Monday, June 27, 2016

High Times & Horror at Horn & Schwalm’s

In the late 1800s, no brewery in Oshkosh received more attention than Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery. It seemed something was always happening there. Newspapers in Oshkosh were all over it, publishing stories about the brewery that ran the gamut from the absurd to the tragic.

The best aspect these stories is the way they avoid conventional brewery trope. They’re not about beer production or business. They’re about people. They’re rare intimations of what daily life may have been like at Oshkosh breweries of this period.

I want to share a few of these stories. We’ll start light and end in a very dark place. Here’s one about a horse...

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Monday March 24, 1890
A couple things about that story: This occurred at a time when Oshkoshers were bickering about Sunday beer sales and the non-enforcement of Blue Laws. Not a word is mentioned in the story about the brewery selling kegs of beer on a Sunday night. But I’ll bet that’s the first thing the prudes in town clucked about after they read the article on Monday.

That keg of beer is also worth noting. Remember, this was a time when bottled beer was an extravagance. Most folks drinking beer at home were doing just like Burkhardt Krieger. They were bringing their beer home in kegs, often purchasing it directly from the brewery. They didn’t have kegerators either. What they were drinking was gravity flow, cask lager. I’ll bet it was delicious.

Here’s one of those kegs from Horn & Schwalm’s Brewery. The keg Krieger’s horse made off with would have looked just like this one. You can’t see it from this angle, but “Horn & Schwalm” is branded into the wood on the top side of the barrel seen here.

Here’s a story that's positively bucolic. The newspaper I found it in was in rough shape, so I’ll transcribe it.

A Novel Sight
A novel sight attracted the attention of the passer by in the vicinity of the Brooklyn Brewery yesterday forenoon. It was no less than 26 wheelbarrows filled with grain and manned by 26 stalwart women that caused the usual listless pedestrian to gaze with considerable interest at the usual go-as-you-please race with grain for the sweepstakes. The women were those of the neighborhood wheeling malt and the refuse of the brewery for their pigs.
  - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Friday, September 28, 1883

Too bad you’re not allowed to keep pigs in town anymore. I’d like to have a pig. Back then on Doty Street there were plenty of families keeping a porker or two.

By the way, Oshkosh breweries still dole out their spent grain as animal feed. Both Bare Bones Brewery and Fox River Brewing have arrangements with local farmers who use the brewhouse leftovers as livestock feed.

I have to include this next one because it’s about one of my favorite subjects….

They Have Been Congregating in Oshkosh Recently by the Hundreds
Tramps have been infesting this city in unusually large numbers for the past few days. Monday night twelve were lodged in the city lock-up and the patrol wagon is kept busy bringing the vagrants in from the suburbs. The residents of the outskirts are the principal sufferers. Out where the police are not so apt to reach them the vagrants are more bold and insolent. One of the favorite resorts fro tramps is Horn & Schwalm’s brewery. They fairly haunt the place in the hope of begging beer from some of the employees about the place. Usually they are let off by being ordered off the place or if they are too persistent one of the large brewers brings his boot into play.
    - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Wednesday, December 31, 1890

A boot in the ass! On New Year’s Eve, no less. Oshkosh was beset with tramps all through the late 1800s. The city tried a number novel solutions to stem the transient tide. For example, in the 1880s Oshkosh cops were paid a bonus of 37 cents (about $6.50 in today’s money) for each tramp they collared. That didn’t help.

They finally hit upon a solution. A workhouse was established near 17th and Knapp. Tramps pinched in Oshkosh were sent there to pass their time breaking rocks. By the turn of the century, word had spread among the wandering tribe that Oshkosh was no longer hospitable. Problem solved.

Here’s an interesting tidbit. One of the people who played a role in the establishment of the workhouse was Fred C. Horn, a member of the same family that owned the Horn & Schwalm Brewery. I guess kicking ass stopped being fun after a while.

OK, I warned you we were headed for a dark place. Here we are. Abandon all hope, this one is utterly bleak.  Here’s a story that hints at just how different the lives of these people were from our own. Prepare for some old-school nihilism.

Dead Infant Found
The body of a dead infant was found last Thursday near Schwalm’s Brewery on the south side. One arm and one leg were eaten off evidently by dogs. The body was turned over by the Poor Commissioner and buried without an inquest or further investigation as it was concluded that formal proceedings would be useless expense.
 - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Monday, October 4, 1875

Let that sink in.... A dead baby found half eaten by dogs and nobody cares to investigate it.

Imagine the uproar that would ensue if it happened today. It would be national news instead of a 9-line blurb consigned to an inside page of a local paper. No doubt there’s more to this story. The rest of it was taken to the graves of those involved. Maybe that’s for the best.

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