Today is the 66th birthday of Tom McCormick, former Executive Director of the California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA), who just retired a couple of years ago, though is still doing some work with them. Tom’s also owned and ran a distributorship and the Pro Brewer website, worked with Wolaver’s for a time, but found his true calling promoting and defending small brewers in California. Tom is the most unflappable person I’ve ever met, and hands down one of my favorite people in the industry. Join me in wishing Tom a very happy birthday.
Today is the birthday of William Alton Carter III, better known as Billy Carter (March 29, 1937–September 25, 1988). He “was an American farmer, businessman, and politician. Carter promoted Billy Beer, and was a candidate for Mayor of Plains, Georgia. He was also the younger brother of former Georgia Governor and U.S. President Jimmy Carter,” who signed into law the bill re-legalizing homebrewing.
He was a proud redneck, and capitalized on his image as a beer-drinking roughneck bumpkin to sell Billy Beer.
Billy Beer was a beer first made in the United States in July 1977, by the Falls City Brewing Company. It was promoted by Billy Carter, whose older brother Jimmy was the incumbent President of the United States. In October 1978, Falls City announced that it was closing its doors after less than a year of Carter’s promotion. The beer was produced by Cold Spring Brewing, West End Brewing, and Pearl Brewing Company.
Each can from the four breweries that produced it were slightly different. And you can see those differences in the cans below.
“After Billy Beer ceased production, advertisements appeared in newspapers offering to sell Billy Beer cans for several hundred to several thousands of dollars each, attempting to profit from their perceived rarity. However, since the cans were actually produced in the millions, the real value of a can ranged from 50 cents to one dollar in 1981.”
“Billy Beer was also featured on an episode of the reality series Auction Kings, where an appraiser deemed a case of unopened Billy Beer to be worthless; however, at the featured auction, the case was sold for $100.”
Here’s part of his story from 6 Presidential Siblings and the Headaches They Caused, published in Mental Floss:
Truly the standard by which all other presidential sibling’s antics are judged, Billy burst onto the national scene as the boisterous, hard-drinking counterpoint to his pious, reserved brother Jimmy. Billy’s early antics were amusing and fairly innocuous: he endorsed the legendarily terrible Billy Beer in an effort to make a little cash off of his hard-living image, and he made quips like, “My mother went into the Peace Corps when she was sixty-eight. My one sister is a motorcycle freak, my other sister is a Holy Roller evangelist and my brother is running for president. I’m the only sane one in the family.” While he worked hard to convey a roughneck bumpkin image to the press, Billy’s confidantes claimed that he was in fact well-read and an able businessman who used his Southern bona fides to help his older brother’s political cause. On the other hand, Billy’s drinking turned from amusing to tragic as his fame grew.
In 1979, he had to go into rehab to curb his drinking. Around the same time he nearly lost his Georgia home to the IRS for failing to pay a six-figure federal income tax bill for 1978.
The real capper, though, came when Billy began consorting with Libya at a time when relations between the North African nation and the U.S. were starting to strain. In 1978 he made a trip to Libya with a group of Georgia businessmen who were interested in expanding trade with the country; Billy then hosted a Libyan delegation in Atlanta. When questioned about his dealings, Billy responded, “The only thing I can say is there is a hell of a lot more Arabians than there is Jews,” a public-relations nightmare for which he later apologized. The damage got worse in 1980 when Billy registered as an agent of the Libyan government and received a $220,000 loan from the Libyans for helping facilitate oil sales. This transaction led to accusations of influence peddling and a Congressional investigation. In short, it was enough to make Jimmy Carter long for the days when his brother’s antics only included such little quirks as urinating in public in front of a group of reporters and dignitaries.
Mental Floss has an article entitled A Brief History of Billy Beer, which is actually a reasonably thorough account.
The side of the twelve-pack carton of Billy Beer.
And here’s his biography from Find-a-Grave:
Folk Figure, Businessman. Known for his outlandish public behavior, he was a younger brother of former Georgia Governor and US President Jimmy Carter. After graduating from high school, he attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia but did not complete a degree. He then served four years in the US Marine Corps and after his discharge, he returned to Plains, Georgia to work with his brother in the family business of growing peanuts. In 1972 he purchased a gas and service station in Plains and operated it for most of the 1970s. In 1976 he attempted to enter the political ring when he ran for mayor of Plains but lost the election. In 1977 he endorsed Billy Beer, capitalizing upon his colorful image as a beer-drinking Southern “good ol’ boy” that developed in the press when his brother ran for US President. After Billy Beer failed, he was forced to sell his house to settle back taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service. In late 1978 and early 1979, he visited Libya three times with a contingent from Georgia, eventually registering as a foreign agent of the Libyan government and received a $220,000 loan. This led to a US Senate hearing on alleged influence peddling which the press named “Billygate.” In the autumn of 1987, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and after receiving unsuccessful treatments for the disease, he died the following year at the age of 51. In 1999 his son, William “Buddy” Carter, published a biography of his father titled “Billy Carter: A Journey Through the Shadows.”
The hit television show The Simpsons featured Homer drinking a can of Billy Beer in the 1997 episode “Lisa the Skeptic”; after Bart tells him that the skeleton he is trying to hide is probably old enough already, he counters Bart’s remark by introducing his Billy Beer stating that people said the same thing about the beer. After he drinks the beer, he says “We elected the wrong Carter”. Also in the 1992 episode “The Otto Show”, Homer excitedly finds a can of Billy Beer in the pocket of his old “concert jacket”, and drinks it.
Today is the birthday of English scientist Joseph Priestley (March 13, 1733-February 6, 1804). While he was also a “clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, and Liberal political theorist,” he’s perhaps best known for discovering oxygen (even though a few others lay claim to that honor). According to Wikipedia, “his early scientific interest was electricity, but he is remembered for his later work in chemistry, especially gases. He investigated the ‘fixed air’ (carbon dioxide) found in a layer above the liquid in beer brewery fermentation vats. Although known by different names at the time, he also discovered sulphur dioxide, ammonia, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and silicon fluoride. Priestley is remembered for his invention of a way of making soda-water (1772), the pneumatic trough, and recognising that green plants in light released oxygen. His political opinions and support of the French Revolution, were unpopular. After his home and laboratory were set afire (1791), he sailed for America, arriving at New York on 4 Jun 1794
In 1767, Priestley was offered a ministry in Leeds, Englane, located near a brewery. This abundant and convenient source of “fixed air” — what we now know as carbon dioxide — from fermentation sparked his lifetime investigation into the chemistry of gases. He found a way to produce artificially what occurred naturally in beer and champagne: water containing the effervescence of carbon dioxide. The method earned the Royal Society’s coveted Copley Prize and was the precursor of the modern soft-drink industry.
Even Michael Jackson, in 1994, wrote about Priestley connection to the brewing industry.
“It has been suggested that the Yorkshire square system was developed with the help of Joseph Priestley who, in 1722, delivered a paper to the Royal Society on the absorption of gases in liquids. In addition to being a scientist, and later a political dissident, he was for a time the minister of a Unitarian church in Leeds. During that period he lived next to a brewery on a site that is now Tetley’s.”
In the New World Encyclopedia, during his time in Leeds, it explains his work on carbonation.
Priestley’s house was next to a brewery, and he became fascinated with the layer of dense gas that hung over the giant vats of fermenting beer. His first experiments showed that the gas would extinguish lighted wood chips. He then noticed that the gas appeared to be heavier than normal air, as it remained in the vats and did not mix with the air in the room. The distinctive gas, which Priestley called “fixed air,” had already been discovered and named “mephitic air” by Joseph Black. It was, in fact, carbon dioxide. Priestley discovered a method of impregnating water with the carbon dioxide by placing a bowl of water above a vat of fermenting beer. The carbon dioxide soon became dissolved in the water to produce soda water, and Priestley found that the impregnated water developed a pleasant acidic taste. In 1773, he published an article on the carbonation of water (soda water), which won him the Royal Society’s Copley Medal and brought much attention to his scientific work.
He began to offer the treated water to friends as a refreshing drink. In 1772, Priestley published a paper entitled Impregnating Water with Fixed Air, in which he described a process of dripping sulfuric acid (or oil of vitriol as Priestley knew it) onto chalk to produce carbon dioxide and forcing the gas to dissolve by agitating a bowl of water in contact with the gas.
And here’s More About Priestley from the Birmingham Jewellry Quarter, whatever that is:
But his most important work was to be in the field of gases, which he called ‘airs’ (he would later chide James Keir for giving himself airs (oh dear!) by adopting the term ‘gases’ in his Dictionary of Chemistry, saying ‘I cannot help smiling at his new phraseology’). Living, as he did at the time, next to a brewery, he noticed that the gas given off from the fermenting vats drifted to the ground, implying that it was heavier than air. Moreover, he discovered that it extinguished lighted wood chips. He had discovered carbon dioxide, which he called ‘fixed air’. Devising a method of making the gas at home without brewing beer, he discovered that it produced a pleasant tangy taste when dissolved in water. By this invention of carbonated water, he had become the father of fizzy drinks!
But perhaps my favorite retelling comes from the riveting History of Industrial Gases:
The relevant findings were published in 1772, in Impregnating Water with Fixed Air
20. By this process may fixed air be given to wine, beer, and almost any liquor whatever: and when beer is become flat or dead, it will be revived by this means; but the delicate agreeable flavour, or acidulous taste communicated by the fixed air, and which is manifest in water, will hardly be perceived in wine, or other liquors which have much taste of their own.
Priestley’s apparatus for experimenting with ‘airs.’
While looking through the Internet Archive today, I came across this odd bit of temperance literature from England. It’s a six-page story published in 1890 to persuade people from partaking of the demon alcohol and instead suggesting Mason’s Extract of Herbs “for the speedy production of herb or botanic beer, a non-intoxicating beverage.” Unsurprisingly, it was published by Newball & Mason, makers of the apparently non-alcoholic beer. It’s called “A Tale of Pretty Polly Perkins.”
The name, I believe, comes from an earlier song called Pretty Polly Perkins of Paddington Green that was first published in 1864. According to Wikipedia, “it was almost universally known in England until around the mid-1950s, when it began to fade as being too old-fashioned.” So here’s the story in full. It’s worth a read.
The back cover shows a bottle of Mason’s Original Herb or Botanic Beer. What was it exactly? I’m not sure, but the Monterey Bay Herb Company has a history of it on their Facebook page:
Herbal History: Mason’s Botanical Beer
“The little busy bee improves the shining hour and prefers Mason’s Extract of Herbs before the laborious old fashioned method of extracting it itself.”
Newball & Mason’s original Extract of Herbs, also known as “Botanic Beer,” was promoted as a refreshing tonic and non-alcoholic alternative to beer in keeping with the Temperance movement which prevailed at the time. The company was formed in 1859 through a partnership between Thomas Ayres Newball and his apprentice, 15-year old Thomas Mason. In 1875, the younger Thomas opened a factory on Park Row in Nottingham, from which he produced his “extract of herbs.”
Advertisements for Mason’s Extract of Herbs appeared regularly in newspapers and on posters and handbills circulated in street railways throughout London. The ads always contained the familiar tagline,”The little busy bee improves the shining hour and prefers Mason’s Extract of Herbs before the laborious old fashioned method of extracting it itself’ and instructed the reader to “Send 9 stamps for sample bottle, enough to make eight gallons.”
In 1880, Thomas took on an apprentice of his own, Benjamin Deaville, who later became a partner in the company. Over the next several years, the company would move twice more until landing in New Basford where the two men established Maville Works, a merging of their names. Here the company diversified to also produce coffee, flavorings, fruit essences, dried herbs and household chemicals.
Benjamin became the sole proprietor after Thomas died in 1911, and he remained chairman and managing director until his death in 1938. Newball and Mason relocated to Staffordshire in 1957, where it continued to operate until 1970.
Wondering what Mason’s botanical beer was made of? Like most formulas of the period, it was a closely guarded secret. But, because few things stay secret forever (and the label’s illustration provides a clue)…the primary ingredients were yarrow, dandelion, comfrey and horehound.
So it’s made with “yarrow, dandelion, comfrey and horehound,” ingredients more at home in a gruit. How exactly did that concoction create a beverage that tasted in any way like beer, enough that they felt comfortable calling it beer, botanic beer or otherwise?
Below is some more information from an advertising leaflet produced in the 1890s.
Newball & Mason’s original extract of herbs or ‘botanic beer’ was promoted as a wholesome, refreshing drink, a tonic. Most importantly (in line with the Temperance movement of the time which disapproved of alcohol drinking and campaigned determinedly against it), it was marketed as a non alcoholic (and much cheaper) alternative to beer.
In the advertisement an image of bees buzzing round a bottle and the clump of flowers to the left (dandelion, white dead nettle, burdock and comfrey) suggest the natural and healthy origin of the extract. Another image shows a smiling, young, male scientist holding a glass of the extract, endorsing the product. Newball & Mason were manufacturing chemists & botanic druggists based at the Hyson Green Works, Nottingham.
I love the line “no other extract makes beer like it.” That I believe. And here’s one more account of the extract, from a local history group in Nottingham, England:
The company of Newball and Mason was originally founded by Thomas Ayres Newball and Thomas Mason. In 1850 Thomas Ayres Newball had opened a chemist shop at 36 Derby Road, Nottingham and in 1859, at the age of fifteen, Thomas Mason became his apprentice. After several years, Thomas Mason opened his own shop on Derby Road and it was at this time that he invented the ‘extract of herbs’, a concentrated essence that could be made up into the non-alcoholic beverage, ‘Botanic Beer’. In the 1870’s the two businesses were amalgamated to form Newball and Mason, chemist and druggist, with premises near the Market Place and at 10 Derby Road (Morris’s Trade Directory for 1877). With the growing popularity of botanic beer, in 1875 Thomas Mason opened a factory on Park Row in Nottingham, to produce his ‘extract of herbs’. Benjamin Deaville joined the company as an apprentice in 1880 and after serving a three year apprenticeship, he decided to concentrate on the manufacturing side of the business, later becoming a partner in the company.
In 1890, the company moved into a larger factory on Terrace Street in Hyson Green and in 1902, they moved again to a former lace factory on Beech Avenue, New Basford. This factory was known as the ‘Maville Works’, combining the names of Mason and Deaville. By this time, Newball and Mason had diversified to produce not only the ‘extract of herbs’ but also coffee, fruit essences and flavourings, household chemicals, culinary and medicinal herbs, the latter being grown on the company’s herb and fruit farm in Bunny. In 1911, Thomas Mason died and Benjamin Deaville became the sole proprietor. In 1925 he decided to form a private limited company and held the position of chairman and managing director until his death in 1938.
THE INGREDIENTS : yarrow, dandelion, comfrey and horehound. All grow wild in Ryde Cemetery so if you fancy taking up brewing…!
Based on this ad from the 1890s, it looks it was also sold in the U.S., as well.
Today is the 71st birthday of Senator — and former Colorado Governor and Denver mayor — John Hickenlooper. John was also the co-founder of Wynkoop Brewery in Denver’s LoDo District, and in fact is credited with helping to revitalize the whole area. After being a popular, and by all accounts very effective mayor, for several years, he was elected as the Governor of Colorado, and more recently Senator for Colorado. John’s been great for Denver, Colorado and craft brewing. Join me in wishing John a very happy birthday.
George Wendt, Nancy Johnson & John at the Great American Beer Festival three years ago.
With Ken Allen, from Anderson Valley Brewing, and Dave Buehler, from Elysian Brewing at GABF several years ago.
Nancy Johnson and John at GABF in 2003.
Today is the birthday of Grigori Rasputin (January 21, 1869–December 30, 1916). He “was a Russian peasant, an experienced traveler, a mystical faith healer, and trusted friend of the family of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of the Russian Empire. He became an influential figure in Saint Petersburg, especially after August 1915 when Nicholas took command of the army fighting in World War I. Advising his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, in countless spiritual and political issues, Rasputin became an easy scapegoat for Russian nationalists, liberals and aristocrats.
There is uncertainty over much of Rasputin’s life and the degree of influence that he exerted over the extremely shy Tsar and the strong-willed Tsarina. Accounts are often based on dubious memoirs, hearsay, and legend. While his influence and position may have been exaggerated by society gossip and his own drunken boasting his presence played a significant role in the increasing unpopularity of the Imperial couple. Rasputin was murdered by monarchists who hoped to save Tsarism by ending his sway over the royal family.”
Here’s his entry from the Encyclopedia Britannica:
Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, original name Grigory Yefimovich Novykh (born 1872?, Pokrovskoye, near Tyumen, Siberia, Russian Empire—died December 30 [December 17, Old Style], 1916, Petrograd [now St. Petersburg, Russia]), Siberian peasant and mystic whose ability to improve the condition of Aleksey Nikolayevich, the hemophiliac heir to the Russian throne, made him an influential favourite at the court of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra.
Although he attended school, the peasant Grigory Yefimovich Novykh remained illiterate, and his reputation for licentiousness earned him the surname Rasputin, Russian for “debauched one.” He evidently underwent a religious conversion at age 18, and eventually he went to the monastery at Verkhoture, where he was introduced to the Khlysty (Flagellants) sect. Rasputin perverted Khlysty beliefs into the doctrine that one was nearest God when feeling “holy passionlessness” and that the best way to reach such a state was through the sexual exhaustion that came after prolonged debauchery. Rasputin did not become a monk. He returned to Pokrovskoye, and at age 19 married Proskovya Fyodorovna Dubrovina, who later bore him four children. Marriage did not settle Rasputin. He left home and wandered to Mount Athos, Greece, and Jerusalem, living off the peasants’ donations and gaining a reputation as a starets (self-proclaimed holy man) with the ability to heal the sick and predict the future.
Rasputin’s wanderings took him to St. Petersburg (1903), where he was welcomed by Theophan, inspector of the religious Academy of St. Petersburg, and Hermogen, bishop of Saratov. The court circles of St. Petersburg at that time were entertaining themselves by delving into mysticism and the occult, so Rasputin—a filthy, unkempt wanderer with brilliant eyes and allegedly extraordinary healing talents—was warmly welcomed. In 1905 Rasputin was introduced to the royal family, and in 1908 he was summoned to the palace of Nicholas and Alexandra during one of their hemophiliac son’s bleeding episodes. Rasputin succeeded in easing the boy’s suffering (probably by his hypnotic powers) and, upon leaving the palace, warned the parents that the destiny of both the child and the dynasty were irrevocably linked to him, thereby setting in motion a decade of Rasputin’s powerful influence on the imperial family and affairs of state.
In the presence of the royal family, Rasputin consistently maintained the posture of a humble and holy peasant. Outside court, however, he soon fell into his former licentious habits. Preaching that physical contact with his own person had a purifying and healing effect, he acquired mistresses and attempted to seduce many other women. When accounts of Rasputin’s conduct reached the ears of Nicholas, the tsar refused to believe that he was anything other than a holy man, and Rasputin’s accusers found themselves transferred to remote regions of the empire or entirely removed from their positions of influence.
By 1911 Rasputin’s behaviour had become a general scandal. The prime minister, P.A. Stolypin, sent the tsar a report on Rasputin’s misdeeds. As a result, the tsar expelled Rasputin, but Alexandra had him returned within a matter of months. Nicholas, anxious not to displease his wife or endanger his son, upon whom Rasputin had an obviously beneficial effect, chose to ignore further allegations of wrongdoing.
Rasputin reached the pinnacle of his power at the Russian court after 1915. During World War I, Nicholas II took personal command of his forces (September 1915) and went to the troops on the front, leaving Alexandra in charge of Russia’s internal affairs, while Rasputin served as her personal advisor. Rasputin’s influence ranged from the appointment of church officials to the selection of cabinet ministers (often incompetent opportunists), and he occasionally intervened in military matters to Russia’s detriment. Though supporting no particular political group, Rasputin was a strong opponent of anyone opposing the autocracy or himself.
Several attempts were made to take the life of Rasputin and save Russia from further calamity, but none were successful until 1916. Then a group of extreme conservatives, including Prince Feliks Yusupov (husband of the tsar’s niece), Vladimir Mitrofanovich Purishkevich (a member of the Duma), and Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich (the tsar’s cousin), formed a conspiracy to eliminate Rasputin and save the monarchy from further scandal. On the night of December 29–30 (December 16–17, Old Style), Rasputin was invited to visit Yusupov’s home and, once there, was given poisoned wine and tea cakes. When he did not die, the frantic Yusupov shot him. Rasputin collapsed but was able to run out into the courtyard, where Purishkevich shot him again. The conspirators then bound him and threw him through a hole in the ice into the Neva River, where he finally died by drowning.
The murder merely strengthened Alexandra’s resolve to uphold the principle of autocracy, but a few weeks later the whole imperial regime was swept away by revolution.
Naturally, the reason Rasputin has anything to do with beer, is that Mark Ruedrich, the founder of North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg, California, named his imperial stout after the “mad monk,” and his Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout has become a classic beer, one of the earliest examples of what’s become a very popular style of beer, and, frankly, is still one of the best tasting.
For one of my newspaper columns, in the Fall of 2012, I wrote about imperial stouts, and below is an excerpt from that, the part that tells the story of North Coast’s Old Rasputin:
Happily, you don’t have to go as far as Russia, or even England, to find an imperial stout. We’re very lucky that one of the best Russian Imperial Stouts brewed anywhere is made in nearby Fort Bragg. North Coast Brewing’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout was also one of the first brewed in America, and was most likely the second (after Bert Grant’s Imperial Stout), which makes it the oldest one still being made. I visited the Fort Bragg brewery last week and watched the latest batch of Old Rasputin being bottled, as I spoke to founder Mark Ruedrich about his beer.
When they opened in 1988, North Coast had a terrific stout they called Old No. 38. But a few years later, Ruedrich decided he wanted to do something different, and noticed that almost nobody else was making the style. Grant’s version also included honey, which is not a traditional ingredient for the style. So he set to work brewing an authentic version of the style, which by that time was even nearly gone in England, too, with very few still making it.
Shortly before its 1994 debut at the pub, Tom Dalldorf, publisher of the “Celebrator Beer News,” happened to be in town visiting the brewery. He recalls Ruedrich handing him a glass and saying. “Here’s a new beer I’m about to release.” Dalldorf recalls seeing its inky black color and asking “don’t you already make a stout?” Mark responded with something like “this is different, just try it.” Like most of us, Tom immediately fell in love with it.
The beer has a definite “wow factor” from the very first sip, with gorgeous milk chocolate, roasted coffee notes and warming sweet flavors from its 9% a.b.v. It’s as bold as they come and infinitely complex, an ever-lasting gobstopper of a beer. It also enjoys near perfect balance. It’s a sipping beer, and changes as it warms in your glass. It’s a not a beer for a pint glass, you’ll want a snifter to get the full aromas of the beer as you slowly sip it by the fire.
One additional fun fact: on the label of Old Rasputin in a quote written in the Cyrillic Russian alphabet. Translated, it’s apparently a traditional Russian saying, or proverb: “a sincere friend is not born instantly.” But if you’re a fan of big beers, you’re love for this beer will almost certainly be instantaneous. For even bigger flavors, if that’s possible, try North Coast’s Old Rasputin XIV, which is their imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels.
The cyrillic text on the label is taken from an old Russian proverb. “A sincere friend is not born instantly.”
The label also features part of a well-known photograph of Rasputin. And while you find it all over the internet, its origin seems unknown, or at least widely uncredited.
The Smithsonian published a story on the 100th anniversary of his death a few years ago, entitled The Murder of Rasputin, 100 Years Later:
The holy man is he who takes your soul and will and makes them his. When you choose your holy man, you surrender your will. You give it to him in utter submission, in full renunciation.” – Feodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
The murder of Rasputin, Russia’s infamous “Mad Monk,” is the fodder for a great historical tale that blends fact and legend. But the death of the controversial holy man and faith healer had a combustible effect on the tense state of affairs in pre-revolution Russia. Rasputin was killed on December 30, 1916 (December 17 in the Russian calendar in use at the time), in the basement of the Moika Palace, the Saint Petersburg residence of Prince Felix Yussupov, the richest man in Russia and the husband of the Czar’s only niece, Irina. His battered body was discovered in the Neva River a few days later.
In the decade prior, Rasputin had risen rapidly through Russian society, starting as an obscure Siberian peasant-turned-wandering-holy-man and then becoming one of the most prominent figures in the Czar’s inner circle. Born in 1869 in the village of Pokrovskoye, on the Tura river that flows eastward from the Ural Mountains, where Europe meets Asia in Siberia. He seemed destined for an ordinary life, despite a few conflicts in his youth with local authorities for unruly behavior. He married a local woman, Praskovya Dubrovina, became the father of three surviving children, Maria, Dmitri and Varvara, and worked on his family’s farm.
Rasputin’s life changed in 1892, when he spent months at a monastery, putting him on the path to international renown. Despite his later nickname, “The Mad Monk,” Rasputin never took Holy Orders. Men in Rasputin’s position usually gave up their past lives and relationships but Rasputin continued to see his family – his daughters later lived with him in Saint Petersburg – and support his wife financially.
His religious fervor, combined with an appealing personal charisma, brought Rasputin to the attention of some Russian Orthodox clergymen and then senior members of the Imperial family, who then introduced him to Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra.
Nicholas wrote to one of his ministers in October 1906, “A few days ago I received a peasant from the Tobolsk district, Grigori Rasputin, who brought me an icon of St. Simon Verkhoturie. He made a remarkably strong impression both on Her Majesty and on myself, so that instead of five minutes our conversation went on for more than an hour.”
The Imperial couple had consulted unconventional spiritual advisors in the past, but Rasputin filled this role by his ability to read their inner hopes and tell them what they wanted to hear. He encouraged Nicholas to have more confidence in his role as czar, and Alexandra found that his counsel soothed her anxieties. By the First World War, Rasputin was also providing political advice and making recommendations for ministerial appointments, much to the dismay of the Russian elite.
Rasputin cemented his relationship with the czar and czarina when he supposedly helped alleviate their only son Alexei’s hemophilia. Rasputin’s alleged healing powers continue to be debated today. The Czar’s sister, Grand Duchess Olga, wrote that she observed Rasputin healing Alexei by kneeling at the foot of his bed and praying; the calming atmosphere that he created in the palace may have assisted with the recovery. Alexandra’s lady-in-waiting, Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, thought that Rasputin employed peasant folk medicine used in Siberian villages to treat internal bleeding in horses.
Historians continue to debate Rasputin’s impact on Alexei’s health. In his 2016 book, Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs, Douglas Smith observes, “Rasputin’s assurances calmed the anxious, fretful mother and filled her with unshakeable confidence, and she, in turn, transferred this confidence to her ailing son, literally willing him back to health.” In addition to increasing confidence in recovery, a key variable may have been Rasputin’s insistence that doctors keep away from Alexei. Medical knowledge was still sparse, even though drugs like aspirin were available for treatment. Unfortunately for Alexei, aspirin, considered a cure-all remedy, had the then-unknown side effect of thinning the blood, which would have exacerbated hemophilia symptoms. French historian Hélène Carrère d’Encausse argued that when Rasputin insisted that remedies prescribed by the doctors be thrown in the fire, the discarded medicine likely would have included aspirin. Rasputin’s insistence that the doctors leave him alone would have improved his condition and appeared to create a miraculous improvement in his symptoms.
Rasputin presented himself in the Imperial Court as holy man, despite no formal affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church, and spoke as a self-appointed representative of the peasantry, but his behavior away from court offered a different portrait. His drunkenness and affairs with women of all social backgrounds, from street prostitutes to society ladies, scandalized the public. Rasputin appeared to bask in his fame, showing off shirts embroidered for him by the Empress and inviting her friends and servants to his home in Prokovskoye. (Rasputin’s wife appeared untroubled by his infidelities, commenting “He has enough for all.”)
The press, unshackled thanks to rights granted to them by Nicholas II in 1905, spread lurid tales about Rasputin both within Russia and abroad. Rumors about Rasputin’s influence over the Czarist regime spread throughout Europe. Petitioners, believing that Rasputin lived with the Imperial family, mailed their requests to “Rasputin, Czar’s palace, Saint Petersburg.”
Soldiers on World War I’s Eastern front spoke of Rasputin having an intimate affair with Alexandra, passing it off as common knowledge without evidence. As the war progressed, outlandish stories expanded to include Rasputin’s supposed treason with the German enemy, including a fantastical tale that he sought to undermine the war effort by starting a cholera epidemic in Saint Petersburg with “poisoned apples imported from Canada.” What the public thought they knew about Rasputin had a greater impact than his actual views and activities, fueling demands that he be removed from his position of influence by any means necessary.
Until he murdered Rasputin, Felix Yussupov lived a comparatively aimless life of privilege. One of Nicholas II’s daughters, also named Grand Duchess Olga, worked as a nurse during the war and criticized Yussupov’s refusal to enlist, writing to her father, “Felix is a ‘downright civilian,’ dressed all in brown…virtually doing nothing; an utterly unpleasant impression he makes – a man idling in such times.” Plotting Rasputin’s murder gave Yussupov the opportunity to reinvent himself as a patriot and man of action, determined to protect the throne from a malign influence.
For Yussupov and his co-conspirators, the removal of Rasputin could give Nicholas II one last chance of restoring the reputation and prestige of the monarchy. With Rasputin gone, the czar would be more open to the advice of his extended family, the nobility and the Duma and less dependent on Alexandra. There was hope that he would return from military headquarters and once again govern from Saint Petersburg.
The most well-known account of Rasputin’s murder was the one that Yussupov wrote in his memoirs, published in 1928. Yussupov claimed to have invited Rasputin to his palace to meet his wife Irina (who was in fact away at the time) and then served him a platter of cakes and numerous glasses of wine laced with potassium cyanide. To Yussupov’s astonishment, Rasputin appeared to be unaffected by the poison. A desperate Yussupov borrowed the revolver of the Grand Duke Dmitri, the czar’s cousin, and shot Rasputin multiple times, but was still unable to kill him. According to the memoir, “This devil who was dying of poison, who had a bullet in his heart, must have been raised from the dead by the powers of evil. There was something appalling and monstrous in his diabolical refusal to die.” There was reputedly water in his lungs when his remains were discovered, indicating that he had finally died by drowning.
Yussupov’s account of Rasputin’s murder entered popular culture. The lurid scene was dramatized in numerous films about Rasputin and the Romanovs and even made it into a 1970s disco hit by Boney M., which included the lyrics “They put some poison into his wine…He drank it all and said, ‘I feel fine.’”
Rasputin’s actual murder was probably far less dramatic. His daughter Maria, who fled Russia after the Revolution and became a circus lion tamer billed as “the daughter of the famous mad monk whose feats in Russia astonished the world,” wrote her own book in 1929 that condemned Yussupov’s actions and questioned the veracity of his account. She wrote that her father did not like sweets and never would have eaten a platter of cakes. The autopsy reports do not mention poison or drowning but instead conclude that he was shot in the head at close range. Yussupov transformed the murder into an epic struggle of good versus evil to sell books and bolster his own reputation.
The responses from the public were mixed, reflecting Rasputin’s checkered reputation. The elite, from whence Yussupov and his co-conspirators came, rejoiced and applauded the killers when they appeared in public. The peasantry mourned Rasputin as one of their own, seeing the murder as one more example of the nobility controlling the Czar; when a peasant rose to a position of influence with the Czar, he was murdered by wealthy men.
To the dismay of Yussupov and his co-conspirators, Rasputin’s murder did not lead to a radical change in Nicholas and Alexandra’s polities. To the emergent Bolsheviks, Rasputin symbolized the corruption at the heart of the Imperial court, and his murder was seen, rather accurately, as an attempt by the nobility to hold onto power at the continued expense of the proletariat. To them, Rasputin represented the broader problems with czarism. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Provisional Government leader Alexander Kerensky went so far as to say, “Without Rasputin there would have been no Lenin.”
And, apropos of nothing, there’s apparently a commercial vodka called “Rasputin.”
Today is the birthday of Samuel Whitbread II (January 18, 1764-July 6, 1815). Despite being the son of Whitbread Brewery founder Samuel Whitbread, he is most remember for being a politician. According to Wikipedia:
Whitbread was born in Cardington, Bedfordshire, the son of the brewer Samuel Whitbread. He was educated at Eton College, Christ Church, Oxford and St John’s College, Cambridge, after which he embarked on a European ‘Grand Tour’, visiting Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Prussia, France and Italy. He returned to England in May 1786 and joined his father’s successful brewing business.
“Samuel Whitbread Esqr. M.P.” by Samuel William Reynolds after John Opie, 1804. This is the painting’s description. “A fine full length, seated portrait of the brewer, philanthropist and Whig politician Samuel Whitbread (1758-1815). He sits at his desk, wearing a dark suit and hessian boots, before an open window, his hand resting on a piece of paper. In the background is a draped curtain and on the floor is a pile of books.”
For over two decades he was a Member of Parliament:
Whitbread was elected Member of Parliament for Bedford in 1790, a post he held for twenty-three years. Whitbread was a reformer — a champion of religious and civil rights, for the abolition of slavery, and a proponent of a national education system. He was a close friend and colleague of Charles James Fox. After Fox’s death, Whitbread took over the leadership of the Whigs, and in 1805 led the campaign to have Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, removed from office.
Whitbread admired Napoleon and his reforms in France and Europe. He hoped that many of Napoleon’s reforms would be implemented in Britain. Throughout the Peninsular War he played down French defeats convinced that sooner or later Napoleon would triumph, and he did all he could to bring about a withdrawal of Britain from the continent. When Napoleon abdicated in 1814 he was devastated. Whitbread began to suffer from depression, and on the morning of 6 July 1815, he committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor.
This portrait of Whitbread was done in 1806.
Bedfordshire Genealogy and History has a fuller biography of Samuel Whitbread 2nd:
Samuel Whitbread, the son of the brewer Samuel Whitbread, and Harriet Hayton, was born in Cardington, Bedfordshire in 1758. His mother died when he was a child and his father took great care over his only son. When Samuel was sent to Eton he was accompanied by his own private tutor. Samuel continued his education at Christ Church, Oxford and St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he met his lifelong friend, Charles Grey.
After university Samuel Whitbread sent his son on a tour of Europe, under the guidance of the historian, William Coxe. This included visits to Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Prussia, France and Italy. When Samuel returned in May 1786, he joined his father running the extremely successful family brewing business.
In 1789 Samuel Whitbread married Elizabeth Grey, the sister of Charles Grey. The two men were deeply interested in politics. Grey was already MP for Northumberland and in 1790 Whitbread was elected MP for Bedford. In the House of Commons, Whitbread and Grey became followers of Charles Fox, the leader of the Radical Whigs.
Whitbread soon emerged in Parliament as a powerful critic of the Tory Prime Minister, William Pitt. A passionate supporter of reform, Whitbread argued for an extension of religious and civil rights, an end to the slave-trade, and the establishment of a national education system.
In April 1792, Whitbread joined with a group of pro-reform Whigs to form the Friends of the People. Three peers (Lord Porchester, Lord Lauderdale and Lord Buchan) and twenty-eight Whig MPs joined the group. Other leading members included Charles Grey, Richard Sheridan, Major John Cartwright, Lord John Russell,George Tierney, and Thomas Erskine. The main objective of the the society was to obtain “a more equal representation of the people in Parliament” and “to secure to the people a more frequent exercise of their right of electing their representatives”. Charles Fox was opposed to the formation of this group as he feared it would lead to a split the Whig Party.
On 30th April 1792, Charles Grey introduced a petition in favour of constitutional reform. He argued that the reform of the parliamentary system would remove public complaints and “restore the tranquillity of the nation”. He also stressed that the Friends of the People would not become involved in any activities that would “promote public disturbances”. Although Charles Fox had refused to join the Friends of the People, in the debate that followed, he supported Grey’s proposals. When the vote was taken, Grey’s proposals were defeated by 256 to 91 votes.
In 1793 Samuel Whitbread toured the country making speeches on the need for parliamentary reform. He encouraged people to sign petitions at his meetings and when he returned to London they were presented to Parliament. Whitbread also campaigned on behalf of agricultural labourers. In the economic depression of 1795, Whitbread advocated the payment of higher wages. When Whitbread introduced his minimum wage bill to the House of Commons in December 1795 it was opposed by William Pitt and his Tory government and was easily defeated.
Whitbread was a strong supporter of a negotiated peace with France and supported Fox’s calls to send a government minister to Paris. Whitbread argued for Catholic Emancipation and opposed the act for the suppression of rebellion in Ireland. His friend, Samuel Romilly, said that Whitbread was “the promoter of every liberal scheme for improving the condition of mankind, the zealous advocate of the oppressed, and the undaunted opposer of every species of corruption and ill-administration.”
In 1807 Samuel Whitbread proposed a new Poor Law. His scheme not only involved an increase in the financial help given to the poor, but the establishment of a free educational system. Whitbread proposed that every child between the ages of seven and fourteen who was unable to pay, should receive two years’ free education. The measure was seen as too radical and was easily defeated in the House of Commons.
Whitbread refused to be disillusioned by his constant defeats and during the next few years he made more speeches in the House of Commons than any other member. Sometimes his attacks on George III and his ministers were considered to be too harsh, even by his closest political friends.
Unable to persuade Parliament to accept his ideas, Whitbread used his considerable fortune (his father, Samuel Whitbread had died in 1796) to support good causes. Whitbread gave generous financial help to establish schools for the poor. An advocate of the monitorial system developed by Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster, he helped fund the Royal Lancasterian Society that had the objective of establishing schools that were not controlled by the Church of England.
When the Whigs gained power in 1806, Whitbread expected the Prime Minister, Lord Grenville, to offer him a place in his government. He was deeply disappointed when this did not happen. Some claimed it was because Whitbread was too radical. Others suggested it was due to snobbery and the aristocrats in the party disapproved of a tradesman entering the cabinet.
After this rejection, Whitbread consoled himself with his involvement in the Drury Lane Theatre. In 1809 the theatre was destroyed by fire. Already over £500,000 in debt, the theatre was in danger of going out of business. Whitbread became chairman of the committee set up to rebuild the theatre. With the help of his political friends, Whitbread managed to raise the necessary funds and the Drury Lane Theatre was reopened on 10th October, 1812.
In 1815 Whitbread began to suffer from depression. Over the years he had been upset by the way he was portrayed by the political cartoonists such as, James Gillray and George Cruikshank. He also began to worry about the brewery business and the way he was treated in the House of Commons. After one debate in June he told his wife: “They are hissing me. I am become an object of universal abhorrence.” On the morning of 6th June 1815, Samuel Whitbread committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor.
This is a political cartoon featuring Samuel Whitbread entitled “The Brewer and the Thistle.” It was drawn by James Sayers, and published by Hannah Humphrey, June 26, 1805. The people in the cartoon include Charles James Fox (1749-1806), James Maitland Lauderdale (1759-1839), William Wilberforce (1759-1833), Sir Home Riggs Popham (1762-1820), Samuel Whitbread (1758-1815) and Henry Dundas Melville (1742-1811). While I’m sure you need to be a historian specializing in this period of British history, the Royal Collection Trust gives this description. “Whitbeard in costume of beer casks, attacks thistle with Melville’s head. (r) alehouse; Fox and Launderdale (in tartan) laugh. Wilberforce leans out of window dressed as Puritan. (l) blunderbuss fired at sign of St. Vicent.”
Finally, here’s the Whitbread Brewery on Chiswell Street in London as it appeared around 1900.
While St. Nicholas is best known — in America, at least — for wearing red and white and giving presents to Children each December 25, he’s actually the patron saint for a number of professions, places and afflictions. His feast day is not actually Christmas Day, but almost three weeks earlier on December 6. That’s the reason why the holiday beer Samichlaus is brewed each year on this day. The person we associate with Christmas, Santa Claus, was based on Saint Nicholas, who was originally known (and still is in some places) as Bishop Nicholas of Myra.
Nicholas is the patron saint of brewers, among many others. He’s also the patron saint against imprisonment, against robberies, against robbers. And Nick’s the patron for apothecaries, bakers, barrel makers, boatmen, boot blacks, boys, brewers, brides, captives, children, coopers, dock workers, druggists, fishermen, Greek Catholic Church in America, Greek Catholic Union, grooms, judges, lawsuits lost unjustly, longshoremen, maidens, mariners, merchants, penitent murderers, newlyweds, old maids, parish clerks, paupers, pawnbrokers, perfumeries, perfumers, pharmacists, pilgrims, poor people, prisoners, sailors, scholars, schoolchildren, shoe shiners, spinsters, students, penitent thieves, travellers, University of Paris, unmarried girls, and watermen. Places he’s the patron for are Apulia, Italy; Avolasca, Italy; Bardolino, Italy; Bari, Italy; Cammarata, Sicily, Italy; Cardinale, Italy; Cas Concos, Spain; Creazzo, Italy; Duronia, Italy; Fossalto, Italy; Gagliato, Italy; Greece; La Thuile, Italy; Lecco, Italy; Limerick, Ireland; Liptovský Mikulás, Slovakia; Lorraine; Mazzano Romano, Italy; Mentana, Italy; Miklavž na Dravskem polju, Slovenia; Naples, Italy; Portsmouth, England; Russia; Sassari, Italy; Sicily; Is-Siggiewi, and Malta.
He also has many names around the world, such as Baba Chaghaloo, Father Christmas, Joulupukki, Kanakaloka, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, Papa Noël, Santa Claus, and Weihnachtsmann (“Christmas Man” or “Nikolaus”), to name just a few.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:
Saint Nicholas (March 15, 270 – December 6, 346) is the common name for Nicholas of Myra, a saint and Bishop of Myra (in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and is now commonly identified with Santa Claus. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was the custom in his time. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nicholas of Bari.
The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honoured by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, and children, and students in Greece, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of Barranquilla, Bari, Amsterdam, Beit Jala, and Liverpool. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York City. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari. So beloved is Saint Nicholas by Russians, one commonly heard saying is that “if God dies, at least we’ll still have St. Nicholas.”
The American image of Santa Claus in red and white has more to do with marketing than anything else. I wrote about this in The Santa Hypocrisy a couple of years ago when the Shelton Brothers were in hot water from several states who tried to tell them Santa Claus on a beer label threatened the American way of life and especially the impressionable young kiddies who would all be led down the path to underage drinking and alcoholism because Santa was depicted on a beer label. It was an utterly ridiculous position and they ultimately backed down, but it’s indicative of our puritan hang-ups as a culture and our general paternalism where we believe everyone needs to be protected. And in retrospect I can now see how the “institutionalized demonization of alcohol” creates the conditions for such decisions. Remember the message? “Alcohol is evil. No one can be trusted with it.” When that’s the underlying assumption, you create rules for what can and can’t be displayed on a label that are way beyond reason; standards no other products have to follow because they’re not seen as inherently evil.
But before the 20th century and in other parts of the world, Santa Claus was and still is depicted in many different ways and in various colors. Father Christmas, for example, is often seen wearing a green robe, as in the British Isles he’s more associated with nature and the old Celtic religions. The yule log, Christmas tree, wreaths, mistletoe and many other features we take for granted during the holidays do not have direct Christian origins, but were appropriated from pagan religions in order to make the transition to Christianity easier for the masses to make. Personally, I love a green Santa Claus because it reminds me of hops, and a Santa that stands for hops is one I can get behind.
Few American beer labels show Santa precisely because of our peculiar brand of paternalism and the label laws spawned by our institutionalized demonization of alcohol. Santa’s Private Reserve, from Rogue in Oregon, is one of the few I can think of year after year. Most, not surprisingly, come from abroad, where people take a more reasonable approach to both the holidays and alcohol. There’s the famous Santa’s Butt from Ridgeway Brewing in England, but also Pickled Santa from the Hop Back Brewery and Austria’s Samichlaus is translated as “Santa Claus.”
Throughout Europe, Monks not only kept alive the method of brewing beer but improved techniques for making it. A Benedictine nun in Germany, Hildegard von Bingen, is most likely responsible for the introduction of hops in beer. Religion and brewing are intertwined throughout history and, in every place except the United States, that continues to be the case. Why? What about our particular religiosity makes us incapable of seeing that and reconciling it? Why is it seemingly acceptable for Santa Claus to be used to sell everything under the sun … except alcohol. Santa sells cigarettes, soda pop, fast food and pretty much everything else with capitalistic glee yet alcohol is the corrupting influence? That’s going too far somehow? Please.
That Santa Claus only appeals to children is usually the rallying cry of the buffoons who complain about this sort of thing, but a survey of pop culture will reveal that St. Nick is used in all manner of adult contexts. Kris Kringle, like the spirit of Christmas itself, belongs to all of us, not just children. There’s no doubt that I love seeing Christmas through the fresh eyes of my children, their innocence and wonder adds a new dimension to my enjoyment of the season. But I loved the holidays as much before I was a father and after I was an adult, too.
That St. Nicholas appeals to wide array of people should be obvious from the huge number of groups and places that consider him their patron. When so many look to him for comfort in such a varied number of ways, how can anyone say what he is or what he isn’t, where he’s appropriate or where he’s not? They can’t of course, despite neo-prohibitionists and our government’s attempts to the contrary. As the patron saint of brewers, Santa Claus is, and ought to be, perfectly at home on a bottle of beer.
There’s also a wealth of information about the real Santa Claus at the Saint Nicholas Center online.
Today is the anniversary of a pretty unsavory incident that was at least tangentially related to prohibition and brewing. On January 17, 1934, the Barker–Karpis gang kidnapped Edward Brewer off of the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota. At the time, he was the wealthy president of Commercial State Bank. But perhaps more importantly, he was also the son of Adolf Bremer, who owned the Schmidt Brewery, having married the daughter of Jacob Schmidt.
That’s thought to be important because the gang appeared to be targeting brewery owners because of their perceived disrespecting of criminal elements after prohibition was repealed. Many breweries that survived did so by working with bootleggers on the down low, which of course in many cases were part of criminal organizations. But when prohibition was repealed, they distanced themselves from those gangs once alcohol was no longer illegal. The previous year, for example, the Barker-Karpis gang successfully kidnapped William Hamm of Hamm’s Brewery, releasing him June 19, 1933, having been paid $100,000 in ransom.
Because of that history, “it is thought that Bremer was not chosen simply because of his wealth, but also because of a personal vendetta.” They planned the kidnapping for four months. The kidnappers asked for $200,000 this time, double what they’d asked for from the Hamm Brewery family, probably emboldened by their success with that kidnapping.
Naturally, it was front page news, appearing in both the St. Paul Dispatch and the Minneapolis Star.
According to Wikipedia’s account, here’s how it went down:
[Edward Bremer] was on his way to work, having just dropped his daughter off at school when he was approached by two men, one of whom was Arthur “Doc” Barker. Barker repeatedly punched and pistol-whipped him, forcing him into the back of Bremer’s car and placing blindfolding goggles over his eyes. After having some difficulty starting the vehicle, the kidnappers forced the bleeding Bremer to show them the starter button, then drove off, later switching to another car. The blood-stained vehicle was later recovered, leading to fears that Bremer had been killed.
Bremer was held captive in Bensenville, Illinois. He was kept in a small room and was told that his family would be killed if he said anything to the police. He was also told to provide the names of people who could act as intermediaries. Messages demanding $200,000 were left with the Bremers’ trusted business associate and former chauffeur Walter Magee. Through Tom Brown, the gang learned that Magee had informed the police, despite the gang’s demand that he should keep quiet. They threatened to kill him and Bremer. Adolph Bremer, the victim’s father, refused to pay up unless the kidnappers provided proof of life. Edward was forced to write another note pleading to be returned to his wife and children. When Adolph also tried to reduce the ransom money, Fred Barker became enraged and suggested they should kill Edward. His brother Arthur and Karpis overruled him. In the end the ransom was paid by dropping off a bag full of cash, which was collected by George Zieger. Edward was driven to a deserted road by Ziegler and released on February 7, left on the empty road with a small amount of cash. He had to make his own way back home.
After Bremer was returned, public outcry led to the FBI intensifying their efforts at bringing the criminals to justice. While not a household name to us today, “these kidnappings brought too much negative publicity, due to the recent Urschel and Lindbergh Kidnappings, and the fact that the father of the Bremer Jr. was a personal friend of President Roosevelt, who mentioned the kidnappings in a fireside chat. On November 27, 1934, Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis, at that time the Public Enemy No. 1, was mortally wounded in a gun battle with the FBI and died later that night. The next day, Alvin Karpis was declared Public Enemy No. 1, which brought the full force of the FBI down on the Barker-Karpis Gang.”
The other well-known aspect of the criminals was the mother of some of the Barker brothers was apparently controlling the gang’s actions and was known as “Ma” Barker.
This account is from KSTP, the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis.
On Jan. 17, 1934, the Minnesota Historical Society says Edward was driving to work when he stopped at the corner of Lexington Parkway and Goodrich Avenue. The gang ended up blocking Edward’s path with one vehicle, and another vehicle pulled up behind him. The kidnappers then opened Edward’s door and pushed him to the ground when he was struggling. They forced Edward to sign ransom notes, and within two hours, Edward’s family friend, Walter W. Magee, received ransom instructions.
The instructions indicated a request of $200,000 in $5 and $10 bills. Magee was to print, “We are ready Alice,” in the Minneapolis Tribune’s personal ads. More ransom notes were delivered to people close to Edward, but people suspected him to be dead due to the amount of blood left in his car. Therefore, his father, Adolph, demanded a note in his son’s handwriting before he would pay. The next day a bank cashier received the requested note, according to Minnesota Historical Society.
The Minneapolis Tribune reported on Feb. 6, 1934, Magee had received the final instructions from the kidnappers to trade the ransom money for Edward. Magee was to transfer the ransom into a car with a Shell Oil sticker in St. Paul and then to trail a bus to Rochester. Afterward, Magee was to turn down a gravel road and drive until he saw five headlight flashes. Once he saw the flashes, he placed the money beside the road and drove off.
After 21 days of captivity, Edward Bremer was released.
The gang members scattered across the country to escape the FBI after authorities were able to lift fingerprints from a gas can that the Barker-Karpis gang used to refuel their car between Chicago and Minneapolis. The FBI had also recorded the serial numbers on the ransom bills.
Almost a year later, on Jan. 16, 1935, Barker and his mother were killed in a shootout with FBI officers, and Karpis remained on the run until the FBI arrested him on May 1, 1936.
Karpis was sentenced to life and served 26 years in Alcatraz.
And this one is from the BBC:
After Bremer dropped his daughter off at the Summit School in St. Paul, he was ambushed and thrown in a car. He was held for 10 days, until his family paid a $200,000 ransom.
Part of this ransom money was used to bribe police who were on the take, according to Paul Maccabee, author of “John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks’ Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936.”
“Prohibition meant bribes in order to ship liquor — to cops, judges, U.S. senators,” Maccabee told MPR News’ Cathy Wurzer. “When Prohibition was repealed and liquor was legal, they switched from bootlegging to kidnapping. The same corrupt cops that had looked the other way during the bootlegging era were also involved with kidnappings and other more nefarious deeds.”
Bremer helped federal investigators find his captors. He memorized every detail about his surroundings.
“When the FBI investigated the case, he was able to identify the specific wallpaper in the home where he was kept,” Maccabee said. “That enabled the FBI to break the case and arrest the Barker-Karpis gang.”
The gang was led by two brothers, Doc and Freddy Barker, who Maccabee describes as “psychopaths,” and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, who was one of the most infamous gangsters of the period.
And this, also from Wikipedia, covers the arrests, deaths and the aftermath of the kidnapping.
The FBI had recorded the serial numbers of all the cash used to pay the ransom. They launched an intensive investigation, declaring Alvin Karpis, presumed leader of the gang, to be “Public Enemy No. 1”. Bremer, completely traumatized and worried about the safety of his wife and children, refused to cooperate with the FBI. When they threatened to reveal what they believed about his links to organized crime, he admitted what he knew about the kidnappers, and his suspicions about their connection to Sawyer.
The gang knew that they needed to launder the money, but the intensity of the FBI pressure meant that most of their criminal contacts refused to participate. Ziegler was gunned down in a drive-by killing by unknown assailants in March. Sawyer claimed that he had arranged for the money to be laundered in Cuba. The gang withdrew to Cuba, but Karpis became concerned that the money had not been laundered and that the FBI would soon find them there. They moved to Lake Weir, Florida. Doc left for Chicago, hoping to organize a new criminal project. He was soon recognized and arrested on January 8, 1935 along with minor gang member Byron Bolton. Doc wouldn’t talk, but Bolton told the FBI everything he knew in exchange for a light sentence. Eight days later, Doc’s brother Fred Barker and mother Kate “Ma” Barker were killed in a shootout with the FBI at Lake Weir. Volney Davis was also captured, and Sawyer was tracked down and captured in Mississippi.
Alvin Karpis, who was co-leader of the gang along with Fred Barker, was arrested by the FBI in May, 1936. Karpis pleaded guilty to kidnapping and Doc Barker was convicted after a trial. Both men were sent to Alcatraz. Karpis became the Rock’s longest serving inmate, eventually being paroled in 1969 after decades in prison. Barker was shot while trying to escape from Alcatraz in 1939. Sawyer received a life sentence in 1936. He was released from prison in 1955 due to ill health and died shortly after.
The kidnapping had a significant effect on campaigns against police corruption. During the investigation it became clear to FBI agents that information was being leaked to the kidnappers. Tom Brown was strongly suspected to be the source of the leaks and forced out of the team investigating the case. Brown was implicated as a conspirator in the kidnapping after an investigation by the FBI and a hearing before the city Civil Service Board. Brown was fired from the police force, but the federal government declined further prosecution. The death and arrests of all the important Barker-Karpis gang-members greatly enhanced the reputation of the FBI.
Beginning May 1, 1844, and lasting until May 5, the Beer Riots in Bavaria took place after King Ludwig I of Bavaria decreed a tax on beer. It was due to the rising cost of ingredients and raised the price of a beer by the equivalent of a penny.
Several thousand angry citizens stormed the breweries on the evening of May 1st. The authorities replied with repression, the decree of the Munich police director of May 4, 1844 states:
“The mines in the inns are not tolerated at all from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and in the afternoons only as long as no excesses are committed. In the event of excesses, the inns are cleared by the armed forces and the guests are exposed to the danger of being arrested. ”
The police director had not, however, counted on the local Army soldiers’ thirst for beer. These refused to act against the insurgents, and King Ludwig I had to reduce the beer price back to the old price. Order was only restored after the King decreed a 10% reduction in the price of beer. Ludwig I only remained King for 4 more years, when he abdicated following the Revolutions of 1848, and his son, Maximilian II, took his place.
Friedrich Engels, who is most famous for having developed Marxist theory along with Karl Marx, wrote a short article for The Northern Star newspaper a few weeks after the incident.
The Bavarian Beer is the most celebrated of all kinds of this drink brewed in Germany, and, of course, the Bavarians are much addicted to its consumption in rather large quantities. The government laid a new duty of about 100s. ad valorem on beer, and in consequence of this an outbreak occurred, which lasted for more than four days. The working men assembled in large masses, paraded through the streets, assailed the public houses, smashing the windows, breaking the furniture, and destroying everything in their reach, in order to take revenge for the enhanced price of their favourite drink. The military was called in, but a regiment of horse-guards, when commanded to mount on horseback, refused to do so. The police, being, as everywhere, obnoxious to the people, were severely beaten and ill-treated by the rioters, and every station formerly occupied by police-officers had to be occupied by soldiers, who, being upon good terms with the people, were considered less hostile and showed an evident reluctance to interfere. They only did interfere when the palace of the King was attacked, and then merely took up such a position as was sufficient to keep the rioters back. On the second evening (the 2nd of May) the King, in whose family a marriage had just been celebrated, and who for this reason had many illustrious visitors at his court, visited the theatre; but when, after the first act, a crowd assembled before the theatre and threatened to attack it, every one left the house to see what the matter was, and His Majesty, with his illustrious visitors, was obliged to follow them, or else he would have been left alone in his place. The French papers assert that the King on this occasion ordered the military stationed before the theatre to fire upon the people, and that the soldiers refused. The German papers do not mention this, as may be expected from their being published under censorship; but as the French papers are sometimes rather ill-informed about foreign matters, we cannot vouch for the truth of their assertion. From all this, however, it appears that the Poet King (Ludwig, King of Bavaria, is the author of three volumes of unreadable Poems, of a Traveller’s Guide to one of his public buildings &c. &c.) has been in a very awkward position during these outbreaks. In Munich, a town full of soldiers and police, the seat of a royal court, a riot lasts four days, notwithstanding all the array of the military, – and at last the rioters force their object. The King restored tranquillity by an ordinance, reducing the price of the quart of beer from ten kreutzers (3¼ denarius) to nine kreutzers (3d). If the people once know they can frighten the government out of their taxing system, they will soon learn that it will be as easy to frighten them as far as regards more serious matters.