Some distillers and liquor blenders put their products on ships out to sea in the idea that ocean rocking and rolling aged and “soften” their whiskeys. By contrast, William C. Baass, scion of a family in the liquor business, kept his whiskey at home and put himself out to sea, apparently keen to experience the world outside of Louisville, Kentucky. Baass, shown here, fittingly is seen in a passport photo.
William was born in November 1868 in Louisville, the son of Henry and Amalia Jacobs Baass. In the center of Kentucky distilling and indeed the entire universe of American whiskey, Henry Baass, an immigrant from Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, ran a wholesale liquor house that he founded in the late 1860s or early 1870s. It was located at 40 Jefferson Street, near Brook Street.. The couple had four children, in addition to William, brothers Christ and Henry L., and younger sisters, Pauline and Henrietta. The family lived over the liquor store.
When William was only 12, Henry Baass died in 1880 at the age of 45 and was buried in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery. This left his mother Amalia with four minor children to raise and a liquor business to operate. A German immigrant herself, she proved up to the task. For the next eight years as her sons grew to maturity, Amalia, as executrix of Henry’s estate, ran the business, apparently successfully. In time oldest brother Christ became bookkeeper and William a clerk.
All this changed in 1866 when Amalia remarried, her husband a local businessman named Theodore Ahrens whose wife had died the previous year. Christ became the liquor store manager and William took over the books. As Henry’s estate was finally settled the transaction included selling the Jefferson Street business. Christ and William were without jobs. Undaunted, the brothers opened a new liquor business at 114 East Market Street under the name Baass Bros. Liquors.
In 1898 after only a few months after his marriage, Christ died at 30 leaving exclusive proprietorship of the store to William, who wasted no time changing the company name to his own. That name adorns a variety of ceramic jugs in which Baass marketed his whiskey. He was not a distiller nor is there any evidence that he was “rectifying,” that is, blending whiskey on premises and selling it under a brand name. He seems to have been buying product by the barrel and decanting it directly into containers ranging in size from several gallons to quarts. His customers principally were local saloons, restaurants and hotels. An embossed glass flask with Baass’s name indicates he was also selling to retail customers.
Baass was a success in the whiskey trade. A lifelong bachelor he could afford to lodge in Louisville’s posh Galt House. Having lived his entire life in Louisville and traveling little, as he aged, the whiskey man began to have thoughts of seeing the world. His first forays were in the winters of 1918 and 1919, both trips to Cuba on a ship from the United Fruit Company like the SS Waverley, shown below. Both times Baass said he was going on “commercial business,” presumably to buy rum for his liquor store.
Those voyages must have whet his appetite for sea travel; a 1920 journey involved a considerably more ambitious itinerary. On his passport, one that included a new photo, Baass said his destination was Japan, China, Spain, Holland, Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium, British Isles, Monaco, Turkey and Egypt. His first ship was the SS Shinyo-Maru, below, embarking from San Francisco. Asked for the objective of his trip on his passport application, Baass originally had written, “recreation and pleasure.” Someone, likely Baass himself, had crossed that out and written “work.”
That extensive around the world jaunt seems only to have whetted Baass’ appetite for more ocean travel. The following year found him in Colon, Panama, having lost his passport and applying to the American embassy for an emergency document. He was planning to proceed from Panama to Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela. By this time National Prohibition had shut down his liquor house and at the age of 54, he was listing himself as retired. The last trip I can identify for Baass was still another winter jaunt to and from Cuba in 1926. This time he shipped aboard the SS Turialba, shown below. That visit required yet another passport photo.
Evidence is that Baass, having seen much of the world, subsequently made a home for himself in a rural area about ten miles north of Louisville. He lived to be 82 years old, likely reliving memories of his globetrotting adventures. As he aged, Baass’s health deteriorated. In 1948 he was diagnosed as with degenerative heart disease. He worsened over the following two years and died in December, 1950. Like his father and mother William lies buried in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery.
Note: Much of the information for this post was derived from ancestry.com and other internet sources. Readers should take note that nowhere earlier did I stoop to making a pun on Baass’s name with reference to his apparent love of being surrounded by water. But I cannot help myself from doing it here.