Friday, August 30, 2019

More Pre-Prohibition Whiskey Women

Foreword:  On June 19, 2017, I posted an article featuring five women who had found success in the liquor trade before the imposition of National Prohibition in 1920.  Subsequently I have found four other stories of women in that era who had important roles in the management and success of organizations dedicated to alcoholic beverages.   All of them came from modest family backgrounds and had limited opportunities for formal schooling but possessed a native intelligence that allowed them to succeed in business.

“Beer and whiskey were involved,” reported San Francisco Daily Alta newspaper about the shooting death of Daniel Hanley, founder of a saloon and local store that specialized in sales of alcohol.  Left with three small children to raise, Mary Sullivan Hanley, shown right, proved to have “the right stuff.”   

In October 1877, during a raucous party at a neighbor’s house, a dispute broke out between Hanley and another Irishman.  Both sides had firearms and shots were exchanged.  Hanley was shot through the right thigh.  The assailant and an accomplice were arrested on a charge of assault to murder.  After lingering for six months Dan, only 37 years old, died of blood poisoning and the charge became manslaughter.

Seemingly without skipping a beat Mary Hanley took over management of the family grocery, liquor sales and the saloon.  A widow who never remarried, her success in business for some two decades allowed her to feed, clothe and educate the three Hanley children.  

When her eldest son John reached seventeen, he was tasked with working in his mother’s enterprises, thereby learning the liquor trade, later opening his own liquor house and issuing a Hanley brand of whiskey.   A younger son, James, was able to go to law school, became a prominent San Francisco lawyer and eventually was appointed the city’s assistant district attorney. 

“George Dickel” is a familiar name to anyone who has ever bought a bottle of whiskey.  As shown above, his brand appears on the labels of a variety of Tennessee whiskeys that are displayed on store shelves from coast to coast. Few people realize that Dickel’s reputation belongs in equal measure to his wife, Augusta Dickel.

Born in Tennessee, Augusta was twenty-two years younger than George when they wed.  They would have no children.  But unlike many September-May marriages,  Dickel had made a wise choice.  Augusta was a canny business woman and skilled at finance.   As the reputation of Dickel’s Cascade whiskey spread well beyond Tennessee,  the company experience explosive growth. 

Then in 1888, the entire picture changed.  Dickel was severely injured in a fall from a horse and invalided. He was forced to withdraw from the management of the liquor house he had founded.  Augusta took over and never missed a beat,  working closely with her brother-in-law, V.E. Shwab.  After suffering for six years with his injuries in 1894, Dickel died at age 76. 

In his will, and likely orally as well, George instructed Augusta to sell the business upon his death at the “first favorable opportunity.”  Her own woman, she paid no heed to that admonition and maintained her interest in the liquor enterprise.  While Shwab took care of the day to day operations, including the Cascade Distillery,  Augusta had the money and time to travel around the U.S. and abroad.  With a flare for advertising she used those opportunities to boost Dickel whiskey to audiences wherever she went. 

In his book on women in whiskey, author Fred Minnick paid her this tribute:  “Although Augusta was only an owner on paper, she could have sold her shares to a competing whiskey company, or interfered with operations.  She may not have changed the whiskey world, but Augusta certainly made an impact by not listening to her husband.”  

In 1958  the liquor giant Schenley rebuilt a distillery at Tullahoma, Tennessee, very near the site of the original Cascade Distillery.  At the entrance is a large bust of George Dickel.  A statue should also be erected there of Augusta, in a major way responsible for her husband’s fame.

Flora Doble Neale, the proverbial “farmer’s daughter,”  a girl with limited education, ultimately became Boston’s “First Lady” of liquor sales.   Born on a farm in Oxford, Maine, in 1846, while still in her teens Flora was wooed and won by Otis S. Neale, a Civil War veteran.  On June 14, 1866,  they were married and took up housekeeping in Boston.  Early in 
the 1880s Neale became the sole proprietor of a major liquor house.  
Meanwhile, Flora was playing the role of dutiful wife and mother.  The couple had a single child, Albert.  In the 1880 census her occupation was given as “housekeeping.”   There is no indication that she was playing any part in her husband’s rapidly expanding commercial activities.  Dubbing himself “Doc” Neale, Otis was selling a “fine old private stock” whiskey under his own name, as well as a line of liquors called “Outing Club” that included whiskeys and cocktails.

Suddenly in 1898 Otis Neale died, only about 52 years old.  Seemingly in an instant Flora Neale was thrust forward into running the Otis S. Neale Company.   As the 1901 billhead that opens this post indicates, she assumed the titles of both president and treasurer of the company, the only woman in Boston with that distinction.  Although aided by a manager, evidence is that Flora was an active participant in the business from 1898 forward.  

The “Blue Book” of Boston, a directory of the rich and powerful took due notice of the widow, Mrs. Otis T. Neale.  She was listed, along with several neighbors, living in one of the area’s luxury apartment houses. Shown here, Richmond Court likely was the first in the Northeast made to resemble an English Tudor manor house.  On the National Register of Historic Places today, it was then a highly fashionable place to live.  Flora, the former farm girl, made herself at home.

With limited educational opportunities, Glenna Stengel Joyce came to maturity as a seamstress, making clothes for wealthy clients in Columbus, Ohio.  After an early failed marriage, her fortunes changed when she met William Henry “Will” Joyce, an Ohio-born entrepreneur seventeen years older than she.  Joyce owned the Milbrook Distilling Company; prosperous liquor dealerships in Columbus and Covington, Kentucky; co-owned a Columbus brewery, and created the Wyandotte Pop Company to make and sell soft

Despite Glenna’s lack of formal education, Joyce had made a good decision.  She proved to have a penchant for business.  Her husband consulted her regularly on their liquor and soft drink interests.  When the coming of statewide prohibition in 1916 forced him to shut down his liquor stores and Columbus brewery, Joyce expanded his soft drink holdings and brought Glenna into company management.   When Will Joyce died at the age of 60 in November 1933, Glenna became a major stockholder and First Vice President of Joyce Products, a position she would hold for several decades.

Today the former seamstress is know as one of Ohio’s historic philanthropists.  Before Glenna died in 1960, she established a scholarship program that over the past 57 years through the Joyce Trust have distributed tens of millions of dollars toward the college education of more than 800 students at Ohio State and Notre Dame Universities.  As further testimony to Glenna Joyce’s business acumen, fund assets currently are in excess of $28 million and the number of recipients have been increasing every year.

Note:  Longer vignettes on each of these women can be found elsewhere on this blog:  Mary Sullivan Hanley, May 5, 2018;  Augusta Dickel, July 2, 2014;  Flora Doble Neale, March 12, 2018; and Glenna Stengel Joyce, September 22, 2018.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Scharffs: Love (and Money) in a Time of Malaria

In 1897 a man who had been jilted by his 19-year old wife, sued Lazarus Scharff, a prominent St. Louis whiskey dealer, age 51, for alienation of affection.  The suit likely was occasioned by Lazarus’ considerable wealth.  Much of his riches had been gained by selling a “cure” for malaria at a time when no one really knew what caused it,

The scandal over the alienation accusation, shouted from newspaper headlines, rocked St. Louis.  Lazarus, with his brother, Adolph,  created a liquor house in the mid-1870s that had grown to be the largest in St. Louis and the Scharffs were well-respected local businessmen.   The suit was brought by Ulysses S. Altheimer who three years earlier had impregnated and then eloped with a 16-year-old girl named Ophelia.  Ophelia was Adolph’s daughter; Lazarus’ niece.

The marriage had been a stormy one, lasting only a year before Ophelia left her husband in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, took her baby, and went back to live with her father and mother.  Only months later, when his estranged wife sued for divorce, did Altheimer file suit against Lazarus.  In it he alleged that the uncle was responsible for weaning Ophelia’s affections away from him and demanded monetary damages.  The St. Louis Post Dispatch headlined: “Her love was worth $50,000.”

The Post Dispatch story recounted that the family knew nothing about the suit until a reporter went to Ophelia’s home to inform her.  Her response was:  “It was just what we expected, though.  We thought he’d file the suit.  That family is mercenary.”  Her mother upon being informed of the news had a single comment, “Umph.”  Eventually the lawsuit was thrown out of court and Lazarus was exonerated.

Lazarus was born in Essingen, Bavaria, in 1846, the son of Aaron and Lena (nee Rose), Scharff, and educated in local schools.  His early working career appears to have been in the lively wine trade of that region.  At the age of 25, unmarried, he immigrated to the United States in 1871.   He headed immediately to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where an older brother, Nicholas, had established a wholesale boot and shoe business.  Instead of going to work with his brother, Lazarus almost immediately opened a wine and liquor business in Vicksburg. 

He also found a bride there.  She was Clara Eisman,  They were wed in Fayette, Mississippi, in June 1876.  The couple would be married for more than 50 years and produce a family of six children, one daughter and five sons.  Shortly after their marriage the couple relocated to St. Louis.  Whether the move was occasioned by poor prospects for expanding a liquor business in Vicksburg, or by the growing prohibition movement in Mississippi, or other unknown personal reasons, the choice of “The Gateway to the West” would prove to be an excellent one.

Joined by Adolph, the brothers founded their liquor house as L. & A Scharff Co.  Lazarus was president;  Adolph was secretary and treasurer.  Their company featured multiple brands of whiskey, including “Old Velvet Bourbon 1873,” “Pretoria Rye,” “Ameliorated,” Blue Lodge,” "Camp Spring,” "Captain Jack,” "Delmonico Rye,” “Eagle,” “Old Maple Hollow,” "Nelson Creek,” “Pretoria,” and "Spring Hill.”  Several of these brands the company trademarked in the early 1900s.

The Scharffs were “rectifiers,” not distillers, blending whiskeys received in barrels on premises to achieve desired taste, smoothness and color.  They primarily were drawing their liquor from a distillery known in federal records as #RD 112, 8th District, in Anderson County, Kentucky. It was owned by James Ripy of the famous Ripy whiskey clan under the name “T.B. Ripy’s Cliff Springs Distilling Co."

After the blending process the liquor was decanted into both glass and ceramic containers, as shown here, a glass flask for Pretoria Rye and a ceramic mini-jug for Old Maple Hollow.  The Scarffs also issued advertising shot glasses for a number of brands that would have been given to saloons, restaurants and hotels featuring their whiskey.  Examples are shown throughout this post.

Important as these liquor labels were to the Scharffs’ profits, the “cash cow” of the organization was their “Royal Pepsin Bitters.”  The brothers advertised this nostrum as “Without a peer for the cure of malaria as well as a variety of stomach ailments.”  Shown below are two Royal Pepsin embossed glass bottles, considered “scarce” by collectors.  The clear version recently sold for $510.

In the late 19th Century malaria had spread from the American South into the  Midwest, including Missouri.  Moreover, the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 brought people from a number of malarious countries into the city for the seven months duration of the exposition.  A resident doctor at St. Louis City Hospital later wrote:  “Our local mosquitoes naturally became carriers for almost all types of malaria….During the late spring, summer, and fall of 1905, we frequently averaged 25 to 35 or more malaria patients daily, mostly residents of our local territory.”  Some died.  Recognizing that medical science still was unaware of the cause, the Scharffs felt comfortable advertising their Royal Pepsin Bitters as a “cure.”  Embossed on the bottles was the French phrase, “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” meaning “Shame on him who thinks evil of it.”

A specialist on bitters, Ferd Meyer has commented:  “Lazarus and Adolph Scharff tried hard to promote the medicinal values of their product and even sold it in drug stores, but make no mistake, this was a spirit that should have been and probably was sold at liquor stores.  The label does try hard to say the medicinal powers of the product, but if it looks like a duck, swims like duck, 
and quacks like a duck.…”

That “duck” helped make the Scharffs rich.  In addition to achieving a wide customer base for Royal Pepsin Bitters on its purported ability to “cure” malaria, their nostrum,despite its strong alcoholic content, was taxed at a significantly lower rate than whiskey.  Their profits from bitters thereby were higher.

The firm continued to grow over the years as the Scharffs needed increased room for their operations and sales.  Opening on North Main Street, after four years they moved to South Second Street and two years later back to Main, where the company resided for 16 years before National Prohibition, opening other outlets in the meantime on both South Fourth Street and Clark Avenue.

Meanwhile, in 1906 Congress passed what became known as the Pure Food and Drug Act.  An immediate effort of the enforcing authorities was to eliminate the word “cure” from nostrums that purported to eliminate diseases like malaria and cancer, where the cause was still unknown.  Six years later the feds dealt Scharff’s Royal Pepsin Bitters another blow.  It classified the remedy by name among those termed “booze medicines.”  The medicinal ingredients found in their nostrum were so small when compared to the alcoholic content as to be negligible.  It became illegal for druggists to sell Scharff’s bitters without paying a special tax as a retail liquor dealer.

The brothers continued to manage their liquor business until forced to close in 1919. Neither would live to see the end of National Prohibition.  As he aged, Lazarus’ health faltered and in April 1930, he died, age 83, at his residence in the Brandscome Hotel.  He was survived by his widow, all six children, thirteen grandchildren and one great grandchild.  He was buried at New Mount Sinai Cemetery and Mausoleum in Afton, St. Louis County.  Adolph, his elder by three years, joined him at the graveyard 17 months later.  He lived to be 88. Their headstones are shown here.

Regarding the other individuals involved in the alienation charges against Lazarus:  Ophelia received her divorce from Ulysses Altheimer and married again, becoming Mrs. Herman J. Elson.  She had no other children other than the baby, named Virginia, whom she had snatched from Altheimer’s home.  As for Ulysses Altheimer, records indicate he ever married again.  Perhaps he had discovered that love was not worth $50,000 or any amount.

Note:  Much of the material for this vignette is from articles in the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Peachridge Glass website of Ferdinand Meyer V.  As has happened frequently in the past, when I became interested in the Scharffs’ story I found that Ferd had featured their Royal Pepsin Bitters in a post dated 15 April 2013.  I am, as always, grateful for his information and images.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Frisco’s Ensign Saloon Anchored on a Ship

Nautically named, for more than 55 years the Ensign Saloon was a favorite watering hole for seafaring populations along San Francisco’s waterfront.  While the proprietors knew, few patrons likely were aware that the Ensign, on the ground floor of one of city’s then taller buildings, sat on top of a sunken ship.  Not even the 1906 earthquake and fire could shake the saloon from its moorings.

The Ensign story began when a Russian-made three masted sailing ship called the Rome, shown here, rounded the Horn and docked at San Francisco with a load of coal.  The vessel was stripped and purchased by Captain Fred Lawson for $1,000.  Known as the “hulk undertaker,” Lawson was engaged in scuttling abandoned ships in the shallows of San Francisco Bay to create landfill platforms for developers.

In 1890, Capt. Lawson told the San Francisco Examiner the story of the Rome.  In 1852 he was approached by a developer who urgently needed to claim title on an underwater lot at the wharf at what would become the southwest corner of Market Street and the Embarcadero.  According to Lawson:  “One morning he came running up to me and excitedly asked if I had a ship.  I told him, yes, that I had the Rome.  He told me…that if I could have the ship scuttled before 1 o’clock, he would be all right.  Before 1 o’clock my tow-boat took the Rome into where he wanted it and down she went.  I got $5,000 for that job.”  Shown here at #42 is the location of the Rome, one of 47 ships scuttled in San Francisco Bay to facilitate landfills. Note how far inland it is today.

Over the next few years the wharf area gradually was filled in and the Rome disappeared underground.  The 1895 drawing of the dock area above shows the extent of the fill area on which a number of structures had been built, including the ferry dock and the Southern Pacific Railroad station.  The Ensign Saloon looms large on the landscape as the ground floor of a three story building.  The upper two floors held a boarding residence called the C.P. (Central Pacific) House. 

Shown here enlarged, the Ensign was well placed to do brisk business.  The saloon could count on steady traffic coming and going to the ferry and railroad station.  Most of all, the area was a seafarer’s hangout.  An old ships’ captain in 1909 recalled those early days at the wharf:  “If you walked into the Ensign Saloon and called ‘Captain,’ he recalled, “Half the men in the place would look up.”  He also recalled the free lunch offered there and in other nearby saloons:  “If it was wasn’t for the free lunch, I don’t think we would have survived.”  

The Ensign was not only providing alcohol over the bar but also selling liquor at retail.   The assumption is that the proprietors were buying whiskey by the barrel from distilleries;  “rectifying,”  that is blending it, decanting it into glass bottles and selling at retail.  Shown here are two flasks that bear the Ensign Saloon name and address.  Each is of interest for color and shape:  a pint “shoo fly” strap sided flask in a beautiful amethyst and an elegantly designed pint in a light amber.  Given the longevity of the Ensign it is difficult to date these bottles any closer than from 1860 to about 1918.

Despite its favorable location the Ensign also had to compete with the saloons and other drinking establishments that abounded in San Francisco.  One method of keeping customers coming back was to issue tokens good for redemption at the bar or later, as shown below, for a telephone call.  In those days a seaman would not likely have had his own personal telephone.

During its history the saloon knew multiple owners.  The first proprietor was Charles Osmer who operated as George Osmer & Company.  Charles and George were brothers, both immigrants from Achim, Germany.  They  appear to have lived in New York City for a time before relocating to San Francisco.  There, according to the 1860 census,  George opened a liquor dealership.  When his health faltered leading to his death in 1866, Charles took over management of the Ensign, living at the same address, perhaps at the C. P. boarding house.  Osmer and partners also managed other San Francisco saloons.

About 1869, after nine years of ownership Charles Osmer and his partners sold the Ensign Saloon and Osmer subsequently moved back to Germany.  The new owners were Claus Schwartz and Rathy Husing, publicans who already operated a drinking establishment on the southeast corner of Mission and Sixteenth Street.  Schwartz was an immigrant from Hanover, Germany.  According to the 1880 census, he was married to a woman from Hanover and had four children, all born in California.

By 1882 a third partner, Alfred Meyer, joined the partnership of Schwartz & Husing.  At some point, Husing left the company.  After Schwatz's death about 1898, the Ensign Saloon continued on under Meyer and a Schwartz relative named Henry.  This management team was in charge of the establishment when the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire devastated the city.  The Ensign Saloon appears to have been among many structures destroyed.   Shown here is just one of several photos showing the virtually complete devastation on the waterfront.  Like many local businessmen,  Schwartz & Meyer quickly rebuilt.  Shown here in the San Francisco Call  is a 1908 ad for the Ensign Saloon at the usual 1 Market Street address.

By 1910, the Ensign Saloon was sold for a third time.  The new owner was M. Theodore Reinke.  He like previous owners was an immigrant from Germany. The 1910 census found him living in San Francisco with his wife, Clara, two sons and his mother.   Reinke operated the saloon for the next seven years, apparently closing down in 1919 with the coming of National Prohibition, never to reopen after Repeal.  Despite its ending, the Ensign Saloon had an amazing run of 58 years through multiple ownerships, the Civil War, World War One, several financial “panics” and the 1906 cataclysm in San Francisco.  

But the story does not end there.  Although the Ensign Saloon had sat on top of a sunken ship for decades, when the building was torn down and the site subsequently turned into a civic plaza, San Francisco had forgotten the vessel was down there.  In 1994, however, while the city was excavating a subway tunnel from the Embarcadero Station to Folsom Street, construction crews ran smack dab into the Rome, where it had laid undisturbed for 144 years.  It was too large to be excavated so the tunnel was bored right through the ship, as shown on the illustration here.  Remnants of the Rome are now in a local museum.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Frank Zaitz: The Midas Touch in Leadville

Between 1860 and World War I as many as 300,000 individuals are estimated to have left areas than now are part of Slovenia for the United States.  Early waves of migrants from that Balkan country were predominantly single men, many of them miners by occupation.  Among them was a six foot, two inch, 250 pound future saloonkeeper and liquor dealer destined to impact a Colorado mining town in multiple ways.  His name was Frank Zaitz. 

Zaitz was born in 1868 in a small village in the Gorica District of Central Slovenia, shown above.  His family appears to have been fairly prosperous, one brother becoming a doctor, another a priest.  At the age of 17, whether to avoid compulsory military service or a sheer sense of adventure, he left home for America, stopping first in Cleveland where some 30,000 to 40,000 Slovenians lived and worked.  Within a few months, hearing of a booming mining business in Colorado, in 1886 Zaitz headed west.

In 1875 two miners had discovered that black lead carbonate sand common in that area of Colorado was full of silver, triggering a human stampede that created a new town, eventually called Leadville.  By spring 1879 people were arriving by the hundreds every day and within months Leadville had a population of more than 10,000.  By the late 1880s the town held twenty-one smelters, separating silver from sand.  Zaitz found employment in one, working for ten years at a paltry $2.50 a day as mine owners became millionaires.

In 1894 Zaitz had saved enough money to marry.  His wife was Mary Bradach, also an immigrant from Slovenia.  By that time more than 1,500 Slovenian immigrants were living in Leadville and had their own Catholic parish church called St. Joseph’s, shown here.  There Frank and Mary wed.  The couple would have three children, Frank Jr., Mary and Angelina.  

Perhaps it was the impetus of his marriage and growing family that impelled Zaitz to quit the smelters and look for other opportunities.  Reckoning that the burgeoning population in town would need supplies, with a partner, H.W. Hart, in 1896 he founded the Hart-Zeitz Mercantile Company.  Zaitz was president. The “cash cow” of this enterprise was liquor.  The jug shown here would have been filled from whiskey barrels for sales to Leadville’s estimated 120 saloons, 31 restaurants, and its thirsty population.

Hart-Zelitz Mercantile seems to have been successful from the outset.  It opened outlets in nearby Colorado hamlets, Stringtown and Red Cliff.  It advertised widely and provided customers with colorful pictures, some on glass, to be hung on the walls of their homes.  As shown above, among subjects were herds of elks and a tender family portrait,

A second demand in Leadville was housing for single Slovenian men working in the smelters, as Zeitz had earlier. With his wife Mary listed as the housekeeper, Frank opened a boarding house similar to the one shown here.  He would sponsor his countrymen to come to the U.S. and give them jobs, most generated by contracts he secured for unloading coal, coke and other materials at the smelters and the Colorado Midland Railroad.  The Slovenians lived in his boarding house.  

Located on West Chestnut Street. the quarters contained a kitchen with a long table and a second story dormitory room over the saloon.  According to a descendant, new arrivals would be charged $20.00 a month for room and board, which was much of their earnings.  If they learned to speak English, he gave them an additional $5 a month.  If they learned to read and write, another $5. He has been described as a “generous and kind man, always creating goals for his fellow [Slovenian] immigrants.” Zaitz himself could speak English but never learned to read or write it.

Regardless of his lack of literacy Ziatz quickly proved to his fellow townsman, that he had “the Midas touch.”  In a town devoted to silver,  his endeavors seemed inevitably to turn to gold.  He acquired an entire block of Chestnut Street for his enterprises that included, in addition to his grocery and liquor outlet,  a drug store, butcher shop, bakery, sausage maker, ladies’ and mens’ wear, shoe emporium, hardware and furniture stores.  Shown here is one of Zaitz’s original buildings as it looks today in Leadville.

Other properties included a ranch outside of town where Zaitz produced dairy products and other items for his grocery, the Emmett Mine in Leadville, the St. Louis Gold Mining Company, and the Small Hope Mine in LaPlata County.  Additionally he was a major stockholder in the First National Bank of Glenwood Springs, the Coors beer distributor from Leadville to the Utah line, and co-owned the Colorado Hotel in Glenwood Springs, shown below.   When the state went “dry,” in 1916, the loss of the liquor profits that had fueled his enterprises no longer was critical to Zaitz’s economic success.  He branched out into the automotive field owning a Nash car dealership and a service garage.

After his son, Frank Jr., was killed in a mountain auto accident while on family business in 1934, Zaitz was reported to have lost interest in his businesses.  His health declined and after a two week illness in May 1936 he died at the age of 68.  He was given a Requiem Mass from St. Joseph Church and buried in Leadville’s Holy Cross Cemetery.  The Zeitz family plot is shown here.  

Accounted a multi-millionaire at his passing, the Colorado commercial and mining empire Zaitz had created was inherited by his daughter, Angelina, and her husband.  They proved to be inadequate managers and within a few years Zaitz’s holdings largely had been dissipated.

Nonetheless, during the fifty years Zaitz had lived in Leadville, he had touched and often transformed the lives of thousands.  A tribute to his memory that appeared in the Leadville Herald Democrat on June 1, 1936, encapsulated his story:  “The career of Frank Zaitz shows America was a land of opportunity in a fight against the odds.  He progressed from the hardest manual labor and unfavorable environment to material success with a position of importance in the community.”

Note:  The appearance of the Zaitz jug shown here on an online auction site led me to try to discover more about the whiskey dealer behind it.  That resulted in my finding online a four page essay by Ms. Nancy Carter entitled “Frank Zaitz & Zaitz Merchantile.”  The article appears without any reference to its original publication.   It was the principal source of the information provided here. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Whiskey Men and the Automotive Age

Foreword:  By dating the dawning of the automotive age as 1908 when Ford made its first Model T, the next 12 years before the imposition of National Prohibition allowed those involved in the liquor business to engage themselves in varying degees with the on-rush of the “horseless carriage.”  Each of the four "whiskey men" profiled here had his own special experience with the motor car. 

Dodge City, Kansas, above, was known as the roughest, toughest, most lawless town in the West.  It was, that is, until Chalkley “Chalk” Beeson, shown here, came to run the famous Long Branch Saloon, stayed to help bring law and order, and in the process organize a highly celebrated cowboy band that played at a Presidential inaugural. 

Beeson has been seen as a transitional figure, living long enough to see the wild West tamed or, as the Kansas City Star put it:  “One may now walk the streets of Dodge City and Abilene, and by exercising reasonable control of his mouth, may get back to the hotel without being carried on a screen door.”  The photo below, showing Beeson, center, standing as repairs are made to an early automobile, epitomizes the changing times. The age of horse transportation was ending. 

For Beeson, however, perhaps not soon enough.  In August 1912, he was sitting on a horse at his ranch watching a nearby construction crew.  A sudden noise spooked the animal.  It bucked and Chalk was thrown hard against the saddle horn causing internal rupturing. The man who had survived for years amidst the constant dangers of Dodge City could not be saved.  Three days later, Beeson died at the age 64.  

Deemed by some a “historic figure” of the American West, Warren Richardson Jr. , shown here 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 he called the Tivoli Saloon.  

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 by Richardson 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 coatless at the left of Oldfield.  

When John Withers, shown here in maturity, was growing up in a distilling family,  he may have  thought there were better ways to make a living and so he became a jeweler.   After working about 23 years at that trade he apparently decided that the real “gold ring” was captured by making whiskey.  And so created the Withers Distillery in Allenville, Missouri.  

With the coming of the motor car,  Withers became obsessed.  With the profits from his distillery, he bought an expensive convertible machine, one in which he could seat his entire family of eight.  According to one account, the family “takes delight in taking a spin in the high-powered car that Mr. Withers owns and operates.”  There is a marvelous 1913 photograph of the Withers clan in their automobile. 

Sitting proudly in the front seat is Distiller John, his wife and baby Opal.  In the back seat, seemingly somewhat crowded are Roy, Adam, Eddie, Myrtle and Waldo.  Note that the steering wheel is on the right side. 

“It will pay you to meet me,” claimed Abraham Freemanpictured here, the flamboyant proprietor of a “cut price” liquor business in Atlantic City, New Jersey.   Men named Brown, Fleming and Sooy would have taken issue with that assertion.  They probably would have been much happier had they never met Freeman.  

The three men figured in a bizarre episode in Freeman’s life:  While automobiles were not an entirely new conveyance, they were expensive and many people, including Abe, did not own one but he liked “joy riding” with friends around town and the countryside.   In 1913 Freeman engaged a vehicle from one William Brown who rented out his open touring car for $4 an hour (almost $100 in present currency) and provided a chauffeur, in this case Mr. Fleming.   

Loading the automobile with friends,  Freeman jumped into the front seat beside driver and they took off.  Enroute, a gust of wind blew Fleming’s hat in the air and in an effort to catch it he let go of the steering wheel momentarily.  Seizing the opportunity to drive, Freeman grabbed the wheel.  The car swerved to the side of the road and crashed into a ditch.  According to an account given in court:  “All the occupants of the car were more or less injured and Fleming sustained a dislocated shoulder.”  

Freeman’s troubles had just begun. The car was left where it had been ditched and Abe hied off to the nearest inhabited place where he met, likely for the first time, Mr. Sooy.  He hired Sooy and some bystanders on the spot to remove Brown’s damaged car from the ditch.  By the time the party returned to the scene of the accident, it had turned dark. 

They carried a gas lantern to assist their work, sitting it on the ground to light the scene.  As they began to remove the vehicle an odor of gasoline was detected where it apparently had leaked from the gas tank and soaked into the earth.  In an instant the flame from the lantern touched off the fumes and the ground caught fire, spreading quickly to Brown’s expensive automobile.  The vehicle swiftly was consumed by flames and rendered a total loss.   

When Brown sued Freeman for damages, the liquor dealer contended that it was Sooy’s fault and he himself bore no responsibility.  The court of first jurisdiction disagreed and told him to pay up.  Continuing to object, Freeman appealed the verdict to the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals. There the result was the same.  Sooy was found to be in the employ of Freeman and as the employer Freeman was liable.  He paid.  It is doubtful that Abe ever went “joy riding” again.

Note:  Each of these whiskey men has been treated in a longer biography elsewhere on this blog. Chalk Beeson, August 17, 2014;  Warren Richardson, March 12, 1914; John Withers, April 3, 2013; and Abe Freeman, July 10, 2014.