Friday, June 30, 2023

Chester Graves and the Story of “Hub Punch”

Recently the Louisiana State University Press announced it would be publishing  a new series of short books on famous cocktails.  Because LSU is not likely to treat a libation that primarily sold in a bottle, it occurred to me that a post on an drink marketed nationally before Prohibition by Boston liquor dealer Chester H. “Chet” Graves also deserves to have its history revealed.  The libation was known as “Hub Punch.

Hub Punch did not originate in Boston, however, but on Hub Island, a small bit of land in the St. Lawrence River, located between Grenell Island and Thousand Island Park,  shown on the map above.  The dominant feature of the island was the Hub House, right.  That hotel has been described as a “debaucherous” lodging, dance hall and bar.  A short boat ride from the mainland, it was notorious for its dance parties at which young people could waltz until dawn, sleep in one of the rooms, and dance the next night through, all the while imbibing their favorite cocktails.

The most popular of those alcoholic concoctions was known as Hub Punch.  It was the brain child of an Oswego, New York, bartender named Bart Keether, who was in charge of the Hub House bar and the first to mix Hub Punch. The drink was an instant hit, according to one author.  Although Keether served it during the 1870s and into the 1880’s, he never divulged his recipe.  Some have speculated that among its ingredients were rum and brandy.   The end of Keether’s punch came in 1883 when Hub House burned to the ground.

Chet Graves was not about to let the popularity of Hub Punch fade away.  In 1858, Oliver Wendell Holmes had identified Boston as “The Hub of the Solar System,” which developed into “The Hub of the Universe” or just “The Hub City.” Hub Punch fit well with Boston.  Graves added it to the flurry of proprietary brands of liquor he offered.  

Those whiskeys included:  "Beech Grove,” "Boat Club,” "Cumberland Club,” "Graves' Maryland Malt,” "Kentucky Union,” "Mackinaw Rye,”Old Heritage Rye,” “Superba,” "The Judges Favorite,” "Union League Club,” and "Walnut Hill Pure Rye.”  He trademarked Walnut Hill Rye, likely his flagship whiskey, in 1892. After Congress strengthened trademark protections in 1905, Graves registered many of his other brands.

On May 1, 1879,C. Graves & Sons advertised:  “At the earnest solicitation of a number of our hotel patrons and personal friends we have decided to offer our Rum and Brandy Punch in bottles, an article that has a most excellent reputation, having been originally prepared by our senior member.”   Graves appeared to be taking credit for the origins of Hub Punch.  Observers generally agree that his recipe, also never divulged, differed from Keether’s but do not know how.  Grave’s ads give slim clues to its contents, claiming to contain “only the best of liquors, choice fruit juices and granulated sugar.”  Ads also suggested “drinking clear or mix with lemonade, soda or ice water.”   Because it was sold before National Prohibition, Hub Punch was not required to disclose its alcoholic content. 

Marketed through vigorous advertising in local newspapers and national magazines, Hub Punch proved to be a hit with the American drinking public. Increasingly people were moving from straight liquor to cocktails and mixed drinks.  Hub Punch suited the trend well.  As shown below, Graves packaged his beverage in both clear and amber quart bottles, bearing blue or green labels that depicted the skyline of Hub City.

Graves’ rise to success in the liquor trade was a long one. He was born in Sunderland, Massachusetts, in January 1818, the son of Eliza Hatch and Elijah Graves, a New England family whose Yankee ancestry stretched back into colonial days.  He arrived in Boston in 1844 at age 24 and went to work for Seth W. Fowle, a manufacturer and dealer in patent medicines, known for his inventive advertising for his lung remedies, including the highly alcoholic “Wistar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry.”

After four years of working for Fowle and learning his merchandising techniques, Graves moved on to the Boston house of John T. Hearn where he spent the next 12 years engaged in the liquor trade.  In November 1846 he married Charlotte A. “Lottie” Fuller of Newton, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb.  Although sources differ on numbers, the couple had at least three sons and a daughter over the next 14 years. 

His growing family may have induced Graves to strike out on his own.  In time he brought his two eldest boys, Edward and George, into the business, and it became Chester H. Graves and Sons.  Graves continued to guide the fortunes of his company until his death in April 1901 at the age of 82.  His sons took the reins of management and continued the success of Hub Punch until closed by the advent of National Prohibition in 1920.

Unlike the great majority of liquor houses in America that closed for good, the Graves boys waited out the “dry” 14 years and in 1933 as Repeal became certain trademarked the name and signature of their father.  The application reads “for gin and other potable liquors.”  A bottle of the company’s gin is shown right. I have not found evidence that the sons revived Hub Punch in the post-Prohibition era. 

In more recent times, however, a brother team in Boston has brought new life to Hub Punch. Will and Dave Willis in 2010 founded Bully Boy Distillers, Boston’s first craft distillery.  They specialize in making small batch spirits in accord with local tradition and recognized that historically no beverage was more closely identified with Boston than Hub Punch.  As for ingredients, the Bully Boy version is not  identical either to Keether’s or Graves’ recipe.  The bottle says only that it is “infused with orange, fruits and botanicals” and is 70 proof, that is, alcohol just over one-third of the volume.  As is said, things old thus are made new again.

Note:  This post and illustrations was gathered from a variety of Internet sources, among them a 2014 article from MISE magazine by Cassandra Landry.


Monday, June 26, 2023

Savoring “Old West” Saloons

Over the years for my own edification, I have collected Internet photographs and stories of old time saloons.   Now it occurs to me to share some on this website, including a western saloon I personally visited some years ago.

The first establishment shown here is a Haskell, Texas, saloon.  My fascination is with the imaginative way that the proprietors have rendered the word “whiskey.”  Obviously with tongue firmly in cheek,  they have proclaimed it “The Road to Ruin.”  Yet the front door is open wide and the gents on the porch obviously have left the bar to have their pictures taken.  In October 1887 this saloon lived up to its name as the scene of a gunfight in which “notorious outlaw” Andrew Williams was killed by Sheriff George Scarborough.

The next photo replicates the theme.  From the designation as the “Lone Star Saloon” and the symbol provided, it might be assumed that it was located in Texas,  the Lone Star State.   Wrong.  This establishment existed in Corona, New Mexico.   The date given for it is 1919.  By that time Texas was fully into the Temperance Movement and increasingly legal restrictions were being put on saloons and drinking.  By contrast New Mexico was still wide open. 

The next image is from South Dakota and although it has no sign,  the passengers on the stage coach stopping there would know that strong drink was to be had inside.  Cowboy “Devil Dan” Roberts rode up to a stage stop saloon very much like this one in 1886.  Roberts was employed by the VVV Ranch on the Belle Fourche River and was heading to Deadwood for the Christmas holidays when he dropped into the saloon to warm up from the frigid Dakota weather.

A holiday dance was in progress and the saloon owner, who had been nipping at his own booze all day,  was heading to bed to sleep it off.   He asked Devil Dan, who did not drink,  to look after the business. The well-likkered cowboy crowd got rowdy and began to break up the furniture and knock out windows.  Dan let them have their way but as the men sobered up he made them pay for the damages.  The next morning the owner sold the place to Roberts for $125 and departed.  Dan repaired the damage and became the saloonkeeper. 

The next picture is from Creede, Colorado.  Two men are standing in the open doorway of the “Holy Moses Saloon,”  which is next to the narrow, rocky canyon walls that surround the town,  located in Mineral County.   Note that the building is rather ramshackle with a broken cornice and a barrel lying out front.  A note on the photo says that the man standing in the white shirt and vests was the owner and the sheriff of Creede whose name was William Orthen.   His saloon was the first liquor den in town.

A much better known lawman cum saloon keeper was Judge Roy Bean, who billed himself as the “Law West of the Pecos.”  For about 16 years, Bean lived a prosperous and relatively legitimate life as a San Antonio businessman. In 1882, he moved to southwest Texas, where he built his famous saloon, the Jersey Lilly, and founded the hamlet of Langtry. Saloon and town alike were named for the famous English actress, Lillie Langtry. Bean had never met Langtry, but he had developed an abiding affection for her after seeing a drawing of her in an illustrated magazine. For the rest of his life, he avidly followed Langtry's career in theater magazines.

Before founding the town Bean also had secured appointment as a justice of the peace and notary public. He knew little about the law or proper court procedures, but residents appreciated and largely accepted his common sense verdicts in the sparsely populated country of West Texas.  By the 1890s, reports of Bean's curmudgeonly rulings, including an occasional hanging,  had made him nationally and internationally famous.  Before his death, even Lillie Langtry had dropped by.

The following photo of the gents standing in front the El Paso Saloon has intrigued me for the wide variety of headgear they sport, as well as the varied positions of their hands.  Several look as if they might be preparing to draw and shoot.  Despite the name it is not possible from the picture to identify the town.  El Paso Hotels with saloons were located not only in El Paso but also in Fort Worth and San Antonio.   I assess the date as about 1910 or after. The advertising sign over the door for Fredericksburg Beer on tap has a definite  20th Century look.

The photo following caught my eye for the 20 mule team in the foreground and the row of saloons in back. Thirsty customers had a choice of the “The Yellowstone Bar,”  “The Butler Saloon,” or the “High Grade Bar” and so on down the line of watering holes in the town of Rawhide, Nevada,  at the 1908 height of a gold rush.  In the span of just two years the town went from its peak population of 7,000 in 1908 to fewer than 500 by the latter part of 1910. Helping push the decline of the Rawhide even further was a fire that swept through town in September 1908, along with a flood the following September.  Many residents abandoned the town. 

When the original mines worked out the remaining gold and silver from the veins, more people left Rawhide.  Only a few remained, eking out a living working in the mines, processing the ore, or tending their own claims.  Most  saloons had closed and the town became a hollow shell of what it once was.  By 1941 only a few hardy souls were left in Rawhide, and the post office was closed.  Today it is a “ghost town” with only photos to remember its heyday.

The only watering hole in color and the one I visited is “Big Nose Kate’s Saloon.”  This place got its start as the Grand Hotel in Tombstone, Arizona.  Opening in September, 1880, it was consider one of the state’s premier hotels, boasting thick carpeting and fancy oil paintings.  The lobby was equipped with three elegant chandeliers and more luxurious furnishings, while the kitchen featured both hot and cold running water and could serve as many as 500 people efficiently.

It is said that Ike Clanton and the two McLaury brothers stayed at the Grand the night before the famous gunfight at the O. K. Corral.  The saloon is named for the erstwhile girl friend of Doc Holliday, a participant in the famous showdown.  I was in Tombstone a few years ago and stopped into Big Nose Kate's to look around and have a beer. Sadly, it appears no different from the other touristy bars and restaurants along the main drag, but the history lingers.

Note:   Two of the above saloon keepers receive fuller treatment on this site: “Devil Dan” Roberts on April 18, 2012, and  Judge Roy Bean, October 4, 2016.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Isaac Wormser’s Heart was in San Francisco


Had he lived long enough, Isaac Wormser likely would have understood Tony Bennett’s singing “I left my heart in San Francisco.”  Shown here, the German immigrant liquor dealer led an unusually early peripatetic life until the “The City on the Bay” came to hold a special fascination for him.

Born in 1821 in the Aldingen, a small town in the then Kingdom of Wurttemberg, Germany, Isaac was the son of Abraham and Gedele Heyum Wormser.   He is said to have received a rigorous basic German education and later learned the trade of a cloth weaver.   Maturing during a period of warfare between Prussia and Austria in which his king unwisely sided with Austria, Isaac may have decided to emigrate to America as a way of avoiding military service. 

He arrived here in 1842, initially residing in New York City, his point of entry.  Displaying the restlessness that characterized much of his early his life, Isaac soon relocated to Harrodsberg, Kentucky.  Founded in 1774 as the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny, this small city calls itself “The Birthplace of the West.” The youth’s employment is unknown but it was there he became a naturalized citizen.  Restless after four years in Harrodsberg, Isaac decamped to Chicago, occupation unknown, but my guess it was working in a mercantile establishment.

When California’s Gold Rush began, Isaac’s wanderlust struck again.  With his brother Lewis, newly arrived in New York, in 1850 Isaac headed west to Stockton, California.  The discovery of gold on the American River in January 1848, caused Stockton to transform from a small settlement to a thriving commercial center, supplying miners heading into the Sierra foothills. Issac opened a general store called Wormser & Brother.  It proved to be highly profitable.  Among its stock was liquor.

When the boom times ended in Stockton, Isaac decided that San Francisco was a more likely place for building on success. By this time a third brother, Simon, had joined them from Germany.  Together they established a wholesale liquor business called Wormser Brothers.  Their first location was at First and Battery Streets.  Again meeting with success, in 1866 the brothers listed among the richest residents of San Francisco.  in 1867 they built their own three story building with basement at the corner of California and Front Streets.  Wormser Brothers’ flagship whiskey, as shown below,  was “Golden Sheaf,” with a trademark showing a comely woman carrying a sheaf of grain.

Here the Wormser story gets complicated. One source claims that Isaac returned to Germany, married, stayed in Wurtemberg, and turned the business over to Simon.  That scenario seems in error.  Passport information indicates Isaac returned to Germany early in 1854.  About age 33 he married there, his bride Louise Leringer, a German woman 12 years his junior.  Isaac never gave up the presidency of the liquor house, however, and apparently returned with Louise to the U.S. a year later.  According to 1860 census data,  the couple’s first child, Amelia, was born in San Francisco in 1856.  That same census listed Isaac as a “wholesale dealer in wines and liquor” and indicated the family had two live-in servants.

Although the company was in business for only seven years, its bottles and flasks have attracted collector attention.  One writer commented:  “The Wormser Brothers produced some of the more desirable Western bottles while they were in business in San Francisco….The earliest glass container from the Wormser firm is the large whiskey flask horizontally embossed WORMSER BROS. SAN FRANCISCO…This Wormser  flask is considered very rare with possibly only 8 to 12 examples in private collections.” The bottle is shown above.  Two other company flasks are below:

Other notable bottles from Wormser Brothers are barrel shaped containers with an applied tapered top and a smooth base embossed WORMSER BROS. SAN FRANCISCO. They are believed to have been produced for a very short period, possibly only in 1869. This quart comes in various shades from light yellow to darker brown amber, as shown below.  It is believed that there are only between 25 to 30 Wormser Bros. barrels extant in collections. 

After only some seven years in business, Wormser Brothers Co. was sold to the firm of Braeg, Frank & Dallemand [See post on Albert Dallemand, Sept. 17, 2012.]  Later, Wormsers family members would re-enter the liquor trade in San Francisco as co-founders of the Golden Gate Distilling Company.  Listed in city directories from at least 1893 to 1904, this enterprise had two addresses, 207 Battery (1893-1901) and 160 New Montgomery (1902-1904).   Details about this business unfortunately are lacking. 

As Isaac grew in wealth, he and Louise increased the size of their family.  Genealogical sites suggest seven children, four boys and three girls.  In order to house this growing brood, in 1876 he commissioned the construction of a mansion home, located at 1834 California Street.  Of Italianate style the Isaac Wormser House is has been cited by the city as a “Designated Landmark” since 1973.   After Isaac’s death, the dwelling was sold but is still in use as a private residence.

After largely retiring from the liquor trade, Isaac turned to managing his investments and was listed in the 1880 federal census as a “capitalist.”  From a photo of him from that period, carrying a top hat and cane, he looks every inch the part.  He also was gaining a reputation in San Francisco as a philanthropist. 

Isaac and Louise were members of Congregation Emanuel whose Rabbi Cohn led a movement to establish the first organization in the Far Western U.S. to provide for Jewish orphans and indigent aged.  At a community meeting in July 1871, fifteen San Franciscans were elected to serve as a board of trustees for what became the Pacific Hebrew Orphan and Home Society.  Isaac was elected the first president and was instrumental through his leadership and money for the erection of the orphanage shown below.  Says one biographer:  “His later years were devoted almost entirely to charitable work.”  After his peripatetic youth, Isaac had given his heart to San Francisco.

While on a holiday at the Hotel Del Monte in Monterey, California, shown below, Isaac died suddenly in October, 1894.  He was 73 years old.  Because burials in San Francisco are banned, Isaac was buried in nearby Colma, California, at the Home of Peace Cemetery.  Louise would join him there in 1931.  Their joint monument is shown here.

Note:  This post was composed from a variety of Internet sources after seeing the bottles and flasks from the Wormser Brothers Company on the virtual museum of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors.  They in turn led me to the personage of Isaac Wormser, an immigrant whose early wanderings brought him eventually to San Francisco, where he clearly “left his heart.”




Sunday, June 18, 2023

Kitty Leroy at Deadwood’s Mint Saloon


 During her abbreviated life, Kitty Leroy (sometimes given as LeRoy) was by turns a dancer,  faro dealer, gambler, sharpshooter, and finally saloon owner.  Shown here, Kitty blazed a trail from Michigan to Texas to California to Deadwood, South Dakota, where she became proprietor of the Mint Gambling Saloon.  In her wake were five husbands, one of whom she shot and killed, another who shot and killed her. Women like Kitty Leroy make Western legends. 

With her drive and ambition, Kitty in another day, another time, might have been a nationally known American entertainer, perhaps with her shooting skills, another Annie Oakley.   Of her early life little is known.  She was born in 1850, but opinions differ on where.  My guess is Michigan where she first attracted attention as a 10-year-old performer in dance halls and saloons. There, as one writer has observed, “…She either picked up or augmented an innate ability to manipulate, along with gambling and weaponry skills that would serve her well for most of her life.”

Living in Bay City, Michigan, by 15 she was married and had a child,  Local lore says she wed because her husband was the only man in Bay City who would allow her to shoot apples off his head as she rode by on horseback.  Apparently finding family life too dull, Kitty soon abandoned her male target and infant son to head west to Dallas, Texas. 

Once again taking to the stage, she became a star attraction at Johnny Thompson’s Variety Theatre, a dancer know as “Kitty Leroy, Queen of the Hoofers.”  Easily bored, Kitty next tried her hand at gambling and became a faro dealer, said to have stepped to the tables well armed, sometimes dressed in cowboy attire, sometimes as a gypsy.

Always attractive to men, in Dallas she married a saloonkeeper. Soon bored in  Dallas, she was drawn to California and the two decamped for San Francisco hoping to make it big in there.  When that bubble burst, she was forced back to the gambling tables for money.  Kitty somehow shucked husband No. 2 and gained a Frisco reputation for promiscuous behavior.  When one panting suitor proved too ardent, she challenged him to a duel.  Unwilling to shoot a woman, the man refused to draw.  Kitty shot him anyway.  Then, apparently stricken with guilt, she called a minister and married him as he lay badly wounded.  He died shortly after.

"Wild Bill"
"Calamity Jane"

Now a widow and wanting to put San Francisco behind her, Kitty impetuously joined a wagon train traveling four states and 1,370 miles east to a new boom town, Deadwood, South Dakota.  In the caravan she met two of the West’s best known figures, “Wild Bill” Hickok and “Calamity Jane” Cannary.  All three had the same objective, shared by many in the wagon train:  Strike it rich as fast as possible.

Arriving in Deadwood in July 1876 after a long and arduous journey, Kitty was immediately entranced by a community bustling with energy and excitement.  Once Indian land, everything changed after Colonel George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills and in 1874 announced the discovery of gold at French Creek. A gold rush ensued as miners and entrepreneurs swept into the area. They created a new and untamed town they called Deadwood.  It quickly reached more than 5,000 residents; by 1876 the population was estimated at 25,000.  Deadwood was Kitty’s kind of town.

She went to work at the Gem Theater where she was an instant success as a performer.  Her beauty was legendary.  One contemporary wrote that: “Her brow was low, her brown hair thick and curly…[Her] teeth were like pearls set in corals.”  Gem Owner Al Swearengen was notorious for luring young women to hire on as waitresses and then forcing them into prostitution.  While Kitty seemingly escaped that fate she may have been complicit in grooming the Gem’s young women in their roles.  Within a few months she had earned sufficient money to open her own “watering hole.”  She called it Leroy’s Mint Gambling Saloon.

The Mint Saloon proved to be successful.  In addition to the booze available, Kitty provided gambling, entertainment and women, a combination that the prospectors and other fortune seekers found highly attractive.  I have been unable to find a picture from the Mint, but the interior of another Deadwood saloon probably mirrors much of what went on there.  Note the drinking men, the gambling tables, and above them another kind of entertainment waiting.

Kitty married a fourth time.  This time her husband was a German prospector who had made a rich gold strike.  His money may have helped stoke the Mint’s prosperity. When the prospector’s cash ran out, Kitty acted quickly.  She is reputed to have hit him over the head with a bottle before throwing him out of the house.  Knowing firsthand that Kitty owned seven revolvers, multiple Bowie knives and seldom if ever went unarmed, the German, once warned, wisely disappeared.  Kitty went back to the gambling tables, said at times to have raked in $8,000 in a single turn of the cards.

Sam Bass

Husband No. 4’s retreat apparently allowed Kitty to wed a fifth time.  On June 11, 1877, she married 35-year-old Samuel R. Curley, a Deadwood gambler and card shark. This time she had picked a husband besotted with her and a very jealous man.  Curley learned that Kitty had never divorced one or more of her earlier spouses and heard rumors of her having affairs with Hickok and  the notorious gunman, Sam Bass.  After a stormy confrontation with Kitty, he stormed out of the Mint Saloon and hied 400 miles to Denver.

Later moving to Cheyenne where he dealt faro in a saloon, Curley learned that Kitty had taken a new lover. He swore revenge on the couple and returned in a rage to Deadwood.  Although the lover refused to see him, Kitty agreed to meet Curley in her rooms upstairs at the Lone Star Saloon.  Curley was waiting for her, drew his revolver, and fired once. The bullet killed Kitty instantly.   He then turned the gun on himself.

The Black Hills Daily Times  of December 7, 1877, reported the scene.  Kitty, 27, lay on her back, her eyes closed, looking as if she were asleep.  Curley lay face down, a bullet in his skull and his Smith & Wesson pistol still in his hand.  “Suspended upon the wall, a pretty picture of Kitty, taken when the bloom and vigor of youth gazed down upon the tenements of clay, as if to enable the visitor to contrast a happy past with a most wretched present,” the newspaper reported. “The pool of blood rested upon the floor; blood stains were upon the door and walls…”

After a perfunctory funeral, the pair were buried side by side, husband and wife,  slayer and slain, in the same grave in Deadwood’s Ingleside Cemetery.  Their bodies later were moved to the more upscale Mount Moriah burying ground, shown above. Apparently to discourage curiosity seekers, their graves were left unmarked.  Upon assessment, Kitty’s estate amounted to $650.  Some of it went to pay  expenses and the rest to a previously unmentioned daughter named 

Kitty Donally.  

The editor of the Black Hills Daily had an intense personal interest in the Leroy-Curley doomed marriage.  After an onsite review of the tragedy, he waxed lyrical:  “Whatever may have been the vices and virtues of the ill-starred and ill-mated couple, we trust their spirits may find a happier camping ground than the hills and gulches of the Black Hills, and that tho’ infelicity reigned with them here, happiness may blossom in a fairer climate.” 

Notes:  There is a plethora of information on the Internet about the tumultuous life and untimely death of Kitty Leroy.  This post draws from at least five individual accounts.  Similarly the photos are from multiple online sources.  I have tried to bring together what seem to be the most salient facts about the life and death of this extraordinary woman.