On Decoration Day, 1900, Al Schweitzer, an employee for the Thos. Hamm Brewing Co., asked me if I would take a job at the brewery. I told him I would like to work for the Co. Saw Mr. Hamm, resigned my position as Chief Deputy Sheriff, and commenced the next day. My duties were to collect for the Bottle Beer Dept. From clerks and employees in the several railroad offices and wholesale houses, my salary $100.00 per mo. and expenses unlimited; also to solicit new customers. It was my duty to visit Les Maison de Joie and spend the percentage. There were 19 of such when I started and 42 when I quit. There were 8 bottle beer delivery wagons when I started and 28 wagons when I left. The capacity of the brewery was 250,000 and grew to 750,000 per year. The madames bought from $2700.00 to $3000.00, many cases a month. I made no collections from them. They paid the drivers on deliveries. It took 3 nights and a few afternoons to make the rounds and spend the percentage. At some of these places I found the inmates beautiful and intelligent, accomplished and educated. Many to lead this life through disappointments in love, desertion by their husbands and other causes. While slumming I met people in all walks of life, doctors, lawyers, merchants, showpeople and sports.
On one occasion, I fell in with the troupe of Roger Brothers, actors and actresses. The beer collector was always welcome and admitted to the dance hall and recreation rooms.
At another time I fell in with the legislature who had chartered the house for the night. Instead of beer, champagne was the common drink that night. The landlady sometimes afterwards stated to me her receipts for the night was $3300.00, paid for by some promoters seeking favorable legislation at their hands--gave them a good time.
I made frequent trips to the roadhouses, to the several lakes in Ramsey Co. And frequently had Couchon au lait, and clambakes, fish dinners. These invitations came so often that I had to cut some out for they interfered with my work.
I got most of the steamboat excursions and sold them plenty. One day, Mr. Hamm said, "Frank, don't go after the boat business so strong." "Why," I responded, "why, Mr. Hamm?" "Well, when we pick up our empties, more than half the bottles are gone. The bottles are worth more to me than the beer. They throw the bottles in the river."
A committee known as the Big Three gave a French Ball at the Mozart Hall. Every local and foreign brewer was asked to send 40 cases, and when I got to the hall, I found beer piled to the roof, and all this beer could not be consumed. I got hold of Mike Heffesman, Dutch Hamberger and Biff McCarthey and gave them each a five spot to work on Hamms Beer in the wee small hours of the night. My beer was sold out. Only about 20 cases of the others consumed.
Louis Nash led the Grand-March that night and his attempt for re-election. This was used against him and he lost out. Mr. Hamm, a few days afterwards, said with a smile, "they used up all our beer at the dance." "Yes," I said, "it cost some money." He laughed outright and said that all the other brewers had it in for me for taking unfair means. Mr. Hamm said, "why didn't they use their head?" I soon after this was offered a like position with another brewery at more money. I refused it.
When making the rounds with the madames, I was nearly always accompanied by Billy Ficker. After the windup, Billy was picked up by the health department and taken to the pest house for small-pox. Billy disclosed to the Department that I was the last person with him. The Dept. telephoned to Mr. Hamm and said to tell Robert to come in. A day or two later Mr. Hamm told me again. I told Mr. Hamm that Ficker was with me making the rounds and if they found out this, the Dept. would probably close all the sporting houses. He said to me, "get out of town." I did and he paid. Poor Billy was at the pest house with his troubles and I sent him a case or two a week, which he and his caretaker enjoyed. It was strange. I met and enjoyed his company for more than two weeks before he was quarantined.
One day, Mr. Hamm asked me if Deslauriers and Lefebore used any of our beer. I told him yes, that each of them used a case or two a month. "Go see them, tell them to do the roofing on the Bottle Beer Department. Tell them that their estimate is $1700.00 more than their competitors, but they must finish the job within 10 days of the date in their estimate as to do the work." A few days later he said for me to go to the Pioneer Press Ptg. Co, see Mr. Colgrove and tell him his bill is $800.00 higher than the Milwaukee People. Minneapolis and Milwaukee don't use any of my beer. Tell him to do the job 10 days earlier than the date in his proposal.
The inmates of the sporting house are boarders. They pay so much a week. The landlady furnishes them their silks and satins, dresses, furs and other necessary wearing apparel. Thus, they are kept in debt to her and are never free from this obligation. When in the entertainment rooms, they must be dressed in their best and be as attractive as they know how. They attend the theatre, races, and visit the big stores and attract attention of the (?) players, clerks, bankers and their clerks. A failure to do this and they are fined. The discipline has often caused them to cry. I know this for I have been told this and caught them crying.
In one of these places was the daughter of an ex-U.S. Senator. Her name was Vera _____, a beautiful and handsome girl, and the shape of Venus. She was educated in France, and spoke French fluently (she delighted to talk with me). Her father spent a fortune on her to give up this life, but she would not quit. She told me her mother died when she was very young. Her father married again. She did not like her step-mother who made life worst for her. I met her some 20 years afterwards. She remembered me and I failed to recognize her, she had changed so much. She had the T.B.
One afternoon visiting the landlady above named, while sitting in her living rooms, I picked up a school book and read, "Mollie McCarthy," her true name. She grabbed the book and she cussed me awfully. She was real mad. She died a few months ago at the age of 80 and left hardly enough to bury her.
Another landlady took great delight in showing me a handful of diamonds she owned. She was called Diamond Dottie. She had a girl I called the Postage Stamp, for every time I came around she had the same envelope in her hand and asked for a stamp, and the name stuck to her all the time I was emplyed by the brewery.
One afternoon when visiting Norma ______, I saw a soldier beating up one of the girls there. I interfered, he made a pass at me and missed, but I didn't. When I floored him I lit out the back way. A few days later going there, I was told the girl was his wife. My mistake. She probably deserved what she got.
A landlady by the name of Rose B______ was always broke. She bought a bottle every time I did, and it was said she did this right along. Of course, I paid $1.00 for mine and hers only cost her 8 cents.
One of these madames found her place too small and I found her a large place on Jackson and 6th St. Her rent would be $75.00 per month (anybody else $25.00 per mo.). She was very satisfied to get the place and she gave me an order for the best suit of clothes in the Boston One Price Clothing Store. I reported to Mr. Hamm the removal of his customer and her offer to me. He said, "why not take the gift. If anybody else had worked for her he would be paid for his work." I went to the clothing store and found it had a red-figure sale. I took two suits.
A well known Police Commissioner, Bill F______, was reported lost and could not be found. He was a big official with the Sons-of-Herman and it was hinted he took a dive from the High Bridge. He had not been seen for 5 days. In visiting Bridget R______, who should I find, friend Bill--not intoxicated, but drunk. I bundled him up and sent him home to the bosom of his family. Bridget told me she had sold him the same bottle of wine 5 times at $5.00 per.
One day, old Mr. Thos. Hamm (Billie's father) said to me, "Frenchman, how many cases of beer did you sell this year." I told him, "Oh, about 350 cases." "Oh Got, that's more beer than I brewed the first years.
I could relate many more events in my career of bottle beer collector, but I believe you are already tired of those I have already wrote about.
Mr. Wm. Hamm, more familiarly called "Billy Hamm," was a wonderful man--cheerful and charitable and a great friend to those he liked. I believe he was the most thorough businessman in the Northwest. His word was his bond. He was a great employer of men, and St. Paul boys preferable. He was the largest tax-payer in Ramsey Co., a democrat, and his death a great loss to the city where he was born and reared.
A Bottle Beer Collector
This site created by Harry E. Connors III
Music is Beer Barrel Polka
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This page last modified on Tuesday, November 20, 2007