Sunday, September 29, 2013

PROST!!! How The Germans Changed American Brewing

Zufrieden Deutsch-Amerikanische Erbe Monat! Or for my none German reading readers, Happy German-American Heritage Month! Every year between September 15th & October 15th German American communities around the states celebrate their German heritage. During this month long celebration, everything German is celebrated, culture, food, music, achievements, history and of course beer. There are a few things in the world that the Germans are renowned for, but beer is the number 1 recognizable German contribution to the world. I mean the country has had a purity law in place since 1516. Now, that beer making tradition spread as German people did, and one man, Johann Wagner would forever change the landscape of American brewing upon his arrival in the states.

Let me set the scene for you, picture it, Philadelphia in 1840, a bustling city full of people (128,139 to be exact), the second largest city in the United States, an inexpressive port filled with ships importing and exporting and a city with a very rich brewing history and full of even thirstier residence. Enter Johann Wagner. Wagner, a Bavarian immigrant, decided to pack up his belongs and make a new start in America. However, Wagner wasn't just packing the usual items an immigrant would bring. He had with his a fermenting yeast used in Bavaria for centuries, but unknown to those in America. Wagner arrived to a city, well nation of ale drinkers. But with the largest group of immigrants being German, he knew he'd be able to make a little money for himself with his a beer his country longed for.

Wagner set up shop around 3rd and Poplar St, there is a historic marker there today. Now, just a warning the marker is not on the exact site, as Wagner brewed from his home and the original street address is still...well missing. They know it was originally on St. John Street, which is now American, but the original numbering system is completely gone. It is believed that the original address was 455 St. John St, but no one can figure out where that actually is today. Either way, Wagner started using his new yeast and it was a big hit with the German citizens who could get their hands on it. Why was it such a big hit? Or more importantly, how did Wagner change the American brewing culture? Well, the yeast Wagner used was lager yeast, and in his tiny brewery Wagner would be the first person in America to produce lager beer. From his very small brewery Wagner was able to produce eight barrels of lager at a time and they'd be gone before you could say Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, actually don't try that. Wagner's operation was very limited, only producing eight barrels of lager was enough to support his small beer garden and that's about it. It is at this point that Wagner's story and American lagering get a little fuzzy.
 So according to Charles Wolf's "100 Years of Brewing" he is actually the first man to make lager beer in America in 1844. But first we have to examine his book and see he indirectly credits Wagner. The way Wolf tells it is as goes. he is awesome and made lager beer, the end. Ok, so that is not exactly the way it goes. In reality, Wagner sold some of his yeast to a friend and patron, George Manger. Manger himself  worked at Haas & Wolf Sugar Refinery, see how this is about to go down? Manger told Wolf and another employee Charles Engel how Wagner had brought tradition German brewing yeast to the states and that his fellow workers, mostly all German, would enjoy a nice cold one after work. Long story short, by 1844 Wolf opened the first large scale lager brewing company in America.  So when looking back on his career, Wolf credits himself with opening the first brewery to produce lager, but also tells how Wagner brought the lager yeast to the states, so when looking back we see that Wagner, not Wolf is actually the grand daddy of brewing lager in America.

So why is this important? Well if it wasn't for Wagner, and even Wolf and the others that followed, we'd still be drinking crappy, room temperature, English ales. Also it was from this moment that the United States found a new industry, brewing. When looking at the history of brewing, once lagering was made possible in the states, breweries popped up everywhere, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and so on. Every large city and small town seemed to have a brewery and business was good. And today there is one company left that in some way owes there some of their success to Wagner, Pennsylvania's own Yuengling Brewery. Yuengling adopted the lagering system and never looked back making them the U.S.'s longest and oldest running brewery. Even Pabst Breweing still get their yeast directly from Germany as another example of the long lasting effects Wagner caused on American brewing. Most of America's largest breweries today have their roots in German lagering. Today, in the world dominated by mass production, we can take what Wagner did and compare him to the micro brewers of today, carrying on a tradition that for sometime seemed lost in the brewing world. So to all those out there celebration German American Heritage Month, when sipping on a glass of your favorite lager, give a nod to Johann Wagner, because without him we'd have nothing to wash down our wurst and spatzle with. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Where In the World is David Fagen?

The Spanish-American War is often a under studied and unappreciated part of American History. Apart from a few key events, the sinking of the USS Maine, the Battle of Manila Bay, Teddy Roosevelt & the Rough Riders and the birth of an Imperial America.  But most often, the Pacific Theater, especially the war in the Philippines is rarely mentioned, with the exception of the aforesaid Battle of Manila Bay and the leadership of Admiral Dewey. But enough about what we know, I hear to write about what we don't know. Today's person of interest is one, David Fagen. Never heard of him? Me neither until Christopher T. Wood brought him to my attention, and like the clip says "he starts out good and then sucks," but we will see he is a hero in every sense of the word and actually doesn't suck at all.

So like I said before, the Battle of Manila Bay is usually, and hopefully, something people know about the Spanish-American War. What most people don't know about is the role of African Americans in the during the war, which would be the first war they'd be a part of since the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. The Spanish American War would be a major event in the history of African Americans. Why? Well because, even though still segregated, they would be a major part of the American fighting force. Now, the Spanish American War didn't really sneak up on Americans, but what really fired Americans up was the attack on the USS Maine, in Havana Harbor. After the attack American men of every color and creed signed up to avenge the victims on the Maine, and David Fagen was no different. Fagen, a native of Tampa, Florida would have heard the news earliest and more rumors than any other part of the states due to his proximity to the attack. Not much is now about Fagen's early like, but what we do know is he enlisted in June of 1898 and made his way to the Philippines with the 24th Infantry Regiment in June of 1899. However, by this time the Spanish American War had ended and the U.S. was now an occupying force fighting a "guerilla" Philippine Army.

Now, if you thought the Spanish American War was under studied, try to find someone whose studied the Philippine-American War. In short it somewhat parallels the current situation America is facing in Afghanistan and Iraq. After the Spanish American War the U.S. failed to recognize the Philippine's claim to independence, talk about irony, and instead tried to control the island nation, remember the birth of American Imperialism? Fagen fits back into the story because he saw that fighting the Filipino's was, well wrong and drew similarities between the Filipinos and the treatment of African Americans back home in the states. It was after requesting a transfer out of the Philippines three different times, and not getting it, Fagen's view on his service in the Philippines changed. On November 17, 1899 David Fagen went AWOL and well disappeared.

Sometime shortly after this, and it is unclear how, but Fagen ended up in the ranks of the Filipino Army. Over the next year Fagen lived and worked with the Filipino resistance in the Pampanga Province. Fagen was slowly becoming a hero through out the Philippines, but a villain back in the states. He fought against American forces at least 8 times, the most important exploit was at the capture of a steam ship on the Pampanga River. It was during this time Fagen was promoted to captain but known as "General Fagen." At the same time the New York Times reported on Fagen somehow complimenting him, but at the same time vilifying him. Fagen's success did two things to the American Army occupying the Philippines, first, he pissed off the white commanding officers, and second he created a fear of mass African American defection, which would result in actually a total of 20 men, both black and white. Fagen was becoming a bigger fish then the actual occupation of the Philippines. A planned court martial and execution were planned and throughout the country reward posters were posted offer a whopping $600 for Fagen, dead or alive. Eventually, Fagen disappeared off the radar until Anastacio Bartolome brought the head of a man to American officials. He claimed it was Fagen as he came across his Fagen living with natives , but there is no evidence that it was really Fagen's head. So what happened to David Fagen?

What happened to Fagen? No one really knows. The file on Fagen even notes a supposed killing but nothing certain. What we can say is David Fagen's life after the war is just as shrouded in mystery as his life before the war. One theory is that Fagen started a family and lived the rest of his life out, peaceful in the Philippine country side, which sounds nice, but very fairy tailish. What is more important is that David Fagen she be held  in very high regards. In the Philippines, Fagen is remembered as a national hero, a man who worked to gain Independence for a foreign nation. Now, here in the states Fagen isn't even a blip on the America History radar. But I think he should be. Sure he switched sides during a war, but lets look back at that. He left an imperialistic and racist military to support a nation seeking Independence, liberty and freedom from an occupying army, as well as personal freedom from a segregated society. I think it is important when looking at David Fagen the whole picture is looked at, David Fagen embodies all the characteristics that America was built on, in reality he did what America should have done. So remember David Fagen when celebrating forgotten heroes of America. So where ever you are or what ever happened to you ''General" Fagen kudos to you and may your memory not be forgotten.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

FedEx'd to Freedom

Before slavery was abolished in the United States, there were many numerous and curious was that enslaved African Americans tried and did escape slavery. For example, William Craft crossed dressed his way into the north, Eliza Harris ran across the barley frozen Ohio River, Robert Smalls hijacked a ship, Samuel Burris was freed by a fund raiser and well you get the picture, by any means necessary. But my favorite story is about Henry Brown. But what makes his story stand out amongst the rest? Well, it involved a daring plan, a life risking move and was a pretty out there idea. The plan stick Henry Brown in a box, seal him up and ship him from a plantation in Louisa County Virgina to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a 234 mile journey.

So the 234 mile trip today, takes a little over 4 hours by car, 8 hours by public transportation, 25 hours by bicycle and 77 hours on foot. Unfortunately for Brown, his trip was a little more difficult even though it only took a little over a day. But before we get into the trip lets talk about how this plan came to pass. Brown was going through a perhaps one of the most difficult things an enslaved person could go through, the loss of his family. Brown's wife and children were all sold to a different slave owner. It was then that Brown began having "heavenly visions," to send himself to a place where slavery did not exist. He pitched these "visions" to James Smith and Samuel Smith (no relations). Together, the three put the plan together.

Brown had to pay $86 dollars for shipping and handling, half of his life savings. He was ship via the Adams Express Company and was addressed to James Miller McKim, whom was contacted by Sam Smith about the planned escape. On March 22 1849, Brown burned his hand in order to be excused from his daily schedule, it would be then that he'd make his escape and meet up with Samuel Smith. He was boxed up and sent out early on the morning of  March 23. Now even though the shipment only took a day, Brown was transported via,wagon, railroad, steamboat, than wagon again, another railroad, ferry, a third railroad and last yet again another wagon. Now as you could imagine this trip really sucked. Even though the crate was marked with the usual ''this side up" and "handle with care" it wasn't. Brown recalled several different times the crate was flipped upside down or tossed incautiously on or off the wagons, trains, or ferry. But, the crate and Brown survived and arrived in Philadelphia in one piece.

The crate containing Brown was picked up on March 24 in Philadelphia by McKim and taken to his home. There McKim along with other members of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee popped open the crate and out came Henry Brown. He didn't request anything but instead his first words were, "How do you do, gentlemen?", than hopped out of the crate stretched out and sang a psalm from the Bible. 

"I waited patiently for the Lord-
And he, in kindness to me, heard my calling-
And he hath put a new song into my mouth-
Even thanksgiving-even thanksgiving-
Unto our God!
Blessed-blessed is the man
That has set his hope, his hope in the Lord!
O Lord! my God! great, great is the wondrous work
Which thou hast done!
If I should declare them-and speak of them-
They would be more than I am able to express.
I have not kept back thy love, and kindness, and truth,
From the great congregation!
Withdraw not thou thy mercies from me,
Let thy love, and kindness, and thy truth, always preserve me-
Let all those that seek thee be joyful and glad!
Be joyful and glad!
And let such as love thy salvation-
Say always-say always-
The Lord be praised!
The Lord be praised!"
 -Pslam sung by Brown upon exiting the crate.
After the escape Brown began touring the north with the Anti Slavery Society. At the May 1849 convention, which was quite the rager, Brown was dubbed Henry "Box" Brown, a nickname that would stick for the rest of his life. Later that year he published a biography and numerous essays regarding slavery in the U.S. Unfortunately for Brown, he was forced to flee the U.S. after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. However, he was warmly welcomed in England. There, Brown toured the country speaking about the horrors of slavery in the U.S. He also gave lectures on how America could eradicate slavery: allow slaves to vote,  a new President and the North to speak out against the South. He became such a staunch abolitionist he even worked with  Frederick Douglass. However, Douglass was very vocal he wished Brown would have kept his story quite as it would have been a great tool to free more enslaved African Americans. Due to the publicity surrounding the story Samuel Smith was arrested when trying to free other slaves later in 1849.
 After the Civil War ended, Brown stayed in the English spotlight. He continued until 1875, to argue the issue of slavery and the bettering of life for newly freed slaves. During this time he also got in performing as a conjuror, under the stage name Professor H. Box Brown and The African Prince, even though he was born in Virginia. He also remarried a white English women and began a new family, even though he could have reunited with his first family back in the states. He did return to the states in the 1870s and toured the country with a family magic act. Brown died in the 1890s. Today there is a monument to Brown on Canal Street in Richmond, Va. In more recent times the story of Brown has been revived. He was the subject of a play at P.S. 122 in New York City, several books have been published, both for children and adults and there is currently a film in post production which  retells the story of  Box Brown. Brown was a very influential figure during the abolitionist movement, both in the states and abroad. He showed great courage and ingenuity in order to free himself from the bonds of slavery. He did something daring and never done before all in the quest of freedom. It is important to keep the story of "Box" Brown alive for future generations Americans to show not just the faults of America, but the creativity and quest for liberty and freedom that all Americans have always sought after.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Champagne Wishes & Caviar Dreams, At The Brooklyn Bridge!?

Yes, the Brooklyn Bridge has not just one, but two champagne cellars. Now, I know what your thinking, no way. But wait, I mean if a George C. Parker could continuously sell the Brooklyn Bridge over and over, why can't there be champagne cellars, I mean think of how much more he could have charged for the bridge if he knew they were there. But why would engineers leave massive gaps in the bridge to store champagne? And why the Brooklyn Bridge? And why have most people never heard about their existence, in such an iconic piece of architecture? So if you'd like pour yourself a glass of bubbly, put on your finest house coat and get ready to learn about the Brooklyn Bridge Champagne Cellars.

The Brooklyn Bridge was completed by 1883 and building it was no easy task, but why leave room for a champagne cellar? The answer, they were there before the bridge was built. Prior to the Brooklyn Bridge connecting Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, at the very spot where the anchorages were placed, stood Rackey's Wine (Brooklyn side) and Luyties & Co., (Manhattan side) another liquor company. So, the bridge builders worked around the business and incorporated storage spaces into the bridge. More importantly, the spaces were rented to the companies in order to help the city pay for the bridge's construction. For example according to city records, in 1901, Luyties & Co. was paying $1000 a year for renting out the Manhattan side, while renting the Brooklyn side was only $500 a year, sorry you had to read that New York business renters. But why keep your booze in a bridge? Temperature control of course. These business need a storage area that remained a constant cool temperature. Where better in New York than inside a vaults made of limestone and granite. But how could these vaults have been lost to history? Imaging how much you could rent these vaults out for today.

Stanley Greenberg

The reason these vaults were lost to time is because of three events. First, World War I. Due to WWI everything in New York Harbor, that includes the East River, was under lock and key, especially after the Black Tom Explosion. The second reason, or what I like to call the worst idea in American History, Prohibition. So from about the years 1916 to 1933 the vaults remained empty, tapped, dry, a very sad place. But as soon as Prohibition ended, the vaults were back in service, at;east for a brief time. When booze was allowed to flow free in the U.S. the vaults were reoccupied and reopened with a bang, well more like a pop. The Anthony Oechs & Co. would be the newest tenants. Only a few 100 New Yorkers were invited and witnessed the big to do. What do I mean by big to do? Well, the Alderman President, Bernard S. Deutsch, hand over the keys to the vault, live music was played, people danced and oh yea, people got pretty drunk. Even though there was a short revival for the vaults, they were closed again due to World War II. After that the city then took over the vaults and they have been almost forgotten ever since.

Now it is a shame what happened to the vaults. At one time known as the "Blue Grotto" the vaults were a sight to be seen. Throughout the vaults, the walls were decorated with murals of different vineyards from France, Italy and Germany. Also the vaults were labeled as French street names, also very intricately done, like, Sichel Bordeaux, Avenue Les Deux Oefs and so on. In other areas different mottoes, in French, Germany and Italian, graced the walls, most likely mottoes of the vineyard or liquor companies. The main focal point was a shrine to the Virgin Mary which was brought from the Pol Roger cellars in Epernay France. But after WWII the vaults were taken over by the city and used for storage. The murals have long faded and the walls stand bare. The vaults are still there, a testament to the construction of the bridge. The vaults are still even being explored, by city workers but also urban explorers. Most recently a cache of provisions from the Cold War era were found deep in the vaults. What may be most intriguing is the vaults are still not 100% mapped. So no one knows just how far, deep or where the vaults end up. Perhaps one day the vaults can be fully explored, and what would be better is if they let me do it, and a great discovery can be made about the use of the vaults during their champagne hosting days. Or who knows maybe it can be turn into some kind a beer garden, I'm talking to you Brooklyn Brewery, so don't forget the History Guy if you ever make that a reality.

Monday, September 2, 2013

They Want You! They Want You! They Want You As A New Recruit!

Well I am back after my summer hiatus, and I've decided to come back in a big way and discuss...early 20th century U.S. Navy recruiting! Now, I know what your thinking, what a snoozefest this topic is going to be, but wait and give it a chance, I mean I haven't let you down before. In today's world we think of military recruitment as a small store front and a few servicemen, or women, inside informing young American's about the opportunities the U.S. military can offer them. Surprisingly not much has changed since the early 1900s, well except the scale in which recruiting was done. Believe it or not but the at the start of WWI the U.S. Navy used  the USS Recruit, to recruit young men in New York City. But this ship didn't sit in New York harbor, she rested at anchor in Union Square Park!

The USS Recruit was a model of a standard dreadnought, the battleship of choice back in the days of the Great War. Now the U.S. Navy didn't just use the Recruit a recuiting tool, as she was a fully functioning ship and complete with a captain and crew. Why staff a ship that was on land with valuable servicemen in the time of war you might be asking, well because the Recruit also served as a training ship for those New Yorkers that signed up to serve their country. The Recruit was captained by C.F. Pierce and had a crew of 39 seaman...well in this case landmen? They ship had examination rooms, necessary for recruitment purposes, officer's quarters, heating systems, conning tower, a wireless station,  and enough cabins to house the crew. The Recruit was also armed...well armed with dummy weapons made of wood, three twin turrets made of of six guns, ten 5 inch guns, anti torpedo weapons (remember it was WWI and the German U Boats terrorized the Atlantic) and two one pounder saluting guns.

So why put a gigantic model ship in the middle of New York City and not just dock a real life ship in harbor? For the answer we have to look to former New York City mayor, Mayor John Purroy Michel. It fell on his desk to drum up 2000 men from New York City to fight the Huns. I guess you can say that this is just another grand idea that could only work in New York City. The mayor needed to build something on a grand scale because as of 1917 only 900 men from NYC had volunteered for the war. So to find another 1100 men, Michel set up the Mayors Committee on National Defense to come up with a way to find more men and thus the Recruit was born. She was christened by Michel's wife Olive and on that day was the largest public gathering in NYC since the 1861 rally in response to the attack on Fort Sumter. The Recruit then passed her goal of 2000 recruits as some reports estimate that 25,000 men registered for the war on board the Recruit!

The Recruit was a success as it gave New Yorkers a sense of what life on a ship was like with out being out on the war, On the water ships rock and sway and most people are not accustom to that, just ask my father-in-law about me on his boat. But the ship wasn't just used as a recruitment center, but was used as a focal point in New York City activities. The Red Cross held drives, it hosted dances for New York's socialites, different city ceremonies took place at the bow of the ship, a variety of patriotic events to gain support for the war effort, as well as boxing matches and Vaudeville shows. It was these events, and the sheer size of the Recruit that lead to exactly 25,600 men to sign up and serve in the U.S. military.

The Recruit's service would come to an end in 1920. After the war the government began to scale down on its military costs. Now that the world was at peace, there was really no reason to keep the Recruit operational. So she was decommissioned and careful deconstructed starting on March 16, 1920.  The Recruit was planned to be rebuilt in Luna Park on Coney Island. However, it is here that the Recruit disappeared from history. If you've ever visited Coney Island, you know there is no giant wooden WWI recruiting ship there. There are two theories on what happened, but neither have any concrete evidence to back them up. First, some believe the ship was destroyed by termites when it was kept in storage. A second theory is because the ship was moved from the city to the coast that the damp and sea air caused the wood to rot. It is hard to tell what happened because after the ship was deconstructed any paperwork on it seems to disappear, or there is just no mention of it anywhere. But when looking back on the history of the Recruit we can see ship was a grand venture and a great success, and it is a share that such a unique piece of history has been lost to time.