beethoven hall fire

An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Fifty-Six

Above, facade of Beethoven Hall after the fire, Elizabeth Koch Collection, UTSA Libraries Special Collections

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Fifty-Five

Andrew Stevens, November 1913

“Ashes,” says the Colonel. “Burnt down to the ground so rapidly you would think Beethoven Hall was built of paper.”

“Was anyone injured?” asks Mr. K.

“Fortunately not,” answers the Colonel. “I understand the caretaker and his family lost everything save their lives.”

“Mister Schmidt,” Andy interrupts. “The caretaker, sir. The sky over the neighborhood was lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July. I was a block away on my way home and ran down Alamo Street to see what was happening. Mister Schmidt was running hither and thither, shivering in his union suit silhouetted against the flames. The boarders next door at Missus Kate Steves’ were dragging their belongings down the front stairs. We grabbed garden hoses to try to soak her house in case the sparks leapt across the fence.”

“Old man Schmidt in his underwear must have cut a fine figure.” Mr. K chuckles. Anything else, Andy?”

Interior of Beethoven Hall after the fire, Elizabeth Koch Collection, UTSA Libraries Special Collections

“No, sir. Except the fire chief said it was a veritable fire trap.”

“A little tardy for that assessment,” harrumphs the Colonel

Mr. K shakes his head. “The Maennerchor were so convinced bigger was better. They paid more attention to the appearance of the exterior than to the quality of the materials used. Probably didn’t spend a pfennig to update their wiring since Beethoven Hall was built. The members wanted a hall so large every major political event would be held there.”

“They will not be singing proudly anytime in the near future,” says the Colonel. “They have yet to pay off all of the original cost. The Maennerchor insured their quarters for $25,000. Their loss probably is closer to $45,000.”

Mr. K lets out a short whistle. “That is why Frank Bosshardt launched into a filibuster when some of Turners wanted to build a new hall last spring. He said it was a financial folly. They didn’t have the funds to build a massive new structure.”

“Otto, The Turnverein’s quarters on Bonham Street is as sound as could be. And handsome. James Wahrenberger’s an excellent architect. I know you worry about Hettie, but that young man has a sound head on his shoulders, Otto. Frank prevented the Turnverein from making a Neuschwanstein error. Ludwig II built castle after castle, ever more fanciful until he ran out of money. Never finished that last one.”

“Architecture by opera,” nods Mr. K. “Ludwig’s castles were elaborate stages for extravagant productions. The king was so obsessed with Wagner’s mythological characters, he began dressing like them. Slept with scenes from Tristan and Isolde surrounding his bed.”

The Colonel adds, “His bizarre behavior certainly made it convenient for Chancellor von Bismarck to discreetly pull the strings to have Ludwig declared mad.”

“And now,” says Mr. K, “this other Ludwig, his cousin, finally succeeded in persuading the Bavarian Parliament to depose the lunatic brother Otto.”

“For 27 years,” says the Colonel, “Bavaria has been ruled by regents. King Otto is such a simpleton he never even realized the right to the throne was his.”

“Makes me ashamed, Colonel, we share the same name. Although I am drawn to Wagnerian operas. Erda, the earth goddess and mother of Brunhilde will cast her magic on us next Thursday. Would you and Sophie care to join us in our box to hear the world’s greatest contralto?”

“Madame Schumann-Heink?” asks the Colonel. “We certainly will plan on it. She might be nicknamed Tini, but tiny she is not. Not in frame nor in voice. But with singing such as hers, appearances matter not.”

“Is Ottie enjoying the recording of the opera queen singing ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht’ Emma found for her in New York?”

“Too much, I fear. Ottie plays it over and over. The grooves will be worn out well before the Christmas season.”

“Lily Busch is building a new Bavarian-style castle for Adolphus,” says Mr. K. “She tore down her parents’ original mausoleum at Bellefontaine. Not grandiose enough for her beer king. The budget is rumored to be close to $250,000. I’m sure it will take years to complete. It will be modestly inscribed, ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici.’”

“So he will not rest for very long in one spot. Will they have to assemble the world for a second grand procession and ceremony?”

“Colonel, I’m not sure I could bear witnessing a second one. Twenty-five trucks of flowers. The house was a bower of flowers. I’m guessing about $100,000 worth of blooms. I remain convinced all 5,000 employees must have filed through the house, and the rest of St. Louis lined the route. It was twenty miles from the house to the cemetery. A 250-piece band led the procession, playing royal German marches chosen by Adolphus before his death. Our Fiesta San Jacinto parades are shorter.”

“Glad to know, Otto, that Adolphus will appear wealthy even in death. He never believed a man could be successful without looking the part. Had to have the most elegant of offices. Traveled in his own private railcar, modestly named after himself.”

“That Happiness Fund that Adolphus started in 1910 for his workers has created nothing by headaches for us,” grouses Mr. K, not appearing at all happy. “As soon as he began providing pensions, aid for workers’ families in times of need and free entertainment for employees, ours began requesting the same. Before his signature was dry on that first brewery agreement with a consolidated labor union, our men were restless. Had no idea news could travel from St. Louis to San Antonio so quickly.”

The Colonel shakes his head. “The union men never seem to believe they have enough. We give them an extra pint of beer, and they immediately thirst for two. Four hours of work, and they want to be paid for a fifteen-minute lunch break. They will bankrupt us if this keeps up.”

“We need to offer them nickels, not dimes, Colonel. I fear where we really are bleeding money is Mexico. Terror reigns between Sabinas and Piedras Negras. Hundreds of people stand begging permission to cross the international bridge. A detention camp has been set up on the outskirts of Eagle Pass with a wall of cavalrymen circling it to keep refugees inside because of an outbreak of smallpox.”

“Governor Colquitt told me that the 14th Calvary at the border in Del Rio seized five-million dollars in bills printed for the Constitutionalists. It was destined for Governor Carranza in Monclova. The American government claims it’s a munition of war, contraband violating the neutrality act. The American fleet at Vera Cruz is setting up a money blockade against General Huerta as well.”

Bain News Service, Library of Congress

“It’s not a well-kept secret, Colonel, that a San Antonio printer is keeping pesos running on his press at midnight to smuggle to Pancho Villa in Chihuahua.  All of this phony money is worthless outside of each general’s turf. It’s like holding Confederate money. That is why I am investing in rock.”

“Rock?” chortles the Colonel. “You must have rocks rattling around in your head.”

“Rocks. Texas keeps growing. More people means more construction. More buildings and roadways necessitate more rock. Crushed rock. Safer than the funds tied up in our rubber plantation in Mexico. I wrote a $15,000 check yesterday to become the largest investor in the Texas Trap Rock Company in Knippa in Uvalde County. You should join me.”

“Adolphus proclaimed himself ‘the king of beer.’ And you are suggesting we become monarchs of crushed rock? No thank you, Otto. And why bother to make money if Uncle Sam is going to take it away? Dealing with this new income tax law is like swimming in mud. There’s not a lawyer in the country who can make neither hide nor hair of the complex regulations.”

“As our esteemed auditor, my brother Herman says the requisite bookkeeping associated with withholding one percent of salaries from every single one of our employees is a nightmare. Not to mention the disgruntled men grousing over their reduced pay as though we personally are absconding with their money.”

“The percentage plucked from our pockets, Otto, certainly adds up to a substantial sum. Perhaps brewery officers might be in line for a raise.”

“Adolphus was fortunate to leave this earth when he did, Colonel. He wasn’t one willing to render much unto Caesar without a battle. If he weren’t already dead, this new burden would’ve killed him.”

Footnotes

Beethoven Hall erupted in flames on Halloween, although the author has no idea if Andrew Stevens was among the spectators, many wearing costumes from the evening festivities. In late May, Frank Bosshardt had kept members of the Turnverein meeting until the approach of the midnight hour made many agree not to vote for the construction of a new meeting hall out of fear of not being able to catch the last streetcar home.

With King Otto deposed in November 1913, the regent was free to rule Bavaria as King Ludwig III. The brief update on the Mexican Revolution was summarized from reports between October and December.

The Koehlers did purchase a box for Madame Schumann-Heink’s concert held in early December, and Otto Koehler became the largest investor in the Texas Trap Rock Company at the end of October.

The Author assumes the implementation of America’s first income tax generated complaints by many and praise from few.  

The Author is clueless as to whether the Koehlers attended Augustus Busch’s final, or possibly next to last, procession, but Hedda Burgemeister ensured Otto would not have to worry about surviving until re-interment ceremonies at the majestic mausoleum. The Bavarian Gothic edifice commissioned by Lily Busch was not completed until 1921.

Continue to Chapter Fifty-Seven

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