Saturday, January 8, 2022

THE KUEBLER BREWERY


By Rory Morgan



In much of Europe in 1848-1849, revolution was in the air. Uprisings of the common people against royal governments occurred in France, Italy, Hungary, and Austria, as well as in the smaller principalities and city-states that make up today’s Germany. One of these was the Grand Duchy of Baden, located in southern Germany. (Just across the Rhine River from Baden was the Palatinate, the homeland of a large portion of Easton’s German immigrants.)

Living in the village of Dietlingen in Baden was the family Kuebler, headed by Andreas, a farmer and timber dealer, and his wife Nothpurga. They had eight children, including their son Willibald, born in 1826. For reasons unknown, in 1850, at age 24, Willibald emigrated to the United States. (It’s possible that he had participated in the unrest in Baden and was fleeing his homeland to avoid the punishments
 that were administered. There were fifty-one death sentences against Baden’s revolutionaries.) Like so many others emigrating to America from Germany, he landed in Philadelphia, probably having embarked from the port of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, a type of beer called “lager” (which, roughly translated from German, means “storage”) began to appear in America. It grew in popularity, quenching the thirsts of the ever-growing number of German immigrants in eastern Pennsylvania and displacing the ales that had been the primary product of breweries in the past. The Philadelphia brewing house of Engel & Wolf, located in the Fairmount section of the city, became one of the largest makers of the new beverage. Willibald found employment there; it’s not clear whether he had brewery experience, or perhaps had a friend to grease the way for his hiring.

After a couple of years at Engel & Wolf, Willibald moved from Philadelphia to Easton. It's not known why he moved; however, it was common for ambitious German immigrants to land at Philadelphia, work there for a couple of years, learn a trade or profession, build up some capital, and then relocate to New Jersey or head further north or west in Pennsylvania, to start their own operation.

In 1852, he partnered with another German immigrant, Charles Glanz, to form the brewery business of Glanz & Kuebler. (Glanz is known to Civil War historians as the colonel of Northampton County’s 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry regiment, formed in 1863, which fought at Gettysburg and Chancellorsville.) 

Glanz & Kuebler initially operated in downtown Easton, at the corner of Church and Bank, at what was commonly called Nightingale’s Corner. In 1855 they built a substantial brewery on South Delaware Drive (then known as Canal Street.) This location allowed the brewery to take advantage of the canal and the river to bring in coal and other commodities necessary for brewing.

The Kuebler brewery was enjoying success, but, just as any business does, it encountered obstacles from time to time.  Manufacturing lager beer requires it to be stored for months in a cool environment, in a process called "lagering."  The brewery used caves - or "vaults" which were dug into an adjoining hill to provide the necessary temperature- controlled area. In 1886, one of the vaults collapsed, destroying the hundreds of full barrels that were stored there. In January, 1873, it was reported that the brewery's "large kettle" burst, causing a loss of $1500. 

They also had a “lager saloon”on Third Street in the downtown area, and at some point, Kuebler owned a second brewery in Mauch Chunk, PA (now known as Jim Thorpe, PA.)

Glanz left the business in 1878. Kuebler then formed a partnership with a man named Herman Borman; it operated as Borman & Kuebler. After that partnership dissolved, Willibald operated the brewery on his own, until his death in 1898. He also found time to research improvements to his brewing process; he received a patent in 1893 for a "reversing mechanism." 

Willibald died suddenly in 1898, at age 72 and was interred at Easton Heights Cemetery. He was remembered as a distinguished citizen,“famed for his charities and one of the sterling characters of his day." He was also praised as an astute businessman who “accumulated a goodly fortune." His estate was estimated to be worth over $7,000,000 in today's money.

Willibald and his wife, Easton-native Mary Klusmeyer, were the parents of two daughters: Mary (Mamie) and Catherine (Kate); and three sons: William, Charles and Frank. In addition, Willibald brought a nephew to Easton from Germany; he was also named Willibald Kuebler. The older Willibald sent the younger Willibald to Trach's Academy in Easton and then to a brewing school in upstate New York. The younger man and his wife had several children; the family lived on Nesquehoning Street in South Easton.

Daughter Mamie attended the Moravian Seminary for Young Women in Bethlehem and, in 1899, married a Lafayette College man named Ralph Waldo Shertzinger. In November, 1914, he had a breakdown and became a patient at the Easton Sanitarium (located on the site of today’s Nevin Park Apartments). In January, 1915, while on a walk with his nurse, he took his life by jumping into the Delaware from the Northampton Street bridge. Ralph and Mamie had earlier lived in Peekskill, NY; now a widow, Mamie returned there and stayed for the rest of her life.

Daughter Kate married Easton-native Louis (or Lewis) Spangenberg in 1898. The couple moved to Colorado in the early 1900s; Kate died there of natural causes in 1911. By 1915, Louis returned to Easton with the couple’s only child, Mary. He died in 1939; Mary never married, and died in 1945.

At Willibald’s death, the three sons inherited the brewery business in equal shares. By this time, William, a graduate of the well-known Nazareth Hall Academy, was the most prominent of the three, heading up the brewery operation and active in other business ventures. He married Alice Thume of Easton; they lived in a substantial house at 14th & Bushkill.

Charles and Frank lived together in a house on East Canal Street, adjacent to the brewery. Neither ever married. Charles did many vital behind-the-scenes jobs that kept him out of the public eye; he managed the brewery’s bottling operation and kept the books. Frank’s role in the business is unclear; it appears to have been one with limited responsibilities.

William had bigger ambitions than just running the family brewery. In 1904, he bought, at a cost of $82,000, the 175-room United States Hotel, located at North Third and Spring Garden. He renamed it the Hotel Karldon, an amalgam of Karl and Don(ald), his sons’ names. The purchase not only offered potential profits from the hotel operation, but also the opportunity to make Kuebler beers the house beverage at the busy hotel bar. Year after year, the Kuebler brewery competed with the Seitz brewery to be the top brewer in town; any slight edge that one of them could gain was valuable.

Just as Kuebler brewing competed with Seitz brewing, the Hotel Karldon competed relentlessly with the Hotel Huntington to be the leading hotel in Easton. William had no interest in the myriad of details involved with running a hotel. When he bought the Karldon, he hired George Vincent, the successful manager of the Franklin House hotel on Northampton Street, to run it. Vincent’s skills helped to make the hotel’s 350-seat dining room a popular location for large banquets and conventions - particularly for gatherings related to Lafayette College.

Over time, Vincent became frustrated, according to his friends, by his inability to convince Kuebler that the Karldon needed additional investment to retain its status. He also expressed concerns about his health. In 1919, in his room at the Karldon, Vincent fatally shot himself.

Vincent’s suicide wasn’t the only event to create headlines at the Karldon. In the spring of 1923, the hotel’s head waiter was Jamaica-born Alexander Lovings. He was a relatively new member of the staff, having come from Harrisburg just months before. There was on-going friction between him and 21-year-old Donald Kuebler, William and Alice’s younger son, over Donald’s habit of giving peremptory orders to the dining-room staff.

On the night of May 26, 1923, after entering the hotel with two friends, Donald again started giving orders, leading to a verbal altercation with Lovings. The situation appeared to calm down, and Lovings went to the kitchen. Donald then said that he was going to “get” Lovings, and possibly referred to him with a racial epithet. Despite efforts by his friends to dissuade him, Donald went to the kitchen, carrying a table leg behind his back to use as a club. He approached Lovings, who had somehow become aware of the club. Unknown to Donald, Lovings was carrying a gun; he pulled it and shot Donald, who died within a short time. After a ten-day trial, Lovings was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to six-to-twelve years at hard labor in Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary. He died there of tuberculosis in 1925.

In addition to owning the Karldon and other, the Kueblers held mortgages on a number of hotel and saloon properties in Northampton County and in New Jersey. It’s safe to assume that the owners were strongly encouraged to feature Kuebler beer in their establishments. In 1907, during a hearing involving the transfer of a local liquor license, one witness testified that the Kueblers controlled half of all the licensed establishments in Easton, including, at one point the Mt. Vernon Hotel (now today’s Two Rivers Brewing.) In 1917, the Kuebler-owned Valley Hotel was cited for the "very bad conditions" there by the health officer, who was threatening the license of the establishment. In 1909, William reported that he had lost his wallet, containing $3700, while out "collecting" - most likely mortgage or rent payments.

His interests were not limited to the hotel and beer businesses. He was an investor in the Sterlingworth Railroad Supply Company, located in what is now West Easton. The company’s history included much bickering between management and the directors, including William. Bankruptcy pushed the situation forward in 1907-1908. William was appointed by a court as the receiver, launching litigation that went to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. William navigated his way through the legal wrangling well enough to take over the company. He operated it as the Kuebler Foundry until it went bankrupt in the late 1920s. He then sold it to investors from New York State, who named it the Lehigh Foundry and operated it for many years. It eventually became part of the Victaulic organization. He was also keenly interested in the Northampton National Bank, acting as both a Director and a Vice President of the institution.

Prohibition - the banning of the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages - began in 1919 and was disastrous for the brewery industry. Like many breweries, Kuebler struggled to keep the doors open by making soft drinks and “cereal beverages”. It also made illicit beer, getting caught at least once. The business did manage to survive until Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Unfortunately, William had died in 1930. Lacking the vigorous leadership that he could have provided, the company was unable to rebuild its business or finances. It eventually filed for bankruptcy; its reorganization plan, which offered many creditors just 15 cents on the dollar, was rejected by the bankruptcy court. (Further research will be required to determine the final outcome.)

Frank had died in 1931, leaving Charles as the only brother to see legal beer return. In 1936, while sitting in a Northampton County courtroom waiting to be called as a witness in a trial, Charles suddenly died. Soon after, the brewery was sold to Easton’s Mayrosh family. They were already experienced in the brewing industry, having owned the local Bushkill brewery, and were able to keep the Kuebler brand alive until the 1950s, when the growth of national beer brands overwhelmed the market for local and regional brands.

Managing the various Kuebler interests had fallen to William and Alice’s surviving son, Karl. Like his father, he was a graduate of Nazareth Hall. He was an alumnus of Lafayette College and an Army veteran. He appeared to be well-suited for the difficult task, although an incident several years before may have caused concern.

In the summer of 1915, Easton’s Daily Free Press reported that an arrest warrant had been issued for Karl. He was driving at a “a terrific rate of speed” on Dock Street, pursued by an Easton police officer on a motorcycle. The officer collided with another car and was badly injured. The article’s headline described Karl as a well-known “speed fiend”, and noted that he had been charged with speeding in Nazareth a short time before. Karl arrived at his hearing with prominent Easton lawyer Parke Davis at his side. When all was said and done, he was only required to pay the minimum $25 fine.

Karl closed the doors of the Hotel Karldon in 1932. The Depression undoubtedly cost the hotel much business, as everything from banquets to business travel was cut back. He sold the hotel to local businessman Walter Williams, who announced plans to convert it into apartments. However, soon after buying the building, Williams was killed in an automobile accident. The building sat empty for over three years, steadily deteriorating, as his estate tried to resolve its future. In 1935, it was demolished.

At some point, Karl Kuebler and his wife, Mildred (Hover) left Easton, moving to Miami Beach, FL, where Mildred died in the 1950s. Karl lived until 1985, passing away at the age of 90. In a puzzling finale to the Kuebler saga, he left the bulk of his estate, $800,000, to the Miami Metrozoo - which, as far as anyone could determine, he had only visited once.

There are still Kueblers in the Easton/Bethlehem area. They are descended from the nephew who was the second Willlbald Kuebler to arrive here. The foundation for the brewery still exists - now there are plans to possibly build a hotel there. Time marches on.

Thanks to Frank Kuebler for his assistance with this article.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Water color painting of Delaware River Bridge

The artist of the watercolor painting in the Marx Room is still unknown. It is a view of Easton and the covered bridge over the Delaware River, looking from the New Jersey side of the Delaware. For years it was thought to be the work of Mary E. Maxwell McCartney titled FORKS OF THE DELAWARE ca. 1834-1839. After being sent out for restoration in 2011, it was decided it was not a McCartney painting mainly because of the signature now being exposed. 


 

In August of 2012, art historian/appraiser, Frederick C.Bond III happened to be in the Marx Local History Room and noticed the painting. When mentioned that the artist was unknown, he took to task to try to decipher the signature. What unfolded was the possible story behind the painting itself. 

1. It is thought that this painting may have been commissioned by Samuel Sitgreaves (1764-1827). Sitgreaves was an Easton lawyer and former U.S. Congressman. He was the moving force behind many of the developments and improvements that were being made in Easton. Among his many involvements, he was a stockholder in the corporation of the Delaware Bridge Company and served as secretary and treasurer for them. In 1803 he made personal loans to the Company so that the bridge could be finished. The bridge was finished and opened on October 14, 1806.

 2. There are three people standing on the New Jersey shore, the man pointing to the either the bridge or possibly a large white building that was built on a knoll. Bond surmised the man may be Samuel Sitgreaves. He is holding the hand of a woman that may be his second wife Mary Kemper. Standing next to her is a young woman, possibly his first daughter Francis Harriet born September 9, 1786. Frances’s mother was Francenia Allibone. She married William Mcall on April 18, 1807 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Easton. The period of the clothes suggest 1806-1810. 


 

3. The large white building on the hill, is the Union Academy. A school that Sitgreaves was instrumental in starting. ( c. 1795) 


 4. The painting is of the covered bridge spanning the Delaware River from Easton PA to Phillipsburg NJ. The bridge was built by Cyrus “Timothy” Palmer (1751-1823). In 1805 Palmer built the first covered bridge in our country. This was located in Philadelphia and spanned the Schuylkill River. At about the same time Palmer was hired to build the Easton Bridge. It was suggested that both be covered to protect the investment of the stockholders and indeed, the Easton Bridge lasted until 1895 when it was decided it could no longer handle the demands of traffic and was torn down. www.ce.memphis.edu/3121/stuff/general/timothy_palmer.html 

5. Also in the painting are three men in a boat. This may signify a ferry boat owned by Thomas Bullman, a service that was no longer needed as the bridge was now erected. Hence showing the “old” and the “new” way to cross the Delaware River. On Delaware River Ferries 2002 Frank T. Dale 


 

6. The Northampton County Courthouse (1763-66) 

As of this writing, this painting appears to be the oldest image of the Easton Delaware River Bridge that is known.   June 2021                                                  

 

 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Preparing for your trip to the Marx Room

Many people travel to Easton, PA to do genealogy. There are four main places to do your research and prepare for your trip, whether it be a day trip or a week visit.

The Marx Historical Room at the Easton Area Public Library. Monday - Friday 10-12 & 1-4, Saturday 9-12 & 1-5 

515 Church Street, Easton, PA 18013  610-258-2917 ext. 309

 This room was started by Mr. Henry Marx, former Director of the library from 1902 - 1936. Mr. Marx had a keen interest in local history and genealogy and started a collection very early in the library's history. The Marx Room concentrates on present-day Northampton County, however, we do collect materials in a 30 mile radius surrounding Easton. The WPA projects are an immense gift for researchers. Indexed church records, Marriage & Death Extracts of Newspapers, and Abstracts of Wills are just a few items the room has. Before your visit you may want to look at our on-line indexes. These can be found under Local History at www.eastonpl.org

There you will find indexes to the WPA church records. These are some of the oldest church records we have. 

The Church & Cemeteries indexes are what we have on our Reference shelves. (for the most part these are all present-day Northampton County.)

We also have Obituary Indexes. These are from 1900 to nearly present day. You may want to make a list of obituaries to look up when you get here. Keep in mind the Main Library opens at 9:00 while the Marx Room opens at 10:00 on week days (9:00 on Saturday) This extra hour and the lunch hour gives you time to look up any newspaper articles on microfilm as the film is kept on the Main floor. Bring a flash drive as they can be used on these micro-film readers.

The last indexes we have are newspapers articles. These are broken down into years starting 1799 to 2007. Of course, not every article is indexed, but you may find a treasure.

Check our catalog. We have family genealogies in book and file form. We do have some church and cemeteries books for Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe and Schuylkill Counties. There are county histories, city directories and much more.

Bring a camera. We allow photos to be taken (no flash) No whole books or files will be allowed to be copied.

If not sure, always check to make sure we are open around Holidays or seasonal weather.

The Northampton County Historical & Genealogical Society  (The Sigal Museum)
342 Northampton St.
Easton, PA 18042

Hours Wednesday – Friday:
10am – 2:30pm

Note: Our library is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19 but volunteer librarians are available to help with your research requests for fee.

Please contact the library at 610-253-1222 or library@northamptonctymuseum.org

Call to make sure these hours and policies are still in effect.

The library here is an excellent companion to the Marx Room. They do have the same WPA Church Records and the Marriage & Death Extracts that the Marx Room has. They may have a family book/file or church records the Marx Room does not have. Most of their catalog is on the Easton Area Public Library's website.

 The Northampton County Courthouse Monday-Friday 8:30 to 4:30  

669 Washington St. Easton, PA 18013 

All courthouse records will be here. Keep in mind the counties that were formed from Northampton County will have the deeds, wills, taxes, etc. up to the dates they were formed. Anything after their formation will be at the respective courthouse. 

  • Northampton County - 1752 formed from Bucks County
  • Lehigh County - 1812
  • Monroe County - 1836 
  • Carbon County - 1843  

 The Northampton County Archives Monday-Friday 8:30 to 4:30

999 Conroy Pl. Easton, PA 18040
Phone: (610) 829-1220


The Northampton County Archives stores records for over 30 different county offices including 48 different filing systems during various time periods throughout the past 269 years in Northampton County history. The Archives is instrumental in providing record services for both the public and county offices on a daily basis. The Archives Division maintains a comprehensive system of records management through proper storage, retention, and disposition of records in accordance with the Pennsylvania County Records Manual, thereby serving the genealogical needs of citizens from all parts of the United States and foreign countries as well as providing accurate record keeping and insuring that historical information is preserved.

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Frakturs, Geburts, and Taufscheins

Frakturs, Geburts, Taufscheins, all names given to Pennsylvania German decorated works on paper. These illustrated manuscripts were created mainly in the mid 1700's to mid 1860's.

Fraktur is a type of German lettering or typeface used from the fifteenth century until World War II.  It is from the Latin word fractura, meaning a break. (the broken or fractured style of lettering) 

Examples:

𝔄 𝔅 ℭ 𝔇 𝔈 𝔉 𝔊 ℌ ℑ 𝔍 𝔎 𝔏 𝔐 𝔑 𝔒 𝔓 𝔔 ℜ 𝔖 𝔗 𝔘 𝔙 𝔚 𝔛 𝔜 ℨ 

𝔞 𝔟 𝔠 𝔡 𝔢 𝔣 𝔤 𝔥 𝔦 𝔧 𝔨 𝔩 𝔪 𝔫 𝔬 𝔭 𝔮 𝔯 𝔰 𝔱 𝔲 𝔳 𝔴 𝔵 𝔶 𝔷

𝕬 𝕭 𝕮 𝕯 𝕰 𝕱 𝕲 𝕳 𝕴 𝕵 𝕶 𝕷 𝕸 𝕹 𝕺 𝕻 𝕼 𝕽 𝕾 𝕿 𝖀 𝖁 𝖂 𝖃 𝖄 𝖅 

𝖆 𝖇 𝖈 𝖉 𝖊 𝖋 𝖌 𝖍 𝖎 𝖏 𝖐 𝖑 𝖒 𝖓 𝖔 𝖕 𝖖 𝖗 𝖘 𝖙 𝖚 𝖛 𝖜 𝖝 𝖞 𝖟

Later, the name fraktur has been referred to as folk art or illustrated manuscripts.

Geburts were birth certificates, Taufscheins were baptismal certificates. These two were the majority of the frakturs that were made. 

Most of the earliest frakturs were hand drawn and written in the fraktur lettering. A school teacher or minister were usually the artist or scrivener.

These frakturs were drawn with hearts, birds, flowers and could contain the family name, locations, dates of births, baptisms, weddings and more. These can give wonderful genealogical  information as the government did not keep vital records until much later.

The Marx Room Historical Room is fortunate to have a small collection of original frakturs. One in particular, is supposedly done by Johannes Ernst Spangenberg, otherwise known as the Easton Bible Artist. Johannes was born in 1748 and died "mid November 1814". In the Easton 1786 Tax list, he is listed as a Scrivener. He was a teacher in Easton and also served as an Adjutant Officer in the Revolutionary War under Col. Peter Kichline's Battalion of the Flying Camp. In John and his family's applications for a Revolutionary  pension, it is mentioned that John passed away in "mid November 1814" and was interred in the "Hay's (Lutheran) graveyard" in Williams Township (now South Easton). There is no tombstone or death notice to verify that. This fraktur is now hanging in the Marx Room after being sent to Philadelphia for restoration. It is a taufschein for Carl Ritschard (Richards) in Williams Township, Northampton County, PA, born December 29, 1808. The fraktur was done in 1809.

This is before restoration of the taufschein.

 


This is the result. (Colorings has not changed, these are a result of camera exposure)

 

Some frakturs in the Marx Room collection.


 Before restoration

After restoration


 

             Baptismal fraktur for Christian Gernet 1799.1 sheet : ill. ;  33 x 40 cm                        Christian Gernet, son of Johannes and Elisabetha Gernet was born March 28, 1786 in Salisbury Township, Northampton County, Pa., to Lutheran parents and was baptized by Gotz. Sponsors were the grandparents Christian Gernet and wife.           The certificate was prepared in 1799 by Gottfied Miller

 

Before restoration.

 

After restoration.



 

Baptismal fraktur for Maria Ellisabeth Wotring Pennsylvania 1809.1 sheet : ill. ; 34 x 41cm  Maria Elisabeth Wotring, daughter of Johannes and Elisabeth (Lattig) Wotring, was born March 11, 1809, in Williams Township, Northampton County, Pa., and baptized April 18 by Thomas Bump, Reformed pastor; sponsors were grandparents Philip Wotring and Maria Elisabeth. The surname is also spelled Wottring, Wotteringer, and Wotringer in the document. Prepared by Martin Brechal 

 

 Early frakturs are highly collectable. The more unique the design, the more desirable they are. One fraktur sold for $145,000 at an auction in 1991. So check your attics and basements. These beautiful certificates are another way to shed light on your ancestors.

 










Monday, August 16, 2021

Young Woman in a Blue Dress by John Krimmel

This small portrait of a woman was painted by John Krimmel, dated March 5, 1815. This painting is in the book, “John Lewis Krimmel, Genre Artist of the Early Republic”, by Anneliese Harding. Anneliese used a diary that was kept by artist John Krimmel on his travels.

 John was born 1786 in Germany and traveled to Philadelphia in 1809. One of his excursions was to the Lehigh Valley, including Easton, Pa. This painting is in this book with the date March 5, 1815. John Krimmel traveled to Easton and the area in 1813, sketching and painting a few landscapes of Easton. 

The watercolor painting is of a young woman with reddish brown hair. She is wearing a blue dress with white lace collar, sleeves and bodice. She has two bracelets on along with earrings. One hand is showing and one is not. Early paintings depicting only one hand usually meant she was betrothed or married. It is possible the woman is also pregnant. She is seated on an ornate chair or sofa in a house with a partial window showing. The scene from the window is of a tree (closer) and in the background a bridge. 

This bridge is the Finley Bridge/Chain Bridge (now Third St. Bridge) that Abraham Horn Sr. built in 1811. Krimmel had earlier, painted a scene of the Lehigh River with the same tree and the Finley Bridge in the distance. 

It was not unusual for people to hire artists to paint a portrait of a family member, along with a building that they were closely connected to. Frederick Bond III, a local art appraiser and art historian was the person who brought this detail to our attention.

 For this reason, it would make sense that the portrait could be the relative of Abraham Horn Sr. Susan Gertrude Margaret Horn, daughter of Abraham Sr. and Susanna (Hay), would be the right age. Susan was born March 1794 in Easton. On November 14, 1812 she married Jacob Bassler. It is believed that this portrait was sketched around early September 1813 with the finish on March 5, 1815. Susan would have been pregnant with her son Reuben Hay Bassler, born September 18, 1813. Her father’s bridge would have been important to Abraham and also put into the painting. Frederick also believes Susan may be seated in her parents home. This home may have been situated on the south side of the Lehigh River, what was then considered Williams Township and is now South Easton.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Where's Joe?

             

                                 Where's Joe?


By Rory Morgan

In Easton Cemetery's Section Q, there is large family marker that reads "Crater". It is surrounded by numerous smaller markers, each memorializing an individual family member. In one of history's strange twists, there is no marker for the one family member who went down in history.

The story of the Crater family in Easton began with Joseph Force "Pa" Crater. Born in New Jersey in 1829, he and a partner operated a produce business in Hackettstown, NJ. but Pa decided that the business prospects were better in Pennsylvania. So, he moved his family across the Delaware to Easton. He began there as a huckster (one who sells produce from a cart or stand), but eventually opened a wholesale produce business that carried his name: Joseph F. Crater and Sons. It  was located at the corner of Third and Ferry, which came to be known as Crater’s Corner. (A city parking garage now stands there.) Pa married Catherine Everett, an Easton woman; they went on to have four sons.

One of the those sons was Frank, born in 1863. He married Leila Virginia Montague, part of a well-established Easton family. The couple had four children: Joseph, Margaret, Douglass and Montague.

Joe was the oldest of the children. He graduated from Easton High School in 1906 (the first time that caps and gowns were worn for Easton's graduation ceremony). His academic standing was one of the two highest in the class and he was Class President for two years. His activities included working on the yearbook and membership in the Mandolin Club. A tongue-in-cheek biography in the yearbook talked of his extraordinary vocabulary, his gaudy neckties, his interest in the opposite sex and his ability to “bluff” his teachers. When he was President of the Junior Class, he was "kidnapped" by members of the Senior Class and locked up for a period.

Joe, by vote of the high school faculty, was awarded the annual scholarship to Lafayette College. While at Lafayette, he joined the Sigma Chi fraternity and carried its tattoo for the rest of his life.

Following Lafayette, he went to law school at Columbia University in New York City, graduating in 1913. In 1912, while still a law student, he met a woman named Stella Mance Wheeler; he helped her with her divorce. A few years later, Stella became Mrs. Crater.

Joe set up a practice in the city, taking on a variety of cases. He worked as a law clerk and also taught in several of New York's law schools. He began to rub elbows with  those who had political connections. Joe saw these connections as important keys in building a successful legal practice. The Democratic political machine in New York City, Tammany Hall, was vast and corrupt. It generated an ocean of legal business; more and more of which found its way to Joe's desk.He handled the work well (there was never a question about his competence as a lawyer) and it was lucrative. He became the confidential secretary and clerk to Robert Wagner, a prominent judge who would later become a U.S. Senator.

He and  his wife Stella bought a luxurious home on Fifth Avenue and a vacation home in Maine. They bought a Cadillac and hired a chauffeur (Joe had never learned how to drive.) He became an avid theater-goer and was a regular at the various night spots in the Broadway area. He drank very little, but still established a reputation as a Good Time Joe, who enjoyed the company of some of the very single actresses and dancers who were part of the Broadway scene. Meanwhile, Stella stayed home with their cat.


In April of 1930 there was a temporary opening for a judge on New York’s Supreme Court. (Despite its name, in New York the Supreme Court was - and still is - a county-level court, not the highest court in the state.) Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt wasn't part of the Tammany crowd, but he was influenced by it. He appointed Crater to fill the position for a few months, with the expectation that he would run for a full 14-year term in the upcoming November election. Of course, Tammany expected its usual payment for an appointment: one-year’s salary - about $22,000 - paid in cash at the time of the appointment.


The dog-days of August, 1930, brought their usual heat and humidity to Manhattan.The legal world slowed to a crawl as lawyers and judges alike left the city for cooler places. Joe had only a handful of cases assigned to him; he had been a judge for just a few months.


Stella Crater was spending the summer at the Maine home; Joe took the train between New York and Maine - the Bar Harbor Express - as necessary. Earlier that summer, Joe and a couple of male friends took a trip to Atlantic City; they were accompanied by three or four women, none of whom were their wives


When August 6, 1930 rolled around, Joe was in the city. He spent part of the day in his office behind closed doors, pulling documents from his files. He packed them up and, with the assistance of his law clerk, took them to his home. (No one knows where those files ended up.) He also cashed checks for several thousand dollars. In the evening, he went to a restaurant on West 45th Street, where he encountered two friends. They invited Joe to join them for dinner. After a pleasant meal, the three of them left the restaurant. Joe was never seen again, dead or alive, by any credible witness. 


He had promised Stella that he would be back in Maine by August 9 for her birthday. When he failed to appear by then, an informal investigation began. When Joe didn’t show up for the opening of his court cases on August 25, his absence finally became public knowledge and exploded into the headlines. An official “Missing Person” report was filed with the police. The NYPD began to circulate “missing person” posters. Ultimately, about 100,000 were printed. A reward of $5,000 was offered. 


A Grand Jury was called to investigate, but it reached no conclusions, despite hearing testimony from nearly 100 people.  Unfortunately, many of the statements from witnesses were confused and contradictory. Not even his two dinner companions could say for sure whether Joe got into a cab or whether he walked away from the restaurant. He was supposedly going to see a play that night, at the Belasco Theater, only a couple of blocks from the restaurant. West 45th was a one-way street; traffic, including taxis, would have been running away from the Belasco. Considering that taxis at that time were not air-conditioned, riding in one could been been quite uncomfortable. It would have made more sense for Joe to just walk.


Whatever the reason, a judge was missing; an investigation was required. A generous reward was offered. An unidentified body that had been pulled from the river near Martin's Creek a few weeks earlier was exhumed; a couple of Crater's long-time friends were called to identify the body. They pointed out that the body had natural teeth; Crater wore false upper teeth. They also pointed out that the body didn't have the fraternity tattoo which Crater was known to have. Their final point: the unidentified body was wearing cheap underwear; Crater's taste in clothing would have insured that he would wear finer fabric.


Thousands of “sightings” came into the New York City police and continued to do so for years. Most of them were ludicrous or incoherent. He was supposedly seen prospecting for gold in the West. He was "seen" running a bingo game in Africa. More than 20 years after his disappearance, a yard in Yonkers, NY was dug up, based on the supposed visions of a psychic in Holland. Unsurprisingly, no trace of Joe or any other person was found. 


Theories abounded. Gangland murder was a popular one - perhaps mobsters were angry with Joe about how he handled some legal situation. Another theory held that Joe died after he suffered a fatal medical emergency while visiting a “house of ill repute'' and his body was surreptitiously destroyed. Reform-minded officials in New York had started, at last, to investigate some of the corruption that was practiced by Tammany, including the selling of judgeships. Did Joe suspect that he would soon be under scrutiny, and take off, one step ahead of the law? 


Stella was evicted from her New York home in 1938. She worked as a telephone operator for a while but was fired when she was recognized. She didn’t have nearly enough money to support herself for the rest of her life. Joe had left her a note, one found under strange circumstances, which listed a number of people who Joe believed owed him money. Joe apparently had faith that they would honor their debts to him. Supposedly, some did, but others just ignored the situation; they claimed that they didn’t owe him money.

In 1939, the authorities finally ruled that Joe was legally dead, which gave Stella access to a modest amount of money from his life insurance.


Stella wrote a book in 1961 about her life with Joe: The Empty Robe. In it, she portrayed him as a loving husband who would never be unfaithful and wanted nothing more than to sit by the fire and sing old songs. According to her, the story behind his disappearance was simple. It was political. Joe simply knew too much about what went on in the Tammany-infested city. Besides, her Joe would never be involved in something questionable! Stella eventually went to a nursing home and died there in 1969.

 

As for Joe  - well, no trace of him has ever been found. In 2005, there was a flurry of excitement following the death of an elderly widow in Queens. Some papers in her possession revealed a story that her late husband had heard, about a supposed plot to kill Crater and bury him at Coney Island. The NYPD didn’t believe that there was enough evidence to reopen a 75-year old case. Meanwhile, at the Easton Cemetery, you will see no individual stone for Joe  - but if you walk around to the back of the Crater family monument you’ll see this carved into the stone: “In memory of Joseph F Crater II”. He was once the pride of Easton; but as they say "Sic transit gloria mundi."

Author’s Note: There are several books, both fiction and non-fiction, related to Judge Crater’s story ; yet another one will be released in late 2021. Two of them are held at the Easton Area Public Library, both non-fiction. They are The Empty Robe by Stella Crater, (Marx Room Collection) and Vanishing Point, by Richard J. Tofel (Main Collection).

Crater's Corner @ Third and Ferry.  This photo was taken after "Pa" Crater's death.
When he died, the business name was changed to "Joseph F. Crater's Sons"






Crater family monument



The rear of the Crater monument