Thursday, March 30, 2017

Stormy Jordan and “The Road to Hell” in Iowa

To suggest that Kinsey “Stormy” Jordan was a complicated character is an understatement.  The famous Prohibitionist preacher, Billy Sunday, hailed him “as the only liquor owner who told the truth about booze.”  On the other hand, Jordan was described by another anti-alcohol zealot asa man, known the State and nation over for his shameless, law-defying wickedness….”  Stormy’s reputation spread far beyond Ottumwa, Iowa, and rendered him the subject of national attention and controversy.

Born in Jefferson County, east central Ohio, in 1832, he was christened Kinsey by his parents  but early picked up the nickname “Stormy,” possibly as a result of an 18th century hymn entitled “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.”  Little is recorded about his life before Jordan arrived in Ottumwa in 1860.  After working for a time in a local packinghouse, he opened a small saloon in the basement of a building across from the train station and erected a sign on it that read:  “The Road to Hell.”  It was said to be dingy place, probably not unlike the interior of an Iowa saloon of the era shown below.

It was the illuminated “Road to Hell” sign that endeared Billy Sunday to Stormy.   Shown left, the fire-breathing Temperance preacher and former baseball star also was impressed that anyone who came into Jordan’s saloon and asked for the best he had in the house was surprised when the proprietor put a pitcher of ice water in from of him on the bar.  “And right under the main sign of Stormy’s bar was a smaller sign which read ‘Nose paint,’” enthused Sunday.

It was not clear if Sunday ever ventured into Jordan’s saloon.  Another sports hero of the time who definitely had no problem imbibing the strong stuff stopped by.  So the story goes, John L. Sullivan, the former heavyweight champion, walked into Stormy’s saloon and called for a cigar.  Jordan placed a box before him, and when Sullivan asked the price, the proprietor in his gravelly voice croaked, "A dollar apiece." Laying down a $20 gold piece John said, "I'll take the box," and walked out.

Seven years after arriving in town, Stormy married Mary Sophia Wood, the daughter of a prominent Ottumwa physician, Andrew D. Wood, and his wife Eliza Ann (Pease).  Mary Sophia bore him two daughters before dying in 1872 at 30 years old and five years of marriage.  Left with two toddlers,  Jordan wasted no time remarrying.  This time his bride was, Julia Frances Wood, the younger sister of his first wife.  He was 41, she was 20.  Julia would bear him five more children. 

Despite his notoriety as a saloonkeeper, the people of Ottumwa came to respect Stormy for his straight talk and plain dealing.  Three times they elected him to the city council.  They also patronized the “Road to Hell” saloon in such numbers that Stormy was forced to expand.  In the late 1879’s he opened a new watering hole, one he called “The Corn Exchange.”  The local paper called it “the finest in the city.”  This saloon was located adjacent to the city’s main business district, shown below.
As Jordan prospered, however, prohibitionary forces in Iowa were gathering strength.  A 1851 law had forbidden “dram shops,” where only alcohol and no food was served.  Saloons always had food and were not affected until 1881 when legislators added an amendment to the state constitution essentially voting the state “dry.”  With the law due to go into effect on July 4, 1881, Stormy was faced with the prospect of having to shut down The Corn Exchange.  Taking the advice of a “wet” Chicago federal judge, however, he decided to sue in U.S. District Court.

Accordingly Jordan brought suit and continued to run his saloon. He was arrested, convicted in a local court, fined — which he refused to pay — and tossed into the Ottumwa jail, shown above behind the courthouse.  His attorneys took the case into U.S. District Court before Judge James M. Love, shown left, a longtime serving federal jurist appointed by President Franklin Pierce.  A former army officer in the Mexican War and Iowa politician, Love was not a “dry” sympathizer and, despite the pleas of state officers, ordered Stormy released and ruled that his saloon could continue to operate until the federal case was settled. 

Unconvinced, local officials jailed Stormy a second time and again the matter was referred to Judge Love.  This time he scolded, not Jordan, but the local prosecutor.  Any subsequent arrest of Stormy, the judge asserted, would taken as meddling in a case pending before his court and would result in the offending local official being fined or perhaps jailed.  With this ruling — and his continued operation — Stormy’s defiance made headlines across America.  

Almost overnight Jordan became a national figure, attacked by some, lauded by others.  Appleton’s Magazine reported:  “Let us not do injustice to “Stormy” Jordan, in some ways the most picturesque figure that emerged from the dust of the fight and the most irreconcilable fighter of them all….Jordan kept his place wide open day and night, paying penalties, fighting, and gaining national fame as a consequence.”  In 1904 a play called “The Missourian”  toured widely throughout the United States.   A leading character was a saloon keeper called Stormy Jordan.  “Drys,” however, excoriated Jordan as a scofflaw and he became the subject of one prohibitionist’s verse:

True self-respect would just as soon
Meet Death as enter a saloon—
The Stormy Jordan “Road to Hell,”
Or the tobacco-monger’s cell.

Like Judge Love, Iowa Governor Horace Boies, shown right, was accused of being “soft” on Jordan.  In an open letter to Boies, a female constituent demanded that “…liquor dealers shall obey the law.  If ‘new and extraordinary’ measures be needed, then adopt them and stand by them in the name of law and order.  The man and officer who would do less is an anarchist and a traitor.”

Ignoring these imprecations, Jordan continue to run his saloon for years while his case toiled through the federal judicial system all the way the way to the United States Supreme Court.  As result, Jordan was able to conduct what was said to be the only operating saloon in Iowa.  After his federal suit was decided against him, however, he decided on a different course.  According to the Ottumwa Courier, he called the newspaper to say he would succumb to the inevitable and quit the saloon business, at least in Iowa.  

He then apparently decided on a more drastic pivot:  He became a Methodist and a full-fledged evangelist.  Reported the Wines and Spirits Journal:  “His appeals now to his old associates are eloquent and hundreds are flocking to hear him.”  The publication, however, scoffed at this conversion:  “The Methodists are welcome to ‘Stormy’ Jordan.  The liquor trade wants none of him or his class.”

Although the Iowa law eventually was repealed, Stormy Jordan did not return to the liquor trade.  In the 1900 census, he recorded his occupation — perhaps tongue-in-cheek — as “day laborer.”  He died five years later, age 73, survived by his widow, Julia, and seven children.  With family and friends in attendance by his graveside, he was interred in plot 330/K in the Ottumwa Cemetery.
In its obituary The Courier recognized Jordan as one “whose spectacular career as a saloonkeeper won him a national reputation.”  The newspaper followed with a statement that makes a fitting ending to the Stormy Jordan story:   “He was a man of strong character and marked eccentricity, strictly honest and honorable and generous to a fault.”

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Death and Discord Among the Dorsheimers of Lancaster

Peter Dorsheimer
The story made newspaper headlines from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to San Bernardino, California.   Across America people knew that two sons of Peter Dorsheimer, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, liquor wholesaler, had been jailed, accused by another sibling of having murdered their father and mother 14 years earlier while making it look like an accident.   Until then, the public face of the Dorsheimers was of a happy family of solid Pennsylvania stock, high achieving and affluent, civically and politically active, and strong adherents to the German Reform Christian Church.  Whatever tensions roiled beneath the surface went unnoticed.

Peter Dorsheimer was born in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, in July 1840, the son of a well-to-do farmer, also named Peter, and his wife, Anna, a woman who came from a wealthy German manufacturing family.  In May 1860, for unknown reasons, the family pulled up stakes in their homeland, sailed from Le Havre and landed in New York.  From there the family made its way to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where many of their co-religionists already lived.  Initially the young Dorsheimer obtained employment on an area farm where he worked for five years, saved his money, and bought the Shemdown House Hotel in Lancaster.   Soon tiring of the hospitality trade apparently, Peter then devoted his ample energies and strong entrepreneurial bent toward real estate development, buying land and erecting houses on them.  Often he had 80 to 100 men in his employ.

Dorsheimer had married early, not long after his arrival in the U.S.  His bride was Anna E. Stauffer, a German immigrant herself from Berne on the Rhine.  From their marriage twelve children were born and, unusual for the times all reached adulthood.  In order of birth they were Daniel, Frank, Ada, Harry, George, Mary, John, Elizabeth called “Lizzie,” Benjamin, Martin, Garfield and Chester also called “Arthur.”  As his boys grew, Peter set them up in Pennsylvania businesses, but interestingly, most away from Lancaster.  He financed John and Martin in a real estate development business in Philadelphia;  Frank and George with a carriage building factory in Coatsville,  and Daniel and Harry in a similar enterprise in Gap.  The two girls also had relocated, Lizzie to Reading and Mary to Newark, New Jersey.  Benjamin was still at home working for his father.

In 1887, Dorsheimer exited other business interests in favor of opening a wholesale liquor house in Lancaster.  Under the name “C. A., Dorsheimer” he located his business at 150-152 East King Street, the busy commercial avenue shown below and called by a biographer, “a fine location.”

Peter’s storefront stretched almost 33 feet and was 96 feet in depth.  He stocked it with bottles and jugs of liquor, including well-known  brands. The building is shown left as it looks today.  For his wholesale customers he packaged whiskey in ceramic jugs with a cobalt logo.  For retail sales he often bottled his whiskey in honey amber flasks and quarts.   Many had a paper label in the form of a fish.  It read:  “You may fish all you want. You can't catch anything better for the money than you can at Dorsheimer's Old Wine & Liquor Store.”

We have a description of Peter as he looked at this time, taken from an 1885 passport application.  He was six feet in height, tall for that time, had dark brown hair that was turning gray. He had no facial hair and a small growth at the front of his right ear.  By 1903 he had made ten trips to Europe, purchasing Rhine wines, Holland gin, French brandies, and Scotch and Irish whiskey.  

The liquor dealer became a well-known figure in Lancaster as businessman and automobile enthusiast.  In a 1901 parade of cars, according to a biographer:  “No man in the parade was saluted oftener than Peter Dorsheimer for no man is better known and liked.”  He and Anna were active and respected members of St. Paul’s Reformed Church in Lancaster.  They lived in a three and one-half story home at 444 East King Street not far from the store, the building shown here as it looks today.

By 1903 some Dorsheimer sons gravitated to other pursuits and the daughters had wed.  Daniel was running a hotel at Parkersburg, assisted by Benjamin.  John was in the cigar trade in Boston.  Frank had split with brother George and each was running his own carriage manufactory.  Harry was building carriages in Parkersburg.  Mary had married and was living in New York City and “Lizzie” was in Reading with her husband.  Garfield worked at the Slaymaker lock works in Lancaster and Chester/Arthur was assisting his father in the liquor trade.  Enthused a biographer:  “This is surely a remarkable family record, seldom equalled, a family circle complete and unbroken.”  In the light of later events, this statement seems highly ironic.

As he aged, Peter Dorsheimer turned over the liquor business to his sons, principally it appears to Chester/Arthur and Benjamin.  Living with Anna and unmarried daughter, Ada, for outside observers the parents seemed like an elderly couple living out their “golden years” surrounded by their successful children and with ample grandchildren to pamper.  Then on April 16, 1910, tragedy struck.  The couple were found dead in their bed, asphyxiated by illuminating gas from a fixture in their bedroom in which the flame had been extinguished but the deadly gas continued to flow.  The decision of the coroner, backed by the sheriff, was accidental death. as noted on Peter's death certificate below. 

The theory as was that an errant piece of clothing from one of the two had brushed against the jet, blowing out the flame, and the couple had not noticed.  There were no other theories of how the Dorsheimers had died.  Peter and Anna were buried together in Lancaster Cemetery, their gravestones shown here.

Fast forward 14 years to headlines from coast to coast:  Benjamin and Chester/Arthur Dorsheimer had been jailed in Lancaster County on suspicion that they had murdered their mother and father on that April night as they slept peacefully.  The accuser was their brother, Frank Dorsheimer.  

Why had it taken 14 years to come forward?  Considerable time was required to line up witnesses, he responded.  The brothers under suspicion said Frank was a religious “fanatic,” and claimed he was basing his charges on messages received from the spirit world.  Shown here, Frank denied that accusation and countered that Chester/Arthur had confessed to him:  “He said, ‘I guess you would like to send me to the electric chair, wouldn’t you.’  He said ‘…Well if I did do it, it was a slick job and I got away with it.’”

Only one official to whom Frank brought the story thought it believable enough.  He was Squire Diller, a justice of the peace in Gap with the power to arrest and incarcerate.  Diller explained that it was not because he was convinced of the brothers’ guilt but because it was his duty to hold court whenever a probability of a crime was shown. During the hearings that followed, George Dorsheimer defended his brothers saying that many family members were dubious about the arrests and Diller’s actions.  “There is not one iota of evidence against these defendants,” he testified. “The only evidence is by a rattle-brained brother concerning an alleged confession….”

Nevertheless, Frank Dorsheimer’s charges were supported by another sibling, Lizzie — now Mrs. Elizabeth Pennypacker of 59th Street, Philadelphia.  She testified that shortly before the funeral she had attempted to examine the bodies for marks of violence but had been prevented from doing so by the undertaker.  “I have always had suspicions as to the cause of death…,” she said and noted that she had raised the issue with both Benjamin and Chester Arthur.  Although they had denied any knowledge of the event, she had harbored doubts over the years.  All this made juicy headlines in the nation’s newspapers.  The brothers languished in the Gap jail for seven days while their lawyers sought their release from the court in Lancaster. They are shown below, Chester/Arthur on the left.

At last a country court judge listened to the evidence, including the fact that the door to Peter and Anna’s bedroom had been locked from the inside, making it impossible for someone to slip in and blow out the gas jet while they were sleeping.  He ordered the brothers immediately released from jail.  That appears to have ended the ordeal of Benjamin and Chester/Arthur.  In the process, however, the Dorsheimer family circle that once had looked so strong had, indeed, been broken and likely irreparably so.

Note:  As an indication of the media and public interest in the Dorsheimer case, the quotations above were gleaned from the Lebanon PA Daily News, Warren PA Tribune, Delaware County PA Daily Times, and the Franklin PA News Herald, as well as  Bridgeport NJ and San Bernadino papers. The Dorsheimer family photos seen in this post are a late and much appreciated addition through the courtesy of Lisa Dorsheimer Procaccini, Peter's great granddaughter.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

St. Louis’ Billy Lee: Dynamiting the Whiskey Trust

In 1891, William H.”Billy” Lee with four other St. Louis whiskey wholesalers struck a blow at “The Whiskey Trust,”  a cartel that sought to monopolize distilling and selling whiskey in the United States in order to jack up prices.  The rebellion spelled the beginning of the end of an organization that did not hesitate to use dynamite to get its way.

Taking a leaf from the trusts in the petroleum and other American industries, a few crafty men in Peoria, Illinois, backed by Wall Street moguls, in May 1887 created the Distillers’ and Cattle Feeders’ Trust, known unofficially as the Whiskey Trust.  They aggregated small-scale distilleries, then either closed them or cut back their production in order to control the quantity and price of whiskey on the market.  

In its early years, the Whiskey Trust was profitable, paid dividends and tried to convince other distilleries to join. It employed three strategies:  Initially it attempted to convince owners that it was profitable to join the Trust, giving stock and sometimes employing the owner.  If resisted, the Whiskey Trust moved into the vicinity where the distillery was located and undercut its prices. The idea was to convince the owner to join the Trust—or put the distillery out of business. Finally, if other methods failed to convince the owner to join, dynamite was an option. [See my June 4, 2012, post on the Shufeldt distillery bombing.]

But the Trust was not content with controlling distillery output, it also had to control “rectifiers,” wholesalers who bought whiskey to blend for color, taste, and body and then issued their own proprietary brands.  Rectifiers signing up with the Trust were given a break on price but paid a five cent a gallon surcharge that was kept by the organization and returned only if the rectifier had not cut prices or purchased spirits from non-Trust sources.   By this time the monopoly had cut annual U.S. whiskey production drastically and reportedly controlled three-fourths of available supplies.

Enter Billy Lee, a St. Louis liquor wholesaler with an interesting pedigree.  His father Abraham H. Lee, a native of Ohio, had come to Missouri as a young man, working as a clerk on Mississippi steamboats and ultimately becoming a merchant.  More important, in 1867, Abraham won a lottery that was worth in today’s dollars, $5,000,000.  Soon after, he returned to his village outside St. Louis to build a three-story mansion, shown above, reported to have brought in “fine artisans from from various spots for the work.”  Staircases were walnut, windows were art glass, and bathrooms were elaborate beyond anything seen before in the vicinity.  That is where Lee grew up, the second son.  From a passport description we know that in maturity he was just under five feet, five inches tall, with blue gray eyes, and chubby, with a oval face and double chin.

Lee appears early to have gravitated to the whiskey trade, possibly as the result of his 1874 marriage to Matilda McCartney when she was 17 and he was 21.  She was the daughter of a successful St. Louis whiskey wholesaler named Samuel McCartney and Billy likely met Matilda while being in her father’s employ.  When that business closed, he moved with another McCartney clerk, Joel Wood, to the liquor house of Tyra Hill & Company. 

Although virtually every distiller and rectifier in St. Louis was embroiled in the “Great Whiskey Ring” scandal during the Grant Administration, the Tyra Hill organization, according to one source:  “Continued to do a legitimate business, and refused most positively to enter the unlawful combination, although it was impossible for a ‘straight’ dealer to continue business without losing money.”  Commended by Federal authorities for their honesty, the Tyra Hill staff emerged as local heroes.

When Hill retired in 1878, Lee and Wood took over, creating a partnership at 218 Walnut Street, in a busy commercial area shown here.  Their firm brought praise from one local source:  “Mssrs. Wood and Lee have a very large business which they retain from the old firm, and it is their determination to win the most honorable reputation that can be achieved….Their aim will be directed toward a position honorably in advance of all competition.”

That competition had been depleted by the fall of the Whiskey Ring.  More than 200 were indicted and 110 convicted, most of them from St. Louis.  Many of those that were not in prison left town.  Wood and Lee prospered and consequently needed more space, triggering a move to nearby 113 North Second Street, the avenue shown above.  Two years later Wood left the firm and Lee carried on as a single proprietor.

William H. Lee & Company, as the new firm was called, featured a range of proprietary brands, mixed up on the premises.  Among them were "Billy Lee’s,” "Bob Briarly.” "Boone Creek,” "Every Morning,” "Gene Ringler,” “Golden Ray,” ”High Grade Maryland Rye,” "Hillary Knott,” "King B,” “Kingston,” “Norfolk,” “Pemberton,” "Pennsylvania Mountain Rye,” "Tommy Atkins,” and "W & L Rye.”  After the Federal trademark laws were strengthened by Congress, the company spent time and money to register at least eight of those brands with the government in 1905 and 1906, a step other rectifiers often neglected.

Meanwhile, Billy Lee was having a personal life.  His first child, Josephine, had been born in 1887, followed by two more daughters, Julia in 1881 and Elmira in 1885.  A son, William H. Jr. completed the family in 1891.  To house his growing brood, Lee built a mansion home at 3713 West Pine Blvd, shown here, and in more recent times, apparently boarded up.  Two Irish servant girls also were resident there.

It is not clear what motivated Lee, with his established reputation for rectitude, initially to agree to the terms of the Whiskey Trust.  A likely rationale was the stranglehold that the monopoly held on whiskey supplies, the ingredient essential of the many brands Lee was selling.  Initially the five cents a gallon “forfeit” might have looked attractive given the alternatives.  With time and experience Lee and other wholesalers found strong objection to it on the grounds that they were given no interest on the money nor any assurance of its return.  Moreover, by yielding they placed themselves, as the Chicago Tribune put it, “hopelessly in the grasp of the Trust.”

Lee and his colleagues made their move in April of 1891, as reported in the New York Times, a strong opponent of the cartel.  Headlining “REBELLING AGAINST A TRUST, the Times wrote:  “For some time there have been rumors of discontent among the whiskey dealers of St. Louis, and rumors of rebellion have been rife.  Many wholesale dealers and jobbers were quite free in  their expressions of dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Trust was managing the whiskey-making business of the country, practically controlling it and dictating to the dealers.

In retaliation, Lee and the others collaborated on building a whiskey plant of their own, calling it the Central Distilling Company.   At the cost of $400,000 they constructed it at a premier site just outside of St. Louis.  The plant came on line late in 1891 with a daily mashing capacity of 4,000 bushels of corn.  This was enough for the partners to satisfy their own requirements and to have additional supplies to sell.  Initially Central Distilling kept sales prices at levels comparable to those set by the Trust.  By the following year, however, the new corporation announced it would cut the price of spirits to $1.10 a gallon, undercutting the Trust by five cents.  If there had been an unspoken truce, this move broke it.

While Trust officers were furious, there was little they could do.  The St. Louis action had begun a downward slide for the monopoly.  In May 1892, owners of the cartel’s five best paying houses announced that, because none of them had been paid the rent required for Trust control, they would repossess their plants at once and put whiskey on the market independently.  Opined the New York Times:  “It looks as if the Whiskey Trust is doomed.”

Although a subsequent version of the Whiskey Trust did survive until National Prohibition, it was much diminished.  Meanwhile Lee could bask in the glow of being part of the initial blow helped sink the organization. He continued to pilot his wholesale liquor house until May 1903 when he died suddenly, only 51 years old.  Cause of death was recorded as pneumonia.  With his widow, children and many friends by his graveside, he was interred in the Catholic Calvary Cemetery of St. Louis.

The liquor house William H. Lee had shepherded for 16 years was carried on under his name until the imposition of National Prohibition.  John S. Morrin became president and guided its fortunes.  A Trust employee targeted him with a lawsuit for $25,000 actual and $50,000 punitive damages, claiming malicious libel.  Asked about the suit, Morrin replied that it had been brought because the Lee company had passed from control of Trust officials who now were retaliating.  I find no indication that the suit was successful. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Fred Diebolt and Cleveland’s Saloonkeeper Revolt

“While the Blue Laws are in Force”
Oh, the new code is a corker,
Twould paralyze a horse,
We're a happy set of Christians
While the blue laws are in force.
Policemen in a muddle,
Judges a little mixed,
Bully job for lawyers
Until the thing is fixed.

German saloons were ubiquitous in Cleveland during the late 19th Century, their owners aware of the rise of prohibitionary forces, but content with the steady business they attracted for their lager beer and genial atmosphere known as “Gem├╝tlichkeit.”   Then a freshman Ohio state legislator stepped up, wrote, and pushed through a law that ordered the state’s saloons closed on Sunday, one of their busiest days.  One saloonkeeper, Fred Diebolt, rallied his colleagues to civil disobedience.  Stay open on Sunday, he advised, and with numbers we can back down enforcement. Unfortunately for Diebolt and his followers, it did’t quite work out that way.

Fred was a native Clevelander, in 1840 the firstborn of Ignatius Diebolt, 37, and his wife, Gertrude, 21, living at 29 Seneca Street North.  Ignatius was a baker by trade and in 1846 was listed in city directories running a bakery and grocery.  Evidently concluding that whiskey paid better than watermelons, two years later his establishment was listed as a bakery and tavern.  Fred apparently went to work for his father as he matured and in the 1870 census was listed as “saloon keeper.”

By this time Diebolt was married, his wife, Caroline. The couple had a newborn daughter they named Laura.  Perhaps it was these family responsibilities that caused Fred to move into other enterprises.  By 1871, with a partner, he was operating a bottling works in conjunction with a saloon at 76 and 78 St. Clair Street. 

Over the next several years he moved and expanded.  By 1879 he was operating a saloon and billiard parlor at 28 SW corner of Public Square, the area shown above, and a wholesale business at 47 Prospect.  By 1881, apparently needing more space for his sales, he had moved his liquor house to 133-137 Champlain. This building of three stories, shown below, gave him ample space to store whiskey and other alcoholic drinks.
Diebolt’s customers for his wholesale spirits were the many German saloons in Cleveland, one of them shown below.  Noted saloons were Joseph Kieferle's Black Whale on Champlain St.; Albert Eisele's saloon at Superior and Bond St.; Paul Heine's or Water St.; Fred Sheurmann's on Huron St.; Boehmke's on E. Ninth St.; Brun Schwarzer's on Lorain St.; Silberg Brothers on Columbus Rd.; Weber's 242 Superior St.; Grebe's on E. Fourth St.; John Naumann's on Ontario St.  

Well known German beer gardens were Kindsvater's on E. 55th St.; Dahler's on Tod St.; Raaf s in Brooklyn; Sommer's Tivolian Garden on Pearl St.; Gieszen's; Hoffman's Forest; Lied's Tavern  These drinking establishments made comfortable living for their owners — and sometimes more.

Enter Frank V. Owen, a “self-made” man from Mount Vernon, Ohio, 105 miles south of Cleveland, whose father had died when he was but six years old.  Shown here, he received the normal education for the day then studied for the law, was admitted to the bar in 1884, and began handling personal injury cases and other legal matters.  In 1887 Owen ran for a seat in the state legislature and won.  An opponent of alcohol sales he saw an opportunity to replicate the “Blue Laws” then in fashion throughout the U.S., statutes that banned specific activities on Sunday.  He introduced a measure in the Ohio House requiring that all saloons be closed on Sunday.  It passed and became law, a statue widely known as the “Owen Sunday Closing Law.”

The news of this development hit Cleveland’s German saloonkeepers like a thunderclap.  Sunday was perhaps the busiest day of the week for those establishments.  Germans, both Catholics and Lutherans, attended church services then whole families repaired to a tavern for beer, fellowship and perhaps  a meal.  These were working men and women whose lifetime patterns were being disrupted to the distinct disadvantage of the saloonkeepers.  They turned for leadership to Fred Diebolt, among the wealthiest and most influential of their group.

He was ready to give it.  Defy the Owen Law, he is said to have advised. Stay open on Sunday.  If all of us fail to comply, the authorities will have to back down.  Twenty-one of his fellow German publicans took his advice.  When the first Sunday mandated for closing came around in August 1888, they stayed open.  The police, alerted by news stories to this open defiance, arrived and all, including Diebolt, were arrested.  Each requested a jury trial, hoping that acquittals would help null the law.

There were problems with Diebolt’s approach.  He was far from getting universal acceptance from his colleagues for the strategy.  Many German proprietors rejected civil disobedience.  His committee’s plea to the Ohio Liquor League, a bottling coop of saloons, their bottle shown here, was unavailing.  The members refused to meet or recognize Diebolt’s group in any way.  Churches, newspapers and prominent citizens called vigorously for enforcement.  The police were pleased to oblige.

Diebolt apparently was the first to be tried.  While Clevelanders watched in fascination, he was found guilty in his first trial by a jury said in the press to be predominantly of German ancestry.  Because of unexplained “irregularities,” however, that verdict was thrown out and Diebolt was granted a new trial.  The second jury also found him guilty.  Speculation was rife in the media and among the public:  “How tough a sentence would be handed down?”

The Police Court Judge was George R. Solders, a well-respected jurist and a man active in Cleveland’s German-American community.  To quote his obituary:  “In all the activities of local German clubs and societies, he took a conspicuous and leading part….”  Given Diebolt’s prominence in the same ethnic organizations, they must have known each other.  According to a New York Times story of November 19, 1882, many Cleveland residents doubted that Judge Solders would mete out the kind of stiff sentence he often handed down to “poorer and less influential men.”
Solders proved up to the job.  He fined Diebolt $100 (equivalent to $2,500 today) and sentenced him to ten days in the Cleveland Workhouse, shown here, for selling liquor in violation of the Owen Law.  Clearly stung by the result, Diebolt declared that he intended to carry the case to a court of appeals and, likely feeling the heat from his co-conspirators, announced that he planned to leave town for a while.  Meanwhile the remaining hapless German saloonkeepers were left to contemplate their fates.

I have not found the results of the other trials nor of Diebolt’s appeal.  Cleveland saloons all stayed shuttered on Sunday.  Eventually, however, the Owen “Blue” Law was overturned and Cleveland’s saloons, taverns and beer gardens were allowed to stay open on the Lord’s Day.   As for Diebolt, he resumed running his enterprises, even allowed to rename the short street to his saloon at Public Square, “Diebolt Place.”  

As he aged, Diebolt retired from active business, living to 91. Today Fred and Caroline are interred side by side in Woodland Cemetery, Cayuga County, Ohio.  German-run saloons ultimately were closed when Ohio went “dry” in 1916, many of them never to reopen.   Travel Advisor currently recommends four German restaurants in Cleveland that serve alcohol on Sunday.  Fred Diebolt would sign off on that.

Note:  The verse about Blue Laws that opened this post was written by Sam Devere, an African-American songwriter and performer of the 19th Century.