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The King of Beer|
by Gerald Holland
(originally published in The American Mercury, October, 1929).
Death was as merciful to old Adolphus as life had been kind. It claimed him a scant year before his two peoples set upon one another, and it spared him, too, the subsequent solemn declaration that to traffic in his beloved beer constituted one a felon.
He died at Villa Lily, his castle on the Rhine that he had named for his wife. His burial was in St. Louis, the scene of his conquests, as he had directed. There the townsfolk were one in mourning the merchant prince. There was never before or since a funeral like his. Six thousand employees marched in line and twenty-five trucks were required to transport the floral tributes. The Kaiser sent his personal representative and the President of the United States his condolences. The city made secret of its grief.
But it soon forgot. The war days brought all the Busches and all of Carondelet into sudden dishonor. The four-minute boys kept the German sector under strict surveillance. The sad-eyed St. Louis Germans went through the motions of flag waving while inwardly hoching der Kaiser. The Busches -- Adolphus no doubt resting easier after this -- dispatched a secretary after a block of Liberty Bonds and passively weathered the storm without forsaking their own people for violent pseudo-Americanism.
When the war waned the fresh horror of Prohibition confronted them. Most American brewers had dismissed the warnings. "Ho," they scoffed," die American peebal -- dey vill neffer stand for dot!" But the rumblings grew more distinct. The brewers were in very bad odor on patriotic grounds. Their association had been involved in a German alliance late in the war. Later, they were caught in an attempt to buy a newspaper. There were omens. A young lady Sunday-school teacher in Chicago was ousted because she was found to be in the employ of a brewer.
Soon then the signs of disaster were unmistakable, and brewers all over the country rallied to a belated and frenzied defense. They flooded the papers with institutional advertising. Beer, they said, was the true temperance drink. "Thomas Jefferson said, 'No nation is drunk where wine is cheap.'" Beer must not be associated with spirits. And at the very last: "Let spirits go and good riddance; let beer remain!" The distillers hurled back a protest. The brewers made a hasty retraction, but in the midst of their apologies, the blow struck, and distiller and brewer went down together.
The Busches had not been oblivious of the trend. Two years before they had erected a plant for the manufacture of Bevo, a beer almost free of alcohol -- not, they said, in anticipation of Prohibition but as a step in the education of the people in temperance. The drink was fair, and because it was new it enjoyed some popularity. For a while, indeed, orders for Bevo exceeded those for Budweiser.
But when Budweiser went there was a grave situation. There were, of course, no impecunious days in the offing for the Busches. The $50,000,000 that old Adolphus had made and saved precluded any such possibility. The plant might have been closed down entirely. But the Busches chose the course of noblesse oblige. The brewery would stay open and the sinful apparatus would be cleansed, that it might make sweets and goodies to truly confound the Devil. For the first six months of Prohibition, the sale of Bevo was enormous, but before the first year was out it became evident that enforcement would be a myth. Now Bevo is no more -- but Busch malt and yeast sell tremendously.
In 1921, a member of the Busch family brought home a bit of statuary which he had had executed in Berlin. It was designed as a fountain. From the curved arm of the central figure a stream of water issued. Under the figure was an inconspicuous medallion bearing the likeness of Adolphus Busch. It was offered to the city of St. Louis.
The good ladies of the Women's Christian Temperance Union were not caught napping. They leapt to their guns and boomed a warning. It was the old cry. A monument to the Brewing Industry! The Park Commissioner wavered. Soon the ladies had an ally: Clean American Youth spoke through the Young Men's Christian Association. Their sensibilities were offended by the nude figure. That settled the issue. The Park Commissioner extended his thanks and regrets. Donor Busch put the fountain on his lawn. It's there yet.
But if the city scorns, Adolphus is yet done honor enough. The brewery, his sturdy monument, still pays his manes tribute; it remains to this day strictly a family project, as he would have it. His descendants live on, true to his traditions, in the old grand, baronial manner.
The head of the family is August A. Busch, eldest son of Adolphus. Adolphus sent him to Germany that he might study brewing methods at the point of their inception; when he returned he was put through all the departments of the brewery. With tutoring, that was education enough; there is not a college degree in the family.
The old home of Adolphus in the shadow of the malt-house is deserted now, but in its stead stands a castle far out in the country, on the acres that General Grant once tilled with his own hands. It is an amazing estate -- one that would shame a Kaiser. There are town houses, too, but the place at Grant's Farm is the family headquarters. During the Winter there are weekly family gatherings on Sunday for feasting in the manner of the Stammvater.
The children of Adolphus in a castle . . . on land where President Grant once lived . . . pretty damn swell, by Gott!
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Part Three |