Saturday, December 21, 2019

Whiskey Men and Family Feuds

Foreword:  In profiling some 750 stories of people involved in the U.S. liquor trade I have been struck by the traditional togetherness of whiskey families: sons working with fathers,  brothers working with brothers, wives assisting husbands, in-laws collaborating.  Upon occasion, however, situations arise in which family unity is shattered by situations involving internal bickering, jealousy, or apparent greed.  Profiled here are three such cases involving internecine feuds. 

On January 16, 1902, seven jurists of the Court of Appeals in Annapolis heard a case that pitted quarreling members of a wealthy family and their high powered attorneys disputing over the operation and future direction of a well known Maryland distillery. The Wight family internal feud had been the “talk” of Baltimore society for months.

John J. Wight about the time of the Civil War had co-founded a distillery in Cockeysville, Maryland, seventeen miles north of Baltimore.  He called it the Sherwood Distillery Company.  In time his brother in law, Edward Hyatt, and son, John Hyatt Wight, became part owners of the business.  The family prospered greatly from making whiskey and ranked high in Maryland business and social circles. 

Family solidarity began to unravel when John J. Wight died.  His estate transferred most of his stock to his son, John Hyatt Wight, who became secretary and treasurer of Sherwood Distilling, with Hyatt as president. In 1894, Edward Hyatt died. John Hyatt Wight became president of the company. Hyatt’s widow Charlotte, who had remarried, in 1899 filed a lawsuit against her nephew, accusing him of fraud. Daily vs. Wight became a much-watched case in the Maryland courts. 

Because considerable amounts of money were at stake, both sides hired high profile lawyers.  As Maryland’s social set looked on with intense interest, the intrafamily battle raged fiercely before a Circuit Court  judge in Baltimore.  Aunt Charlotte made a range of scurrilous charges against Wight, accusing her nephew of “cooking the corporation books,” concealing distillery profits, and lining his own pockets at her expense. When the judge disagreed and threw out her petition, she appealed. In 1902 The Maryland Appeals Court totally dismissed Charlotte’s charges, commenting that “trifles as light as air” had become for her “confirmation as strong as proofs of holy writ.”  John Hyatt Wight continued to run the distillery until the advent of National Prohibition.

Trademark disputes over liquor branding never failed to gain attention in the pre-Prohibition era.   When the conflict involved brother against brother in the distilling hotbed of Louisville, Kentucky, interest could be intense. That is the situation that faced the Bonnie brothers when one of their siblings broke away, started a completing company, and merchandised whiskey with the Bonnie name and a familiar-looking label.  

The Bonnies were four:  Frank W., born 1840;  William O., 1845;  Robert T., 1848, and Ernest S., 1860.  All of them settled in Kentucky where Frank founded a liquor wholesale house about 1872 in Louisville and brought in brothers William and Robert. In 1879 the firm reorganized and all four Bonnies, including youngest brother Ernest, were included in its operations.  The resulting “Bonnie Bros. Co.” became prosperous, thrusting the brothers into the forefront of Kentucky whiskey men.  

In 1895, Frank Bonnie, age 55, withdrew from the firm, selling his interest in the business, including the Bonnie brand names, to his remaining three brothers.  Frank’s exit was followed in four years by Ernest Bonnie, still in his 30s, wanting out.  Why he broke away has not been explained.  The remaining two brothers bought him out for $70,000, more than a million in today’s dollars.  For that compensation Ernest sold all interest in the business and in Bonnie labels.  

Unlike his brother Frank, however, Ernest Bonnie had no intention of retiring from the whiskey trade. Taking two Bonnie Bros. employees with him, he shortly thereafter went into competition with his siblings using the name, E.S. Bonnie & Company.  That  name appears on an intriguing trade card showing a boy urinating in the snow and tracing the words “Good Drink.”  Was this a symbolic gesture by a younger “breakaway” who was trying to send a message to his older brothers?  More important,  Ernest Bonnie began selling whiskey under the brand name, “Bonnie Club.”  His older siblings quickly objected that the brand pirated labels of Bonnie Bros.  After a rancorous exchange of correspondence in which court action was threatened Ernest abandoned the use of “Bonnie Club.”  But family ties had been badly ruptured.

When Ernest died in 1907 on 47 years old, his employees, now the owners, attempted to market a “Bonnie & Co. Rye” with a label that was very similar in its features to the original firm.  William and Robert Bonnie had had enough and in 1914 took their competitor to court for trademark infringement.  Kentucky courts asserted that Bonnie & Co. Rye had been labeled in a way to confuse and deceive consumers, represented “unfair competition” under the trademark laws, and issued a “cease and desist order.”  The Bonnies won.

Henry, Seligman, David, and Theodore — the Netter boys — founded a liquor store in Philadelphia about 1886 that almost immediately prospered.  Within three years the brothers moved to larger quarters at 732 Third Street, near Brown Street.  This address is memorialized on an amber flask shown below.  The trade mark, in detail, is an enigmatic one:  a woman standing next to a shield inside the Man in the Moon.  The company used the brand name “Golden Gate All Rye.”  Their Netter Bros. Company became one of the premier liquor houses of Philadelphia.  After seven years of prosperity, however, family ties began to unravel.  

The first brother to defect appears to have been Henry.  In 1893 directories Henry H. Netter & Co. was noted as: “Producers of California and Ohio wines and brandies and Pennsylvania rye whiskies.” The next Netter to break away was David in 1898, opening a separate store on Market Street.  He was listed in business directories as a wine & liquor dealer, importer, distiller and proprietor of “Telegram Rye.”  Seligman, perhaps about 1900, opened his own liquor outlet under the name “S. Netter.”  He located at several addresses on North Third Street until 1911 when he moved to 736 Arch Street.  

Although Theodore Netter was listed with Netter Bros. until 1900, at least one author, rightly or wrongly, has blamed him for the breakup, citing him for fueling intra-family tensions and causing his brothers to depart. Sometime in the late 1890’s Theodore, with his wife, Hilda, established their own liquor business.  After initially locating at 54 North 13th Street, the firm moved to its permanent base on Market Street, next to Philadelphia’s Savoy Theater.  Theodore's purple barrel bottle is a favorite of collectors. 

Was Theodore the problem child who broke up the Netter Brothers?  He had a penchant for running afoul of the Pure Food and Drug laws, being fined at least twice for adulterating his wines.  Nevertheless, this Netter claimed that his was, “the largest and leading liquor store” in Philly.  In his advertising Theodore also constantly emphasized that he had only one store -- indicating that he saw his brothers in definite competition.  Because the Netters never took their differences into court and aired them publicly, however, the reason why the brothers all went their separate ways remains unanswered.

Note:  More complete vignettes on each of these families can be found elsewhere on this blog:  Sherwood Distilling and the Wights, July 17, 1911;  Bonnie Brothers, April 29, 2014, and Netter Brothers, January 2, 2013.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Julius Kessler Was Top Dog of Whiskey Trust II

Beginning as a newspaper reporter, Hungarian immigrant Julius Kessler parlayed his experience into an astounding career as a leading American figure in the liquor trade and ultimately head of a Whiskey Trust, controlling three quarters of Kentucky’s bourbon production.  Moreover, throughout his 85 years — sometimes twirling a fancy cane and wearing a monocle — Kessler, shown right, did it with verve.

When the first attempt at a “Whiskey Trust,” centered in Peoria, Illinois, fell apart in the mid-1890s, few shed tears.  That effort at monopoly had been marked by intimidation and even violence.  Nevertheless, the idea of cornering the market for whiskey and thereby raising prices continued to fascinate a number of New York City financiers.   As the earlier trust faltered, the money men organized the Kentucky Distilleries and Warehouse Company as a holding company for Kentucky distilleries, choosing Kessler as their leader.

Kessler’s road to top dog of this iteration of the Whiskey Trust was a circuitous one.  He was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1855, the son of Ignatious Kessler and Nina Oestereicher.  Bright and restless, Julius emigrated to the United States in the early 1870s while still in his teens.  He must have had some training in English because his early employment was as a journalist.  

In a 1938 interview with a Montana newspaper, Kessler recounted being sent by his newspaper to a 1873 ceremony in Omaha, Nebraska, celebrating the “golden spike” that opened the first transcontinental railroad across the United States. There he got a taste of the West and a yen to get there:  “Anybody who wanted to be an editor was just a little misinformed about the better things in life.”

Recognizing that he would have to make a living and disdaining to dig for gold, Kessler hit on the idea of selling Westerners a product he knew they would buy.  He was able to purchase gallon jugs of whiskey in Denver for $1.30 each, loaded them on forty donkeys and hit the trail for Leadville, Colorado, one hundred miles to the southwest.  Leadville was the site of a large silver strike and was booming.  Drinking establishments proliferated.  Kessler went from saloon to saloon selling his whiskey for $6.00 a gallon, cash on the barrelhead.  He also would sell thirsty individuals three shots for $2.00.  

This experience would shape the rest of Kessler’s life.  He subsequently devoted himself almost entirely to carving out a profitable career peddling whiskey.  Kessler never seems to have had an actual retail outlet.  Rather, he was acting more as a distillers’ agent, selling whiskey in large quantities to wholesalers and retailers around the United States.  Known for his winning personality, Julius was a tall man with a genial smile and an air of prosperity and sophistication.  He claimed to have shaken the hand of as many as 40,000 liquor dealers throughout the U.S.  About 1893, he opened a sales office in Chicago where he featured several brands of his own blending, “Andre Jackson Club” and “Rich Grain.”  From Chicago he also had a front row seat to view the imploding of the earlier attempt at a Whiskey Trust.

With a nationwide knowledge base and a reputation as a super-salesman, Kessler was a natural when the New York financiers came looking for a true “whiskey man” to lead this second run at creating a Trust.  They put managing the organization and a chunk of its stock in his hands.  By 1899, the cartel had merged with the remains of the failed trust and consolidated with two smaller syndicates that controlled a number of affiliated distillers and whiskey brokers in Kentucky.

Capital stock issued by of the Kentucky Distillers and Warehouse Co. included $10.5 million in preferred stock, paying seven percent, $18.55 million in common stock, and $1.5 million in working capital.  The New York Times in November 1899 reported the transfer by the Easterners of $3 million (equiv. $60 million today)  in stored whiskey and future contracts to Kessler.  The 85,000 barrels represented the bourbon, rye, and malt whiskey stocks from the Atherton, Mayfield, Clifton, Windsor, Brownfield, and Carter distilleries.  It also included contracts for the future output of the Atherton, Sam Clay, W.H.McBrayer and J.G. Roach & Co. distilleries.  Kessler later would advertise several on a deck of cards.

By 1899 the new Whiskey Trust boasted membership of 53 Kentucky distilleries manufacturing bourbon and rye.  The company also controlled four rye whiskey distilleries in the East, including the Kessler-owned Maryland Pure Rye Distillery, producer of “Monumental Maryland Rye.” A map of the distillery is shown here.  He also issued a whiskey under his own name with the motto “Smooth as Silk” from a distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

The Trust’s concentration on Kentucky whiskey, however, held the key to the cartel’s success under Kessler’s leadership.  Although many other distilleries could be found throughout the U.S., the popularity of Kentucky bourbon and rye meant that about 90 percent of standard American whiskey brands were in its possession.  Many rectifiers, wholesalers, and brokers were now dependent on the Trust for their whiskey supplies and also were subject to Trust dictates.

By the early 1900s, the Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Company controlled virtually all of the state’s whiskey production, with a distilling capacity of sixteen million barrels annually.  The Trust now was capitalized at $32 million and had one million barrels in bonded storage.  It was shutting down smaller distilleries and concentrating production at larger, more efficient facilities. 

Kessler opened sales offices, ostensibly for his own distilling interests but in effect for the Trust, in a number of major cities in addition to Chicago:  Buffalo (1905-1906), Los Angeles (1912-1918), San Francisco (1913-1916), and Louisville (1902-?). Whiskey Trust II was never able completely to monopolize America's liquor industry, but as one observer put it:  "...By sheer size forced the outside whiskey houses to act in accord with its wishes." As the head of the cartel Kessler frequently found himself the target of scorn from the press and elements of the public.

Of Julius’s personal life during this period, little is recorded.  He was married for a time to a woman named Eva and later divorced.  No children.  A sports fan, Kessler’s saloon signs featured baseball, football and boxing events rather than the traditional lounging nude. 

Kessler did not drink alcohol.  He told the press that in a lifetime of selling liquor, he often was called upon to sample some but estimated that those tastes when added up amounted to no more than five gallons, his total consumption.  Cigars were Kessler’s weakness.  On business trips to Cuba he often bought 10,000 stogies at a time.

The Hungarian immigrant guided Whiskey Trust II to profitability for most of his tenure, increasingly finding that the onrush of Prohibition was depleting sales.  When National Prohibition was declared in 1920, the Trust like the rest of the U.S. liquor trade went out of business.  A year later Kessler, now 65 years old, retired to Vienna, Austria.  With him went a fortune valued in the millions and 38,000 cigars.

Enjoying the reputation of having sold more whiskey in his lifetime than any other living man, Kessler returned from Europe only after Repeal in 1935.  Now 80 years old and bearing a white mustache, he settled in Manhattan, bringing his bull terrier, Roxie, and a bullfinch, Dickie.  One New York newspaper reported:  “Still sleek and jolly, he was observed stuffing down pigs’ knuckles and sauerkraut, running down a street after a taxi, dancing until 5 a.m. on New Year’s Eve.”

Kessler lived the next five years in New York, venturing out frequently to cities and towns in the West that he had known as a youth.  He also made use of his memberships in the Humanistic Club of New York and the Congressional Club and Army and Navy Clubs of Washington, D.C., the latter two emblematic of his lobbying efforts for the Trust.  He also served as a director of the Hungarian Relief Society in New York.

Julius died on December 10, 1940, at his home at 480 Park Avenue.  His funeral was held at the Universal Funeral Chapel on Lexington Avenue.  He was cremated and his ashes entombed at the Ferncliff Mausoleum, in Greenburgh, New York, 25 miles north of Manhattan.

Julius lived to see the Kessler Whiskey brand revived by the Seagram Company in 1935.  The labels and ads featured Julius.  Seagram’s later dissolution resulted in the Kessler brand later being owned by what is now Beam Suntory.  It has been claimed by Beam to be the #2 American blended whiskey in the world behind Seagram’s 7.  Thus the legacy of Julius Kessler lives on.

Note:  Although this post is gathered from a variety of sources about Kessler, none of them get to the heart of his success.  While clearly serving as the leader of the Whiskey Trust, Kessler seemingly also was operating on his own behalf with offices and brands.  This was a puzzle that Kentucky distillers outside the cartel were never able to solve.  Unfortunately, neither does this vignette.  

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Sam Jaggers — Montana’s “Tattle Tale” Saloonkeeper

It has always been somewhat of a mystery to me how Western saloons, often in isolated mining camps or other communities with no easy access to the outside world, managed to get the liquor needed to satisfy their thirsty clientele.  For many “Old West” locations, railroads were distant, stage coaches sporadic, and mule trains infrequent.  The answer may lie with Samuel Jaggers, a saloonkeeper and liquor dealer in the mining town of Bannack, Montana, during the 1860s.  In a 1903 newspaper interview Jaggers told all.

Sam Jaggers was an Englishman, born in March 1832 in Beulah, a small town in Wales, the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Jaggers.  He was baptized into the Church of England.  When he was 16 he emigrated to the United States along with other family members and settled in Illinois near Galena, a town on the Mississippi River, famous for being the home of Ulysses S. Grant and other Union generals after the Civil War.  Sam’s early career is lost in the mists of history.  His first recorded employment was in the hospitality industry, spending three years as manager of Galena’s United States Hotel.  He also appears to have gained some standing in the community, serving as the town’s justice of the peace for eight years.

In 1851 at the of 23 Sam married Jane Moore, 20, a woman of Irish ancestry, in Lafayette, Wisconsin, a town about 35 miles from Galena.  They had six children: James, Mary Anne, Joseph, Robert, Elizabeth and Henry Manuel.  After 12 years of marriage, Jane died in 1863, leaving her husband to raise their minor children.  In 1866, apparently drawn by a gold strike in Montana, Jaggers uprooted the family and headed for Virginia City, a boomtown of thousands of prospectors and fortune seekers in the midst of a frantic gold rush — today a “ghost town.” 

Apparently not finding rowdy Virginia City to his liking, Jaggers soon looked 85 miles west to Bannack, Montana.  Shown above during its heyday, the town was founded in 1862 after an area gold strike.  Named after the local Bannock Indians. it had served as the capital of the Montana Territory briefly in 1864.  

At its peak, Bannack had a population of about ten thousand.  There were three bakeries, three blacksmith shops, two stables, two meat markets, a grocery store, a restaurant, a brewery, a billiard hall, three hotels, including the Meade shown above, and four saloons. All of the businesses were built of logs as were the private houses.   Jaggers settled his family in one of them. 

In 1870 Sam also married a second time.  His new wife was Mary Catherine Hamilton, born in Huntington County, Pennsylvania, the daughter of native Pennsylvanians who had migrated to Montana.   The couple would have four children, Grace, Fanny, Harry and Madline.  Grace and Harry died as youngsters. 

Extremely remote, Bannack was connected to the rest of the world only by the Montana Trail. This was a wagon road that served settlements during the gold rush era of the 1860s and 1870s. The trail was used for freighting and shipping supplies and food goods from Salt Lake City to sites in Montana.  It could be a dangerous journey.  Outlaws and marauding Indians, as well as uncertain weather, made the Montana Trail a risky road to travel. 

Arriving in Bannack, Jaggers looked around for opportunities and found one in a saloon for sale by local James Harvey.  As later described by the Englishman, Harvey’s was one of the best in the mining camp.  “It had a first class bar, not one of the hand-made ones like the majority of the saloons of pioneer days had, but it had real oak furniture and it had a real plate glass mirror behind the bar.”

Those remarks were part of an extensive interview Jaggers gave in 1903 to reporters for the Dillon (Montana) Examiner in which he described the life of a frontier West saloonkeeper and confided:  “I now want to tell you boys about how we made our liquors…,” adding humorously I suspect, “…and I am sure you will not give it away.”

According to Jaggers, all the liquors coming to Bannack saloons originated from Los Angeles in a form he called “high wines,” in effect, “white lightening.”  Once the high wines had been safely landed in our cellars, us saloon keepers set about making various liquors demanded by the horny-handed miners….If a man wanted any kind of liquor, he got it, and it did not make any difference whether he asked for whiskey, brandy, rum, gin or some brand of wine, he got it, and it all came originally from the same barrel.”  The taste could be altered, Jaggers said, by the amount of fusel oil the proprietor added, a mixture of alcohols extracted from the fermentation process.

Remember events in 1867 Jaggers continued, “…There was a whiskey famine in the territory and for while it seemed as if a dire calamity was staring the country in the face.”  Hearing that there were two barrels of whiskey for sale at Deer Lodge, Montana, Sam in haste made the 115 mile journey there on horseback and bought the whiskey for $750 in gold dust— equivalent to $16,500 today.  One of the barrels was good stuff, he related, but the other was the worst whiskey he had ever tasted.  While the liquor was being delivered, Jaggers got an idea.  He bought two cases of peaches and returning to Bannack mashed them into pulp and dumped them into the rot-gut, mixing them well.  “…The result was it was converted into a whiskey that miners would walk ten miles after the close of a hard day’s work, in order to pay 25 cents for a sample of it.”

After about five years running his Bannack saloon and serving a term as justice of the peace, Jaggers may have sensed that the boom in Bannack was headed toward “bust.” He sold his saloon and for several years tried his hand at prospecting. By now a wealthy man, Sam subsequently purchased a ranch outside of Bannack and began to raise cattle.  An ad for a lost cow at Horse Prairie and the Big Hole range displays Sam’s brand, a horseshoe-shaped mark burned on both sides of his steers.

Jaggers’ life as a rancher was not placid.  Montana was still the Wild West where dangers lurked everywhere.  His young daughter, Fanny, caught the eye of Bob Wells, described by a local newspaper as “a bold, bad man of Montana.”  When Sam objected to his attentions to Fanny, Wells “in true brigand style” met her returning to her father’s ranch home on horseback, with a male escort.  Drawing a gun the outlaw forced the man to ride on.  He then tied the girl’s bridle rein to the pommel of his saddle and headed for Idaho.  Jaggers was quick to offer a reward for Wells’ capture.  In the end Fanny was returned home, apparently unharmed, but not long after was married to a 39-year-old man from Horse Prairie, Montana.

Three years later Sam and his family would be embroiled in a murder trial.  The dead man was John Bushnell, a Bannack saloonkeeper with a grudge against Jaggers and his sons.  Drunk, in mid-September 1887 Bushnell met James “Jim” Jaggers in the bar of a local hotel and began cursing him.  According to a press account in the Helena Independent, Jim tried to be friendly and did not retaliate.  Nevertheless, Bushell went home, got his six-shooter and went back to the bar.  Bushnell took “deliberate aim” at Jim’s back but was seen by the hotel proprietress who screamed, alerting Jim Jaggers.  He drew his pistol and the two fired almost simultaneously.  Bushnell missed and Jim got off a second shot that killed his assailant instantly.  A sheriff’s inquest and trial ensued in which the jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide.

Sam Jaggers survived these traumatic incidents to live just short of 83 years old, ancient by Western standards. In 1885 he earned a biography in a book on Montana history, hailed as “one of the extensive stock men of the prairie.”  He died on March 2, 1810, and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery at Dillon, Montana.  Sam’s family provided him with a unique gravestone, featuring an elaborate carved design, a poem, and the motto, “Gone but not forgotten.”  I agree. Jaggers will forever be memorable for his candor in revealing how drinking establishments in isolated Western towns could obtain enough liquor to satisfy their thirsty clientele. 

Note: The impetus for this post came from the verbatim publication of Jaggers’ 1903 interview with the Dillon Examiner in the book, “The Golden Elixir of the West: Whiskey and the Shaping of America.”  by Monahan and Perkins. I was able to find other information about Sam from a variety of sources, but sadly no picture of him.  The photo below shows Bannack as it looks today, a ghost town registered as a National Historic Landmark and preserved by the State of Montana as a park and tourist attraction.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Unraveling of Bellows Family Ties

Established in America by early colonist John Bellows in 1635, his extended family became one of the country’s historic clans, a close knit group with a motto meaning “All from On High” and a crest of a disembodied hand pouring something into a goblet.  It ironically might have been whiskey, the liquid that led to the unfortunate unraveling of the Charles Bellows family of New York City.

Born in February 1825 at 21 Leonard Street in Manhattan, Charles Bellows was educated in New York schools and began his business career in the employment of Arthur Tappan, a well known New York merchant and abolitionist.  An indication of Charles’ grit was his being one of the defenders of Tappan’s store when it was attacked by pro-slavery rioters in 1845.

By that time Charles had moved to the leading New York mercantile house of Archibald Gracie where he learned the wine and liquor business.  By 1848 he had gained sufficient funds and experience to buy into the company’s interest in that trade.  He then moved in 1850 to open his own store at 42 New Street, selling whiskey and wine, both domestic and imported.   From 1853 to 1862 his brother Theodore was in business with him. Operating as Charles Bellows & Company, the firm outgrew its first quarters and moved to 50 Broad Street, shown below in the 1800s,

An 1898 history of the Bellows family described Charles’ success: “The business of the firm became very extensive and profitable, and brought them into relations with wine producers all over the world.  In the extent of their business they stood at the head of the wine merchants of the United States.”  Also dealing in imported whiskey, Charles made buying trips to the British Isles and Europe in 1860 and 1864.  Shown here is a bottle of Glenlivit Scotch with a Bellows label.

In 1848 Charles, age 23, had married Eliza Delano in New York in May, just after her twentieth birthday.  She was the daughter of Christopher and Rachel Fenton Delano.  Hers was an even more distinguished American lineage.  Eliza’s Delano family forebears include the pilgrim who chartered the Mayflower, seven of its passengers, three signers of the Mayflower Compact, and two American Presidents.  The couple would have only one child, a son born in 1852 that they named Charles after his father. 

Eliza proved to be of frail health and after only thirteen years of marriage, she died in April, 1861.  After waiting the obligatory year and few days after her death Charles married again.  This time his bride was Eliza’s older sister, Mary Ellen Delano.  That is when the family ties began to unravel.  Charles Jr., age 14, now was faced with a stepmother who also was his aunt.  Moreover, Charles and Mary would have four children of their own, a daughter who died in infancy and three sons:  Arthur C., born in 1865;  Clarence Ernest Stanley (known as “C.E.S”), 1866; and Albert Edward, 1871.  Charles Jr. may well have felt himself the “odd man out” of the family.

Meanwhile his father was continuing to flourish, said to be “in receipt of a large income.”  He soon found a way to spend it.  In addition to a residence in Brooklyn, Bellows bought a country mansion sixty miles north of New York City at Cornwall on Hudson, shown above.  He lavished large amounts of money on the property, improving and terracing the gardens to resemble those at Versailles that he had seen and admired on one of his trips to Europe.  He also began to entertain his friends extravagantly, providing them with food and drink on the scale of a rich country squire.

By 1878, because of business reverses in his liquor and wine house, Bellows found himself deeply in debt.  Forced to sell his country house, he declared Charles Bellows & Co. bankrupt and what few assets remained were allocate by a judge to his creditors.  Not long after, he started a new spirits business at the same 50 Broad Street address.  Perhaps apprehensive about his post-bankruptcy reputation, this business was in the name of his wife, Mary Ellen.  He called it “M.E. Bellows Co., Charles Bellows, Agent.”  A bottle closure shown here bore the new name.

Meanwhile Charles Jr., shown here in 1897, was reaching maturity.  During his father’s years of luxury he was able to gain a college education, including some legal training, and spent the three years from 1873 to 1876 traveling throughout  Europe.  He made hiking trips through France, Switzerland, and Germany;  visited Belgium, Holland, England and Scotland, and took a series of cruises around Europe and the British Isles.  While Charles Jr. may have been working on behalf of Bellows business interests in those jaunts, his Bellows family biography mentions only that he sent “occasional letters” to the New York newspapers.

Summoned home as his family’s finances failed, Charles Jr. joined his father in a management role in the new Broad Street enterprise, now operated under the name of his stepmother.  Over the next 12 years the pair rebuilt a successful liquor house.  Then Charles Bellows, the founding father, died in March 1890 at the age of 65.  He was buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery,  Section 111, Plot 379.  A statue of a grieving woman marks the grave.

Tasked immediately with managing the liquor house, Charles Jr. after several months asked his stepmother, Mary Ellen, to buy the business outright.  She refused.   By this time her sons were well grown and had experience working in the 40 Broad Street establishment.  Arthur C. was 35 and married, with a child on the way.  Clarence was 34 and engaged.  Their mother wanted her boys to have the company.  In 1891 she assigned a half interest in the firm to Arthur immediately and in her will gave the other half to Clarence.  Nothing for Charles Jr.

The crack in the Bellows family was now irreparable.  Charles Jr., clearly disappointed and angry, set up his own wine and liquor establishment, opening at  42 Broad Street, immediately next door to M. E. Bellows and in direct competition.  When that location apparently proved problematic, Charles Jr.  moved to 52 New Street, not far from the address where his father had first started.  An 1898 Bellows family history described him as the head of a firm he called “Charles Bellow & Company”:  “He is an enthusiast on the subject of wines, and by long study has become an expert as to the quality of rare old wines, to the care and sale of which he devotes his principal attention in business hours.”

Meanwhile Arthur Bellows was proving to be a highly competent manager of the enterprise his father had begun 43 years earlier.  Once again the name changed, this time to M.E. Barrows Son (and later, Sons’).  The company was selling its own brands of whiskey, including "Monogram 1880 Rye." As shown above, the brother sold it in unembossed clear and amber glass bottles with paper labels, many of them damaged or destroyed over time.

The company also was bottling its own Scotch whiskey, including a brand it called “Old Mackenzie,” some labeled as “expressly” made for Arthur G. Vanderbilt,  a wealthy American businessman and a member of the famous Vanderbilt family.  The bottle is shown right.

Arthur and C.E.S. Bellows carried on their business under the firm name of M.E. Bellows Sons, representing themselves as successors to the business carried on by their father as “Charles Bellow, Agent” until July 1897.  At that point, for reasons unknown, they assigned the firm to Arthur’s wife, the former Kittie Strang.  As a result of this change Charles Bellows was now identified as the forerunner of Kittie Bellows Company,  Charles Jr. was infuriated.  He sued and in August 1898 the case of Bellows vs. Bellows came before the Supreme Court of New York County.  Now the family unraveling was on view for all of New York to see.

Charles Jr. claimed that his New Street enterprise was the successor to the firm of Charles Bellows and exclusively was entitled to the use of the name.  Moreover, the continued use of the founder’s name on his half-brothers’ business was a fraud on the public.   Judge J. Stover disagreed.  “The business at 50 Broad Street has been continued since the death of Charles Bellow by various successors and there is no attempt now to deceive the public…There is no fraud practiced upon the public or the plaintiff.”  Stover then dismissed Charles Jr.’s charges and charged him court costs.

Both Bellows firms continued to exist in Manhattan until at least 1915, according to Manhattan directories.  Charles Jr. died in 1934 at the age of 74, the same year as his half-brother, Arthur, age 69.  Clarence followed in 1937 at 71.  The brothers are buried adjacent to their father, Charles, in the family plot.  But the family ties remained broken:   Charles Jr. appears to be buried elsewhere, outside the family circle.

Note:  The information for this post was drawn from a variety of sources.  Two principal were “The Bellows Genealogy,” a family history compiled by Thomas Bellows Peck and published in 1898.  It contains biographies of both Charles and Charles Jr.  A second source was the lengthy decision of Judge Stover in Bellows v. Bellows.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Whiskey Men In & Out of Court

Foreword:  In researching the lives and careers of pre-Prohibition distillers, liquor dealers and saloonkeepers, court records often are an excellent source of information.   They provide insights into the activities and sometimes the character of whiskey men.  Featured here are vignettes of three such proprietors who spent copious amounts of time and effort involved in the justice system, often for different reasons.  

Billy Sunday
To suggest that Kinsey “Stormy” Jordan of Ottumwa, Iowa, 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,”  after Stormy had called whiskey “The Road to Hell.”  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….” 

In the late 1879’s Jordan opened a saloon in Ottumwa, one he called “The Corn Exchange.”  The local newspaper called it “the finest in the city.”  He prospered 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 sympathetic Chicago federal judge, however, the saloonkeeper decided to sue the state. 

Accordingly Jordan brought suit in U.S. District Court 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 here behind the courthouse.  His attorneys took Stormy’s incarceration to Federal Judge Love.  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.  

Undetered, 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 even jailed.  With this ruling, Stormy kept his drinking establishment wide open day and night.  His defiance made headlines across America.  As result, Jordan was able to conduct what was said to be the only operating saloon in Iowa.  Only many months later when the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled against him did Stormy shut down The Corn Exchange.  Then, in a startling about-face, Jordan became an advocate for National Prohibition.

Harry W. Metcalf,  a Florida liquor merchant, frequently had a case, but not of whiskey, for the courts of justice.  The Florida State Supreme Court building in Tallahassee, shown here, must have seemed like a second home to him.  Metcalf won, he lost, but the results never seemed to affect his growing prosperity. 

Orlando was the scene of Metcalf’s first court fight.  In 1907 an election was held to determine if the sale of intoxicating liquors, wines and beers should be prohibited in Orange County.  The Commissioners certified that in the the election 592 votes had been cast against liquor sales and only 589 for them.  His saloon in jeopardy, Metcalf took the Commissioners to court, charging that the election was rigged and the results should be voided.  In a 3-2 split decision, the Florida Supreme Court agreed with him and nulled the vote.  His saloon stayed open.

The year 1915  found Metcalf back in the Florida Supreme Court.   In 1913 he had taken a five year lease on space in the Terminal Hotel, located on Bay and Johnson.  There he ran a saloon and package liquor store.  The Florida Legislature, in another move toward Prohibition, passed what became known as the Davis Package Act.  It decreed that a business selling liquor by the bottle on the same premises could not sell liquor by the drink.   With other affected whiskey men, Metcalf fought the law right up to the State Supreme Court.  This time he lost; the law was declared valid.  

Although forced to shut down his liquor business in 1919, ending sales of his flagship whiskey,"Briar Cave," Metcalf, by now a rich man, began to invest in fruit orchards. Despite his prosperity, however, Harry could not stay away from the Florida Supreme Court. In 1935, he sued a fruit wholesaler for failing to abide by a contract to take produce from his citrus grove.  After losing in the local court, he once more repaired to Tallahassee where the Florida Supreme Court justices rewarded him by once more finding in his favor.  

Metcalf’s “last hurrah” in the courts was in 1939.  He was 77 years old. He sued to void a deal in which he had sold some road bonds then in default, to speculators in return for warehouse receipts representing 400 barrels of whiskey.  When the bonds suddenly became valuable and were sold at a huge profit,  Harry claimed he had been cheated.  This time the Florida’s highest court upheld a lower court ruling that dismissed his complaint.  That marked the last time Metcalf shows up in official records.

A lightning rod for trouble, Isaac Ettinger ran a liquor business and saloon in Cleveland for about twenty years.  In the process, through his own stubbornness or just bad luck, Isaac seems frequently to have ended up in court.  A photo, showing Ettinger in a tender scene with his granddaughter, Doris, seems to belie the fiery and litigious nature of this whiskey man.

Ettinger made headlines in the Cleveland Plain Dealer  in a early morning of February 1893 when he, his wife and two of her lady friends, were forcibly ejected from a horse-drawn street car operated by the Woodland Avenue & West Side Street Railroad, the line shown here.  After a verbal battle with Ettinger over buying tickets the conductor threw the four off the trolley and called the police. Isaac was arrested.  Taken to the police station at 3 a.m., he made bail and the group was not detained but forced to tramp home through the snow.  After a judge dismissed the charges against him,  Ettinger filed a damage suit against the streetcar company for $2,000 ($44,000 equivalent today.)  The case hopped in and out of Ohio courts for two years — results unknown.

The saloonkeeper frequently was suing and being sued.  In 1881 he hauled a woman named Rosa L. Block into court for default of a loan, asking for compensation in money and land.  Isaac himself had faced a  bankruptcy suit in 1878 but emerged relatively unscathed.   Then Clevelander Mathias Nickels claimed that as he was passing by Ettinger’s saloon a heavy sign had fallen, breaking an large arc light and a piece of glass had flown into his eye.  He sued Isaac for $10,000 (equiv. $220,000) in damages.  In 1899 Henry Russon, Ettinger’s business partner in a company called Buckeye Hair & Fiber, charged in Cleveland’s Common Pleas Court that Ettinger had converted to his personal use the company’s entire stock and accounts worth $2,400.  It is unclear how either lawsuit turned out.   

Note:  More complete biographies of each of these whiskey men have appeared earlier on this website:   Stormy Jordan, March 30, 2017;  Harry Metcalf, May 12, 2012; and Isaac Ettinger, August 9, 1018.