An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Twenty-Four

Above, RMS Titanic

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Twenty-Three

Andrew Stevens, April 1912

“Please accept my apologies, gentlemen.” Andy gasps, out of breath. 

He regards punctuality as the most important element in maintaining a professional demeanor. When his brother brought him into the business, John warned him that there would be no riding on his coattails. He emphasized Mr. K and the Colonel would not tolerate tardiness, and Andy takes care not to test the theory.

“There was a hold-up. Just like in the days of the Old West. Right there at the corner of South Alamo and Garden Streets. I was waiting to cross to catch the streetcar when a horseman bore down directly in front of a motor car and leveled his pistol at the driver, commanding him to stop. It happened so quickly. Everyone in the car was in a state of hysteria, except, of course, for Colonel Pryor.”

“Colonel Pryor?” The Colonel raises his eyebrows in disbelief. “What kind of ignorant fool would try to hold up Ike Pryor?”

“Felix Herman, sir. Someone said he resides in the western part of the county. He trotted beside the car and placed the muzzle of the revolver against the side of a lady’s temple, an out-of-town guest of the Pryors.”

Mr. K nods. “That would be Missus Buel from Chicago.”

Impatient as always, John motions for him to speed up the story. “But what happened to the woman, Andy?”

“Colonel Pryor leapt out of the automobile and grabbed the horse sharply by the bridle. The sudden jerk dislodged the rider from his saddle, and he lost his grip on the pistol. The man just sat there in the middle of the street looking as stunned as the bystanders until two policemen hustled him away.” 

John laughs. “I suppose the man mistook Colonel Pryor for an easy mark of a city slicker.”

“Bad mistake,” grunts the Colonel. “That cattleman encountered much tougher hombres during his days of taming the range. That man Herman is fortunate the police arrived in a time to save him from old Ike Pryor.”  

Mr. K shakes his head. “In broad daylight! Was the motive robbery?”

“It was late. I dared not tarry much longer.”

“Oh, my conscientious little brother,” teases John, “we would’ve preferred to hear the outcome so we’d know whether it’s safe to let our wives and children venture into the streets of downtown.”

“The man was trying to persuade the officer it was merely a case of mistaken identity. I overheard him claim that he believed his daughter was in the car and he objects to her taking automobile rides.”

“And so he would chase his own daughter down and threaten her with a pistol?” asks John.

The Colonel clears his throat, as he often does before launching into a story. “Better to ride in an automobile than an airplane. Cal Rodger, the Birdman himself, flew across the entire continent, only to catch the tip of a wing on a roller coaster in California. Crash! He will fly no more.” 

And, of course, John is never without a follow-up tale. “The darnedest luck, though, belongs to a man from Crystal City. He had his car repaired at Citizens Automobile Company yesterday. A salesman took the elevator down to the first floor and stepped off into the lobby. In a hurry, the man on the third floor started up his motor car and quickly backed into the exact spot where he assumed he would find the elevator. Smack! His car plunged down all three stories. A complete wreck.”

“And what of the unfortunate driver?” asks the Colonel.

John smacks his hands together and holds them up horizontally to illustrate. “As flat as his car.”

All four cast their eyes downward. 

Out of the corner of his eye, Andy notices John’s shoulders twitching up and down, the same way they did when he was an altar boy trying not to laugh as Father O’Bryan’s tippled more than a respectable share of the Communion wine. The contagious quaking spreads to the Colonel. No longer able to contain himself, John erupts with laughter. Even the normally reserved Mr. K howls so hard tears are flowing down his cheeks. Hesitant at first, Andy soon finds himself chuckling over John’s inappropriate portrayal of the man’s misfortune.

Mr. K stops abruptly. “All safer than the queen of the ocean. What news emerges from the refugees picked up by the Carpathia?”

“I must apologize once again, sir,” Andy offers. “Your brother Herman asked me to relay to you the news that a man named Klaber appears to have perished with John Astor.”

Mr. K knits his brows. “Klaber. Herman Klaber? But he was not slated to be aboard the Titanic. I would have thought he would have returned to Portland already.”

“The ‘King of Hops’ he was,” nods the Colonel. “I do believe his field in Washington is the largest hops field in the world.”

Hops pickers in Washington, University of Washington photo

Mr. K shakes his head. “But the field yields Chehalis hops. You can’t brew a respectable product from that. And then there was that mildew fungus. Herman was always after Adolphus and me to buy his hops. But before we could unload it from the train, every box would’ve spoiled.”

“Not to mention his problems with the pickers,” adds the Colonel. “He himself admitted the Chinese would add dirt and weeds to make the hops heavier. He was better off paying the Indians. Said they would pick all day for three dollars. What a tedious chore.”

“Herman wrote me in December,” continues Mr. K. “Asked me to meet him in January aboard the Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship. Wanted me to visit every hops-growing region in Europe to convince me his was superior. I replied to him, once again, that we had absolutely no interest in Chehalis hops.”

“It’s ironic,” says the Colonel. “We import hops from Germany, and he exported hops from Washington all the way to England. Fortunately for him, the English will drink anything. His wife Gertrude must stand to inherit well more than half a million dollars.”

Mr. K looks down at his hands, folded on his desk. “An hour ago, the catastrophe of the Titanic seemed so distant, but hearing of Herman’s demise brings it home. He couldn’t have been much over forty. Survived the San Francisco earthquake only to perish on an ‘unsinkable’ ship.”

John looks at Mr. K. “And suppose you had accepted his invitation? Alas, ‘how quick time is flying, how keen fate pursues.’ Robert Burns.”

“Fate. She is indeed a fickle mistress.” Mr. K stands up and reaches for a tray of snifters. “Politics, Mexico, Frauen und Geliebten. All are fickle. And all complicate business.” He uncorks a bottle of brandy and pours three glasses. “Gentlemen, which topic should we tackle?”       

He starts to put the cork back but glances at Andy to see if he would like to join them.  Andy appropriately nods no and wonders if he understands the meaning of the German words. Is Mr. K making a distinction between wives and women you love? As in mistresses? Surely not, but Andy makes himself a note to pull out his German dictionary yet again.

Mr. K must be thinking of wives. “Take, for example, the Central Trust Company advertisement we have had running in the newspaper for a week. Pure Emma.”

The Colonel winces. “Sophie pointed it out glowingly to me, noting how progressive you and John are to court women of independent means as customers. It sounds more to me as though it were composed by Eleanor Brackenridge. Has it brought any results?”

John shakes his head no. “While it’s true we have a lot of women depositors, no line of Suffragettes appeared at the door to open accounts. And the spinster Brackenridge already owns her own bank.”

Mr. K swirls his brandy before sipping. “Ah, but the price of an advertisement was well worth keeping Emma from nagging me at the dinner table. Why she can’t be content with running the household is unfathomable to me. She has more than enough to keep her occupied without constantly trying to interfere with business. Made the mistake last night of mentioning presidential politics, and she started saying we don’t know what we are doing. Women are going to get the vote, and we better get our equipment lined up so we are prepared to manufacture… Brace yourselves.” He pauses and then vehemently sputters out the words. “Soda water!”

Shocked mid-sip, the Colonel sprays a fine mist of brandy out from between his closed lips, pointedly indicating he is not prepared to consider any alternative to brewing beer. 

John groans. “Every single candidate is serenading women like love-struck suitors. You’d think those they court already had the vote.”

The Colonel returns his now-brandy-scented handkerchief to his pocket. “President Taft is turning into an unpredictable disaster. And Teddy Roosevelt is throwing a monkey wrench into everything. Taft calls Roosevelt a demagogue; Roosevelt calls Taft a fathead. They are both right.”

“Colonel Roosevelt’s personality is so strong,” says John, “that I think he might just stampede the Democratic convention.” 

The Colonel sets his glass down hard. “Teddy Roosevelt would barely be better for business than that verfluchter governor of New Jersey. Woodrow Wilson and his back-to-the-people movement indeed! What does a professor know about the real working man?” 

“Well, if Adolphus is directing contributions effectively, we will not end up with Wilson or Champ Clark,” says Mr. K. “Wilson’s feud with William Jennings Bryan—he said Mister Bryan should be knocked into a cocked hat—is dividing the Democrats just as deeply as Roosevelt is slicing our party.” 

Cartoon by Charles Bartholomew, Double Take ‘Toons on NPR

The Colonel grabs his glass back from the edge of the desk. “I had a lot more trust in Adolphus’ partnership with us before he started shipping Budweiser here. Even advertises it in the newspaper. He’s competing against his own financial interests in Texas. We need to plug that hole in interstate commerce.”

“Colonel, we needn’t worry about a little bit of competition from Missouri. The cost of shipping beer here keeps the cost of Budweiser well above Pearl. Besides, that small demonstration of competition keeps those who would label us the ‘big business problem’ off our backs. No, Adolphus is a good partner. We’re all in this together. The real enemy is the prohibitionist. I trust Adolphus to handle the national front, but we need to stay on top of Texas, thwart those Campbellites at every opportunity.”

John puffs to rekindle his forgotten cigar. “The failure of the zealots in Dallas is encouraging. The vote to close theaters and saloons on Sunday failed two to one. I think, though, the Governor might have an inflated view of his popularity by venturing into the enemy camp to announce his reelection campaign. Sherman, Texas?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mr. K concludes. “At twenty cents a barrel, our contributions alone to the Texas Brewing Association ought to buy us any election we want.”

Nic Foames, Brewmaster of the Gnomes

“That’s better magic,” offers the Colonel, “than even the imaginary brewmaster we conjured up could work. Ol’ Nic Foames, Brewmaster of the Gnomes.”

John points his cigar at the Colonel. “To be safe, I plan to implore all the gnomes and leprechauns, as well as all the saints in heaven, for their help in preserving our livelihood. Saint Luke, Saint Adrian, Saint Wencelas, Saint Arnold, Saint Brigid and even jolly old Saint Nick are bound to be on our side. I will light candles for them all at Saint Mary’s Church on Sunday.”


So many ways to die unexpectedly. The flattening of the poor man from Crystal City was used to illustrate the camaraderie among the men. The Author is unsure whether the brewers knew Herman Klaber, but the sinking of the Titanic must have impacted those who often traveled back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and Klaber’s hops business made him appropriate to insert a little beer talk.

As far as conversations indicating the relationship between Otto and Emma Koehler, the Author is speculating. While Eleanor Brackenridge actively promoted suffrage, where did these men’s wives stand? Trying not to let hindsight interfere, newspaper accounts of the day seem to clearly indicate that women would soon secure the right to vote and that prohibition was on its way.

As silly as it sounds, the gnome, Nic Foames, did appear in some of San Antonio Brewing Association’s promotional materials.

Continue to Chapter Twenty-Five

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