Monday, May 23, 2016

Fire at the Oshkosh Brewery!

Before we dive down today’s rabbit hole, let’s clear something up. The Oshkosh Brewery mentioned in the title of this post is not to be confused with the Oshkosh Brewing Company.

The Oshkosh Brewery was located near the east end of what is now named Bay Shore Drive. It was launched by brothers George and Frederick Loescher in 1852. This was years before anyone dreamed of starting that similarly named and much larger brewery on Doty Street.

One more thing to clarify: Loescher’s name is consistently misspelled in all sorts of publications from the period covered in this post. We’ll see a number of variants here, but they’re all referencing the same man. Here’s a prime example from an 1868 city directory.

OK, before we begin sifting its ashes, let’s pinpoint where Loescher’s Oshkosh Brewery stood. First a map from 1858. Look for the red circle….

Here’s a recent aerial view of that same area. The white oval represents the location of the brewery.

Time to get on with the pathos. Here’s the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern to tell us of the terrible Sunday morning of April 28, 1878.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, April 29, 1878

The Sunday morning fire appears to have brought an end to brewing beer at that particular location. But I’ve stumbled across a couple of post-fire references to the brewery that I’m dying to share. Here goes….

The Webbed-Feet People of Sodom
A couple days after the Oshkosh Brewery went up in smoke, a reporter from the Fond du Lac Commonwealth was sent here to get the lay of the land. The fantastic letter he sent back to Fond du Lac was later picked up and published by the Northwestern. The Fond du Lac hack wasn’t prepared for what he found in Oshkosh. Here are a few of my favorite cuts from his report.

Oshkosh, April 30 (1878) – A Wicked City. This is a hard town to write about, because if you tell the truth you have to write hard things... Three years ago Sunday, Oshkosh was nearly consumed by a fire started by Spaulding & Peck’s mill. To commemorate the third anniversary, a brewery burned Sunday night… Immediately back of the Beckwith House is a man who administers Turkish baths, and he told me nearly all citizens of Oshkosh who have lived here five or more years are web-footed… Many people in this city eat fish with neither salt or pepper, but with their fingers… Yes, Oshkosh is the Sodom of the Northwest.

The other post-fire reference to Loescher’s old brewery is even better. Or worse depending upon how you view these things. I’m calling this one...

The Reinhard Digression
Godfried Reinhardt was born in 1799 in Schönburg, Germany. On the Wednesday morning of September 4, 1878, his lifeless body was found floating in the Fox River just west of Loescher’s recently ruined brewery. A coroner’s jury was hastily convened. Its verdict: suicide.

The inquest into Reinhardt’s death stated that at about 2 p.m. Reinhardt had wandered off from his home at what is now Parkway Avenue. He was in a glum mood and had no apparent destination in mind. That evening the Northwestern published a story subtitled, “Undoubtedly a Case of Suicide.” The paper reported that Reinhardt frequently said he was tired of living and wished he could die.

Reinhardt’s family didn’t buy it. Upset with the rush to label their father’s death a suicide, Reinhardt’s three adult children dug deeper. They discovered their father knew exactly where he was headed that afternoon. And it wasn’t for the bottom of the river.

Two days after Reinhardt’s death, the Northwestern reported the family’s findings: “It has since been ascertained that Mr. Reinhardt, late in the afternoon, strolled down to Luscher’s brewery in the Second ward, and did not leave there until dark.”

Now, I think it’s safe to assume that Reinhardt hadn’t strolled over to Loescher’s to spend several hours staring at the burnt remains of a brewery. So what in hell was he doing there? Perhaps, he passed the afternoon and early evening there drinking beer.

If you recall, the article about the brewery fire mentioned that, “The only portion of the building not wholly burned is a small portion over the cellar where the tubs and some of the stock was kept.”

It’s known that Loescher operated a tap room in conjunction with his brewery. “Over the cellar where… some of the stock was kept” sounds like the perfect spot for a beer bar. I suspect, Reinhardt was there until he’d had his fill and then wandered off into the dark to his watery death.

Born Again
Reinhardt wasn’t resurrected, but the Oshkosh Brewery was. George Loescher built a new brewery, just across and down the street from the old one. It was up and running by 1880. Here you can see their proximity.

I like nothing more than to end a blog post with a gravestone. Beats hell out a punctuation mark. This one goes out in memory of Godfried Reinhardt. May the earth be light on him. Prost!

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