Friday, May 24, 2013

Chasing the Ambulance: But Wait!...Is It a Hearse?

In July 2009, under the title, “Where to Bud: The Hospital or the Grave?,” I authored a post featuring a number of paperweights from the late 19th and early 20th Century that displayed ambulance/hearse combinations.  Those vehicles were common in America up until they were outlawed by Congress in the 1970s.  The earlier article noted how common it was for funeral homes and others to advertise via their services and vehicles via glass weights.  Over the ensuing months I have been able to collect the images of an additional number of these artifacts and to learn something of the stories behind them.

The earliest ambulances were horse-drawn.  The goal was not on-the-spot medical attention, the objective was to get the sick and injured to the hospital or doctor as fast as possible.  Although emergency medicine has evolved in recent years, the old theory continued well into the 1970s.  Just how fast dobbin shown here could get someone to effective care is questionable, but the paperweight from Kaufmann Bros. of Milwaukee provides an illustration.  Note that the horse could be hitched up day or night. 

The next weight showing a horse-drawn vehicle was the product of  the Sievers & Erdman Co. of Detroit, Michigan.  Henry A. Sievers and Charles Erdman Sr. were immigrants from Germany both of whom spent a number of years working as carriage-makers.  By 1875 they had achieve sufficient skill and resources to form their own company and soon became well known for their elegant coaches, broughams and, yes, hearses.  With the dawning of the automobile age,  they were in the right town at the right time,  and became early producers of motor hearse/ambulances for Cadillac, Paige, Wills Ste. Claire,  Columbia and others car companies.  This firm survived for 60 years, finally closing during the Great Depression in 1935.

Not being expert in classic cars, I am not sure if Sievers & Erdman might have built the ambulance/hearse shown on the next paperweight.   Unlike most of the items shown here that are from undertaking establishments,  this one featured the Snavely Taxicab  Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Snavely advertised its ability to hire out a wide range of vehicles.  They included, according to their ads “...Vehicles specially constructed and adapted to funeral service, also funeral hearses, ambulances subject to pubic call and service at any time....”

Like the Snavely vehicle,  the ambulance from Sellegrens of Red Oak, Iowa, clearly is a converted sedan,  convenient for multiple uses.  The roots of this undertaking firm date back to 1922 when Authur and Walter Sellegren established a funeral home on Reed Street in Red Oak.  Over the years those undertakers have maintained the same site, expanding the facility and merging with additional partners.  Today they are the Sellegren-Lindell-DeMarce Funeral Home.   There is no indication they have maintained an ambulance service.

As shown in the following paperweight, many of these combination vehicles were painted white and featured a red cross in the window.  The white color symbolized crisp, clean and sterile.  The red cross conjured up the international rescue organization. The source here, the W. F. Mayberry Undertaking Company of Chicago, Illinois,  did not hide that fact that its vehicle could also take you to its funeral home on Linwood Blvd at Olive St.  Its facility is standing there waiting just behind the ambulance.  A similar white vehicle is shown on a weight from A. G. Mueller of Wichita, Kansas. This one makes no bones about its being an ambulance service from an undertaker.   I can find no indication this organization still exists but the Mueller Mortuary once published a pamphlet called “Rays of Sunshine” with a pastoral scene on the cover.  Probably chock full of pep talks for the bereaved.

James H. Marshall and William E. Harper operated out of a fancy three story building whose facade was four giant granite doric pillars. The business was founded in 1909.  A local historian reported that the Oklahoma City partners catered primarily to the families of the “carriage trade.”  In other words, the white buggy shown here would take you to the hospital or the morgue in fine style.  The partner’s chief embalmer, a man named Ed Hahn, lived in an apartment back of the mansion. After Marshall & Harper left downtown Oklahoma City for a more affluent neighborhood Hahn took over the building. Today his and other undertaking firms have merged into one large operation.

Perhaps the classiest looking ambulance to appear on the group of weights was the emergency vehicle from J. F. Grammier whose enterprise was located in Port Arthur, Texas.   It sported the red cross and some fancy side curtains to keep the curious public from peeking in at the stressed individual being transported.  A thoughtful touch.   Grammier founded his funeral home in 1915.  Now called the Grammier-Oberle Funeral Home, its ad claims:  “For almost a century, our commitment has remained unchanged and yet, our funeral home has always responded to the changing needs of the community.”

One of those changes has been the banning of the joint ambulance/hearse combination.  As medical care for the sick and injured evolved, medical care on the scene and in transit became,  thank goodness, the norm.  Combination vehicles no longer met the challenge, even if some outfits advertised a registered nurse aboard.  But Hennessey and Calloway existed in Spokane, Washington, during an era when an ambulance like theirs was the best thing to be had.  Moreover, its paperweight featured a fetching color image.

Our last weight celebrates a fancy and full-fledged hearse, in no way an ambulance.  Sam Hornthal was a New York City entrepreneur who ran a fleet of hearses and some limos that, according to an observer, he “conveniently rented out with chauffeurs to undertakers who were short on equipment and personnel.’” The hearse is said to have been built on a White Motors car chassis.

Hornthal also rented out what he called a “service chapel”  to independent funeral directors.  Many notables are said to have been buried from that chapel, including General Douglas MacArthur,  former New York Governor Herman Lehman, and most famous of all, Babe Ruth.   Fearing that fans eager for a souvenir would strip the chapel for souvenirs,  the Bronx Bomber’s wake was moved from Hornthal’s place and Ruth’s memorial was held, very fittingly, at Yankee Stadium.

There they are,  ten paperweights with vintage images of vehicles once used to transport the sick, the dying and the certifiably dead to their destination.   Noting the advanced emergency service vehicles operated by trained EMS specialists that are located just down the way from my home, I frankly have not a single moment of nostalgia for those “good old days.”  But I do like these vintage paperweights as reminders of how things used to be.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Bucky," the Beer Dwarf: Life Imitating Art

The Buckeye Brewing Company of Toledo, Ohio, could trace its origins to 1838, two years after the city was founded and 12 years before the Civil War.  Forced to making “near beer” and soft drinks during Prohibition, Buckeye Brewing quickly resumed making real beer and merchandised it using a dwarf-like cartoon figure the company called “Bucky.”  Then it found a real human being that was Bucky “in the flesh.”  The rest of the story is an excellent example of life imitating art.

Fifty years after its origins,  two Toledo businessmen had bought the struggling brewery in 1878, expanded its capacity and sold a brand they called “Buckeye Beer.”  Their early symbols were the nut of the buckeye tree,  whereby Ohio is known as “The Buckeye State.”  Other early Buckeye advertising featured the head of a large antlered deer, presumably referring to a “buck’s eye.”  As noted above, Prohibition ended all such merchandising.

Not  long after Repeal in 1934,  Buckeye resumed its beer business. The company quickly regained its market share and more as other local breweries gradually ceased operating.    As brewery executives surveyed earlier advertising,  the stag and buckeye nut probably seemed old-fashioned.  The company commissioned a cartoonist to come up with a new and more contemporary image.  The artist gave them the figure of a waiter, a man with a large head and small body.  He was, in other words, a dwarf.  They called him “Bucky.”

While today it is highly doubtful any merchandiser would imitate such a choice, the mores then were different.  During the same period Walt Disney gave us “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” an immensely popular cartoon movie.  Real dwarfs greeted Dorothy and her companions as they headed down the Yellow Brick Road in Hollywood’s “Wizard of Oz.”  Moreover, I recently saw an early Tarzan movie in which the hero’s love, Jane, absurdly is captured by a “savage” African tribe of skin-blackened dwarfs.  In other words, the image was not socially incorrect for the times.   In fact, no small part of the success of Buckeye Beer was Bucky, the little man with a smile, a wink, and an energetic step.

In Toledo,  where I grew up,  Bucky was everywhere.  He was the principal figure on all the brewery ads, with a towel on one arm and carrying a tray with a pilsner glass and a bottle of Buckeye Beer, with -- who else? -- Bucky on the label.  The cartoon dwarf was on the brewery giveaways to saloons and other favored customers.  Items included beer glasses, bottle openers and match folders.  As you ventured went down a Toledo street there was Bucky on the side of  brewery trucks,  flagged over license plates and displayed on billboards.  Signs were evident not just in the city but spread across the cornfields of Northern Ohio and beyond.   For the real Bucky fan,  as shown here, the company provided an enameled pin for the buttonhole.

Several years after adopting the cartoon figure, a  brewery executive walked into a Toledo saloon called the “Green Lite Inn,”  a popular watering hole and restaurant on Toledo’s Near West Side. Tending the bar was Bucky in the flesh.  His name was Carl Walinski, a man just 4 feet, 2 inches tall.  The Buckeye executive rushed back to the brewery to tell his bosses.  After some discussion, in 1936 they signed the 25-year-old Walinski to a contract.  Their cartoon had come to life.

Carl was born in 1910 in Toledo, the son of Adam and Victoria Walinski, the second of six children.  According to census records, his father was a carpenter and later a repairman for the City of Toledo.  Both parents had been born in Ohio;  their own parents had been immigrants from Poland.  The family lived not far from the Green Lite Inn and close to Swayne Field, home of the Triple A Mud Hens baseball team.

Beside looking like the figure in the beer ad, Walinski brought an additional talent.  He was a roller skating whiz.  Hired by the Buckeye Brewery, he was employed for promotional events and would often roller skate through town and into bars holding aloft a tray of Buckeye Beer.  Kids would line up along his route and expect his tray to flip.  It never did. Walinski’s secret was that his glove was glued to the tray.  The tray in turn was glued to the bottle and glass so that nothing ever tumbled.  Walinski once told an acquaintance about his strategy.  He would roller skate in the front door of a bar, greet customers and roll out the back door. He recounted that the operation got difficult by the end of his shift because everywhere he went the patrons would buy him a beer. After a succession of bars, it became difficult for Bucky to stay on his feet and finish his route.

The brewery declared that Walinski had skated some 30,000 miles during his stint as mascot from 1936 to 1942.  The dwarf was even given a wife, a 3 foot, 6 inch woman, called “Bonny.”  Although they were not  really married, the pair often appeared together for public appearances in the region driving a beer truck reduced to scale.  A promotional brewery card showed them standing together before their miniaturized vehicle.  In order to promote Buckeye’s bock beer which, as many breweries did, advertised with the picture of a goat,  Bucky also acquired a mini-chariot pulled by a ram.  Without  much imagination the company named the goat “Billy.”  Brewery promotions claimed that Billy had pulled Bucky at least 10,000 miles during their partnership.

The math is interesting.  By adding the alleged 30,000 miles of roller skating to the 10,000 miles of being pulled by the goat,  Walinski presumably covered 40,000 miles during the eight years he worked for Buckeye Beer.  Even if  Bucky were in action every day of the year and every year of the eight,  a highly unlikely scenario, he would have had to cover almost 14 miles a day. Advertising men exaggerate. Interestingly, that was the occupation  Walinski claimed for himself to the census taker in 1940.

As a child of about seven, I once saw Walinski/Bucky in a famous Toledo eatery called Bud and Luke’s, a restaurant that still exists. He was on roller skates and looked just like the man in the cartoon.  My father, who knew him slightly, urged me to shake his hand but I was too shy to approach him. In 1942 Walinski, basking in local stardom and apparently unhappy when he was refused a  salary increase from the brewery, quit the job.  Having tasted the recognition that goes with show biz, shortly after he joined the Toledo Mud Hens baseball team as a bat boy and mascot.  Often an attraction in local parades, he remained highly popular and a local celebrity for years.   Walinski died in Toledo in  2002 at the age of 91.

Despite the resignation of their living Bucky, the brewery continued to use the cartoon figure for a number of years.  The 1950s brought a return of the antlered buck’s head to the Buckeye label and for a time sales continued strong.  The movement toward national brands, however, eventually caused Buckeye’s management to sell the brewery to Peter Hand Brewing Co. of Chicago.  In 1972 all production terminated at the 127-year old brewing facility.  Two years later six of the buildings were demolished.

Although the brewery is no more,  the story of the the cartoon dwarf that became reality is firmly implanted in Toledo and breweriana lore.  Life imitated art in a fashion that is unlikely ever to be repeated in merchandising beer -- or any other product for that matter.