Pete Wilhelm Oral History
Interviewed March 20, 2010, in Hamler, Ohio, by Charlotte Wangrin
Transcribed by Marlene Patterson
PW: My name is Pete Wilhelm. I live in southern Henry County. My parents were Riley and Martha Bostelman Wilhelm. I was born in August of 1947.
CW: This is Pete Wilhelm at Northwest State Community College. Pete, I understand you were born and raised near Holgate, Ohio.
PW: Actually I grew up in New Bavaria, or Neuber as the nickname goes. My mother was born and raised in Holgate just a little bit north of Holgate, she was a Bostelman. My dad’s side of the family, my dad was fourth generation German-American from that area and I am fifth. They immigrated to that area in the 1830’s or late 1840’s.
CW: Isn’t that when the big push came?
PW: The early immigration to Ohio was a group that came in the 1840’s and 1850’s wave. At least the Germans did. Another huge wave that came also in the 1870’s and 1880’s. There is a lot of interesting history about that. My great great great grandfather was a Napoleonic War veteran. He fought about twelve years with Napoleon Bonaparte as a mercenary soldier. A lot of Germans did that because a lot of the German states were seeking independence to become a German state. Most people forget that Germany was not a united country under Bismarck in 1872 after the Franco-Prussian War. Everything before that they were just little duchies and little kingdoms usually attached to France. A lot of the Germans like my great great great grandfather fought with the Bavarian Unit seeking and hoping Napoleon would help by creating some statehood for some of those German provinces. That never happened. He was with the Napoleonic veterans when they came. There are if you look in the history books there were quite a few of them that immigrated. They had a little bit of money. Napoleon always paid them in cash. They had enough wealth where they could actually probably buy a farm. My great great great grandparents came with three boys and a daughter and settled in Stark and Tuscarawas County first. They would have landed in 1836. They were there for a couple of years and them migrated to Northwest Ohio after they bought a farm. They were here by I think 1840 to 1841. Shortly after that wave in the late 1830’s and the late 1840’s there was another bunch that came after the 1848 Revolution. The Revolution was for to set up a liberal democracy and that Revolution failed in 1848 so if you were on the wrong side of the Revolution it was smart not to hang around after the Kaiser took over. So Henry County has a huge migration in the early1850’s and a lot of those people were refugees getting out because they were on the wrong side of the Revolution.
CW: That is very interesting. I didn’t know that.
PW: My parents on my dad’s side of the relation came in the late 1830’s. Mom’s ancestors , the Bostelmans and her mother was a Walters, they came with the 1870 group from a different part of Germany. They are from around the Stuttgart area. That is where the Wilhelm side of the relation came from. Zairbricken in a little town called Oberkirch, that is over close to the French Luxembourg border, whereas Stuttgart is a little bit more south-central Germany.
CW: So kirchen means church doesn’t it?
PW: Oberkirchen means at the church. It is very hilly, kind of a mountainous area. My two sons actually had an opportunity to go there three years ago. A good German friend of mine which is a long story he vacations with us about every other year, so he paid for their trip over there. Our oldest son Zachary who just graduated from high school, and my son Sam who is a Junior in high school, we have vacationed with them for years in Michigan. So he just invited them to go over. They spent ten days in Germany and got to visit some of the towns where our relatives were from. They had a great time.
CW: You can go to the person that kept the records too. They will show you the story of your ancestors.
PW: If any of the records survived. Now that area of Germany, I actually tried that on one of my trips when I was an exchange student over there. I went into a church and fortunately the priest in the church had some records still in the church that went back to 1780’s when my great great great grandfather would have been born. Then a bunch of them were destroyed because the French Armies went through that area of Germany and they just pillaged and plundered the places left and right. A lot of area people lost their church and their records were burned by the French Armies.
CW: Oh yes.
PW: It just depends how well and where some of that stuff was hidden. It is all part of the history.
CW: Do you have any stories that have been passed down through your family from those early days?
PW: Actually I grew up listening to a lot of oral history. I am old enough that when I was about seven or eight years old we got our first television in the 1950’s but before that entertainment was done in a different way. Storytelling was kind of something that occurred in the families. Whenever relatives got together as kids I would always sit there and listen to the adult stories. I always picked up on that. My interest in history probably got started as a result of that. My parents would always tell stories about what they remembered. They had listened to the same sort of stuff from their parents. So that oral tradition passed down some values.
CW: I remember my in-laws on Sunday afternoons, the farmers would not be working their fields and that is usually when they would go get their pictures and quite often they would tell the same story. I am sure they had heard it many times in the past but everybody still enjoyed those stories. They seemed just as funny the fifteenth time you heard it as it did the first time.
PW: A lot of times there would be family histories sprinkled in with that. There would be town histories and sometimes the stories would go back to the old country. We have lost, and we are losing some of that with current generations
CW: to television
PW: and technology. I gave a presentation night before last on historic homes of Defiance. I do this in my classroom as well. I tell my students as I told these people history at the end of our generation is going to be different from what it was in our parent’s generation. I told this to my daughter a couple years ago. What are you people going to leave behind for future generations because everything you do is on a Blackberry, a computer, or a cellphone. They seldom write anything down. The best you’ve got is a bunch of text messages rattling around in cyberspace. And that’s it. You don’t have a set of diaries. Very few people do. We are realists, you don’t uninvent technology. We as historians have to deal with that. One of the guys from the historic homes said that we would just have to invent a gizmo to recapture all of that stuff that is out there in cyberspace. I guess we will have to wait for that I guess. You know you talk about family traditions, of course one of the bigger things in my area, we just always loved listening to the Prohibition stories coming from New Bavaria. I always thought everybody had heard these stories. My father was born in 1913 and my mother was also born in 1913, so that was an interesting time period in American history. That was right at the turn of the twentieth century. My mom when she was a little girl remembers the World War I veterans coming home to this area. Anyways by the time we get to the 1920’s age like 10-12-13 years old their first memories they recall were of the Volstead Act of Prohibition. Of course by the time they were much more mature in 1933 that was repealed. Their experiences as teenagers in the 1920’s the major topic was Prohibition. New Bavaria always had the reputation, good or bad, of having been connected with bootlegging. It was and I never realized really on what a large scale that was until I got to talking to an elderly cousin by the name of Julius Wilhelm. Julius died about seven years ago. He was 94 when he died. He grew up around the Putnam County line, southern Henry County. His job and he never married. He always lived with his mother and dad. He was a young man and he did a lot of the farming. He also was a bootlegger. He made the whiskey.
CW: Oh he made whiskey!
PW: He actually made the whiskey. We grew up knowing that all the time. As a matter of fact my brothers and I a long time ago I think the statute of limitations are up we made a still and took some off ourselves and used Julius’s knowledge of how to do that. Our equipment wasn’t very good and the stuff wasn’t very good either.We set the mash and cooked it off., so we knew how it was done. Just a couple years before he died I just asked him a simple question as to how much of that stuff did you cook off. Oh that was pretty good boiling stuff. He had 400 gallons of that stuff to sell at the end of each week. I was absolutely astounded at that. The ratio - if you have a 50 gallon barrel of mash. Let me just walk you through - this is a generic process. How accurate this is, is from my memory. But I think you put a bushel and a half of rye. They always used rye instead of corn. Neuber whiskey was a trade name. It wasn’t trash whiskey. This was good whiskey. They had their own sort of recipe. Rye was the base of it. You filled your barrel up then with water. You put yeast in , a bushel of rye, and so much cane sugar. They always used cane sugar. That would sit for three weeks or twenty-one days.
CW: They probably had wooden barrels, didn’t they?
PW: They were open headed wooden barrels. You would knock out one of the ends of a barrel head. To get back to how much mash it took to make 400 gallons of finished product - out of that 50 gallon barrel you would get 7 1/2 gallons of pure finished whiskey. At least alcohol. After that was run through the still and condensed itself through the thirty feet of copper coil. Out of the 50 gallon open head barrel of mash you averaged about 7 1/2 gallons. My point is can you imagine how many open head barrels they must have had set to finish that off in a week. Every week that meant that you had much more waiting in line. There must have been open head barrels of mash all over the place. The point is New Bavaria again, good or bad because there was always a down side, we can talk about these stories and laugh at them, but when he told these stories, the downside of it is that it was illegal and in the end it ruined a lot of families and so
CW: Did federal agents ever come around?
PW: Oh my gosh I will be getting into those stories. That was always the fascinating part of listening to the stories because the dry dicks, that is what they called them, the dry dicks were federal agents. They had a whole network of those. The point was what are you going to do with 400 gallons of finished product. You are not selling a pint and a quart. People wanted it for medicinal purposes. There were local doctors who used to prescribe it for medicinal purposes. I can tell you lots of stories about that too. They had a real discreet way of, if you wanted to pick up a quart of moonshine there was a certain stump along someones property - they would pick up the jar, leave their money and went on. Back to what do you do with that much whiskey. It was commercially sold and shipped out of New Bavaria, on a weekly process like hundreds of gallons.
CW: Would they have used the railroads?
PW: I have heard stories of railroad cars that were converted to carry a lot of it out. Let me tell you one specific story and I won’t mention the name of the person unless I would have his permission. A person who is a Holgate resident, who grew up in Holgate and has a business currently in Napoleon told me that he and his brother fifteen years ago-maybe it was longer took a trip to Ventura, California. Ventura, California is a long ways away-maybe 1800 to 2000 miles away. They had checked into a hotel overnight. They got up in the morning to pay their bill, after they ate their breakfast and used a credit card. There on the credit card was their name and the fact that they were from Holgate, Ohio. The guy was probably in his 60’s. The guy said Holgate, Ohio, I know where that is. One of the two brothers said how do you know where Holgate, Ohio is. He said a long long time ago I used to make weekly trips to Holgate, Ohio.
CW: Did he come from Chicago?
PW: I said would you mind telling the story. No he came from California. He drove a specialized car from California. Literally it was one of those cars where you had the fuel tanks under the seat,. A bootleg tank was in the trunk, behind the seats and whatever. He was a bootleg runner. This is an amazing story. What are the chances of running into someone like that. The routine was-you would drive the car into Holgate-park it in front of Gustwiler’s Garage next to the Holgate Hotel. To the best of my recollection Gustwiler’s Garage would be where the implement dealership is now. Where Stovers are-right there on the corner. The Holgate Hotel is where they park their machinery to the north and west segment of the intersection.
CW: Is this the hotel that burned?
PW: That was about twenty years ago I guess. The routine was that you would park the car in front of the garage-check in and stay in the hotel overnight. Get up in the morning and take the car back to Ventura, California. As he said there was a suitcase full of cash in the back seat. Of course he had left the car unlocked. All he did was to get out of the car, go to the hotel and check in. He said very shortly thereafter the car would be driven into Gustwiler’s Garage. The next morning when he got up at daylight it would be parked right where he had left if by the curb. The empty suitcase was there, he would load it and head back to California. I think maybe he said weekly or bi-monthly I am not sure. He was the runner. Now also the story I heard was that Holgate was the northern connecting point for the commercial selling of the Neuber whiskey. There was a southern commercial selling point and I think it was in a garage in Miller City. It was Seifert’s or Seefert’s I am not sure. They had the same process. Runners would come, park their car, fill it up overnight. Again we are talking hundreds of gallons of bookleg whiskey being shipped out every week. There are just a lot of those kinds of stories. When I went to high school, we were in the Patrick Henry district, my brothers and sisters all went there. I didn’t. I went to the Divine Word Seminary, which was a priest training seminary down at Perrysburg, Ohio.
CW: Was that your choice?
PW: Yes it was my choice. It was a missionary society and the seminary in Perrysburg gathered young men from all over the United States. We had Canadians there, we had kids from Chicago, California, Pennsylvania. At one time my senior class was the largest class that graduated. Probably 250 kids there. All boys from freshmen down to seniors in high school. A good friend of mine Roy McFee. Roy was from Chicago, Illinois and we were pretty much cloistered there during the entire week and month. Every Sunday we had visiting and our parents would come up and visit. Of course we would be home for summers and holidays. So after about the second or third year we got to know many families. We got to know Roy’s dad and mom. So we would just know who each other was. My last year there as a senior Roy’s dad and my father were talking to each other and he said by the way Mr. Wilhelm, where are you from? My father replied New Bavaria. Ohio, now the nickname for that is Neuber. He said I have never been there but I used to haul Neuber whiskey to Chicago to somewhere. I don’t know if he took it to Canada or wherever but it was his job when he was a 20 or 21 year old. He ran Neuber whiskey, maybe it was the western, maybe Minnesota, I don’t remember. Here we are giving another story of the national scope of a hoe dunk town with maybe a hundred people in it.
CW: Isn’t that something.
PW: Of course you know Northwest Ohio by and large had a reputation-take like Sherwood and Mark Center
CW: I had a friend, he is dead now but he used to put something in the window, the upstairs bedroom window that would indicate that whiskey was available.
PW: Oh yes. I have a story just from the smaller side of it. An elderly gentleman that lived in Hamler, I actually interviewed him when he was 93 years old. As I told you earlier I did an oral history project for the Holgate Library back in the 1980’s. One of the guys I interviewed I got probably an hour and a half interview from Ira. One of the reasons I interviewed him was that he was a World War I veteran. So that was the main reason I interviewed him to get his life’s story. Throughout the course of interviewing him I talked about prohibition and bootlegging, and he started laughing. He said you know over there where you come from in Neuber it was always pretty easy to get whiskey. He said he remembers one time early in his marriage that his wife got sick , I am not sure if he said Doc Davis, he was a country doctor there, but it was some local doctor that he would sometime during the day take a shot of whiskey-just as a stimulator. Of course in the 1920’s you could not legally buy whiskey. So if you wanted to buy a pint of whiskey so your wife could increase her blood sugar you would have to get bootleg. He remembers making a contact in Neuber or somewhere along the ridge somewhere where the intersection and the church is and Neuber to the west. There was a hollowed stump, he was to stop there, and put cash in a jar, and then make a circle around the block and back to stump and bag and a jar would be there filled with whiskey. He would come back and he had his whiskey. You know there must be a million of those kinds of stories.
CW: Too bad people are not willing to talk about it.
PW: More bootleg stories. The other side of that was, again we would have relatives come over like in the evenings or on Sundays, especially my dad, with my Uncles on the Wilhelm side, that just-it wasn’t that hard to get them to give us these bootleg stories. Of course as kids we - when my Uncle Willie died he lived right on the Putnam County line on Road 12. Actually a couple of years before he died we moved the barn from the homestead there down about a quarter of a mile to the north to a farm where we lived. So we had a mover come out and pick the barn up. In that barn Uncle Will had always said he had a trap door in the hay mow. When my grandfather Adam Wilhelm, he cooked enough off just to pay his bills. He didn’t want to take the risk. That was important because a lot of people made it all year long. Julius’s father made whiskey all year long. My grandfather made good whiskey and when he was done he cleaned the still all up. He had a trap door as you walked in the barn where you milked the cows, that is where he stored his still. He did that discreetly, when the federal agents came around he didn’t want them finding the paraphernalia he used to cook it off.
PW: Before I forget it, the term Neuber whiskey really meant something when you were selling whiskey because it was a different kind of a whiskey. As I said, it was usually made out of rye, They also had an interesting way of fast aging.
CW: I wondered how they could age it.
PW: Good whiskey has to be aged. When you go to buy something like makers mark or the different kinds of Kentucky Bourbons they are aged eight ten to twelve years. Let me tell you I didn’t know if I wanted to drink it after listening to the stories. Once they had the finished product cooked off they had a very clear pure alcohol. Whatever the alcohol content of that was. They put that into a 50 gallon barrel. Before they got to their fast aging they had to soak long strips of white oak in that whiskey. Every week they drew out of that alcohol a product called wood alcohol. Wood alcohol is dangerous because it you would always hear stories where it would make you go blind if you didn’t get the wood alcohol out of that whiskey. White oak was important. Another thing is they wanted to color it like good commercial whiskey. So like I said my brothers and cooked off a batch and we got and Julius was showing us his. He is in his 80’s. He looked around the barn and found his big cast iron skillet that he used to color his whiskey with. What he would do is he would take that cast iron skillet, and would caramelize the brown sugar. It would go almost into a liquid. You know how much of that you would have to put into a 50 gallon barrel of finished product to give it a good color.
CW: How much?
PW: I don’t even know, but I just know that is what he used. Then the whiskey was ready to fast age. They had racks built where you could put five six seven eight barrels on if you were selling 400 gallons a week. He had to have a rack that held eight or nine barrels. That is how much it would take to make one gallon. What they would do is stack horse manure around those barrels. They would put six to seven inches around and even on top. What happened that heat,you would have to have enough of it there. As Julius would say that heat from that horse manure would actually make that whiskey boil.
CW: Is that right!
PW: You can look down there and see it rolling. Maybe it was also going through another fermentation, I don’t know. That is how they fast aged it and that is what really gave it the quality. So that was Neuber whiskey.
CW: They would have had plenty of horse manure in those days.
PW: Oh yes, there was plenty of it around. But anyways, the other part of the whole story was when the dry dicks came around, I am not going to mention too many names here. The old saying was the federal agents that came around and there is probably literature in the papers. I did some research.
CW: Before you get into that I have to make sure this is still recording. The recorder will not tell me when it gets to the end of the roll.
PW: Oh I see. We have been interviewing for thirty minutes. I will kind of keep my eye on when the time is up.
CW: Okay good.
PW: But when the federal agents came around, they had a saying that they suspected everybody that lived on that ridge from a couple miles west of New Bavaria to a couple of miles east of New Bavaria cooked bootleg and they said they even felt that maybe that the church was involved in it too. They weren’t sure that the rectory was cooking it too. I mean they had a lookout system set up. The people would just be suspicious of different cars just being in the neighborhood. It was the age of the old crank telephones or if that wasn’t good enough somebody got in the car and they would scream through the neighborhoods that the dry dicks were coming. So whatever you had you would clean it up and put away whatever you had, otherwise you got caught. I had an uncle, my Uncle Pete spent six months, I don’t know if my Uncle Joe got caught or not, but my Uncle Pete who lived in Custer got caught and prosecuted and he got sentenced to six months in the Dayton prison.
CW: Oh dear!
PW: And an interesting footnote to that was when he was in prison one of his youngest sons died of rheumatic fever, that is what it was called, so they left him come home for the funeral. When he came home for the funeral two federal agents were chained to him and walked him right down the main aisle of Sacred Heart Catholic church. It was really done I am sure they were thinking in their minds they were embarrassing anyone that was thinking of bootlegging. They just made the people so mad. What they didn’t know is that about 90% of the people in that church were involved in it. But that is something that really stuck with me. Other people in that community also got put in jail and again in review of the major papers like the Toledo Blade during this time period and see it. As a matter of fact I actually have to give a presentation to the Lakeside Methodist community up at Lake Erie which I have talked to other people. It will be a two day presentation on bootlegging the last week in August and the first week in September so I have to get a demonstration put together. My job is to deal with the small town bootlegging. So I have to get something in order for that.
CW: Times have changed. My mother was a strong Methodist. She was the president of the W C T U.
PW: There is a whole story to be told about how prohibition came about. This is an interesting story. People don’t pay attention to it because people don’t know our history well. The 18th amendment, the Volstead Act that was a huge huge undertaking. It was literally something really kind of pushed by the women of America. It took them probably 30 to 40 years to do that. It took a constitutional amendment to the United States constitution to make that illegal. As it took thirteen years later the 20th amendment which repealed it. That was just a massive undertaking. The big thing was it all goes back to the times of the frontier, the West was a tough place. Pioneering was a tough job. One of the relief valves in all that was alcohol consumption was whiskey. And it took it’s toll. Of course, usually the ones to suffer was probably the wife and the family. A guy abused it and so, at least in some small part is what drove the process. The Temperance League became a very important organization pushing for the Volstead Act. That story needs to be told. There is a local history to that as well. That was voted on I think county by county. In those days the state representative literally was one person to a county. The population based ratio that we have now, one man one vote, mainly came about in the 1960’s. I can still remember that. In the old days every county had a single representative in the Ohio State House. I think the average was every three counties had one senator. So their was a local county story to the whole county process. Yes, so your mother was just one of those that was glad to see it coming as it was long overdue. You know though the stories of the dry dicks coming through we would just sit on the edge of our seats. There were just dozens and dozens of those.
CW: Tell me some of those stories.
PW: Some of these farmers were probably not as smart as they should have been. I talked about the bootleg mash. If you were smart you would have poured that in a ditch or someplace or you buried it. Some guys wanted to recycle it and they would take that rye out and give it to the hogs.
CW: The hogs would have been pretty happy.
PW: The hogs would eat it and they literally became drunk. The last thing you wanted when the dry dicks were driving up and down the road was happy hogs. They would be bumping into each other, so more than one person got caught doing that. There were actual shootouts I have heard of. I cannot think of the family name but it was in the New Bavaria area. One of the girls in that family I think is still alive and I will have to research this, there was a shootout at his place and he was killed. He left a wife and ten kids.
CW: You mean he got shot by the feds?
PW: Well I don’t remember how it started, but in the end they were shooting back and forth and he got killed. It was a serious business. I remember another story my dad always told, I can’t remember the name, but the story sticks out in my mind sometime the federal agents would have a written warrant to search your property. With a warrant they could just about go anywhere. I don’t remember the family, but when they came on with their warrant, of course they were armed federal agents the farmer had a shotgun, and a Colt 45 pistol that he walked around with the agents when they searched his property. I always remember this as a little boy. The agents looked all over and couldn’t find anything and then went to the garden and they saw a heap of ground that was freshly dug and re-dug. They asked him what was in there and he said a dead chicken. Of course they didn’t believe him so they rooted down and found the chicken. The chicken had been dead for four or five days and it was probably pretty ripe.
PW: They dug down there and there was the dead chicken with the maggots and the worms. He gets up and starts to walk away and the farmer took his 45 pistol to his head and he said “You dug him up - you bury him”. So he buried him back.
CW: Oh my gosh!
PW: For some reason that story just sticks in my head. I actually thought that was kind of cool.
CW: Charlotte laughs.
PW: That was an evasive time period with running and hiding. It was a dangerous business. Now this was during the great Depression, at least the tail end of prohibition it was.This was in 1933. The untold story was that the Roaring Twenties was a good time for everybody except the farmers. If you look at the economic history of that time period people were making good money and with speculating and everything but things were pretty tough on the farm. After World War I prices had gone down, production had gone up. It was pretty tough chugging on the farm. Towards the end of the ‘20’s when the Depression hit people were losing their farms. They had no income. They couldn’t pay their mortgage company. Another interesting story attached to this, I always remember my dad talking about the six penny sales.
CW: What were those?
PW: The six penny farm sales. I have seen photographs of this somewhere. When there was a sheriff’s sale, and a foreclosure on a farm, all the neighbors would show up. Anybody who attended that farm sale it was understood that you didn’t pay anymore than six cents for anything that was auctioned off. I remember seeing a picture, actually it was in a township in the south end of the county where I lived. It was a six penny sale. The whole ridge of that barn was lined with farmers with double barreled shotguns. It was just a show of force, because the sheriff was there to conduct the sale. Of course the insurance company or whoever had the loan was there to collect and so the sale ended. The person that didn’t do too well, and that was the insurance company. That’s the way it went and so at least toward the end of the ‘20’s one reason why people got into bootlegging was that they couldn’t pay their debts. It was another reason why people got into bootlegging in the first place. It was my grandfather and he just knew what he needed. He didn’t think the law was moral anyways, obviously they willingly broke it. Whether it was totally moral or not I guess
CW: They didn’t think about that.
PW: They had to think about that because they had to suffer the consequences if they didn’t. So when they got caught they paid a price like my Uncle Pete. You know he paid his bills, cleaned it up and put it away. That never bothered him because he created in the 20’s, he had a butchering operation where they peddled meat in a three-county area. So in the latter years of the Depression he didn’t need to bootleg to pay his bills, he had a meat market that he ran. His other brothers didn’t do that. The money was pretty lucrative so the downside of that was-it was pretty tough to raise a good family when you were violating federal law, especially if you have boys. They are going to get into sipping that stuff. I can tell you family stories about how that went south.
CW: Tell me one.
PW: Actually just in Julius’s family, a couple of his brothers just wound up becoming alcoholics. So you know there is always a nasty price to be paid for that. It just had to have been an interesting time period. Of course the Depression actually even though the Volstead Act was lifted by the 20th Amendment in 1933. The Depression was still going on hard and fast even through the ‘30’s. Actually until Pearl Harbor when factory production picked up.
CW: That was my impression wasn’t, I was from Pennsylvania, and in that place it wasn’t so bad. It gradually eased off. With the hard times you were thankful just to get a job.
PW: You know even though agriculture suffered the most in the end, if you could just skim by you had everything you wanted to eat. You could produce your own stuff and live on it. My mother died last year at the age of 96 and she just had a good long-term memory right up to the end and lots of times she could just recollect all that stuff of living through the Depression. They were hard times and a lot of times people used that as justification in the making of whiskey. There is another side of that which you don’t always hear. Another connection I think to bootlegging in a small town like New Bavaria, Neuber as they called it, actually the term Neuber N e u b e r , I am convinced it is the German abbreviation for neu vier. Neu means new and vier means bavaria. I think the ber is probably a German abbreviation. So Neu means new and ber is an abbreviation for vier. The aspirin Bayer really means Bavaria. How that term ever started I don’t know, but Neuber whiskey was the term.
CW: Were most of the people from Bavaria?
PW: If you look at the records and if you look at the cemeteries probably not. The founding fathers of the town like the Hornings, I think were from probably over by Bavaria. The Wilhelms really came from at one point in time - the German states shifted borders. If you are doing like family geneaology and if it says they were from Prussia you had better look at the date because in a ten year time period Prussia’s borders may have stretched a hundred miles in either direction. And if it said they were Bavarian sometimes the state of Bavaria, included some of the eastern states like Baden-Wurtemberg. Some of them stretch all the way to the French borders so you have to be careful. The generic term saying you came from Bavaria depends on the time period. The founding fathers came from Bavaria so the name stuck. Our cemetery at Sacred Heart - like I am interested in genealogy. There are a lot of people of Alsace-Lorraine people in all stations. My grandmother Wilhelm-my grandfather was Adam Wilhelm and his wife was an Ensman from Alsace-Lorraine. Alsace was just across the Rhine River opposite the German border around Zohlbrechen. Of course that was the area fought over during World War I. They were German Frenchmen is what they were. For 500 years the German and French argued about where the boundaries ought to be. The story was you spoke both languages if you were Alsatian . You would get up in the morning and peek your head out and see whose Army was in the street. That’s whose flag you stuck on the front porch. It sounds silly but that is the way it happened many times. You could easily get involved in these situations. But that old bootlegging stuff was big business. Oh yes. My grandfather also like I said, he would make enough to sell and then clean his still up. He had also a pretty specific clientele. You had mentioned something earlier about railroads. My grampa’s clients were literally a lot of them were railroad engineers from Deshler would drive out to his farm, pick up whatever whiskey they needed, and then take it back and stay overnight in the hotel depending upon the train schedule. So you know he would have had to a pretty good product for them to do that. They would have passed hundreds of stills from Deshler to get to my grandfathers farm.The other side of the story too were the big gangs-we had the Lichavolies in Detroit
CW: Do you mean gangsters?
PW: Yes, Lichavolie got run out of Chicago by Capone and so they settled in the Detroit area. Lichavolie was also connected to Toledo and there was one called the Blue Gang. I don’t remember the names. They were in Ft. Wayne and so you always had to wonder why those gangs wouldn’t have turf wars about where the stuff was made. Like I said and it is not very well documented but if one guy was making 400 gallon a week. And if you have 15 to 20 people doing it, not of that size but you are talking a couple thousand gallons a week. You have to have a market for that. It had to be going into the large urban areas. It just had to.
PW: And so you get some of that stuff - I had always heard the story and I don’t think anybody can validate this, and this came from three to four different sources that Lichavoli would come down in this area periodically and get whiskey.
CW: I bet he did.
PW: So I don’t know what that meant. Whether it was about somebody just reading about it in the paper-maybe saw some clown that looked like him. It might have just been a story or it could have been him. You would have to think those guys would have been curious as to where the source was. It is always cheaper when you can control the source. I think about that I also have to think from their perspective that it would be awfully hard for those guys to come in and control small big time operators because of their independence. I mean you would have to bring a hundred guys down here and a bunch of guns knowing that you had that many shotguns pointing out of a cornfield at you.
CW: You’re right.
PW: I mean it was pretty nasty stuff. You know all these stories haven’t been preserved and they have nobody thoughts. As you mentioned earlier it would be awfully hard to do some publishing on this. There are too many families in my area that will sit down and talk but they don’t want to be quoted. I actually know a woman whose husband was a bootlegger. Her grandson is my neighbor. He remembers doing his grandmother a favor by crawling up in the attic and getting something for her. He ran across a scrapbook she had made during Prohibition because her husband had been caught several times. The federal agents just destroyed the stills. As a matter of fact I saw that still about two weeks ago and I have to go down and take some pictures of it. You can see where they took an ice pick and punched holes in the copper kettle. Of course five minutes after they left he took it down at the blacksmith and patched it with solder.
CW: Charlotte and Pete both laugh.
PW: So those little patches are there too. These are great stories.
PW: You know that whole gangster thing is something. I told you we were going to go to Lakeside for a presentation. One of the guys is Randy Buchman from Defiance.
CW: Randy is a great storyteller.
PW: . Randy is a great storyteller. He grew up in Ottawa county by Port Clinton. We actually got the story last year when we were giving a presentation at Lakeside. Lakeside itself is a Methodist retreat center. It actually was a demarkation point for whiskey.
PW: From Canada to Le
PW: One of the guys that was there is a missionary. His grandfather was the sheriff of Ottawa county. Let me tell you Grampa would tell us these stories. They always suspected as a teetotaler Methodists would not be involved. They probably got a few more points for the Lord. That was his version of it anyway. Like you know that whole thing of rum running - there were fast lake boats and that whole story is even more fascinating than a small town bootlegger. Canada didn’t have Prohibition. The entire northern border of this area would supply - Canada actually moved breweries and distilleries right up to the lakeshore. They couldn’t cook it and make it fast enough to send it up there. What an amazing time!
PW: You know three generations later it has been forgotten. It was a fascinating time period in history. So that whole big crime syndicate stuff all is shrouded out of the 1920’s and we were certainly in a regional location-right in the middle of it.
CW: Yes, I would think so.
PW: If you look at history here my father would have been third generation to this area. Where they came from in Germany these Germans, they are used to, in culture to consuming alcohol.
CW: And the children would drink beer.
PW: Oh yes. I can tell you stories - we were taught how to do it at an early age. You didn’t abuse it because you would pay a real hard price for it. My dad wasn’t shy about dispensing corporal punishment if you violated the rules. We were always exposed to that kind of stuff. He taught us how to use it. If you didn’t use it right you would always remember why you shouldn’t do it again. So you know my grandfather had already had two generations of just being around it and that was a part of your almost daily diet. Everybody was just used to it. By the time you get into the next generation - such a cultural mix going on in this area that others didn’t see it that way. And again going back to the business as to why your grandmother was in the WCTU, I am sure she had plenty of family experiences. Part of her family where it wasn’t a good deal. Whatever was going on. It was a very real thing. So it made sense, it was a noble experiment that didn’t work too well but you know it was what it was. Now you might know this actually there still are a few active units of the WCTU. There is supposed to be one in Bryan.
CW: Oh really!
PW: I have not have that validated but it was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
CW: Women's Christian Temperance Union.
PW: That is pretty much my history of bootlegging.
CW: You were thinking I think of telling more about the federal agents and the stories you always heard as children.
PW: Oh gosh I have to check my memory here. I remember a building - it’s been torn down since. One of the other disguises my grandfather did after he had made his whiskey and after he had fast aged it he would then store it. He had a drive-through granary like most farmers did at the time with corn on both sides. Up at the top you would have your small wood bins for oats and wheat. The whole building was a granary. Under the floor of the granary he had buried four or five oak barrels. Then he would pour, in those days concrete was a bit different, It was really a concrete floor he had poured over the top of that. What he had was a system where he had a concrete lid that you would lift up off the barrel and stick a pump down in there and get your pint or quart or whatever you wanted brought up. You always had your finished product totally hid. You would put your little cement lid back on. You would take a bushel of dirt and some corncobs and nobody would know it. I remember as kids, the building was there up until about twenty-five years ago. So I could see the cut in the concrete where the lid was. I am sure it would have been all rotted out by now. You know it was just disguise and deceive. You just didn’t want to get caught. That was the deal.
CW: Well it was a little bit like the underground railroad. Those old representatives were somebody you had to fight. It wasn’t that they were right and you were wrong. It was the facts of life.
PW: It was the federal law. It was the compromise of 1850 the law - Southern marshals could legally come up to the North and find runaway slaves and legally take them back to the South. That is an interesting historical story and I use this in my classroom all the time. I teach American History. Beginning with the Missouri Compromise, which was the first state carved out of the Louisiana Purchase, Missouri wanted to come in as a slave state. The southerners had settled it. Two thirds of Missouri was below the Ohio River and one third was north of the Ohio River. For fifty to seventy-five years people got used to seeing the division between the North and South as the Ohio River. The Northwest Ordinance in 1787 was the first federal law that said slavery will not be in certain states. The Ohio-Michigan-Indiana-Illinois and parts of Minnesota, so for three generations we just knew that that was the line comes in because where Missouri comes in we doubled the size with the Louisiana Purchase. The big deal then all the way up to the Civil War was to satisfy the North and to satisfy the South. So typically we got in the business when one new state came in one would go to the North and one would go to the South. That pattern got screwed up as the migration moved further West. It became more complicated. The ordinance of 1787 drew that line again and forbade slavery in these states. That is just, you are right. The second big compromise came when California comes in as a new state in 1850. California was not settled by many Southerners, and they said we are not coming in as a slave state. So the Congress had to compromise again. And the compromise was the South nodded their heads even though most of California was below that new line they drew. Across the map it went to the North. But the character of the South was - They would send Southern marshals up into Northern territory and bring the slaves back. It was ten years of hard stuff. The underground railroad started as a result of this. People that were involved in the underground railway were violating federal law. My grandfather kind of looked at the Volstead Act in the same way. These federal officers were telling me that I couldn’t make or sell my own whiskey. I had done it for a thousand years in my family. Then suddenly it was a moral conundrum there that you are violating a federal law and if you got caught you pay the price. By 1850 if you got caught by federal agents smuggling slaves you could be prosecuted. You know that didn’t go down too well. What that did of course it just galvanized the Abolitionist feelings up North because they got a taste of what slavery was like. The Southern marshals would come up here and bring the slaves back. You are right, that is a good comparison. It is exactly the same scenario. Basically the moral law, by conscience you weren’t sure you wanted to obey. Periodically we have done that in our history. This is interesting stuff.
CW: Yes. That is why Democracy is still standing.
PW: It is not perfect but it is better than what most of us have seen. I always liked Winston Churchill’s quote on that. He said you Americans have a pretty lousy system of government compared to everybody else let the best pair off. Meaning that there is no perfect system. But all things said and done it is still the best around. That pretty much concludes my b.s.
CW: Charlotte laughs. Now tell me something about your family when you were a little kid. Do you remember eating your meals around a table?
PW: Oh yes. I have seen three generations of students come through my classroom. Boy what a change! I use a lot of history channel videos in my history courses that I teach. Especially when I teach exploration of America up till the Civil War that really covers a lot of our early settlement. The history channel videos can go to a place like the Plymouth Plantation like reenactments where you see people living and eating and even dressing like they did 200 years ago. There is always this one scene in this one history channel video where a hired woman is preparing a meal. She is digging right down out of a stone crock. You probably would remember fried down sausages and fried down side meat, which they kept in their cellar at ground temperature. They would put the meat, seal it in lard, and when you took it out you would re-seal the meat with the lard. It preserved the meat because it didn’t get any air. I grew up as a kid eating like that. I can remember finding the dandelions in early spring. Mom would clean them. You would have to get the right ones and you would put a sweet and sour vinegar sauce on it. You would have what you called German fried potatoes. She would boil the potatoes and then fry them in ham grease or the fried down meat. We just ate like that. But this generation would have no clue. If it doesn’t come in cello wrap and if it isn’t already prepared at McDonald’s they have no clue. You know it’s generational. We always complain about the new generation. My dad always complained about us kids. You guys would have starved to death in my generation. Before the 1940’s I watched all of this. It was worse when he was a kid and his father probably told the same thing about how he had to grow up. It was different. You had a sense of responsibility.
CW: Your family would use that time to sit and talk.
PW: When we ate we were always at the table twice a day. Sometimes it was a breakfast but it was always a supper. Of course you lived at home and had a job and that varied. That is where I learned politics.
CW: Is that right.
PW: That was always discussion time when we and Dad would always arrange for Mom to have supper around - even back in the 1940’s and ‘50’s with the beginning of talk radios there was a guy named Fulton Lewis Junior-he came on with a fifteen minute news segment on every night. His opponent was Guy None. My dad was either praising the one or cussing the other. That was always part of the meal and then afterwards we always discussed politics. But you were always there. There was a whole lot of selection. If you didn’t eat it you didn’t put it on your plate. If you put it on your plate and it had to go somewhere. I got married rather late in life. My kids were clueless. I tried and then actually they say Dad we were better off and get raised like we did. I said how can that be. You know each generation has to deal with it.
CW: You know I remember a story about my husband’s brother, one of them.. It was years after he was grown and went away to World War II they were cleaning this dining room table and in the corners, this one corner where he sat there was this bar holding the table, all the food that he didn’t like he would stick down in there.
PW: And you find it some twenty years later and it is still there. I have the same story here, I hated cooked spinach. The closest thing to living hell is to make me eat cooked spinach. To me it just reminds me of eating a dirty sock. It smelled like it. I just remember my dad one time saying and he kind of helped me eat that spinach with his thumb. After that he just told my mom that’s it. I’m not going to do this again. Just don’t put it on his plate. You know that is just the way it was. There was a certain discipline that went it. Generationally I think there is something missing. It’s as good or as bad for parents in each generation. You can blame no one except the parents who raised them. Mom and Dad grew up during the Depression. I always believed the Great Depression lasted until the 1960’s when I grew up and I am not kidding you. Twenty to thirty years later when I listened to all this stuff I told myself it wasn’t that bad. I remember using an outhouse until I was thirteen years old.
CW: Sure with the Sears Roebuck catalog.
PW: Yes, the whole nine yards. I mean that was just the way it was because we were too poor to have it in the house. When we got a new house we got indoor plumbing. Can you imagine talking to people around here that we were denied indoor plumbing. I’ve been there and done it but I wouldn’t go back to it gladly but I could go back to it because I have already done it. Today that is something you would equate with a third world country. Three generations ago there were some folks who that were used to doing that. Yes there are a lot of interesting things historically. You know we were talking about this one of the video tapes I used in my history class, and this is just really appropriate for the current generation from what I call off the wall environmentalists which I think everybody should be a conservationist. None of this is new. None of this stuff is new at all. Just one of these states during World War II in 1942 and 1943 one third of all the food consumed in the United States came from a Victory Garden. A Victory Garden was government promoted in the urban areas. People were to tear up their front yards, plant it to tomatoes and beans and then be able to preserve that food for the winter. There were major WPA projects. In that generation of course somebody knew how to can. But can you imagine that one third of the entire population survived with the stuff they grew in their front yards.
CW: I know my dad had a garden with an empty lot behind it. Somebody gave him a spot to plant a garden.
PW: So they knew how to survive, they had to. They were going through historic times and they didn’t want to starve to death. They would have to beg it from somebody else if they didn’t. So there is a return to get back to that. I guess in the end that is environmentally a good thing but sometimes these people need to understand that they are not reinventing the wheel. Somebody along the way probably forgot to teach them how to do this. So anyways that is always interesting stuff.
CW: Well, I appreciate your spending some time with me.
PW: You are very welcome. It has been a pleasure.
|©2010 Henry County Historical Society|