Monday, January 11, 2016

And Then Joseph Nigl Punched a Cop

Another visit to long ago for a lively night in the old, weird Oshkosh. This time we're at Joseph J. Nigl's Gemütlichkeit Saloon on the corner of 9th and Ohio.

Nigl's Gemütlichkeit Saloon
March 31, 1902
It was a Monday. Joe Nigl was at his bar. He was getting loaded.

It wasn't the best of times for the saloon-owning alderman from Oshkosh's Bloody Sixth Ward. Nigl was being squeezed by the Oshkosh Brewing Company. The brewery had gained control of the local beer market and forcing one price hike after another onto saloonists like Nigl. Eventually, he'd remedy that by helping to launch the Peoples Brewing Company in 1913. For now, though, Nigl was stuck footing the bill as he slung nickel mugs of the brewery's beer.


If Nigl's mood was already sour, it didn't improve any when he saw Joe Smick walk through the door. Smick was a beat cop in the 6th Ward. And  he was none too popular with the Highholders who dominated the neighborhood.

The residents of  the 6th had little use for cops in general and for Smick in particular. Relations had been strained ever since the divisive Woodworkers' Strike of 1898. Officer Smick had come to be especially loathed. A former employee of Paine Lumber, Smick had recently made a series of arrests in the neighborhood. Highholders like Nigl viewed him with disdain. When the cop walked into Nigl's bar, the alderman wasted no time in going after him.


Here's Oshkosh Police Chief Rudolph J. Weisbrod to describe the ensuing mayhem.
"When he (Smick) entered, the proprietor asked him to stand the treat for the crowd. This the officer declined to do and said that he did not care to drink, and could not afford to treat. Upon this, the proprietor called him a dead beat and began to abuse him. One word led to another and after calling him several opprobrious names the alderman struck the officer."
      - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, March 4, 1902.
With the crowd at the bar gathering to mob him, Smick beat a hasty retreat. Word of the event spread quickly through the 6th Ward. Nigl, already something of a legend in the neighborhood, added to his renown. He never faced charges for the attack. Smick said he didn’t want to arrest an alderman.

The following day Nigl apologized. He said he wouldn't have acted the way he had if he'd not been drinking. Smick, with one eye blackened, accepted Nigl's apology. That was the end of the matter.

Chief Weisbrod said Nigl was lucky he was dealing with Smick and not some other Oshkosh cop. He told the Northwestern, "Many of them would have found their clubs a convenient weapon of defense, and if that had proven insufficient, would have been justified in reaching into the other pocket for that more convincing argument, a revolver."

The Northwestern tried to get Nigl's take on the incident. The alderman told the reporter to get lost. The flare up faded away. Just another Monday night in Sawdust City.

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