Wordless Wednesday: Believe it? Not? Really?

"Ripley's Believe it Or Not", October 15, 1935. Scan from Miami Daily News, Google Newspaper Archive.

“Ripley’s Believe it Or Not”, October 15, 1935.
Scan from Miami Daily News, Google Newspaper Archive.

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:


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.


Wordless Wednesday: Vintage Photo Q & A

The photo below belongs to a large collection of images belonging to my German grandparents. Some we can identify; some we cannot. Recently I sat down with the mysterious occupants of this photo for an interview. Sadly, they were less than forthcoming. Vintage photo subjects are like that.

Who are you?

When are you?

Are we related?

Where in Germany are you? (You are in Germany, aren’t you?)

Honey, is that a clerical collar you’re wearing?

Why isn’t it a Roman collar? Did they just look different then?

Well, OK, if you’re not Catholic how come you’re related to me?

Did I just get that wrong?

Are you really happy, or are you just photogenic?

Do you have any descendants who can tell me about you?

A More Serious Note: I do not know if the people in this photo are Forsters (my grandma’s maiden name), Rudroffs (my grandpa’s surname) or whether they belong to families bearing other surnames associated with my grandparents, such as Held, Endres, Hoffmann or Dormann. I wonder if I’ll ever know. Anyway, they look like a friendly couple, don’t they?

Wordless Wednesday: A Dog in Le Havre

This great picture turned up as I was going through my files, trying to pull together a stunning pets post for the 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy Pets Prompt, and failing miserably.

Not because I lacked pets photos, but because there were so many cool ones.

Like this one.

Aaaand … I kept trying to come up with ways to tie all the pets pictures together in one remarkable, compelling post.

A Pets Post of PluPerfect Proportions. Deep Themes! Deft Transitions! Daring Analogies!

Result: No Pets Post at all. I always overthink things. Sorry.

But here is this fine pup anyway. I cannot tell you who the gentlemen in the picture are. But my father, Peter Haigney, was almost certainly the man behind the camera. And I can tell you that the tower in the background belongs to the The Cathedrale Notre-Dame du Havre, said to be the oldest of the few buildings in the central part of Le Havre to survive the wartime bombardments. The picture was likely taken in November 1945.

And in my next post I’ll explain how I figured some of this out through research into my dad’s Coast Guard ship and where it traveled. I promise not to overthink things this time.

Wordless Wednesday: Blizzards of Long Past

Although I usually have a morbid curiosity about stories of weather disasters, I haven’t been tempted by our recent blizzard event to compare miseries past and present. Too busy digging, I suppose. However, the New York Public Library shared some very dramatic vintage blizzard images that almost (almost) made me feel better about all that snow we shoveled the other day.

And it all melts eventually, right?

Street cleanup in New York City during the first blizzard of 1908. Digital image collection, New York Public Library.

Big pile of snow takes up real estate in front of my house during the last blizzard of 2010.

Wordless Wednesday: Coffee!!!!

Coffee pot and potbellied stove, Watervliet Arsenal, Watervliet, NY.

I cannot tell a lie. This was one of my favorite artifacts in the museum at the Watervliet Arsenal in Watervliet, N.Y., where my ancestor Martin Haigney served as a soldier between 1854 and 1867.

Aren’t these superb examples of caffeine-producing equipment from the 19th century?

Oh yes, and they made armaments and stuff there, too.

Wordless Wednesday: Coupla Buddies

My grandfather, John [Johann Georg] Rudroff, is the one on the right. We are not certain about the identity of the buddy on the left. I believe this picture was taken at some point in the 1930s near the Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) plant in Greenpoint, where my grandfather worked from shortly after his arrival in America from Germany to the time of his retirement. I like this picture because it’s a nice counterbalance to my childhood memories of Grandpa, who was not the playful, humorous sort around little kids. Not mean, just not a laugh riot.

John (Johann Georg) Rudroff and friend, 1930s

After the shift was up, we hope.

P.S. Standard Oil Company of New York was born out of the 1911 breakup of the gigantic Standard Oil monopoly. It later became Mobil, which became Exxon. There’s a little corporate genealogy for you.

P.P.S.: Apparently the Greenpoint Socony plant was the locale of one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history. Sigh.

Wordless Wednesday: A New Light

Still a mysterious location, although now there's a clue.

This photo was among a collection my mother brought home after my grandfather John Rudroff died. No one knew what the building was. When I was little I thought it was someone’s house. As I got older, I realized this building was probably not a private residence for anyone in my family — too massive. The handwriting on the back is hard to read but looks similar to that in letters written to us in later years by my great-aunt Maria Pauliana Forster, who was a nun in a nursing order her entire adult life. The inscription isn’t signed but it’s dated: 14 Nov. 1950.

Recently I was looking at it again in the hallway of a music education building (my 8-year-old and I were waiting for her music lesson to start). Under their particular brand of fluorescent lighting, for the first time I could make out some verrrrrry faint ballpoint pen markings on the surface of the photo. (Yes, on the surface of the photo. Note to preservationists: This was before I was born, OK?)

One part of the building (the part in the front) is marked “Krankenhaus” [hospital]; the other is marked “Alterhaus” [home for the aged].  Now I’m almost certain that this photo was sent by Maria Pauliana. (There is a chance it might have been sent by one of my other great-aunts, Anna, who was also a nun in the same order, but left when she was middle-aged. She might have still been a nun in 1950.)

As to where this hospital/nursing home was located, I’ve still got no idea, but at least now I know what it is.