Monday, October 27, 2014

'Flambeau' from the Roaring 20s

If only an object could talk. Wandering through a local warehouse-sized antique store, I spied an object that practically reached out an imaginary arm and pulled me over with a command to "buy me!" As much as I adore antiques, I rarely have this type of encounter, and as a shopper on a very low budget, I've not allowed it to happen. But this was fate - kismet in its purest form, because the item of beauty was also beckoning from the discount shelf!

It was just one martini/cocktail glass, its siblings long gone. One very special glass that had seen better days, but still had that air of glamour and mystery, and wore it proudly. Upon closer inspection, it jumped out as one of the most intricate examples of Art Deco finery that I have ever encountered. And that's saying a lot after growing up in Cincinnati (Union Terminal and the Netherland Plaza just to name a couple.)

The glass of the cup portion is flame red, but opaque, like tinted milk glass. The stem is similarly opaque, but black as night. The bottom of the stem has a rim of metal circling it that matches the filigree decoration adorning the cup. And what an adornment it is: the iconic leaping gazelle, framed in a circle that it surrounded by an intricate maze of angled and swirling designs. Previous handling has peeled some of the metal away, but you can still see the design left underneath. What a gorgeous beauty it must have been in its heyday!
Researching this one has been difficult. I can find no mark on the glass or in the metal appliqué. Describing it in a search engine brought up everything but this style. I have yet to see another just like it. The closest I could find is a sale on Ebay for one that does not include the metal design. In reviewing pieces of similar design, (red opaque glass with metal appliqué) the closest I can find is a series made by the Pairpoint Glass Company, referred to as 'flambeau' from the 1920s and 30s.

If it is a piece made by this company, the metal is probably silver overlay, which makes it an even more unique object. My romantic self assumes such craftsmanship was ordered by a wealthy family who gave many elegant parties...again, if this glass could talk...I'm sure it could share some amazing stories.

Of course, the memory it would like to forget is being relegated to the sale shelf with a $2.00 price tag. Yes, that's right $2.00....the poor thing. I have rescued it from that extreme embarrassment and have it displayed prominently in my corner curio. No longer a citizen on the island of misfit antiques. Back to a place of prominence, where she clearly belongs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Broken Wings: Finding George Remus

A few weeks ago, while attending a festival in my Mother's hometown, Falmouth, we stopped in to Riverside cemetery to "visit" with my grandparents. As we paid our respects, I realized it was just daylight enough to go scoundrel hunting. About a year ago, I was watching Ken Burns' series Prohibition. As the story unfolded, he covered a chapter of history I had only vaguely heard stories about: prohibition and the Cincinnati area. I knew the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area had been a hotbed of illegal activity that began with the prohibition era, but I had never heard of its king: George Remus. In a stunning footnote to history, it turns out George was buried in the same cemetery as my grandparents, despite his life and death in the Cincinnati/Covington areas. Burns also noted that locals remembered his stone because it contained angels, whose wings were ripped off shortly after he was buried there. This was something I had to see for myself.
In very short order, we found him. It wasn't hard at all since the cemetery isn't that large. Plus, I can count on one hand the number of stones that contain any type of statue. Based on the date of his death, I knew he had to be in the older portion of the cemetery, and with the "angels" clue, we found him within a few minutes of driving around. And sure enough, the wings were missing.
The stone itself marks a joint plot containing George, his third wife, Blanche Watson, and two individuals from Blanche's family: Belle and J. Taylor Watson. Based on the life dates of Belle and J. Taylor, I'm guessing this may be Blanche's parents (Belle: 1854-1938 & J. Taylor: 1846-1889)

So, looking at the stone as a joint product, I tried to link up a timeline of its construction. Based on the style of the stones, it was not something from the 1880s when J. Taylor died, nor did it appear to be contemporary to the 1950s when George died. However, taking the death date of Belle into consideration, I'm guessing the stone was nearer to her death date of 1938, when George and Blanche were already a married couple.

I also noticed that the individual burial locations based on gender had been switched. In most cases, the husband is planted first, on the left, and the wife on the right. Here we have George and Blanche correct, but Belle and J. Taylor are switched to place Belle and Blanche next to each other. This is not completely unheard of, but solidifies a close bond between the women. Ironically, in the newer part of the cemetery, my grandparents pulled the same switcheroo so my grandmother and her sister could be buried next to one another without displacing their spouses. Of course, even this switch is odd because if J. Taylor was the first to be interred in 1889, Blanche and George did not even know each other at the time. Perhaps the arrangement was made sentimentally at an earlier date? Conjecture on my part - but all things must be considered when analyzing burial placement. Of course, it goes without saying: wouldn't we also love to know who ripped the wings off? If it was done prior to Blanche's death in 1974, as the reports say, why didn't she have them repaired? Unless she knew that was a useless waste of money.

If the monument itself is a product of 1938, this speaks volumes as to George's last years. These years are something that has begun to intrigue me a bit. Of all the things written about George, his bootlegging, prison time, and murder of his second wife (without prison time for the murder), very little has been written of his years after prohibition. The last 20 years or so are relegated to postscripts - most concur that he attempted to rebuild his fortune, through business and liquor sales, etc., but they all conclude that he failed in his attempt and lived out the rest of his years in obscurity, dying at his home in Covington. But, how obscurely did he live, and to what extent did he really fail?

According to other reports, he had a nice real estate office in Cincinnati, and even owned stock in the Reds baseball team. From what I remember of Burns' production, it was the liquor part that failed on the second go round. I'm assuming the rest of his business was lucrative, at least to provide comfortable means. Let's just assume that the stone itself, in all its elaborate design serves as proof that George did have a decent size fortune. After all, the rest of Blanche's family plot does not match this opulence. The surrounding Watson stones are modest to say the least - very small indeed. Which brings me to the conclusion that the statue was a product of George's money, not Blanche's.

If you ever get the time, you should read up on George. It is a fascinating story. As a young German immigrant (age 5), he was later known as the King of the Bootleggers, and also got away with murder after shooting his second wife, Imogene, in cold blood up at Eden Park. Seriously, a rather twisted guy. Legend has it that Fitzgerald based his Great Gatsby character on Remus after meeting him at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville (legend light on documentation) - but you get the idea about this guy's lavish and brazen lifestyle.

I also found it worth note that his change in professional venue from Chicago to Cincinnati, during the height of prohibition, was not just based on the overly crowded and protected territory under Capone, but on the German friendly population of Cincinnati that was already adept at producing a crap ton of liquor. Those family ties folks - remain strong in crime as well as genealogy.

As a postscript to my own family history - George's link to Falmouth has intrigued me even more. When I heard about the prolific nature of liquor production in Northern Kentucky, during and after prohibition, I suspected my great-grandfather's German immigrant family had a part in this profession. They were always listed as farmers in the census, but the family tradition of wine production is cemented with family artifacts related to said endeavor. One court record even relates the story of accused slander during a wine sale gone wrong - in Covington.

The family's wine production is a subject I hope to research more, but it's hard to research a profession purposefully veiled in secrecy. One clue that keeps me hot on the trail is a picture from 1935 - just after prohibition. My great aunt and uncle (brother and sister) sitting on the hoods of their matching brand new cars. By legal profession, he was a farmer, and she was a domestic servant in Cincinnati. During the depression, this was a highly unusual purchase for their legal circumstances. 1935 was during the time when Remus was trying to rebuild his liquor empire - with the Falmouth/German connection, did they know the Watson family and work for Remus? I highly doubt it - but Remus was known for a complex network of "connections" to supply his inventory - and he was well known for paying them quite handsomely. I guess I have some more research to do!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Delights at Dinner with the Dead

For a closet taphophile, I somehow spent several years missing the Dinner with the Dead events that have taken place in the surrounding areas. Fortunately, the Lexington History Museum resurrected the event this past weekend, long dead since 2009.

The event this Saturday was quite a novelty on many fronts. First, as a cemetery that is only open by appointment, just getting in was delight numero uno. From that point onward, I was just taking it all in: the stones, the falling leaves, the side events, the food, and the entertainment.
As a cemetery, the Old Episcopal Burying Ground is old for the area, 1832, but too young to be in this state. The ravages of time have not been kind. Most of the stones are either in pieces lying along the edge of the property, or weathered away, never to be read again. This fact made the scavenger hunt a tad disconcerting, but there were pockets of stones in decent enough shape to be read for the activity.
Personally, I found the size of the cemetery perfect for this type of event. It was small, yet not too small. There was plenty of acreage for folks to wander around at leisure, with plenty of space. Kids were running around, having fun, and groups had ample time to see all the stones available without getting overly tired.

Speaking of kids, there were several small activities to keep them engaged: besides the scavenger hunt, there was an eyeball (ping-pong) toss, and a cauldron-like musical walk that resulted in prizes based on the image each child stopped on....again, with plenty of room.

Probably the only awkward part of exploring was the abundance of walnuts and hedge apples on the ground. This is something one cannot control, but I found myself watching every step carefully, simply because I didn't want a twisted ankle. It made me think about liability with this type of event - should that be a concern, or am I over thinking this?

The dinner included a rather long wait due to each person being served at a time, but the choices were nice, yet simple: Pizza, mac and cheese varieties, jambalaya, chips, and a tiny cupcake dessert. As everyone was eating, the character interpretations got underway. One that was particularly educational was the Reverend London Ferrell. As the only African American buried in this cemetery, his story of pre-Civil War popularity among the white population was fascinating. He reminded everyone that he had the second largest funeral in Lexington, only Henry Clay's was larger.
It was a cloudy, and slightly drizzly evening, but that fit the somber nature of this cemetery, begun as a result of cholera that ravaged the area in the 1830s. As I took in the names and stories with reverence, the families and young people were bringing life back to the space. Ironically, the crowd had VERY few gray hairs....most were college students, young families with children, or middle-aged professionals. The families were also culturally/ethnically diverse which was representative of the urban population, but perhaps, also a reflection of the event itself. Many other cultures enjoy celebrating the dead, and others enjoy the fright of the season. Either way, the life celebrated was quite a treat - I'm sure the dead would have approved!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Eternal Membership Level

This weekend, our family went cemetery traipsing in Pendleton County and stumbled upon a new stone we had not seen before. I cannot tell you how old the stone is, nor even if the person memorialized is dead or not. I know it is fairly new because I had not seen it last year when visiting my grandparents' graves, plus, it is constructed in a current style: Solid black, polished granite with fine etchings. Despite the stone containing a name, there is no date range to determine time frame of this person's existence. After a little research, I have determined that this person was from the Falmouth area, but was living in Biloxi Mississippi as recently as 2004. A few possibilities: This person is still alive and will be buried here someday, the person is buried in MS and simply wanted a memorial stone in his hometown and family plot, or, this person has died recently and the dates are still waiting to be etched.

It is, however, the flip side of this stone that caught my attention. Every organization he was affiliated with is represented in the applique or etching of the official logo. I'm serious...EVERY ORGANIZATION. His church affiliation is the first and largest organization represented, followed by military insignias, educational logo, and finally LINEAGE societies seals. Some of the Lineage societies represented are: SAR, Kentucky First Families, Sons of Union Veterans, First Flight Families. He also chose to include membership affiliations such as the Kentucky Genealogical Society, and the Kentucky Historical Society, among others. As much as I enjoy my affiliations and memberships, I would personally prefer family information to be on a tombstone. Then again, this does tell me about the individual possibly buried there. I learned that he was very passionate about his membership in lineage societies and valued history. I also had a clue as to further research directions, such as church membership and education connection. My question is: what is your impression of this...good information or over the top allegiance?


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