Meet my great-uncle George. The guy with the beer, not the guy with the basketball. Naturally.
This panel ran during the height of the Ripley’s craze of the Depression years, when readers from all over the country vied to catch Mr. Robert Ripley’s attention with stories of amazing or just plain odd behavior. Ripley’s items ran in two parts. The first day was the cartoon, which as you can see was calculated to make the reader say: “Whoa! Wait, what? How can that BE????” The following day, they’d run additional details about the cartoon, which in this case read:
EXPLANATION OF YESTERDAY’S CARTOON:
DRANK 90 GLASSES OF BEER A DAY – On display in an honored position at Mutt and Jeff’s Beer Garden in Richmond Hill is the mug from which George Rudroff (Mut [sic] at the firm) drank 90 glasses of beer each day for eight solid years. Before prohibition, Mr. Rudroff tested beer in New York breweries and every day for the entire eight years he was so employed, he consumed 30 pitchers of beer, equaling 90 glasses – a total of 225,640 glasses, or 1,560 half barrels of beer – all from the same mug.
I just found this. I am still trying to
get my head around it discover more about it, but for the moment I can tell you that there aren’t a whole lot of Rudroffs in Richmond Hill between 1915 and 1940, other than George (1870-1940), his wife and kids.
George’s niece Therese Rudroff Haigney (1927-2003) was my mother. Her uncle was “a character”, which in Mom’s vocabulary could be a good thing or a bad thing, but was certainly a somewhat flamboyant thing. For example, George was said to have shopped a song to Kate Smith. (She did not buy it.) I have found evidence that he wrote and copyrighted a comic play, as well.
Reviewing my notes of talks with Mom, I see she did say he was a tavern keeper. And censuses (mostly) bear this out: In 1900 and 1910 George was listed as a brewery helper and a brewer, respectively.
By the time of the New York census of 1915 he was at 61 Zeidler Avenue (present-day 55th Street) in Maspeth, Queens, where his occupation was listed as saloon keeper. The censuses of 1920, 1930 and 1940 all list him in Richmond Hill. In the first two of the Richmond Hill censuses, George was a motorman and a drug-company salesman. Well, I guess he couldn’t exactly be a tavern keeper during Prohibition.
His death certificate of 1 November 1940 said he was retired from the restaurant business. And there really was a Mutt and Jeff’s Bar and Grill on Atlantic Avenue in Richmond Hill, according to the Queens telephone directory for 1940. (Thanks, NYPL!)
So at least at some point, George had an occupation that required beer tasting. But did he really drink 1,560 half barrels? It was typical of Ripley’s contributors to, ah, color the facts a bit, according to this NPR story. Given what I’ve heard and discovered about him so far, I think my great-uncle George was perfectly capable of spinning a good story to land himself in Ripley’s.
I can just see my mother rolling her eyes.
Long before I landed a job at the newspaper that was his home base, I just loved Roger Ebert. Toiling away on a series of night news desks, I sneaked peeks at his film reviews on the entertainment wire when I was supposed to be writing headlines for zoning-board stories. I delighted in his genial snark-and-snipe routine as half of the Siskel and Ebert TV team.
He was the best. So I devoutly hoped I’d never get to work with him when I arrived at the Sun-Times as a lowly copy editor.
By that point in my professional life, I knew that beloved, award-winning newsroom personalities weren’t always so lovable to be around. “If you can read this, you’ve come too close,” Dorothy Parker supposedly suggested for her tombstone. I thought of this quote often as I moved from newspaper to newspaper, heard the stories, and landed on the receiving end once or twice.
The hissy fits over unavoidable deadline or space constraints. The marquee-value columnists who used their high-profile pulpits to poke fun at lesser colleagues. (And, ugh: “How’d you like to sleep with a Pulitzer winner, honey?” a colleague was asked a few weeks into her first job. She declined, probably more politely than was deserved.)
At the Sun-Times I worked on a variety of feature-section stories. Then I became an assistant editor on the Friday entertainment section, which ran movie reviews. But I was still safe from illusion-busting in the Ebert department, because his reviews were very much my boss’ territory. Ebert worked off-site and was actually in the office only occasionally. By that time he was as much of a media brand presence as he was a critic, and he was still, of course, a fine critic. His reviews came in by remote and were edited by my boss over the telephone, in conversations to which I listened with half an ear. They seemed cordial; fun, even. Still: better my boss than me. Ebert was a newsroom legend at the Sun-Times and his niceness was equally legendary, but I distrusted the stories. It was easy to wax eloquent about niceness if you only saw the guy every few weeks, I reasoned.
But a day came when my boss could not be there to handle the Friday-section movie reviews – he had the plague? Something dire, I’m sure.
“Just give him the lengths,” said the boss over the phone, from his bed of pain, or whatever it was. “Relax. It’ll be fine.”
It would not be fine, I knew as I looked over the space allotted for that week. There was not a lot of wiggle room. Of course Roger Ebert’s reviews were top priority, but a lot of movies were opening that particular Friday, and we were skimpy on jump space – the pages where you put the “Continued from …” parts of the reviews. The Friday section was never really the place where the movie reviews could run on and on, and this week was tight.
It was time to call Mr. Ebert and tell him this. Surely he would not be happy. Stars never liked being told their space was short. I was about to learn the real deal about the guy who had made me and my mom laugh hysterically over “At the Movies.”
I telephoned. I explained who I was and called him Mr. Ebert, and he told me it wasn’t necessary to call him Mr. Ebert. I recall ignoring this. Nervously I hemmed and hawed over the skimpy space, trying to be frank, yet inoffensive.
He cut efficiently into my waffling. “Liz. Listen.”
Here it comes.
“Just tell me the lengths,” Mr. Ebert said, very kindly, very patiently. “I will write to the lengths.”
“Just tell me. I’ll write to it.”
The reviews came in, comfortably ahead of deadline, fitting the space to the syllable, and as fun to read as ever.
“But he’s always like that,” said a co-worker, witnessing my slack-jawed reaction. “I thought you knew that.”
I had heard so, many times. But I hadn’t really known.
That’s my only Ebert story, and it is not a particularly remarkable one. But I have come to believe that the truth of a person’s spirit is evidenced by how they treat those who are not in a position to do them any particular favors. By that measure, Mr. Ebert’s spirit was right up there. I will miss reading his reviews very, very much. And I am sad the world no longer has him in it.
From the Albany Evening Journal, Watervliet news section, Saturday, May 3, 1902:
A meeting will be held this evening by the old members of the Oswald Hose Company. The meeting will be held for the purpose of placing in the company’s quarters the head of “Nell,” who was the first horse ever owned by the company. “Nell” for over twenty years hauled apparatus to fires and became greatly attached to every member of the company, and it was with the greatest sorrow when she was obliged to quit the service.
The members fearing that she would be sold by the commissioner, raised a sufficient sum for her purchase, and placed her upon a farm in Colonie about three years ago. She then became sick, and it was thought best to end her suffering by chloroform, which was done.
The members decided to have the head mounted in a suitable manner, and the members will meet this evening, when the head will be dedicated, after which a spread will be enjoyed.
1. The Oswald Hose Company was, of course, in Watervliet. I was looking at volunteer fire companies in West Troy/Watervliet because my great-grandfather Joseph Haigney served in Watervliet’s Gleason Hook and Ladder company.
2. I’m continually struck by how 19th-century ancestors could be so much more sentimental and, at the same time, so much less squeamish than we are today.
3. First the head, then the spread. I prefer a simple tailgate, myself.
I never knew my paternal grandfather Raymond Haigney (1891-1940), as I mentioned recently when describing his final census appearance in 1940. But I knew that at the time he died, he worked for the New York City Department of Health as a food inspector. I’d always supposed that my knowledge of his work was destined to begin and end there.
But, thanks to the magic of indexed, digital newspaper archives, I have three news clips showing my grandpa on the milk-dealer beat, keeping an eye out for questionable practices and doing his bit to keep New York’s dairy supply pure. You go, Grandpa Haigney!
The newspaper is the long-ago Daily Star, published in the borough of Queens (my grandfather was detailed to the health department’s Queens bureau). Punctuation, grammar and capitalization are reproduced faithfully from the original, alas.
First, here are two fairly routine situations:
Daily Star, Queens Borough, N.Y. City, Tuesday January 17, 1928, page 1: Milk Dealer Fined Total of $250 On Two Counts in Ridgewood Court
A man described as Meyer Krout, a milk dealer, of Seventy-ninth street (Furman avenue), Middle Village, was fined $100 by Magistrate Benjamin Marvin yesterday on complaint of Health Inspector Raymond Haigney, who swore that the defendant had fifteen quarts of milk for sale which was unwholesome.
Daily Star, Queens Borough, N.Y. City, Thursday Evening, October 11, 1928, page 7: Milk Dealer Fined $25 For Unrecorded Sales
Morris Cohen, a milk dealer of Cooper avenue and Eighty-eighth street, Glendale, was fined $25 by Magistrate Peter M. Daly in Ridgewood Court yesterday on complaint of Inspector Raymond Haigney attached to the Queens office of the Department of Health, who alleged that Cohen failed to keep a record of milk sales as required by regulations of the Department of Health.
This last one contains a bit of drama.
Daily Star, Queens Borough, N.Y. City, Tuesday evening May 28, 1928, page 1: Milk Dealer Pays $50 Fine For Violation
Muzzio Saladino, a milk dealer, of 2243 Flushing avenue, Maspeth, charged with violating the Sanitary Code was found guilty in Ridgewood court yesterday and fined $50 by Magistrate Peter M. Daly.
The defendant was accused by Inspector Raymond Haigney, attached to the Queens bureau of the Department of Health, with having eighty quarts of mlk in unlabeled and untagged containers. Saladino told the court that he informed the inspector that the milk was to be used for making cheese and was not for sale.
Haigney read Saladino’s record, which purported to show that he has been fined on no less than ten occasions for various infractions of the Sanitary Code relating to milk. In answer to the plea of Francis D. Saitta, counsel for the defendant, Magistrate Daly said:
“This defendant seems to have no regard for the law. I am going to fine him $50, and I don’t want a repetition of the offense.”
Compiler note: I will admit to a sneaking bit of sympathy for Mr. Saladino. I mean, freshly made cheese – what’s not to like? But the law is the law.
Research note: I found these clips (along with many other valuable items) in Tom Tryniski’s amazing Old New York Newspapers database – well worth a look for those of us tracking Empire State ancestors.
“Every person has a story and you just have to ask.”
– Eleven-year-old Eli Boardman of Boulder, Co., editor/publisher of his own community newspaper, the Boardman Camera, 200 editions old and still going strong. (As reported by Jim Romenesko.)
Words of wisdom for genealogists, as well as youthful journalists!
I’m working on a history of my house, mostly for my own selfish pleasure but also to practice my skills in this particular research area. When I spot any vintage news items involving my street, I naturally go on alert. Not long ago I was searching local newspaper microfilms for an obituary when I stumbled upon a terribly sad story from 1938 that took place across the street from where I now live. (Preliminary poking around in censuses and directories indicates that some relatives of the people mentioned in the news item may still be living, hence the brackets.)
Child Found Drowned in Goldfish Pool Here / Mother Transfers From Ship and Returns to Montclair
An 18-month-old baby [...] was drowned on Saturday when she fell into a goldfish pool at the rear of [a] home on [...] Place. Deputy County Medical Examiner Olcott said the death was accidental and caused by drowning.
The article went on to say that the toddler was staying with her aunt at a house neighboring the yard with the goldfish pool. Sadly, the scenario in the story could still be written today: The child went out of sight only for a few minutes, but somehow managed to circumvent a high fence around the pool. The toddler’s mother was on a ship en route to South America, but was intercepted off Cape Hatteras and transferred to a liner headed back north, so that she arrived back in New Jersey the following day.
It was strange and sad to read about such a tragedy on a street I know so well — a street that continues to be a favorite of families with young children. I can tell you that there’s no trace remaining of the goldfish pond mentioned in the story, but it was still oddly disturbing to read about something like that happening on our pleasant little street, even though it was so long ago.
Now I’m wondering what news items might be out there about my own property. I suppose that’s a hidden hazard of doing house history reports — not all the stories are going to be colorful and heartwarming. And I guess I’ll be mentioning this possibility up front in doing this sort of research for someone else.