Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Rocky Life of Martin Breen, “Smooth” Operator

"Smooth whisky - good! Smoother whisky - better! Smoothest Henderson Bourbon - best! “   That was the mantra of Martin J. Breen, president of a Chicago wholesale liquor house.  Breen found, however, that while he was asserting “smooth,” being active in the whiskey trade had its own particular rocky  times in store for him over a foreshortened life.

For example, in 1905, after Congress had strengthen trademark laws,  Breen decided to register three of his brands.  Among them was “Comrade Whiskey” that involved the word “Comrade” beneath which was a picture of a soldier and a sailor, each with a glass of whiskey in his hand and between them a monogram that spelled out “B & K”  for Breen & Kennedy, the name of the firm.  Filed in April 1905 it was federally approved the following July.  The name was received by the trade without comment.

Breen then trademarked his flagship brand, Henderson Bourbon.  That application was filed about a month later and involved the word “Henderson” on a ribbon design, beneath which the B & K monogram appeared.  Almost immediately the Buchanan-Anderson-Nelson Company of Louisville, representing a deep pockets conglomerate of Kentucky distilleries, opposed the registration.  That firm claimed that “Henderson” was a fraudulent attempt on the part of Breen to appropriate their trademark and “calculated to deceive and mislead the public into the false belief” that his whiskey was from the Buchanan-Anderson-Nelson Co.

When the Examiner of Interferences of the the Patent & Trademark office dismissed the Kentucky company complaint, it sued in the Federal Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, requiring Breen to bear the expense of a bruising court battle.   After hearing the evidence, the judges in June 1906 held that “…There is not the slightest similarity between the two marks except as to the words ‘Anderson’ and ‘Henderson,’ that both are well-known names of persons, counties and towns, and there is no reasonable ground of confusion between them.”   Breen had won, but at a significant financial cost.

The passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 posed another challenge for Breen when in 1908 new modifications were added requiring the “proper labeling” of bottles, jugs and casks.   One of the features of the new law was an attempt by Kentucky bourbon interests to brand only straight, unblended, spirits as real whiskey.  Blends such as those provided by rectifiers like Breen were threatened with being labeled “imitation whiskey.”  Some rectifiers openly talked of trying to evade or nullify the new clauses.

With his liquor sales grossing $400,000 a year, equivalent to $10 million today, Breen had become a representative voice for Chicago’s rectifiers who numbered in the dozens.  Quoted by the Chicago Tribune, Breen took this new challenge in stride.  While blaming the new regulations on “some radicals of the Whiskey Trust” who were seeking to injure independent dealers, Breen claimed that it was the Trust not the rectifiers who were hurt.

“The Trust has dealt in straight whiskey and we deal in blends,” he told the newspaper.  It is almost impossible for anyone to utilize a straight whiskey.  It must be blended.  The Trust is unable to do so because they lack proper equipment to handle a blend.  Hence we benefit by the new law and the boot is now on the other foot.”  Although Breen’s assertions were grossly optimistic, they were published widely and may have helped stall calling blends “imitation whiskey.”

Breen’s third challenge was not so easily met.  In November of 1908 he was arrested on a charge of giving liquor to a minor in Englewood, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, and released only after posting a $500 bond.  He was arrested on a warrant from the secretary of the Englewood Law and Order League, a group dedicated to stamping out all forms of illegal drinking, gambling and other vices apparently rampant in town.

The warrant claimed that nine-year-old Elmer Flodin had been enticed to drink  whiskey.  “My boy had left the house on his way to school and was standing on the front porch when a man came up to him and gave him a bottle of whiskey,” his father related. “He hardly knows what whiskey is and is certainly not fit to handle it.”  Down the street Flossie Thompson, age nine, and Emma Lindquist, thirteen, also reputedly were given bottles of liquor. 

Little Elmer’s outraged father,  A. S. Flodin, a member of the Law and Order League, was reported to be determined to push the prosecution of Breen.   The law provided a fine of from $20 to $100 or a jail sentence of from ten to thirty days, or both, and the League promised to ask for a jail sentence.  In his defense, Breen issued a statement admitting that his firm had been distributing sample bottles of whiskey but insisted that they were being given only to adults.

In checking with the individuals distributing the bottles, Breen asserted, all of them had strongly denied delivering any bottles of liquor to children.  He intimated that Breen & Kennedy were being framed by prohibitionary forces:  If bottles of our whiskey were delivered to children it probably was done by persons not connected with us in any way and who desired to prejudice the public mind against us merely by reason of our being engaged in the wholesale liquor business.”   I have been unable to discover the outcome of this case but while there is no evidence Breen ever went to jail, it marked another rocky incident.

This whiskey man was born about 1866 in New York, the son of Thomas and Sarah (Byrne) Breen, both immigrants from Ireland.  Details of his early life and his eventual move to Chicago are not readily available.  Breen first surfaced in the Windy City in an 1891 city directory working as a cashier at 10 Wabash Avenue.  A year later, at 26 years old, Martin married a woman named Mary.   They would have one child, Julia.

By the late 1890s, Breen was in the wholesale liquor trade with a seemingly silent partner named Kennedy.  According to business records the pair had taken over the business from H. M. Wager who had been managing Farmer, Thompson & Co., whiskey wholesalers.  Breen was president of the firm and owned one-third of its stock.  Initially located at 187-189 Washington Street, the firm, apparently needing more space for its wholesale liquor sales moved to 128-1390 Franklin.

By this time, Breen & Kennedy were marketing their Henderson Whiskey over a broad area of the Midwest and beyond.  Using the slogan "Smooth whisky - good! Smooother whisky - better! Smoothest Henderson Bourbon - best!,” they were making the figure of their Kentucky colonel an icon in Chicago through a variety of ads featuring the bearded gentleman.  He often was portrayed telling a joke.  Sample from 1908:  “You have, doubtless, heard of the man in Kalamazoo who, by mistake, drank gasoline thinking it was cough medicine.  Now, suh, instead of coughing, he honks.”  As shown here, Breen’s Colonel had several looks.

Like other rectifiers of the time, Breen & Kennedy claimed to be distillers, with a facility in Frankfort, Kentucky, a bogus assertion since the firm was buying its whiskey from various sources and blending it for proprietary brands like Henderson and Cedar Creek.  Like other wholesalers, the company also provided preferred customers with a range of giveaway items.  As shown here, paperweights and corkscrews were common gifts. 
Despite the several challenges Breen had faced after opening his liquor house in Chicago, it proved to be a highly profitable operation.  Unfortunately, however, he had too few years to enjoy his wealth.  At the early age of 54 in April 1911, Breen died, leaving a wife and three-year-old daughter.   Available records do not reveal the cause.  Had his legal problems contributed to his early demise?

Breen was interred in Mount Carmel Cemetery, a burial ground located in the Chicago suburb of Hillside that holds the graves of Cardinal Bernardin and Al Capone, among others.  Located in Section R, Breen’s gravestone is laid in a grassy plot in the shadow of a large granite monument.  His widow, Mary, would join him there 24 years later.

Despite Martin’s passing, the firm of Breen & Kennedy continued to operate successfully until 1919.  Finally the same “dry” forces that had accused Breen of giving whiskey to children prevailed on the Nation to adopt a complete ban on sales of alcohol.  The liquor house shut down permanently.  For decades the name Henderson disappeared as a brand.  More recently, however,  Henderson has reemerged from a boutique distillery in Texas as a small batch, 80 proof American whiskey, the label shown here.

Friday, July 14, 2017

When the Wolf at the Door Brought Whiskey

“The wolf at the door”  is a common American idiom for the privation, including starvation, that can occur when a household lacks financial means.   When this particular Wolf — Wolf Dworkovitz — was at the door, however, it meant that the postman had just brought a fresh supply of mail-order liquor from Kansas City, Missouri.

Dworkovitz had a an excellent location from which to dispatch his whiskey and other alcoholic products.  A number of Western bodies charged with writing a state constitution had been taken over by prohibitionary elements who wrote into them anti-alcohol provisions.  Still other states through their  legislatures and referenda had adopted the “dry” position.   Until 1914, however, it was still legal to ship booze into every state and territory, regardless of its orientation.  As a railroad hub, Kansas City was perfectly placed for the mail order liquor trade.
Dworkovitz indicated in his ads that he was sending whiskey into both “dry” and “wet” states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida,  Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming and Washington.    Four quarts of “Wolf’s Private Stock Whiskey” could be had for $4.00, with a bottle of “Wolf’s Superior” and “Wolf’s Favorite” thrown in for free.
In his “Special Offer No. 2” the proprietor for $5.00 would send four quarts of “Wolf’s Autograph,” one quart of “Wolf’s Favorite,” and two quarts of cordials, apricot and blackberry, and a quart of California port wine.  All this would have express charges pre-paid and Dworkovitz would throw in a free whiskey shot glass and a cork screw.  Who could resist such a deal?

Wolf Dworkovitz was born in Germany about 1872 and came to the United States as a young man.  He first appeared in Kansas City directories as a 17-year-old bartender working for J. Joffee in his saloon and living in a rooming house.  After being naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1892, he opened up a saloon of his own at 335 Southwest Boulevard.   He called it “Wolf’s Place.”  By 1905, likely needing larger quarters, he moved his establishment to 117 West Ninth Street and the following year opened a second saloon at 1213 Grand Avenue.

In the meantime, Wolf had found time to marry.  His bride was Susie Goldman, born in Ohio of Russian Jewish immigrant parents.  He was 28;  she was 24. They were married by Rabbi Harry H. Mayer on February 20, 1900  at his synagogue at Oak and Eleventh Streets.   Their first child, Josephine, was soon born, followed eight years later by a second daughter, Miriam. 

About 1914 Dworkovitz rather abruptly changed direction with his liquor business.  Perhaps it was the responsibility of a growing family and recognition that an opportunity lay in mail order sales of liquor that was significantly more profitable than selling shots for dimes over the bar.  In succession, both his Grand Avenue and West Ninth Street saloons disappeared from Kansas City directories.  In their place at 115 West Ninth Street was “Wolf’s Famous Distilling Company.”  An artist’s drawing seems to indicate that the place operated around the clock.

In actual fact, Dworkovitz was not a distiller, but a “rectifier,” mixing a variety of whiskeys to achieve a particular taste, smoothness and color.   Although he might advertise “Wolf Springs Straight Whiskey” as “unadulterated, no spirits, no coloring,”  it did not guarantee that this brand was from a single batch and that no blending had occurred.   

He also strongly advertised that his whiskey, having been bottled in bond and bearing the green tax stamps meant “that your government has approved this barrel of straight whiskey.”  In truth, the stamps meant only that the taxes had been paid and had no bearing on quality.  Nevertheless, Dworkovitz had no compunction about showing Uncle Sam on a trade sign for “Wolf’s Monogram Whiskey” asserting “That stamp means quality, strength, purity.”

Despite the enthusiasm of his advertising, the reality was that Wolf had come a bit late to the mail order whiskey trade.   Increasingly the railroad express option, using the many trains originating in or running through Kansas City, was constricting.  Because of harassment by local officials in dry towns, counties and states, local express agents were refusing to accept liquor shipments.  More important the U.S. Congress was passing laws narrowing the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution where alcohol was involved.

By 1916, Dworkovitz’s outstate mail order business was at a virtual end.  Even in still wet states like California and Florida, certain towns and counties would be off limits under “local option” laws.  Missouri, however, continued to be reliably open to liquor sales.  Nevertheless, Wolf decided to diversify.   By 1919, he had opened a restaurant at his former Grand Avenue address.  That eatery subsequently was followed by his opening a soft drink bottling plant.

Nonetheless, when queried by the Federal census taker in 1920 as to his occupation, the answer was “liquor house.”  That census found Dworkovitz living in Ward 10 of Kansas City at 2515 Benton Boulevard, the house shown here.  In addition to his wife, Susie, and two daughters, the household included Susie’s mother, Anna Goldman, and Susie’s unmarried brothers, George, a jeweler, and Abe, a doctor.  Three live-in servants, one of them listed as a “telephone operator,” completed the residents.

With the imposition of National Prohibition, Wolf’s Famous Distilling Company was forced to shut down.  After 1920,  Dworkovitz and his family disappeared from Kansas City directories.  Since Wolf was only 48 at the time the assumption must be that he continued to be in business, but I can find no record of his further activity in city directories. 
I am hopeful that descendants will see this vignette and help fill in the blanks.   

We are left with the “giveaways” and colorful — if sometimes exaggerated — sales materials Wolf Dworkovitz left behind. Shown below, the building that once held his mail order liquor house still stands in Kansas City.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Irish “Johns”and Their DC Saloons

For many of of the Irish who inhabited Washington D.C.  during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the occupation of saloonkeeper was a familiar one. Among them were three men of Irish descent, all named “John,” — John Fitzmorris, John Keady and John Gleeson. The three Johns left their mark on Washington and on bottles by which we can remember them.
John Fitzmorris was born in 1860 in Ireland and had come to America, likely with his parents, at the age of 13. When he was 40, the 1900 U.S. Census found him living in a boarding house in the District, still unmarried. He gave his occupation as “saloonkeeper.” His establishment was at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, the thoroughfare known as “Rum Row.” An 1890s publication listed 109 neighborhood brothels and 50 saloons on the street and pointed out that President Grover Cleveland could see the goings-on from his bedroom window. Fitzmorris apparently was successful in this setting and by the early 1900s had built a hotel on his corner, one he called “The Commercial.”
In a 1905 Washington Post advertisement, the genial Irish proprietor called on “Mr. Traveling Man” to put up at his place, strictly a stag hotel.  The ad termed it modern and up-to-date with large comfortable rooms and a good, central location. The text failed to mention that Fitzmorris also was running a popular saloon downstairs where a tired traveling man might take a drink of an evening or even meet an understanding woman. The proprietor also sold package goods over the bar for passersby or to a hotel guest wanting a nightcap in his room.
Shown here are two flasks bearing the embossing of the Commercial hotel, complete with its address.  They may once have had a paper label for Fitzmorris’s house brand, “Old Berwick Rye.” He advertised that whiskey frequently in Washington newspapers touting it as “good beyond compare.” He would deliver a bottle to your residence for $1.00. Just phone him up.
As Pennsylvania Avenue was being redeveloped in the 1940s, archeologists dug up many relics of the street’s rowdy past. A major find was a cellar full of whiskey and beer bottles. Among them were relics of John Fitzmorris Old Berwick Rye. No indication was given in the press where, or even whether, the bottles were preserved in anything like a museum setting.
Although Irish saloonkeepers often were very active in local and state politics, Fitzmorris was not. Irish-American John Keady was more to the type, a high profile DC Democrat and, as his obituary put it, “prominently connected with many civic and religious organizations.” He had been born in the District of Columbia in 1857, the son of Daniel and Ellen Keady, both Irish immigrants. The 1880 census found him living in Georgetown with his parents and working as a clerk in his father’s grocery store at 3316 M Street N.W. Next door was a saloon at 3312 M Street N.W. run by a Dennis T. Keady, likely his uncle.
About 1877 at age 33 John married a woman named Mary and they had four children, three girls and a boy. In time he appears to have inherited the proprietorship of the Keady saloon. He also was mixing up and bottling whiskey obtained from the Hannis Distilling Co. just up the road in Baltimore. Called “Hannisville Whiskey,”  he bought it by the barrel and sold it under his own label in embossed bottles.

Keady’s business apparently did not intrude on his political life. An ardent Democrat, he was a strong advocate for ratification by Congress of home rule status for the District of Columbia. He was sent by the party central committee to the National Democratic Convention in Baltimore in 1912 to campaign for the cause. When President Wilson subsequently appointed a District commissioner opposed by members of Keady’s group, he strongly opposed the choice. Keady died in February 1903.
The third Irishman, John Gleeson, seems to have avoided the census taker throughout his DC career. He first showed up in a public record listed in a local business directory running a saloon at 335 Eye Street, an establishment that appears to have survived until about 1916, just before Congress voted DC “dry.” It appears, like Fitzmorris, he may have been a bachelor, living over his establishment.

Gleeson’s brand was “Altamont,” a brand he sold over the bar at his saloon. It came in several sizes including a pint flask  with a characteristic circular label containing his name. Altamont Pure Rye also came in a half-pint with the proprietor’s name in a straight line and the address of his saloon.  N.W. Matthews & Co. of Baltimore, listed in local business directories from 1888 to 1912, was the issuing wholesale dealer for this proprietary brand.
The end of “Rum Row” and, indeed, all DC saloons occurred in 1917 with laws prohibiting sales of alcohol. By that time Keady had died, but the fate of Fitzmorris and Gleeson remains shrouded in the mists of the past. We have their bottles, however, to remind us in DC of those whiskey men, three Irish saloonkeepers named John.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Whiskey Men As Art Collectors

Foreword:   This is the third in a series of posts that examines the activities of whiskey men that previously have been profiled, grouping them for analysis under various headings.  In this case the common thread in their life stories was loving fine art and having the financial resources derived from liquor sales to be able to collect it.   The four men featured here geographically were spread from coast to coast but seemingly shared an appreciation of beauty.

The whiskey man most closely connected with the art world — then and now — was William Thompson Walters, shown here in a full-length portrait by the French artist, Leon Bonnat, who was a friend of Walters.  Born in a small mining town in mid-Pennsylvania, Walters early on decamped to Baltimore where he open his own liquor house in 1847.  Torn in his loyalties during the Civil War and leaving the management of his business to a brother, in 1861 he packed his family off to Paris.  Almost immediately Walters and his wife, Ellen, began collecting works  of art, scouring Europe from England to Italy for paintings, sculptures, ceramics and other object d’art.  They and their money were eagerly welcomed by a host of artists and dealers.  Among their acquisitions was Jean-Leon Geromes “The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer,” shown below.

Then tragedy struck.  While on a trip to London in November 1862, Ellen contracted pneumonia, and with antibiotics still unknown, died.  She was only 40 and left two minor children.  Even her death could not prompt Walters to return to the United States.  Instead — it has been suggested to console himself — he threw his energies even more fervently into collecting.  

Only with the end of the Civil War in 1865 did Walters return to Baltimore.  With characteristic vigor he plunged into everyday management of his liquor business.  Walters was not a distiller but a “rectifier,” creating his own proprietary brands with whiskeys purchased from Maryland and Pennsylvania distilleries.  His embossed bottles carried a panel that said simply “Walters & Co.”

Not satisfied with collecting just for his own pleasure he began to open his house periodically for tours.  With his death in 1894, he left his art works to his son, Henry Walters, himself a collector.  Henry, true to his father’s interest in opening the collection to the public, created an art galley on Charles street on the edge of downtown Baltimore.  The original gallery interior is shown above.  

At his death in 1931 Henry gave the building and its contents to the City of Baltimore where it has become the Walters Art Museum.   During his lifetime in Baltimore the media frequently played down the source of William Walters’ wealth.  Several years ago, however, the Museum ran a newspaper ad headlined “From Rye to Raphael,” highlighting the fact that its founder initially made his fortune selling quality whiskey.
A second Baltimore whiskey man with a yen for art unfortunately was pushed in a different direction by circumstances.  He was Nicholas Matthews.  Unlike Walters, Matthews was from a distinguished and wealthy old Maryland family.  Possibly with family backing in 1888, when he was 30,  Matthews opened a wholesale liquor establishment in Baltimore.  As shown by his elaborate “art nouveau” letterhead, the company initially was located in a four story building at 128 Calvert Street, a major commercial avenue.  For the next 22 years, Mathews operated a highly successful liquor business.  His proprietary brand was “Altamont Rye.”

Throughout this entire period, Matthews was buying fine art at a furious pace.  Whether his passion stemmed from his upbringing or was encouraged by his wife, Bessie, it is evident that a substantial part of the wealth he was accruing from whiskey sales he was plowing into buying fine paintings, both European and American.  Although he was said to have had a particular eye for Dutch painters, he also held a significant number of French artists of the Barbizon School, including Courbet and Gericault.  

His collection also included paintings by such well-known American artists as Thomas Cole, William Harnett, Albert Bierstadt, William Trost Richards and Arthur Quartley, the last a close associate of Winslow Homer.  Shown above is a painting in the Matthews collection by the noted American landscape artist, George Inness.  It is entitled “The Juniata River near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.” 

In 1912, however, Matthews wholesale liquor business was terminated abruptly and Altamont Maryland Rye disappeared as a brand.  Soon after, 134 pieces from his art collection were put up for auction.  Before the sale the paintings were exhibited at the American Art Galleries in New York City where they drew national attention and critical applause.  But a Matthew museum was never to be.  The collection ended being scattered across the U.S.  

Shown here is the front page of the auction catalogue.  It depicts a painting by the Belgian artist, Frans Synders entitled “The King is Dead, Long Live the King.”  The picture is a humorous rendition of a varied group of birds all presumably celebrating after seeing a proclamation of a king’s demise posted on a stump.  Why did Matthews sell?  A descendant has written me that Nicolas and Bessie divorced about that time and he may have needed the money.

We have neither museum nor auction catalogue to determine the extent of the Franklin O. Day art collection, once accounted among the finest in St. Louis, Missouri. How Day became a connoisseur of fine art is not entirely clear.   He was born in Burlington, Vermont, in October 1816 and left off formal education in his mid-teens to work in father’s dry goods store.  After an 1842 business failure that left him with $200, Day, shown left, headed west to St. Louis, where he quickly succeeded in business.  There in 1855, with a partner,  he established a wholesale liquor business called Derby & Day.  It featured as its flagship brand, “Sunny South Whiskey.”  The firm proved very lucrative.

As a successful businessman, Day was alert to a trend among his St. Louis colleagues to spend their excess wealth by investing in works of art. Although the Impressionist movement was in its initial stages, few if any St. Louis collectors were interested in anything earlier than the 1930-1870 Barbizon School.  As for Franklin Day, his taste was clearly toward traditionalist French and English genre paintings.  

His local reputation as a collector rested primarily on his purchase of a single painting for $10,000 — roughly equivalent today to $250,000.  Painted by a Scottish artist, Erskine Nicol, the work was called “Paying the Rent,” one of the artist’s many depictions of Scotch and Irish peasant life.  Called “clever” by critics, the painting has been described as being…”Laid in the library of the agent of a estate, the tenant farmers are settling their rent with faces in which dissatisfaction is the chief expression.”  The oil was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1866 and again at the Paris Exposition in 1867.  Despite its reputation as one of Nicol’s most famous works, I have been unable to find an image of the painting, instead including here a similar Nicol genre piece to illustrate Day’s taste in art.

Likely because of the price paid, Day’s purchase made headlines in St. Louis newspapers and led to his collection being identified among those “which contain good and important examples of the work of nearly two hundred of the most celebrated of modern painters.”   The whiskey man eventually seems to have tired of Nicol’s work and later sold it to Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad and shipping baron, who displayed it prominently in his New York City museum.  I can find no mention of the sale price.  The ultimate fate of Day’s art collection so far has escaped my research.  I find no indication of a museum collection.  Most likely it was sold at auction after his death and the individual works scattered widely.

Our final whiskey man cum art aficionado was James J. Kelley.  A native of Massachusetts, Kelley early in the 20th Century moved to Seattle, Washington, where in 1903 directories he was listed as a saloonkeeper.   By 1906 he had moved to larger quarters that he named “The Art Palace.”   He lavishly decorated the walls with large genre paintings bearing such titles as “Halibut Fishing” and “Sheep in the Fold.”  The saloon operated along side a wholesale and retail outlet he called the “Family Liquor Store.”  He package his whiskey in large ceramic jugs like the one shown here.

His “Art Palace” prospered until 1916 when Washington State enacted stiff prohibition laws that closed all saloons and liquor stores.  Whiskey could still be obtained by prescription from a doctor, however, and drug stories proliferated.  Among them was the Art Palace that Kelley quickly converted into a drug store.  Intermittently in trouble with authorities about the amount of liquor being dispensed as medicine, he somehow was able to keep the establishment open for several months.

In May 1916, however, a corrupt, vindictive mayor personally led a large cohort of police on a heavily publicized raid on drug stores, restaurants and even private clubs.   He seems particularly to have singled out Kelley’s Art Palace for his vendetta.   Armed with axes and other implements of destruction the raiders demolished fixtures and a large quantity of liquor.  They broke down Kelley’s bar and shattered a large expensive mirror.  Local press put the damage to the Art Palace at $10,000, the equivalent of more than $200,000 today.  Photos here shown what Kelley’s establishment looked like after the onslaught.  The art collection was high enough on the walls to be spared.
At that point Kelley exited the drug store trade and became a successful Seattle hotel manager.   What happened to his collection of paintings is unclear.  The logical answer is that he sold them.

Of the “whiskey men” art collectors only William Walters and his son seems to have been able to mass a collection that continues to be on display.  The other three, for various reasons, had their paintings disbursed through auctions and other sales.  Ironically, genre paintings — like those that seemed to appeal to all of them — have made a return into public fashion and currently fetch good prices on the art market. 

Note:   For anyone wishing to read more expansive biographies of these four, they appeared previously as:  Walters, October 31, 2014; Matthews, October 7, 2013; Day, June 23, 2017; Kelley, January 2017.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

“Daddy” Garner and the Oldest Saloon in Alabama

Raised on a farm in nearby Georgia, Robert E. Garner found his way to Anniston, Alabama, during the latter part of the 19th Century.   Known as “Daddy” there, he created a saloon he called Peerless and a whiskey he named “Old Wildcat.”  The whiskey disappeared with Prohibition, but the saloon, shown right, has been revived by his modern counterparts and now is accounted the oldest such establishment in Alabama.

Robert was born in Pike County, Georgia, in 1866, the youngest son of Eliza M. and John Garner, a Civil War veteran.   His education appears to have been minimal.  The 1880 federal census, taken when he was 14 years old, registered him not “at school” but as “farmer.”   Listed with the same occupation were three older brothers, likely the reason for his leaving Georgia.   As the fourth in line his chance of inheriting any Garner land were very dim.  That same year his mother, Eliza, died and his father appears to have married again.
Garner’s whereabouts for the next few years have gone unrecorded.  In the late 1890s he surfaced in Anniston, Alabama, on the slope of the Blue Mountain, about 112 miles from his birthplace.  It was a good choice to locate.  Named “The Model City” by Atlanta newspaperman Henry W. Grady because of its careful planning,  Anniston was rapidly becoming the fifth largest city in the state.  Though the roots of the town's economy were in iron, steel and clay for sewer pipe, planners touted it as a health spa with several resort hotels easily accessed by rail.  Local wealth allowed the building of elegant public buildings, impressive churches, grand mansions, commercial buildings and industrial facilities all set within a carefully conceived landscape.
But even a model city requires a saloon or two and Garner provided one of the fanciest watering holes in town.  Built in Classic Revival Gothic style, the Peerless featured a massive mirror-backed mahogany bar, shown here. It had been purchased at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and moved by Garner to the Peerless in 1906.  He also bought old church pews, had them sawed in two and fashioned customer booths from them.

A model city also needs its own brothel and there again Garner did not disappoint.  He set aside the entire second floor of the Peerless for that purpose. There were four rooms, each with its own ornamented fireplace, and a fifth bedroom in a loft accessed by a ladder.  Watching over this red-light establishment was a formidable madam named Lucinda Talley who sat at the head of the stairs to screen visitors.  She was known for running a strict enterprise and carrying a gun.  

It is something of a mystery how Garner earned the nickname “Daddy.”  No record exists of a marriage or any children.  It occurs to me that the ladies upstairs might have bestowed that name on him as the boss male of the Peerless and it stuck.

Meanwhile, Garner himself was busy building a wholesale liquor trade, supplying whiskey to other saloons and restaurants in Anniston.  Obtaining whiskey by the barrel from distilleries in Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere, he decanted it into a range of ceramic jugs for sale. Examples appear throughout this post. Garner also featured his own proprietary brand, “Old Wildcat,” at the Peerless bar and sold much of it in half-pint (seven ounce) glass bottles that were blown at a glass factory 42 miles east of Anniston in Tallapoosa, Georgia, one reputedly owned by Garner himself.

Although Anniston had flirted from time to time with banning alcohol through “local option” laws, for most of Garner’s first fifteen years in business he faced no restrictions on liquor sales.  In 1915, however, Alabama voted a complete ban on alcohol.  Enforcement was spotty and he apparently continued to bootleg liquor through the Peerless.  

Meanwhile Garner had faced a setback when his Tallapoosa glass factory burned, taking with it whatever Old Wildcat was on premises.  That was followed by the death of Lucinda Talley in 1919, reputedly shot by mistake by a policeman who was chasing a fleeing suspect trying to take refuge in the second floor bordello.  That same year Garner died at the age of 63 and was buried in the Mount Olive Baptist Church Cemetery in Pike County.  His unusual gravestone is in the shape of a couch and the inscription mentions him only as a son.

In death, Robert Garner left behind a reputation as a philanthropist in Anniston.  Never having married and with no children as heirs, he left his considerable fortune to the creation of a new hospital, an original structure having been outdated and later burned.  Using his money the city fathers built a new municipal institution and named it Garner Hospital, shown below. The building now serves as a nursing home.
The Peerless Saloon for a time was a jewelry store, sat empty for years, and at one point faced demolition until 1985 when it was placed on the Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.  The building subsequently was restored to its original luster by new owners and is considered the oldest saloon in Alabama. The upstairs was renovated into one large room that has a billiard table and a 1890s decor. It can be rented for events.  Downstairs the new owners have preserved the period look.  Robert “Daddy” Garner, if he walked in the Peerless today, likely would feel comfortable taking his place behind the mahogany bar.