.   According to a 1907 history of Rochester and Monroe County,  he made a success of that enterprise.  In the spring of 1883, however, seeking more lucrative pursuits, he sold the nursery and opened a grocery store at the corner of St. Paul and Gordon Street in Rochester with his brother John J. McGreal. Later he and his brother would be hailed in a the publication, “A History of the Brewery and Liquor Industries  of Rochester, N.Y. “(1907):  “Without resources, other than their own manly pluck and courage, they started out to make themselves felt in the community as representatives citizens.

In those days grocers usually carried a line of liquor and the McGreals soon found that alcoholic spirits were the most profitable item in their store.  After several years, they sold off the groceries and from the same store front they began to sell cigars, tobacco, and -- most important of all -- whiskey.  This time the McGreals hit the jackpot. Lawrence’s biographer asserted: “Their patronage increased until their trade became very extensive.”    Sales extended throughout Western New York.  About 1887 Lawrence and his brother began to see the advantages of having a business near Main Street,  a major commercial avenue in Rochester, shown here, and opened a wholesale and retail liquor store on East Avenue .  As indicated by an 1888 city directory they were hiring relatives, James E. and Paul McGreal, to work in their store as clerks.

Lawrence also was having a personal life.  In 1887 he had married Alice Fitzgerald, a native of Rochester whose parents, William J. and Mary Anne Fitzgerald, like those of her husband, were immigrants from Ireland.  They were recorded in the 1900 U.S. Census as living at 21 Vick Park Avenue with four children, William, born 1888;  Helen, 1890; Florence, 1895; and Raymond, 1897.  That same year a fifth child would join the family,  named Katherine.  Lawrence’s occupation was given as “liquor merchant” by the census taker.

The McGreal’s North Street store proved highly popular, reputedly attracting a “large and high class patronage from every part of the city.”  In 1905 Lawrence and his brothers incorporated the firm under the name McGreal Bros. Company, capitalized and fully paid in at $50,000, $1.25 million in today’s dollar.  Lawrence was named president;  John, vice president; and A. T. (Anthony) McGreal, secretary.   With incorporation the McGreals bought a second building, a four story structure, shown here,  directly on Main Street East.  They renamed it The McGreal Building. “One may gain some idea of the magnitude of the business done by this corporation upon a visit to this building.  Here will be found in reserve a mammoth stock of wines, liquors and cordials of every good quality known to the trade.  They have every reason to feel proud of this new acquisition.”  Thus opined the 1907 liquor history book.

These larger quarters not only gave the McGreals additional sales and warehouse space, it also allowed them more room for their “rectifying” operations. In addition to acting as agents for national brands like Gibson’s Rye, like many other wholesale liquor dealers they were blending and compounding raw whiskeys on their premises.  They had a single flagship brand that they called “Major Burke.” It was widely advertised as “Your Friend.”

As was the custom for such wholesale liquor houses, Lawrence and his tribe issued a variety of shot glasses advertising themselves and their products.   These would be given to saloons and other establishments doing business with them.  A more unusual gift, perhaps intended for both retail and wholesale customers was a bottle opener in the shape of a truck, perhaps indicating the delivery capacities of McGreal Bros.   Note that it also included a bicycle wrench and a screw driver,  rendering it unique among liquor company giveaways.

Lawrence McGreal was also active in a number of community organizations.  He was a member of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce and of the Credit Men’s Association.  He served as treasurer of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians and was a member of the Knights of Columbus.  He held the offices of president and grand deputy of the Catholic Mutual Benefit Association of the Diocese of New York, as well as the finance committee of the Association’s New York Grand Council.  With his help, the Association developed a reserve of over one million dollars in his time and was known for its many beneficial works.

Lawrence McGreal died in 1916 at the age of 60 and is buried in the family plot, near the McGreal plinth, in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery of Rochester.   His wife, Alice, would join him in 1934.  The liquor business that he had founded with family members kept on until shut by Prohibition.  The final word on this landscaper and nurseryman turned whiskey  wholesaler, might be a tribute was written about him while he was living. It seems to have caught the essence of his character:  "Mr. McGreal is a man of ready sympathy and broad charity, responding quickly to any tale of distress and giving ready aid wherever substantial assistance is needed. In business life he has displayed careful management and keen discernment and his watchfulness and diligence have constituted the elements in the success which he is now enjoying."

Note: Two short biographies of Lawrence McGreal and his business provided the bulk of the information for this vignette.  They were the History of the Brewery and Liquor Industries of Rochester, cited above, and William F. Peck’s History of Rochester and Monroe County, from the Earliest  Historic Times to the Beginning of 1907 (Volume 2).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Warren Richardson Jr. and Whiskey on the Frontier

Deemed by some a “historic figure” of the American West, Warren Richardson Jr. arrived in  newly founded Cheyenne, Wyoming, as a toddler and stayed there for the rest of his life, devoting himself to the advancement of that frontier town. Richardson’s efforts included meeting the needs of the populace for alcohol and other pleasures.

Richardson was born in Indiana in 1964, the son of Warren (sometimes given as William) and Mary Anne (Kabis) Richardson.  His father appears to have been an itinerant printer-newsman.  Shortly after Richardson’s birth his father uprooted the family and moved to Pennsylvania, where a younger brother, Clarence, was born.  Within a year or so, the elder Richardson moved once again, this time in 1869 to a place that two years earlier had simply been known as “Crow Creek Crossing,” a lonely station in Laramie County where the Union Pacific Railroad bridged a tributary of the South Platte River.  Surveyed and platted in 1867, Cheyenne grew rapidly.

A frequent early amenity of a frontier town was a newspaper.  The Cheyenne Leader began publishing about 1869 and other papers followed.  The 1870 census of the Wyoming Territory found the Richardsons living in Cheyenne, the parents and three children.  The father’s occupation was given as  “editor.”  Warren Jr. as he matured seemed to be headed for a similar career and early on was engaged as a printer.  Apparently tiring of that trade he soon branched out into ranching and livestock, a growing industry in Wyoming. 

In 1892, working with his brother Clarence, Richardson had accumulated sufficient financial resources to construct  a hotel and saloon on the prominent southwest corner of Sixteenth and Carey Avenue in Cheyenne.   Shown here, it was a three-story Victorian building with  a eclectic design. It incorporated Queen Anne architectural features, including an octagonal ornamental turret, a bay window, and the use of foliated stone, as well as elements of French Chateau and Romanesque Revival styles.  The mansard roof and turret were both covered with pressed metal sheets.  Cheyenne had never seen anything like it before.  A local newspaper described it as “palatial” and with interior fixtures “as fine as can be seen in any city west of Chicago.”

Richardson called his establishment the “Tivoli.”  For that reason some observers have speculated that some of the money for construction may have come from the Tivoli Brewery in Denver, Colorado, founded in 1866 and shown here. This was the era in which breweries were tying drinking establishments to themselves and that may have lay behind Richardson’s choice of a name.  Whatever beer he was serving, the elegance of his establishment was evident.  The saloon, shown here, occupied the first floor and featured an elaborate wooden back bar, a shiny brass foot railing and towels for customer use hanging from brass rings in front of the bar.  The towels reportedly were kept fresh through frequent changing.  The saloon also had electric lighting, a feature not often found in Western barrooms.  An elegant restaurant was on the lower level. 

For all the Tivoli’s sophistication, however, Cheyenne was still the Wild West.  The  hotel became a favorite haunt of cowboys and other men wearing guns.  It was a time when today’s lawman might be tomorrow’s train robber.  The most famous event recorded in the Tivoli was the capture of gunman Tom Horn for the alleged murder of a 14-year-old sheepherder.   The arrest was made at the Tivoli by Joe Lefors,  known as a mostly inept lawman during the closing years of the Old West.  Although Horn possibly was framed by Lefors, he was hanged anyway, being a feared killer with other notches on his gun.

The Tivoli also was a brothel, with its possibilities for violence.  The second floor was set aside with small cubicles where women could entertain men.  A sign at the saloon level went to pious (but sly) lengths to disclaim any illicit activity.  It read:  “We select our young women from the best backgrounds.  They are attractive, intelligent and well versed in enough subjects to provide stimulating conversation with our guests.  There is a three drink minimum required to use one of these rooms.  Please act like GENTLEMEN and respect the LADIES who are here to make your visit with us more pleasurable.”   Use of words like “stimulating” and “pleasurable,” signaled that something else might be going on in the cubicles besides talk.

Meanwhile, Richardson, who never married, was living a personal life largely within the bounds of his immediate family.  The 1900 census found him residing in a household headed by his brother-in-law, the husband of his oldest sister, Victoria.   Also living with them was brother Clarence , still a bachelor, and three younger Richardson siblings, two boys and a girl.  Warren Jr.’s occupation was given as “merchant.”

That must have been the most convenient description of an all out entrepreneur.  Unencumbered by wife and children, Warren Jr. was engaged in a multitude of enterprises.  He was president of Richardson Bros. Co., an organization involved in mortgage loans, investments, and livestock.   He had interests in mining and sold lumber and mining supplies.  He was a director of the American Oil and Refining Company, incorporated at $5 million (25 times in todays dollar).  It was a Wyoming firm engaged in producing and refining oil.  Richardson maintained all that activity in addition to owning the premier saloon and hotel in Cheyenne, one in which he kept his principal office.

As his business acumen was recognized, Richardson became a sought-after member of Cheyenne’s fraternal organizations.  In time he became a 32nd Degree Mason, a member of the Shriners’ Korein Temple, of Elks Lodge No. 660 and of Phoenix Lodge No. 144.  His reputation also proved valuable politically.  In 1915 he was elected as chairman of the Board of Commissioners for Laramie County.  During his single term he is said to have been a strong proponent of improving the county’s roads. 

But the title Richardson might have cherished most came earlier, in 1897.  Cheyenne was changing rapidly. No longer was it just a cow town with saloons being the most prominent businesses.  By the late 1880s it had become a city of beautiful homes, a center of commerce and the capital of Wyoming.  As shown on a postcard here, the Tivoli Hotel, identified at left by its turret, was now surrounded by other substantial buildings.   In 1897 a group of Cheyenne leaders, looking for a way to contribute to their town’s economy and bring in tourists, met to organize an event featuring cowboys performing ranch chores and other activities.  The group held its organizational meetings in Richardson’s Tivoli offices and voted to name him the first chairman of the celebration.  The inaugural event was a whopping success. Crowds poured into the city’s Pioneer Park to watch riding and roping, branding, horse and pony races,  and bucking broncos.   Cheyenne Frontier Days, still a major event, was born and Richardson was its “godfather,” inducted in 2005 into its “Hall of Fame.” 

Meanwhile, Richardson’s Tivoli was expanding into a liquor dealership called the Tivoli Mercantile Company.   Although whiskey was readily available from many places in Cheyenne,  communities in nearby Colorado and other locales had gone “dry.”  The opportunity for mail order sales to thirsty customers was evident and Tivoli Merc. was ready to fulfill it.  Shown here are two pages from a full color mail order flyer in which are advertised house brands such as “Tivoli Club,” “Plain City Monogram,” and “National Club,” none of them trademarked.  The Mercantile’s flagship label, however, was “Old 106 Sour Mash.”  This brand was advertised as coming from Waterfill & Frazier, a premier Kentucky distiller.  It was bottled, labeled and trademarked by Tivoli Mercantile. The company issued a shot glass to advertise Old 106.  (For more information on the distiller see my post on Mary Dowling,  January 2014.)

Eventually laws passed by the U.S. Congress  curtailed the mail order whiskey business and in 1919 the advent of National Prohibition shut down liquor sales completely.  Because of the diversity of his business interests,  Richardson presumably did not feel a strong financial blow with the termination of his liquor and saloon enterprises.  The Tivoli building was turned into a clothing store.  Still standing as an historic landmark, the structure has seen many different uses over the years.

During the early 1900s Richardson developed a new passion:  Fast cars.  Described as “an enthusiastic member of the Cheyenne Motor Club, he threw several thousand dollars and his abundant energies into creating a four mile race track outside of town.  A 1917 issue of Automobile Dealer and Repairer magazine reported:  “Mr. Richardson worked unceasingly, and it was not long before what had been a stretch of prairie was transformed into a hard packed level race track.”   Barney Oldfield, the celebrated early race driver, was enticed to Cheyenne in his 200 H.P. Benz and created two new world records.  A photo exists of Oldfield sitting behind the wheel of his machine.  Richardson is standing at his left.

As he aged, Richardson continued to be surrounded by his family.  The 1940 Census found him, now 75 and the head of the household, living with bachelor brothers, Clarence and Emile, both officers of Richardson Bros. Co.; two spinster sisters, Laura and M’Valeria, and the widowed Victoria.  Six aging Richardson siblings were living all together in the same house.  Warren Jr. would have a long life, time enough to see Prohibition repealed, the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean Conflict.  He was 96 when he died in 1960, still living in Cheyenne. He was buried in Lot 1101, Section O, of Lakeview Cemetery in Laramie County. Gone but not forgotten.  In the 2006 book, Historic Cheyenne:  A History of the Magic City, the authors cited Warren Richardson Jr. as a “historic” figure who accounted for the “great successes that have made [Cheyenne] Wyoming’s capital for over 130 years.”