Thursday, May 28, 2020

An Outlaw & 5 At the Maverick Saloon

Over its decades-long existence the Maverick Saloon could count six proprietors, five of them apparently law-abiding Montana citizens.  But my guess is that when patrons gathered around the bar at that legendary “watering hole,” the owner about whom the stories were spun endlessly was the Outlaw Lonnie Curry.

In the late 1890s the saloon, shown above, was constructed in Harlem, a town in Blaine County, Northeast Montana, located on the Milk River and adjacent to the Canadian border. The Fort Belknap Indian Reservation is just outside its limits. A postcard of Harlem's main street, unpaved and rutted, indicates the rustic pioneer nature of the town.

The man who built the saloon was George Bowles, a transplanted Kentuckian who had fought for the Union in the Civil War.  He went west initially as a stage coach driver and became a rancher.  Bowles was operating the drinking establishment under the name Club Saloon when in July 1899, Lorenzo Dow Logan, aka Lonnie Curry, one of the most dangerous outlaws in America, dropped into Harlem.   

A member of the notorious Wild Bunch and Curry/Logan bandit family, Lonnie was on the lam from a train robbery in Wyoming.   Shown here, Curry immediately rented a house in Harlem, declared the intention of settling down, and reunited with his wife Elfia and their two children.  This sequence likely was a ploy to establish an alibi if arrested for the train robbery.   Four days after he arrived Curry approached Bowles about buying a half interest in the Club Saloon.  

Given the gunslinger’s reputation, it clearly was an offer the proprietor could not refuse.  The drinking establishment was renamed the Bowles and Curry Saloon.  Lonnie became very active in the Harlem community and made friends of some of its leading citizens.  He began to wear suits and sprouted a mustache.  Like other townspeople he participated in the initial printing of a town newspaper, the Harlem Enterprise.  As one resident put it, the Curry became popular because of his willingness “to help a fellow out.”

Four months later a Curry cousin and fellow outlaw named Bob Lee arrived in Harlem, identifying himself as Lonnie’s brother, Robert.  On November 25 the two men concluded a deal with George Bowles making them the sole owners of the saloon.  Again, Bowles knew well enough when to get out.  The cousins called the saloon The Curry Brothers’ Place.  They immediately began to redecorate the interior in order to attract Harlem’s elite to their drinking establishment.  A talented fiddle player, Lonnie himself was a draw, often called upon to provide the entertainment. 

Curry’s high profile in Harlem led to his downfall.  As one author has speculated:  “Apparently the saloon wasn’t profitable, perhaps of too many drinks on the house and unpaid tabs.”  Dipping into the loot from the robbery, kept in a Harlem hotel safe, Lonnie tried to cash a $1,000 bank note, arousing suspicion.  Pinkerton detectives were soon on the trail. In January 1890 agents posing as itinerant cowboys came to town looking for the Currys.  

Alerted to their presence Lonnie gathered up Bob Lee and left Harlem.  Late that night the pair roused a local rancher named George Ringwald and sold him the saloon for $1,000 — $300 in cash and a promissory note for the balance.  They then rode south. With them went the proceeds from a community raffle, ending Lonnie’s good reputation with the people of Harlem.  Soon after Elfie and the children departed town.

Following a circuitous route that took him through Colorado, Lonnie eventually reached Dodson, Missouri, possibly the Curry/Logan home town.  There he hid out in a house with assorted aunts and cousins.  In February 1900, Pinkerton detectives tracked him there and surrounded the residence.  When Lonnie tried to escape, they shot him down — dead at 28 years old. 

Meanwhile back in Harlem, George Ringwald was now the proprietor of the drinking establishment.  My guess is that it was he who changed its name to Maverick Saloon.  Little information is available on Ringwald.  He owned a ranch outside Harlem and ran a general store near the Milk River Bridge south of town.

Fast forward to 1905.  Shown above is  a letterhead from the Maverick Saloon.  Now the proprietor was H. C. (Henry) Turner, a Harlem store owner with a progressive business approach visible in the elaborate letterhead he designed for the saloon.  In additional to adding a pool hall, he was selling wine, liquor and cigars at retail.

Likely using profits from the Maverick, Turner, described as an “enterprising merchant” created his own town in 1912, called Turner, a dozen miles from the Canadian border and 32 miles from Harlem.  He opened a general store and invited settlers to join him.  The front porch of the store is shown here with Turner’s wife (No. 5) holding a baby.  As Montana attracted more and more settlers, the town was booming. Turner eventually boasted a community center, bank, hardware and lumber stores, cafe and hotel, harness and blacksmith shops, pool hall and confectionary.  When a post office opened in 1917 Henry Turner was made postmaster.

About that time, the Maverick Saloon was sold to S. C. Rasmusson whose 1918 letterhead indicates that in addition to pouring whiskey over the bar he was selling liquor at both wholesale to other area saloons and at retail by jug or bottle to retail customers.  No information is available on Rasmusson, unfortunately, but he had only a short stint as proprietor of the Maverick until Montana went “dry” in 1919.  The bar tokens below can attributed to one of the owners from the saloon’s pre-Prohibition days.  Tokens were banned by the national Repeal legislation in 1934.

That brings us to Roger Chase Reed, the man who revived the Maverick Saloon after the demise of Prohibition.  Reed was born in August 1885 at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, the son of James and Emma Reed.  He is shown here in his sailor uniform, having served a dozen years in the U.S. Navy.  After leaving the service and farming for a number of years, Reed owned and operated the Maverick.  He died in 1948 and is buried in the Harlem cemetery.  No subsequent owner has come to light.

With time out for the “dry” years, the building that held the Maverick and predecessors stood for five decades, a phenomenal existence for an Old West drinking establishment.  Yet my guess is that even today when the residents of Harlem tell visitors about the history of the town, precedence is given to those six months when an outlaw ran the Maverick Saloon.

Note:   Although this post is gathered from a variety of sources, the principal one was County Histories of
Montana: Thunderstorms and Tumbleweeds: 1887-1987 East Blaine County.  Much of the Curry saga is from that source as are the photos of the Maverick Saloon, Turner General Store and Robert Reed.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Society “Distiller” and the Crooked Cop

Long before the name Hollywood became identified with the motion picture industry, New Yorkers were drinking a popular brand of whiskey by that name, as shown here on a 19th Century bar token.  The liquor was the product of William Maynard Fliess, a prominent New York businessman, government reformer and philanthropist whose fall from grace was intwined with his relationship to a New York police inspector known as  “Clubber” Williams.

Shown here, Fliess was born in German Prussia in 1833, the son of Dr. Jules Fliess, a physician who with his family immigrated to the United States and settled in Baltimore.  When a yellow fever epidemic broke out in Norfolk, Virginia, the doctor hurried to the scene to minister to the victims and ultimately died there of the disease.  William’s mother, Joan, a leading church-woman and charity benefactor, had the resources to send William to England where he studied for the law.

Upon his return, disinclined to follow a legal career, Fliess settled in New York City and, his biography claims,  “became a distiller.” That was an exaggeration.  In reality, he purchased a liquor dealership in Manhattan and was mixing raw spirits at the 47 Broadway address to create the blended “Hollywood Whiskey.”  He bottled his products in embossed amber quarts. Unlike most in the liquor trade Fliess took the trouble and expense of trademarking the Hollywood name in 1873 and claimed it had been used for the past 10 years.  During that period the German immigrant had become very rich from whiskey sales.

Fliess used his much of his wealth to fund enterprises in the Far West.  Said to be one earliest New York City money men to invest in mines, he became president of the California Mining and Water Company located in Utah.  Later he is said to have declined President Grant’s offer to make him territorial governor of that state.  Fliess also invested in railroad transportation, listed as president of the St. Joseph and Kansas line.  He established a reputation as a philanthropist, for thirty years annually hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for New York’s orphan newsboys. 

Orphan Thanksgiving

In Fliess’s day New York was ruled by the highly corrupt “Tammany Hall Ring,” run by the notorious Boss William Tweed.  In July 1871, an investigation and eventual prosecution was undertaken by a committee of seventy citizens, led by Samuel J. Tilden, later elected Governor of New York.  Fliess, considered one of New York City’s upright and progressive citizens, was chosen as a member and became chairman of its law committee, a singular honor.
Tweed subsequently was indicted in 1872 for forgery and grand larceny, and sentenced to prison, as were others in Tammany Hall.  The power of the ring was broken.  The resulting prestige appears to have vaulted Fliess into the upper echelons of New York society.  Advertised as “the only recognized fashionable society magazine in the City of New York,” Rider and Driver magazine in 1893 listed its “blue blood” stockholders, leading off with John Jacob Astor. Four names below was “William M. Fliess.”  A biographer called him:  “A thorough businessman, a good public speaker, an enthusiastic fisherman and an excellent rife shot.”

Enter Alexander S. Williams, a New York policeman who in 1887 had risen to the rank of inspector in charge of the West 13th Street Station in Manhattan. Because of his aggressive police methods including the liberal use of his night stick, the inspector was widely known as “Clubber" Williams.” 

Although hailed for having put down local gangs, he was not immune from the corruption then endemic in the New York police force.  William’s district included night clubs, gambling resorts and brothels.  He called it “The Tenderloin,” presumably for the perceived opportunities the area presented him for bribes.  The name stuck.  In time Williams would merit a song entitled “Czar of the Tenderloin.”

Fliess’ Hollywood Distilling Company was located on Broadway within the Tenderloin.  Just how and when the businessman might have met Williams is unclear.  Soon, however, the district’s police officials were taking great interest in the sale of Hollywood Whiskey.  Police captains and ward detectives were introducing company salesmen to the saloonkeepers of the precinct “with special recommendations of the excellence of the beverage offered, and of the high favor with which its sale is regarded at ‘headquarters’” (i.e, Inspector Williams).  With implied police protection for those who purchased it, many proprietors agreed.  “…The Hollywood Company is said to be in a highly prosperous condition, yielding large profits,” said an investigative report.

The report continued: “All those who have bought the Hollywood whiskey admit that it has turned out a good thing for them, for they have not been troubled by the police for violations of the excise laws.”  Other publicans who had their own proprietary blended whiskeys, the report continued, bought a few barrels of  Hollywood Whiskey simply to please the police, storing the barrels in the basement with no intention of using it.  The motto Fleiss put on a bar token seems prophetic:  "Don't tell a soul."

Alarmed as police “persuasion” benefiting Hollywood Whiskey spread across Manhattan, in 1888 a group of New York liquor house owners created a Wholesale Liquor Dealer’s Association for mutual protection against police interference.  The group petitioned the State Legislature with a detailed report entitled “The Police as Liquor Sellers.”  As a result the legislature eventually passed a law that barred cops from holding a commercial interest in or meddling with the sale of liquor.  Fear of police retaliation, unfortunately, made enforcement impossible.

In 1894, a New York state senator, named Clarence Lexow, shown here, was outraged by the many legitimate complaints about police and headed a legislative investigation of corruption within the NYPD.  One of the principal persons of interest to the Lexow Committee was “Clubber” Williams.  The committee heard testimony from accomplices that the Czar of the Tenderloin had received money from gambling house operators and brothel keepers as well as other sources. The inquiry found that that Williams' personal finances and properties included a house at Cos Cob, Connecticut, a yacht and other valuables —  well beyond the reach of a policeman’s salary.

Lexow had a particular interest in the relationship of Williams to the Hollywood Distilling Company and Fliess.  One report suggested that Fliess had given Williams a part ownership in his company.  Others believed it was just a standard case of bribery with Clubber filtering some of the money down to his foot soldiers in blue.  I can find no record of Fliess being called to testify.  A Mr. J. Kalt, representing the Hollywood Company, denied  to investigators any knowledge of a meeting at which the scheme allegedly was hatched.  

Williams, as expected, denied any wrongdoing but did admit receiving  $6,000 from "my friend" William Fliess.   In today's dollar that would amount to $132,000. But "Clubber" denied it had anything to do with promoting Hollywood Whiskey, as had been charged. The police inspector eventually was removed from his position but never went to jail.

With the Lexow Committee hearings meriting daily stories in all of New York’s newspapers, Fliess’s reputation as a businessman, anti-corruption leader, and member of New York high society clearly was besmirched.  But why would such a man stoop to deal with Clubber Williams, a known shady character?  My belief is that the liquor dealer was in financial distress, possibly over the collapse of his Western investments.  The St. Joseph and Kansas Railroad, it appears, was never built.  Moreover, investments in mining frequently went bust.  Fueling his need for money may well have been the cost of keeping up with the Astors and other “blue bloods” both socially and in philanthropy.  So Fliess had swung to the dark side.

Less than a decade later, William Maynard Fliess was dead, his cause of his death in 1904 at the age of 71 is not available from Internet sources. Details of his life during that time period are scanty.  He was able to keep the Hollywood Company in business despite the police scandal, but almost nothing else about him appears in the public record, including his place of interment.  Although Fliess’s has biographical material on, a descendant has taken much of it private, unavailable for general viewing.  The last New York City directory entry for the Hollywood Company was 1910.  At that time a son, William M. Fliess Jr., was president.

Notes:  This post is gathered from a variety of sources.  The most important are the biography of Fliess in the 1896 Cyclopedia of America Biography and the transcript of the Lexow Committee that encompasses five large volumes.  Key passages about the relationship betweem Fliess and Williams unfortunately are found in volumes not currently available on the Internet.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Whiskey Men Who Loved Animals

Foreword:  A number of whiskey men —distillers and liquor dealers — during their working years also showed a bent toward animal husbandry.  Most commonly distillers had pens associated with their whiskey-making, feeding their spent mash to cattle being fattened for the dinner table.  Others seemed to have had more affection for their animals.  Here are brief stories of three such men.

As hard as it may be to believe, the young man with the cigar shown here talking to a rooster and surrounded by newly hatched chicks had an earlier, highly successful career as a distiller and liquor dealer in Kansas City, Missouri. His name was Ernest Kellerstrass, a man who truly loved chickens.

Kellerstrass, still in his 30s, showed extraordinary initiative.  About 1899 he established his company and located his main office in Kansas City, selling stock in the Kellerstrass Distilling Company at $10 a share.  He also bought a distillery in Paradise, Clay County, Missouri, that had been founded about a decade earlier. Through his distillery he was able to insure a secure supply of raw whiskey for his brands.  With success he created a separate sales depot across Missouri in St. Louis.  As shown below on his letterhead,  Kellerstrass emphasized his access to railway express to send his goods west from Kansas City and east from St. Louis.

Inexplicably, in 1904 and at the height of his success, Kellerstrass, still short of 40 years old, sold out his distillery and mail order liquor empire to a syndicate from St. Louis.  Meanwhile, Kellerstrass with wife and family retired to his chicken ranch outside of town.  He built new chicken houses according to his own design and began to breed a superior kind of poultry.  The eggs from the Kellerstrass Farm became known region-wide for their freshness and quality.  Shown below is truckload of his eggs on their way to consumers.  

Soon many in America would know about Kellerstrass and his chickens. In 1910, after only a few years in business,  he self-published a book called “The Kellerstrass Way of Raising Poultry” and charged $1 for it.  The picture that began this article, showing the author talking to a rooster, was on the cover.   

Clearly very proud of the progress he had made with his chickens, the book is full of advice to poultry raisers.  Kellerstrass introduced the volume by saying:  “It has been constant aim in writing this book to use common sense, and to give the public as much good practical advice as I possibly could,  and remember, that this book was written by a man who is out working with his chickens ever day.

Milton L. Eppstein, shown here in 1914, had two evident passions in life, good whiskey and Jersey milk cows. He managed to combine the two into a Fort Worth, Texas, liquor business that exhibited both financial success and a distinctive bovine flavor. In short, he succeeded in mixing whiskey and cream. 

When Eppstein selected a flagship brand, he looked to his hobby for inspiration. He had fallen in love with the Jersey cow, a breed known for its docile disposition, lovely eyes, and high butterfat cream. His stock farm became known as one of the finest in the Southwest. It was no surprise then when Milton named his select whiskey, “Jersey Cream.”  

Eppstein’s bovine passion was most evident in a pair of freestanding metal signs advertising Jersey Cream, cut in the form of a cow and calf. The cow stood almost four feet tall and the calf was two feet.  So notable were Eppstein’s metal cows that they were taken by members of the Fort Worth Ad Club to Toronto upon the occasion of the 14th North American convention of advertising men. As a result, Milton was twitted in a contemporary publication for being the owner of a herd of iron cows and “sacred bovines.” A 1914 caricature showed him at his favorite pastime.  

Nevertheless, time was running out for Milton and his Jersey Cream Whiskey. In 1916 Texas voted statewide Prohibition and L. Eppstein & Son became history. Eppstein retired to New York City, listed as living on Seventh Avenue by the 1920 Census. Death came five years later, while Eppstein was on a visit to Fort Worth, likely to visit his beloved herd of Jersey cows.

In 1903, with a partner, Henry Figge opened a wholesale liquor house at 353 East Water Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Figge’s company quickly met with success.  His flagship brand was Custom House Rye, with a label that featured the very elegant Milwaukee building.  Dating from 1855, it had been constructed by the U.S Department of the Treasury after the design of the noted architect Ammi Burnham Young.  The building still stands.

Figge’s animal interests involved both canine and porcine. Known as a dog fancier, the 1905 Field Dog Stud Book listed him as owning a champion beagle named “Foster Rye,” likely named by him for rye whiskey.  Registered as a “black, white and tan,” Foster Rye had a long pedigree.  Its sire was “Bellman”, out of “Florist” and “Bashful”;  its dam was “Staley’s Rubber” out of “Staley" and “Sailor’s Ranney.”

Seemingly ever restless, Figge, now with considerable wealth, retired from the liquor trade entirely in 1914 and bought a large farm on Cold Spring Road in Milwaukee County not far from the village of Hales Corners.  There he raised Poland China hogs.  The oldest American breed of swine, Poland China hogs are typically black, sometimes with white patches, and are known for their large size  For a dozen years Figge was known throughout the Upper Midwest for his prize-winning pigs.  In 1926, perhaps in declining health, he sold his farm and moved back to Milwaukee where shortly after he died.

Note:  Fuller biographies of each of these whiskey men can be found on this blog at the following dates:  Earnest Kellerstrass, July 6, 2013;  Milton Eppstein, March 4, 2012, and Henry Figge, June 27, 2015.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Tom Angle and the Two Pound Diamond


When he was a boy, Thomas Mayes Angle wrote in 1926, he was always looking for diamonds in the sand of the branches and creeks of Caswell County, North Carolina. He once found a crystal rock of about two pounds. “I felt sure for a long time," Angle said, "that my fortune was made. I had found the long looked for diamond and I never will forget how badly I felt when the discovery was made that it was only quartz.”  As a grown man, Angle may have thought by operating distilleries he could discover the equivalent of that two pound diamond and make his fortune.  Again he was mistaken —  and paid a price.

Angle was born in June 1863 in Iredell County, North Carolina, the son of Solomon and Eleanor (Durham) Angle.  His father, a Confederate war veteran, was a dentist and claimed the title “Doctor,” even to his gravestone.  There may be some doubt as to his credentials since North Carolina had no dental college until 1950 and Virginia’s first such dates to 1893 when Sol, as he was known, was 70 years old.

Tom received his education in local schools and apparently early on gravitated to farming, likely having a small distillery on the property.  In March 1899 he married Eva Margaret Staton, a local woman who was six years younger.  In quick succession, the couple would have two boys, Montrose, born in 1900 and Solomon, 1901.  A third son, Thomas S., arrived in 1907.

In the early 1900s Jack Miles, the aging owner of a distillery in Anderson Township, Caswell County, North Carolina, hearing of Angle’s abilities as a distiller, offered him the job of managing his plant.  Likely feeling the need for increased income as family man, Angle agreed, moving his wife and children 120 miles west to Milton, a town adjacent to the Virginia border.  There  Angle established himself as a distiller and liquor dealer.

As a demonstration of his desire to put down roots, he bought a handsome home near Milton, one formerly owned by Dr. W. L. Stamps who called it Glenburnie. Set among towering trees and surrounded by farmland the house featured large windows, a wide entry way and spacious front porch.  It is pictured here as it looked in the early 1900s.  

As one biographer blandly put it:  “It appears that the distillery business eventually caused legal difficulties for Thomas Mayes Angle.”  Indeed.  In a case the newspapers called “very important,” Angle and three members of the well known North Carolina Sprinkle distilling family  [see my post of April 22, 2014] were charged with defrauding the government of $100,000 in whiskey taxes and hauled into Federal Court in Greensboro.  Another defendant already had been convicted.

The outcome of the trial has not been recorded.  It would not be a surprise to learn that it ended in a hung jury.  According to a press account, after an initial jury had been selected Angle’s attorney “asked all who had formed or expressed an opinion that the defendants were guilty to retire.”  Nine jurors immediately got up and left.  My guess is that they did so to escape ruling on the case out of sympathy for the defendants.  Local juries often tended to be partial to the accused, whom they may have known personally.

Even if he did not face punishment, Angle likely was out of work as the law allowed Federal authorities to confiscate the Milton distillery and shut it down.  Before long, however, another opportunity arose only a dozen miles away across the Virginia line in the city of Danville, shown here. 

Adjacent to a grist mill owned by a Captain J. Hutch Pigg, was a whiskey-making facility known as the Dry Fork Distillery.  In the photo above, the building, made of corregated steel, can be seen tucked a corner of the wooden mill.  The structure shown below also is said to have been part of the complex.  Despite his earlier problems with federal authorities Angle was hired as distillery manager.

The Dry Fork Distillery was in an excellent position to become prosperous and make him rich.  As one observer noted about Danville: “ Distilleries have sprung up like mushrooms around this city since the recent temperance laws were adopted in North Carolina.  Being only three miles from the North Carolina border line, Danville is an ideal shipping point to Greensboro, Durham, Charlotte and other ‘dry’ towns.”  The production capacity of the Dry Point Distillery was about 1,200 barrels annually, amounting to between 50,000 and 60,000 gallons.  Tom Angle could anticipated the fortune he had dreamed of as a boy.

Despite his earlier brush with the law the North Carolinian apparently had not yet learned his lesson.  When two years of his management resulted in unusually significant growth in profitability, Federal authorities suspected that the Dry Fork Distillery was producing and shipping out large quantities of whiskey daily in excess of the amount on which tax was being paid.  

At least a dozen revenue officers were stationed in and around Danville in an effort to gather evidence of fraud.  Contacted by a Washington Post reporter, Angle denied any wrong-doing but admitted that agents had been shadowing his and other locations for some time.  “‘Last Saturday night, six officers slept in the woods near here and in the morning following inspected the still,” he told the reporter.

The Dry Fork Distillery subsequently was raided and shut down by authorities. Angle was ordered to post a bond of $4,000 ($88,000 in today’s dollar) in order to reopen if everything was found in order.  An investigative report to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue found, however, that Angle’s plant had been defrauding the government out of internal revenue taxes by means of double runs and other methods, thereby evading paying the excise of $1.10 on every gallon of spirits produced.  The report further claimed that fraudulent operations had been going on for about two years.  If the estimates provided by the investigating officers were correct, for nearly every gallon on which the tax had been paid another gallon had been surreptitiously manufactured.

At that point the Dry Fork Distillery was liable of being forfeited and sold by authorities, along with sixty barrels of whiskey — nearly 3,000 gallons — taken in the raid.  The total value was estimated at $9,400 (almost $207,000 today).  A representative of the company, likely Captain Pigg, approached the revenue officers and offered to settle the matter by paying a $7,000 penalty.  The offer was rejected, the plant and liquor ordered to be sold, and Angle and others involved were prosecuted criminally. 

As was common in those cases the matter dragged on for years.  Although the seizure had occurred early in 1905, not until 1908 did a Federal grand jury return its indictments against the officers and directors of the company.  The Wine and Spirits Journal noted:  “The main prosecution will be made against T. M. Angle who was manager of the distillery.”  The criminal trial did not occur until April, 1910, when Angle was found guilty on five counts.  Subsequent civil suits for payment of unpaid liquor taxes against him were not decided until the following November.

Whether or not Angle ever served time or how much is unclear.  He continued to live with his family at Glenburnie and was recorded in both the 1910 and 1920 census occupied in agriculture.  A local newspaper obituary called him “a successful farmer and throughout his active life displayed a large interest in community affairs, being for many years a political leader.”  My efforts have been unavailing in finding corroborating evidence of Angle’s community service or political endeavors.

A 1926 notice advertised the sale of two T. M. Angle farms outside Milton, one of 210 acres said to be excellent for tobacco growing or home sites and a second of 106 acres located on low grounds along the Dan River.  A band concert and raffle of $100 were offered as a lure to potential buyers.  Three years later Tom Angle died, the cause given as diabetes and chronic hepatitis exacerbated by the flu.  He was survived by his widow, Eva, and three sons.  After a funeral service in his home, he was buried in Cedars Cemetery at Milton.

After Angle’s death Eva continued to live at Glenburnie with her youngest son, Thomas.  She was away in Greensboro on June 30, 1932, when about 1 a.m. the pilot of a small mail plane passing over the home noticed flames and by flying low over the area and making maximum noise alerted Thomas who was asleep in the house.  

He and neighbors were able save some furniture but the house was destroyed.  A photo of the burned out Glenburnie indicates the complete ruin it became from a fire believed to have originated in a frame kitchen at the rear.  It was reported that there was no insurance on the structure or its contents.  Not only did Tom Angle never find his two pound diamond, now his gem of a home, Glenburnie, was gone.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Matt Hinkel: Cleveland’s Liquor Dealer Sportsman

The rise of Mathias J. “Matt” Hinkel, shown here, from twelve-year-old office boy in Cleveland to nationally known millionaire sportsman, boxing promoter and prize fight referee was a phenomenon founded on the sale of alcohol.  From 1892 to 1919, Hinkel’s prosperous wholesale trade in wines and “jobber of fine whiskey” made possible his forays into boxing, baseball, and horse racing as well as financing the establishment of other Cleveland businesses.  

Born in the Ohio city in 1867, Hinkel was the son of Catherine (Sauer) and Jacob Hinkel, both immigrants from Hesse Darmstadt, Germany.  Although Jacob’s occupation in the 1880 census was given as “merchant,” he may not have been a  successful one.  Matt was forced to quit school at 12 years old and go to work as an office boy for Edwards, Townsend & Company, a major Cleveland wholesale grocery and liquor emporium.  According to a biographer, “…By close attention to business and faithfulness and diligence [Hinkel] rose to the position of manager of their liquor department.”  Because Edwards, Townsend relied heavily on liquor sales, Hinkel became a key company executive while still in his teens.

After toiling for the grocery chain for more than a decade, Hinkel opened his own liquor house at 461 Pearl Avenue in 1892.  This move may have been triggered by his 1889 marriage to Minerva Marie, “Minnie” Willschlager (1870-1927). The couple would produce three children, two girls and a boy.  With a growing family Matt likely felt the need for more income. 

Under Hinkel’s adept managerial hand, his liquor business grew and flourished.  The need for more space apparently prompted a move to 1778 25th Street in 1906 and subsequently and finally in 1909 to 814-820 Prospect Avenue SE.  It is difficult to assess Hinkel’s marketing strategies.  He apparently did not advertise widely and artifacts from his trade are few.  I have been able only to locate a metal jug engraved “Hinkel’s Pure Rye,” the artifact that first put me onto the track of this whiskey man’s story.  The jug likely was meant for use on a bar where it would have held water or tea for “cutting” whiskey.

When and how Hinkel honed his passion for sports is unclear.  His first foray seems to have been into baseball.  In 1912, he sponsored an amateur team known as Matt Hinkel’s Champions.  When offered a chance to have a professional franchise in the newly formed Columbia League, he jumped at it, hiring a manager and negotiating a contract with the owner of Luna Park on the outskirts of Cleveland for the erection of a 20,000 seat baseball stadium.  When the new league imploded without a single game being played, Hinkel must have been devastated, but retained his interest in baseball, befriending the great Ty Cobb and becoming his hunting partner. 

Hinkel would make his mark in fisticuffs, gaining recognition as both an impresario of boxing matches and a referee.  His breakout event was arranging a 15-round featherweight championship bout on Labor Day 1916 at Cedar Point, Ohio, shown below.  The match pitted Johnny Kilbane, left, the title-holder and Cleveland native, and George Chaney of  Baltimore, called “The Knockout King of Fistiana.”  The Plain Dealer opined:  “Twenty thousand American dollars must pass through the gates of Cedar Point…before…[the bout] is a financial success.”  The crowds came and watched their Local Hero dispatch Chaney in three rounds.  Much of the credit — and profits — went to Hinkel.

Cedar Point Pavilion

Soon Hinkel was being compared to the famous New York fight promoter, Tex Rickard.  His reputation as a referee also was growing.  In September 1917, he promoted a heavyweight battle in Canton, Ohio, between two heavyweight contenders, Fred Fulton, known as the “Pugnacious Plasterer,” and Carl Morris, “The Oklahoma White Hope.”  Despite having thousands of dollars to lose, Hinkel stopped the fight in the third round after Morris, a brawler, repeatedly hit Fulton with low blows and refused to stop.  Morris was disqualified and Fulton declared the winner.

A Philadelphia sports writer covering the match marveled at Hinkel’s courage:  When he disqualified Morris he risked his reputation and got away with it.  The decision was greeted with cheers and Matt was called back to the ring for a further ovation.  He is stronger than ever with the boxing fans, for he proved yesterday that he not only is a capable, but fearless referee.  He is the kind of man we need in Philadelphia.” 

A newspaper in Edmonton Canada identified him as Cleveland’s “millionaire boxing referee.”  A Duluth, Minnesota, daily hailed him as “one of the best ring arbiters in the country.”  Sportswriters around the country regarded him as a guru on the fight game and hung on his words.  Newspapers from El Paso to Milwaukee reported a speech Hinkel gave in July 1917 in which he declared that all championship fights should be scheduled for twenty rounds and titleholders should not participate in shorter prize fights even though they might be lucrative.

Shown above is Hinkel refereeing perhaps the most famous bout of his ring career.  Held at the Olympic Arena in Brooklyn, Ohio, the 1924 fight drew national attention as Harry Greb (left), the world’s middleweight champion, fought Gene Tunney, the American light-heavyweight champion.  Two years earlier Greb had given Tunney, later world heavyweight champion, the only defeat of his career. The rematch went ten rounds, called a “see-saw” affair, and the judges declared it a no-decision.  Hinkel told the press that if he had been permitted to vote he would have declared the contest a draw.

Despite the rigors of running his liquor business and promoting the fight game, Hinkel had the energy to manage other Cleveland enterprises.  He was president and treasurer of the Art Electrotype Foundry Company, an outfit that made printing plates.  He also was president and treasurer of the Smith Form-a-Truck Company, an early entry into the burgeoning automotive field, and was vice president of the Arts Photo Paper Company.  To these activities must be added his work as a civic activist and participation in the Elks, Moose and Cleveland’s Tuxedo Club.

Matt Hinkel
With the coming of statewide prohibition, Hinkel was forced to shut down his liquor house in 1919 after 27 years in business.  By this time he was 52 years old and could rely on his other enterprises for activity and revenue.   Moreover, the ensuing years would be among his most active in the fight game.  Yet Matt seemed to sense that National Prohibition would end before long and kept one hand in the liquor trade.

George Remus
That pitted the Cleveland fight promoter against one of America’s most dangerous bootleggers, George Remus.  Shown here, Remus, a lawyer, saw that his criminal clients were becoming wealthy very quickly through the illegal production and distribution of alcoholic beverages.  Remus read the fine print in the Volstead Act and found a loophole that allowed him to buy distilleries to produce and sell bonded liquor for medicinal purposes, under government license. His employees, eventually numbering 3,000, then would hijack his own liquor so that he could sell it illegally. The scheme realized $40 million in less than three years.  When eventually caught and sentenced to prison in 1925, Remus’ estranged wife, Imogene, took the opportunity to sell off his whiskey.

Hinkel purchased most of the Remus stash, including 3,000 barrels of whiskey from the Pogue Distillery in Maysville, Kentucky.  The bootlegger’s attempt to “rescue” that whiskey before he went to jail had been thwarted by a judge’s order, likely initiated by the Clevelander.  The Pogue whiskey became Hinkel’s.  Rather than menacing Matt, Remus took his revenge on Imogene.  Released from jail, he shot her down on a Cincinnati street and beat a murder rap by pleading insanity.

My guess is that Hinkel was able to continue selling this whiskey through the authorized “medicinal” channels during the remainder of the 1920s and into the 1930s.  In the mid-1930s as National Prohibition was being rescinded, Hinkel would have found a strong demand for any remaining stocks.  With Repeal, however, he did not revive his Cleveland liquor house, possibly because of declining health. 

On September 19, 1936, Hinkel, age 69, suffered a heart attack and died. He was survived by his second wife, Bessie (Hayes) Hinkel and his three children. Following a funeral in his home, he was interred in the Lake Park Cemetery, Rocky River, Ohio.  His gravestone is shown here.

From a 12-year-old office boy, Matt Hinkel had risen to the ranks of Cleveland millionaires by dint of his intelligence, hard work, and chosen occupation selling liquor.  Perhaps more important, he had helped put his home town and Northeastern Ohio into the front ranks of America’s sports by his promotion of nationally noted boxing matches.

Note:  This vignette has been drawn from a wide range of sources.  Two principal ones were brief biographies in “Men of Ohio”  issued in 1914 by the Cleveland Leader and Cleveland News newspapers and “A History of Cleveland and Its Environs,” authored by Elroy McKendree Avery and issued in 1918 by Lewis Publishing Co.  Subsequent to this posting, in August 2022 the Hinkel shot glass shown here came to light and has been added.

Addendum:  Noting my comment above about my problems finding whiskey artifacts from Matt Hinkel, Jack Past of Phoenix, Arizona, was kind enough to send along the saloon sign below.  It was purchased some time ago by his now diseased father, Dr. Si Past of Dayton, Ohio, a collector.  I had never before seen it.  The sign is a marvel and my great thanks to Atty. Past for allowing me to replicate it below.