Abe Slupsky: an unforgettable character
By Martin Fischer
If we are to believe the newspapers of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Caroline Fischer Slupsky's husband, Abraham Slupsky, made a name for himself as a bouncer and fighter, private detective, professional gambler and horseman, brewery industry lobbyist and Republican Party ward boss, and investor in oil and gas, bonds and buildings. Few remember him now, but in his time, he was nationally known.
Perhaps it was his name: Slupsky. For Americans it had a funny, foreign sound. Perhaps it was his showmanship, sense of humor and chutzpah. Or maybe it was a combination of those things that made Abe Slupsky (photo at right) a national public figure starting in the late 1880s.
In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, newspapers around the country unashamedly borrowed from each other tidbits of humor, gossip and anecdotes about anything or anyone that was slightly out of the ordinary.
Abe Slupsky became so well known around the country, the Post-Dispatch reported in his 1936 obituary, that “Visitors [to St. Louis] looked for him, and at him, as they did Eads Bridge, the Planters Hotel or the Veiled Prophet’s parade.”
Editor Charles A. Dana’s old New York Sun newspaper expressed a particular fascination with the St. Louisan with the strange name. Joining Abe Slupsky of Missouri in The Sun's bizarre editorial menagerie of unique appellations were Dink Botts and Pod Dismuke of Georgia, Bine Koozer of Pennsylvania, and Hinky Dink of Chicago.
In a New York Sun editorial reprinted Aug. 19, 1894, in the Galveston (Texas) Daily News, Dana facetiously suggested that a national political ticket of "'Slupsky and Koozer!' would ring like a bugle call."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in a Dec. 9, 1928, article called “Soul-savers and savants” that the diminutive "Colonel" from St. Louis captured the imagination of readers when:
Life, a weekly humor magazine, made fun of the Sun's coverage of Slupsky in a brief article published Dec. 8, 1892, that described a parlor game gaining popularity in England in which participants jotted down above their own names the names of people they would most like to be. Among the fictional, facetious examples listed was Charles A. Dana wishing to become Abe Slupsky.
Slupsky's notoriety as a Dana's creation even merited a brief mention in the New York Sun newspaper editor's obituary published in the New York Times on Oct. 18, 1897. Dana was "the discoverer and exploiter of a score of grotesque characters," the Times said. "No peculiar name or grotesque personality escaped his journalistic attention. The great public would never have known of Abe Slupsky or Pod Dismuke had it not been for the Sun. ..."
In “Time of Our Lives,” a book published in 1937, the year after Abe Slupsky died, poet and playwright Orrick Johns wrote:
On May 18, 1902, the St. Paul (Minn.) Globe wrote: "Some people with queer names seem to enjoy them and wouldn't have them changed for the world. ... There is Abe Slupsky of St. Louis. Some people do not regard that as a pretty name, but Abe will go cheerfully down to his grave wearing that label."
The Constitution of Atlanta commented on Aug. 23, 1903, that "Slupsky is almost as well known throughout the north as is Philosopher Dooley, made famous by [Chicago author and humorist] Finley Peter Dunne."
Coming to America
Abraham Slupsky was born in London, England, and his mother was born in Dublin, Ireland, but he spent part of his boyhood in Berlin, Germany. His father’s ancestors were from Kempen, Posen, Prussia (now called Kepno, Poland), the same shtetl as the Kobers (ancestors of Abe's second wife, Caroline).
At the age of 10 or 12, around 1870, his father died and his mother remarried. Abe left home alone and worked his way across the Atlantic Ocean, washing dishes on an ocean steamer to New Orleans, where he worked for a time as a boat deck sweeper. In the early or mid-1870s, he worked odd jobs on packet boats on the Mississippi River to St. Louis, where he settled, according to the obituaries in the St. Louis newspapers. One of his first jobs in Missouri's largest city was as a “ballyhoo man and bouncer” for Jake Esher’s saloon and museum, called Esher's Varieties, at 712 St. Charles St., where one of the big attractions was Esther the Mermaid. Part of Abe's job was to give the “bum’s rush” to any intoxicated customers who failed to treat Esther like a lady. Years later, Abe claimed to have held the position of bouncer for 8 years.
The Post-Dispatch reported that Abe was too short to be a boxer, but he taught himself a maneuver reminiscent of what later came to be known as jiu-jitsu: “No holds were barred by his rules, but his favorite hold was on the buckled strap which tailors formerly placed at the rear of trousers, between the suspender buttons. With a firm grip on this strap, Slupsky could throw a man over his head, unless the strap broke or the trousers came apart. When the strap went out of fashion, Slupsky’s fighting blood cooled,” the Post said.
For a time, Abe became a peddler, and then ran a used clothing store in downtown St. Louis at 302 Locust St.
Possibly the first time his name appeared in print occurred when he was about 23 years old. In the Criminal Courts column of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat of July 1, 1884, a brief notice appeared under a "New Warrants" subheading: "Abe Slupsky was arrested upon the charge of stealing $6 from John Clark on the 29th inst. [June 29]. He failed to give bond and went to jail." There was no follow-up explanation.
Another early reference to Abe Slupsky that appeared in print concerned a used furniture store at 825 N. 7th St. Under a small headline, "The Slupsky Brothers," the May 19, 1885, St. Louis Globe Democrat wrote: "The Slupsky families are at war with each other over a debt between J. [Jacob] Slupsky and Abe Slupsky, brothers and second-hand furniture dealers. Some four months ago [in February 1885, when Abe was about 24 and Jacob was about 28,] Jake Slupsky seized the furniture in his brother's store at 825 North Seventh street. These were the reasons for the replevin suit [to seek recovery of property claimed to have been illegally taken] before Judge Dillon and a jury yesterday in which Abe Slupsky thinks he ought to have $12,000 for the very unfraternal treatment received from Jake. The case is in progress and will be concluded today."
It is uncertain how the court case was decided, but the feud between the two brothers went on for decades.
Trouble seemed to follow Abe Slupsky. About a year after the lawsuit over the brothers' furniture store, Abe's name again appeared in the Globe-Democrat in the "Court of Corrections" column published April 28, 1886. Under a subheading titled "First District Police Court," it said: "Abe Slupsky was fined $5 for disturbing the peace and $25 for resisting an officer." No mention was made of his brother.
After the furniture store debacle involving his brother, Abe Slupsky got a job with the Thiel private detective agency, pursuing beer label counterfeiters. As result of his investigative experience, he became a clerk with the city’s water department to check on the breweries’ water consumption. At one point, he uncovered a minor City Hall scandal when he discovered that a $4,102 check from Anheuser-Busch had not reached the city treasurer’s office. (City Collector Henry Ziegenhein had not been blamed for the loss of the money, but Ziegenhein’s political foes used this incident against him during his subsequent term as mayor.)
On Oct. 18, 1894, the Lincoln (Neb.) Evening News (reprinted Oct. 19, 1894, in the Hornellsville Weekly Tribune of New York and on Oct. 22, 1894, in The Duluth News Tribune in Minnesota) elaborated on Abe's detective career by publishing a story headlined "ABE SLUPSKY, SLEUTH: The Famous School Reformer Appears in a New Role." The article, based on a Post-Dispatch report, included illustrations showing Abe disguised as a peddler, a newsboy and a "sport." Abe was quoted as decrying unethical detectives and declared that he only pursued true criminals and never followed husbands or wives to obtain evidence for divorce: "I am a first-class detective. I do only political work and hunt down criminals. I am not one of those rats who shadow wives and husbands for divorce suits. That is dirty work. I am high toned in business," he told the newspaper. Slupsky claimed to have saved the Louisiana lottery $1 million by busting a lottery ticket counterfeiting operation in Chicago, worked undercover to break up an arson-for-profit ring in St. Paul that was victimizing insurance companies, and was the hero in a Denver diamond robbery case.
When asked about the fees he charged for his detective services, Abe said, "If I have a friend in trouble who can't afford to pay me, I do the work for nothing, but when a rich man wants my services, I bump his head [charge high fees]."
The 1894 Lincoln Evening News article also included a colorful description of the man: "He is about as tall as an ordinary boy of 16, and though he is in his thirty-sixth year, he is often taken for a youngster. ... When not disguised, he wears the most stylish clothing the tailors can turn out in compliance with his orders as to style, etc., patent leather shoes, red neckties, and pink shirts. He fairly blazes with diamonds. The stone in his finger ring is as big as a walnut, the headlight that flashes from his shirt front cost a fortune, and he has diamonds in his cuffs, his wristbands, and at every opening of his shirt. His eyes are like a ferret's. He has a strong Hebraic face that he can twist into so many varied expressions that it is possible for him to assume numerous characters without the use of false beards. His hair is bristling black, and he brushes it in a peculiar way that makes it look like a wig. Some folks say it is a wig."
Three years earlier, Abe had been described in an article attributed to the St. Louis Republic that was reprinted in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Nov. 20, 1891 (as well as in the New York Sun and the Chicago Tribune, according to the Sentinel): "His portrait is striking. He wears a turn-down collar and a cravat of some solid color, tied in a bow. ... His lips are heavy and protruding, his nose, heavy and flat. Above the fair, broad brow the hair stands almost upright, with a slight disposition to rush backward to the nape of the neck. The whole expression is patient, yet resolute. A smile, half-playful, half-sinister, lingers about those massive lips, which seem to be shaping themselves in a murmur of 'Calm's not life's crown, Though calm is well.'"
Years later, the Washington Post indicated in an article published Feb. 3, 1901, that Col. Abe Slupsky still presented a stylish appearance. He "could never be accused of wearing no socks," the Washington Post said, because "they are mostly plaids, and are worn in full view."
The Washington Post continued, "In addition to being somewhat undersized, measuring only four feet four, he is of stocky build, but always ready for a fight. ... His taste in dress, as emphasized by the clothes he wears, still smacks of the old days of Esher's Varieties [the tavern and museum where he once worked as a bouncer]. His plaids speak for themselves, in no stage whisper, either, and his jewelry is absolutely vociferous. He would wear his rings outside his gloves with a little encouragement. Both his clothes and jewels are of the best quality, however, though a trifle pronounced. ... And he invariably carries what is flashily termed by the ward politicians 'the big roll' [plenty of cash]."
Joining the Grand Old Party
In the 1880s, Abe became an active member of the Republican Party organization in St. Louis, working his way up to eventually becoming the boss of the downtown 2nd Ward (which later became the 5th Ward), according to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. He mobilized the heavy Jewish vote on and around Morgan Street (later renamed Delmar Avenue). Abe was one of three downtown St. Louis Republican ward leaders during the administrations of Mayors William L. Ewing (1881-85), Cyrus P. Walbridge (1893-97) and Henry Ziegenhein (1897-1901), according to the Globe-Democrat. His involvement with the Republicans enabled him to attend every GOP national convention over a 50-year period (1880-1930), serving as assistant sergeant at arms at three of them.
One of the earliest accounts of his political activities appeared in the March 21, 1889, issue of The Republic, a St. Louis daily newspaper. The report on the politicking leading up to the Republican primary to select delegates to the citywide party convention described Abe Slupsky as the "side partner" of 2nd Ward GOP Central Committeeman Wittenberg in their effort to back Mr. C.H. Sampson for the mayoral nomination. Those supporting other candidates were angry that Wittenberg had provided for only one polling place in his ward, located in the heart of his stronghold.
"Wittenberg, Slupsky, and [tavern keeper] Jake Esher have it fixed to carry the Second Ward for Mister Sampson," the newspaper said. "They represent the dive end of the boom, but they have influence, nevertheless."
Despite their allegedly well-funded efforts, Committeeman Wittenberg, Slupsky and their cronies failed to carry the 2nd Ward for Sampson, who came in second of three candidates in the citywide GOP primary.
A Pennsylvania newspaper, the Bradford Daily Era, republished on Dec. 12, 1891, a humorous account from the Chicago Tribune of a conversation that was allegedly heard at a local opera house ticket window. The ticket-seller refuses to sell an unsold box to an "imperious stranger" because it is being saved for the president of the United States. The insistent stranger replies, "Well, if he asks for it this evening you just tell him it is occupied by Col. Abe Slupsky of St. Louis. Here's your money. Fork over them tickets, young man!"
According to the St. Louis newspapers, due to his active work for the Republican Party, Abe Slupsky allegedly obtained a job for a time as one of the early Secret Service agents, guarding President Benjamin Harrison, who was in office from 1889 to 1893. These references to the Secret Service may have been inflated from earlier accounts of his secret service (lower-case) detective work for the Thiel detective agency.
Another job he held briefly was as a representative of "The River," a St. Louis-based weekly newspaper (later renamed The Waterways Journal) that catered to the interests of the river steamboatmen. Its edition of Dec. 12, 1891, announced that Col. Abe Slupsky had been appointed "general traveling agent and correspondent" of the publication. "This widely known and rising young gentleman need no introduction, and this journal considers itself fortunate in having secured the services of such a bright and progressive statesman," the notice said. "The River" characterized him as "an old steamboatman," an exaggeration considering the fact that most of Abe Slupsky's time on steamboats had been spent washing dishes and sweeping the floor.
A similar periodical, called "Steam and Sail," released its first edition April 15, 1893, according to an article in the New York Daily Tribune, published the following day. Among the new marine journal's features were poems allegedly written by Abe Slupsky.
In 1891, the local Republicans were divided in the wake of an election for school board in St. Louis. The New York Times of Nov. 10, 1891, published a brief story from the previous day from St. Louis headlined: "Mr. Slupsky Victorious: He Whips a Republican Fellow Committeeman." Abe Slupsky, a member of the "Silk Stocking or Administration faction of the city Republican Committee," was quoted in the local newspapers as saying that if another GOP committeeman, George D. Bierman, had "done his duty," then a loss to a Democratic candidate would not have occurred. The two politicians ran into each other in a tavern and, according to the New York Times, "Bierman took Slupsky to task. Slupsky repeated his charge, and Bierman struck at him. In about five minutes Slupsky had Bierman floored. Bierman scrambled to his feet, and Slupsky again knocked him down, but not before Bierman had got in one good stroke. They fought for a few minutes, and Slupsky came out victorious."
The Chicago Daily Tribune, commenting on Slupsky's rapid rise to political power in St. Louis, wrote on Nov. 19, 1891, that his authority was based on his skills as a theater bouncer: "His advent is purely physical. All his methods are physical. He is the representative of the muscular system in politics."
The Chicago Tribune asserted that he had attracted the attention of St. Louis's well-to-do elite Republicans: "Slupsky's services in the direction of throwing people out from the lobby into the middle of the street, it seems, attracted the attention of the Silk-Stocking faction of the Republicans of that city, who are arrayed against the Republican masses, [who are] led by the redoubtable [Chauncey Ives] Filley, who has been the boss for many a year."
In the same vein, years later, in 1901, the New York Sun, asserted that "Slupsky first came into fame as a ward worker under Chauncey I. Feely [Filley]. He controlled the 'Republican' Indians to such an extent that he soon became a political power second only to his chief."
The Chicago Daily Tribune claimed in 1891 that the Silk-Stockings were so impressed with Slupsky's ability to carry the votes of his ward in the previous election, that they decided to rely on him, instead of boss Filley, to fill out the list of presidential delegates to the GOP convention. Filley was sent away to rural Missouri to conduct a "campaign of education," while Slupsky stayed in St. Louis to work for the renomination and re-election of President Benjamin Harrison. (In August 1933, the Globe-Democrat explained that Slupsky had once been a political lieutenant of Filley, whom he helped overthrow as the local Republican boss in favor of Col. Richard C. Kerens, a railroad executive who later became ambassador to Austria-Hungary.)
While expressing doubt that Slupsky's methods would work to get Harrison re-elected [He in fact was defeated.], the Chicago Daily Tribune commented that use of physical force "scientifically and firmly applied is much more effective than any kind of mental or moral suasion. ... If Slupsky can bring it to bear on the present Republican ruction [noisy fight] in St. Louis and break up the disharmony by his forcible methods of suggestion and by his unanswerable style of persuasion, he will have accomplished a great work. He may yet set the fashion of the biceps as a promoter of harmony all over the country."
Two days after that tongue-in-cheek political analysis appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune, the same paper, quoting from an unidentified St. Louis newspaper, belatedly reported on Slupsky's Nov. 9, 1891, fight with George D. Bierman, a fellow Republican committeeman. The Tribune observed that Abe Slupsky had participated in a "public discussion" over educational matters with one Hon. G.D. Bierman in which Abe first effected a "well-directed blow" just below Bierman's eye. As Bierman staggered, Abe removed his diamond stud to his pocket. Bierman then tried to reciprocate for the punch, but "the Colonel" avoided the blow and followed up with a "terrific blow on Bierman's jaw, which, with a trip of the foot, laid Bierman out full length."
The Tribune commented that were this report accurate, then "Col. Abe had seriously compromised his reputation as a statesman."
On Nov. 16, 1891, the New York Times commented on the rift in the St. Louis Republican Party as reflected in differences between Col. Abe Slupsky and the St. Louis Republican boss, Chauncey Ives Filley. The Times explained why the wealthy Silk Stocking faction of the party, which was pursuing a "reform" agenda, had been attracted to Slupsky: "For years the haughty Silk Stockings have longed to possess the services of someone who could meet the industrious and patriotic Filley in his own field," the Times wrote. "At last they have such a man in Slupsky, for at a recent local election in which they exerted all their powers through the agency of a Republican Reform Committee, Slupsky was the only member of the committee who carried his ward."
The Silk Stocking reformers hoped to utilize Slupsky's political skills to overthrow Filley, who had set out to make a series of speeches in rural areas and small towns of Missouri in meetings sponsored by a group called the Knights of Reciprocity. (Filley concentrated on explaining economic issues of the day, particularly in relation to the McKinley Tariff of 1890, a protectionist measure sponsored by U.S. Rep. William McKinley of Ohio. Although the tariff helped farmers, it was blamed for raising prices for everyone. Because other countries had retaliated against the high tariff, the Republican administration of Benjamin Harrison began negotiations with other countries to seek reciprocity agreements to mutually lower tariffs. Harrison's secretary of state, James G. Blaine, actively pursued reciprocal tariff treaties with Latin American and European nations.)
The New York Times speculated in its Nov. 16, 1891, commentary that Filley would support Blaine for the Republican nomination for president in 1892, while Slupsky would support the incumbent President Harrison. The Times then referred to the recent fist fight between Slupsky and his fellow reform committeeman, Bierman, and commented: "Filley uses the arts of persuasion. Slupsky relies in great measure on physical force. Filley is influential throughout the state, although he has suffered a temporary reverse in St. Louis. We are inclined to think that Filley will win this time, but Slupsky's experience and the support of his powerful friends may make him more formidable hereafter."
About three weeks later, the New York Times commented further on the potential influence of Slupsky vs. Filley in a brief editorial published Dec. 9, 1891. The Times noted that Filley was now campaigning for the party at large outside Missouri, while Slupsky was seeking to enhance Silk Stocking influence in St. Louis. (Filley was now defending the McKinley Tariff when he said, "With reciprocity, subsidy is also a necessity.") The Times huffily declared, "Candidates who want the votes of the Missouri delegation should not waste any time upon Col. Slupsky."
On Nov. 23, 1891, the Chicago Daily Tribune, under the headline "For President the Stuffed Prophet and the Bouncer," presented a tongue-in-cheek dispatch from a New York Sun correspondent predicting that the national ticket for the 1892 election would be Grover Cleveland for president and Col. Abe Slupsky for vice president.
The report noted that while Cleveland was devoted to tariff reform, "Col. Abe has chosen school reform as the field for his statesmanship and he has made that issue in a peculiar sense his own."
This extremely unlikely pairing of Cleveland, a Democrat, with Slupsky, a Republican, was repeated five years later in a literary sense with the publication of the book "The Fat Knight: His Complete Career with Conquests and Collapse and Final, Marvelous Triumph" by an unidentified author. This satire presents Slupsky as a Sancho Panza to Cleveland's Don Quixote. (More about this strange book below.)
The Washington Post made fun of all the coverage of Abe Slupsky in the New York Sun with this Dec. 13, 1891, brief: "The fact that the New York Sun has started an Abe Slupsky department tends to give color to the rumor that the digestive organs of the faithful office cat have been permanently impaired by overwork."
On Dec. 19, 1891, "The River," the St. Louis-based newspaper for steamboatmen, reprinted a humorous poem from the New York Sun titled "Col. Abe Slupsky" that characterized him as a "new bright star":
The Kansas City Times resorted to some particularly colorful prose on Dec. 8, 1891, to comment on a New York Sun report that Abe Slupsky was about to leave his hometown of St. Louis for Carthage. [I first assumed this was a reference to the small town in southwestern Missouri, not the ancient north African city state of the same name. But another possibility, based on the context, is the use of Carthage as a euphemism for New York City.] The Kansas City newspaper described the Colonel as a "humble member of the bath tub wing of the republican party and .. the handiest slugger of the school board, he was not content to dream away his days in the quiet and solitude" of St. Louis.
Colonel Slupsky's "fame oozed out of St. Louis and reached New York," the Kansas City paper wrote. After becoming the subject of a New York Sun "symposium ... [he] decided his environments were too provincial, that he would move to Carthage, where surroundings would not be tinged with the St. Louis air. He will supply what has been regarded at Carthage as a long felt want -- a Missouri republican with too much enterprise and ambition to stagnate in the hilarious quietude of St. Louis."
On Dec. 21, 1891, The Cleveland Plain Dealer republished a brief item from the New York Sun commenting on the Plain Dealer's apparent tongue-in-cheek assertion that Abe Slupsky was a teetotaler that compared him with the respected former senator from New Hampshire, Henry W. Blair. The Sun expressed no doubt about the non-alcoholic drinking habits of the two men, "but there ends the parallel between" the two, the Sun wrote. "In intellectual quality the two statesmen are no more alike than a forty-carat diamond and a dish of hasty pudding."
The New York Sun, the newspaper that made Slupsky a household name nationwide, apparently became the victim of a practical joke a few days after publishing an alleged image of the Colonel. On Jan. 12, 1892, the Evening Telegram of New York published a front-page story, datelined Washington, D.C., reporting that a jokester in the Arlington Hotel there had spotted a man who resembled Abe in the hotel lobby. The trickster managed to have Abe's name inscribed in the hotel registry, secured a suite in the hotel and persuaded the man to impersonate Abe. Meanwhile, a reporter from the Sun was told that the well-known St. Louisan was staying in the hotel, he unknowingly sent his card up to the fake Abe, and secured an interview that was published the next day on the Sun's front page.
Several months later, on Oct. 2, 1892, The New York Herald published a full-page satirical essay about the prevalence of the "'swelled head' affliction" among many politicians, a category that included the bogus "Col. Abe Slupsky" who had victimized the Sun reporter. The fake Abe, who was described by the Herald as a Democratic Party "sleuth" partial to wearing disguises, was "about to 'do' somebody," the Herald warned.
The Enquirer-Sun of Columbus, Ga., on Jan. 21, 1892, expressed some puzzlement over just where Abe Slupsky had been on recent days. The newspaper cited separate reports published on Jan. 15-16 from Chicago, Cincinnati, Washington, and St. Louis all indicating that the Colonel had been seen on those days in each of those cities.
The rift in the St. Louis Republican Party briefly resurfaced publicly as the New York Times on Feb. 15, 1892, noted that Chauncey I. Filley had failed to persuade President Harrison to "make him Consul at Liverpool or Postmaster at St. Louis." The editorial commented that despite Col. Abe Slupsky's efforts in support of the Silk Stocking faction, "Filley has demonstrated his power to control the Missouri delegation to the [June 1892] Minneapolis [Republican National] Convention, and to control it to the disadvantage of Mr. Harrison."
On Feb. 17, 1892, the New York Sun published a letter to the editor from a New Yorker who had spent the last year in Europe and now wanted to know about Slupsky: "Who and what is he? Is the name pronounced Sloopsky or Slupsky, to rhyme with Pupsky; or has it the Holland sound of uy, as in DeRutter? ... Is he a full Colonel, or only by brevet [a nominal promotion without extra pay]? ... Is he Champion of boarding school, or day school, or Sunday school, or riding school, or singing school, or swimming school Reform?"
Another letter accused the Sun's editor of deceiving his readers about the existence of Col. Slupsky: "You are deceiving us! Mr. Stairs says there is no such a person as Col. Slupsky."
In response, the Sun's editor declared: "If Mr. Stairs means that in this nation of sixty-five million souls, Col. Abe Slupsky's name and fame are unrivalled and unique; that there is only one satisfactorily equipped and universally recognized representative of School Reform; ... that never in the world's history has a splendid reputation been more suddenly achieve, and with less personal effort; ... that his name is a household word everywhere, and the musical symbol of hope to thousands upon thousands of hearts that beat warmly for School Reform; if this is what Mr. Stairs means when he says there is no such person as Col. Abe Slupsky, then Mr. Stairs is right. There is no man like Col. Abe Slupsky, no name or fame like his!"
The Cleveland Plain Dealer warned of dire political consequences if Abe were to run for president. In their May 1, 1892, edition, the newspaper expressed some doubt over the "correct orthography" of his name: "Col. Abram, or Abraham, Slupsky or Slupskey. ... an incorrect spelling of his name upon the ticket would be a technicality through which he might be defeated," the Plain Dealer warned. "It would be well to have the matter definitely settled at once."
Six days later the Plain Dealer chastised The New York Sun (which it referred to as The New York Daily Dana, a name derived from its editor) for the Sun's "treacherous attempt" to "create the impression that Col. Abe is not a candidate and thus tie the hands of his supporters." Such action, the Plain Dealer asserted, was anathema to "every friend of school reform."
And on May 8, 1892, the Plain Dealer claimed that former President Grover Cleveland, who was seeking re-nomination by the Democratic Party, had expressed his support for the public schools as a defensive action in the event that his Republican foe would turn out to be Col. Abe Slupsky.
On May 21, 1892, the New York Sun reprinted a letter purportedly from Abe himself that had appeared in the Truth and Sunday Eve of Bloomington, Ill., in which he declare he was not a candidate for president: "And yet, if I am elected, I will serve to the best of my ability," Abe wrote. He declared the primacy of school reform as a more significant national issue than "silver, tariff, or McKinleyism," and continued: "If my name is presented before the Minneapolis [Republican] Convention, I shall try to be exemplary and deserve all the high encomiums and panegyrics the author may pronounce upon me."
Furthermore, the Sun urged the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Buffalo Courier to "put this manly letter in their pipes and smoke it." The New York paper accused the Plain Dealer of publishing a "fraudulent and forged document signed 'Abe Slupsky' ... flippantly discussing his prospects for the nomination." And the Sun chastised the Courier for declaring Slupsky to be "a myth, an ideal, a creature of the imagination, with no existence beyond his name." The Sun vehemently disagreed: "Col. Abe Slupsky is no myth. He is a physical entity, with a full, rich, vigorous organization, every part of which throbs with devotion---we may almost say consecration---to the cause of School Reform."
Two days after the Sun published its epithet directed at the Plain Dealer concerning the smoking of pipes, the Cleveland responded with: "...We have too much respect for Col. Slupsky to subject his letter to any such indignity."
(The abovementioned New York Sun essays from Feb. 17, 1892, and May 21, 1892, were again printed in the book "Casual Essays of the Sun: Editorial Articles on Many Subjects, Clothed with the Philosophy of the Bright Side of Things," edited and published by Robert Grier Cooke, 1905. The book was reprinted by Kessinger Publishing in 2005.)
On May 22, 1892, the Cleveland Plain Dealer decried another Cleveland newspaper's speculation that Abe could not possibly be a Republican because of his love of reform. "If anything were wanting to prove beyond cavil that Col. Slupsky is loyal to the principles of the Republican party the support given him by the New York Sun might be given in evidence. Were Slupsky a Democrat the Sun would be abusing him," the Plain Dealer asserted.
A couple weeks before the Minneapolis Republican convention, a New York Times reporter spotted the St. Louis Republican political boss Chauncey I. Filley walking around the Arlington Hotel lobby in Washington, D.C. According a New York Times article of May 24, 1892, the reporter asked the St. Louis politician "how the Slupsky campaign was getting along, and he would not deign to answer."
The Chicago Daily Tribune mentioned Slupsky on June 8, 1892: "The presence of the renowned Col. Abe Slupsky at [the Republican National Convention in] Minneapolis is a guaranty that nothing in the platform will be allowed to antagonize the great cause of school reform without the biggest kind of fight."
In a column of "Editorial Points" in the Aug. 21, 1892, Boston Globe, it was speculated that "The Sun knows who the American poet laureate ought to be, but it won't tell. Is Abe Slupsky the man?"
Thanks to his reputation, Abe Slupsky was from time to time the victim of malicious gossip. On Aug. 24, 1892, when the Colonel returned by train from a nearly weeklong visit to Kansas City, where he claimed to have been consulting with Gov. D.R. Francis, he visited the site of a recent arson in downtown St. Louis that two days earlier had destroyed John O'Neil's saloon and A. Selkirk's auction house. Soon, even though another man, James French, a former police officer, had already been arrested and charged in the arson, Abe was taken into custody for questioning by the chief of detectives, according to the St. Louis Republic and the New York Sun. A lawyer had allegedly told an insurance agent that Slupsky was to get $500 for starting a fire, and the insurance man, in turn, told the police. But Abe was neither arrested nor charged, because the claim was nothing but hearsay, the prosecuting attorney decided.
(While being taken for questioning, Abe remarked to reporters that honesty did not pay: "I am poor, but I am honest." He told of two instances when he had to spend a night in jail due to misunderstandings. Once when he had walked out of a clothing store wearing a new stylish suit of clothes that he had just purchased he was spotted by Detective "Pa" Lawlor. The police officer asked Abe to re-enter the store to verify the fact that he had paid for it. Unfortunately, the man who had sold him the suit had stepped out, so Abe was incarcerated. The same thing happened again, when Lawlor noticed that the Colonel was driving a second-hand wagon pulled by a just-purchased "$10 plug [horse]" that he was using to peddle tinware. "...Just as my luck would have it," he told the St. Louis Republic, "the man who sold me the horse was gone. It's all night in the cooler, Abe, says I, and all night in the cooler it was.")
In the wake of his questioning in the arson affair, Abe tried to engage attorney Marshall McDonald and Capt. Charles Evans, "chief of the Salvage Corps," in fisticuffs because he blamed them for spreading the malicious rumors about him. (Months later, in May 1893, Abe Slupsky's brother Jacob was a witness for arson suspect French's defense. Jacob took offense at some of the personal questions directed at him by McDonald, and when court adjourned, Abe's brother struck the attorney, who pulled out a pistol before police prevented an escalation of hostilities.)
The Chicago Daily Tribune seemed to never tire of finding an opportunity to mention Abe Slupsky. On Dec. 28, 1892, the Chicago newspaper predicted that the Colonel would attend the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago scheduled for the following year: "There seems to be no doubt that the Krupps will have Germany's biggest gun on exhibition at the World's Fair. On the part of America, however, we can proudly point to Col. Abe Slupsky of St. Louis. He'll be there."
The Tribune's many references to Slupsky often ranged from the virtually meaningless to the gratuitously insulting. An example of the former, published on July 18, 1893, said: "The Nawab of Rampur is on his way out of the country. But we still have Col. Abe Slupsky of Missouri with us." An example of the latter, published Oct. 24, 1892, said: "If Col. Abe Slupsky of St. Louis was in the city last week we failed somehow to see him. When Col. Slupsky travels about the country he should unbend a little and be sociable."
A bit of both aspects were represented in a brief in the New York Times of March 20, 1896. The item, datelined Albany, said: "Senator Seibert has introduced a bill to change the name of the Czwarty Pulk Ulanow Association of Buffalo to the Czwarty Pulk Ulanow Polskichpod Opiska Matki Boski Czestochowski of Buffalo." And in an ethnic jab, the brief was headline: "Referred to Col. Abe Slupsky."
Another insult against Abe's name (in this case misspelled) was published in the St. Paul Globe on Dec. 19, 1898: "Chicago has an alderman named Smulski. St. Louis doesn't care if she has. St. Louis had a public man named Abe Slupski, who died after he had lived under that name as long as he could."
Even his real death decades later could not protect the Colonel from calumny. On Nov. 7, 1936, soon after Abe's death, a Los Angeles Times columnist, E.V. Durling, claimed "Mr. Slupsky's daughter married a man named Broadsky and named her child Slupsky Broadsky."
Abe Slupsky was not immune to taking offense when insulted. On Feb. 2, 1893, the Colonel found it necessary to knock down one George W. Galloway for "casting reflections upon his nationality," according to the St. Louis Republic. The newspaper humorously compared Abe to the champion prize fighter James J. Corbett.
On March 11, 1893, the St. Louis Republic and the New Haven (Conn.) Evening Register jokingly praised the Colonel for his frankness in declaring in his race for the St. Louis house of delegates that his platform was "Always on the ground floor with franchise pushers." He "is not the only candidate with that platform, although few proclaim it," the Republic commented.
Abe was briefly taken a bit more seriously in August 1893 when he was the victim of an attack by John Thomas Brady, a 15th Ward politician known for his drinking and troublemaking. While Abe was talking with Nathan Frank outside an Olive Street cigar shop, Brady came up him and hit Abe in the mouth. The Colonel responded by knocking Brady down three times before the thug was arrested.
"Abe Slupsky's Intellect" was the humorous headline over a Sept. 15, 1893, story in the St. Louis Republic about his brother Jacob's involvement in a civil lawsuit concerning the failure of the latter's La Crosse, Wis., business several months earlier. Jacob Slupsky was suing a Milwaukee business that had under court order seized $200 worth of household goods belonging to Jacob and sold them. During questioning by lawyers in St. Louis, Jacob claimed illness and a poor memory as he was only able to answer questions concerning his name, his wife's name and his current address. "From developments in the depositions," the newspaper commented, "it would appear that Abe Slupsky possesses all the intellect there is in the family."
An incident in which Abe Slupsky was caught up in through no fault of his own was reported in the Oct. 28, 1893, edition of the St. Louis Republic. A news article noted the prosecution of a notorious spiritualistic faker named Jules Wallace, who was accused of driving a young music teacher insane by persuading the young man to believe that he had supernatural powers. Abe Slupsky was listed---along with the fire chief, the city recorder and a former building commissioner---among the witnesses for the prosecution who were ready to testify against Wallace.
In a Jan. 21, 1894, "Capital Chat" column in the Washington Post, an unnamed member of Congress from St. Louis was quoted as asking facetiously whether Abe Slupsky was real flesh and blood or merely an invention of the New York Sun. "Abe used to keep a second-hand clothing store in St. Louis until the Sun took him up and made a national celebrity of him," the congressman said. "He was quite humble in his ways then, but he doesn't sell second-hand suits any more. He travels on his reputation now, leading the easy life of a politician who walks about conscious that he is carrying the vote of a number of precincts in his vest pocket. ... Abe is a real character, and don't you forget it."
News of Abe's antics was distributed far and wide.
On June 2, 1894, the Boston Globe reported on a quarrel in Tony Faust's saloon between Col. Abe Slupsky and Col. Billy Rider, another politician, who was known to "carry a long and exceedingly sharp knife up his sleeve with which to emphasized his political arguments. But he is not a school reformer."
"A difficulty arose," the Boston Globe said, and Rider landed a punch on Slupsky's jaw, sending the latter flying over a table and onto the floor of the tavern. Abe gathered himself up and returned a "savage blow."
Then Rider "flashed a bowie knife and made a rush toward Col. Slupsky, who was getting his wind under an electric fan." Realizing his life was at stake, Abe drew a "pistol of tremendous length," which sent Rider fleeing into the street, with Abe running after him. "The chase is supposed to be still on," the Boston paper reported, "as neither of the principals has been seen since."
A strange story attributed to the Chicago Tribune that appeared in the July 29, 1894, Daily Picayune of New Orleans mentioned Abe in connection with a family tragedy: Abe's step-sister, Mrs. Lochner, was fatally shot while she slept by her jealous husband, Joseph Lochner, a St. Louis baker. Their 5-year-old "deaf and dumb" daughter, Rosa, was the only witness to the crime, the Picayune noted. After the funeral, Abe took the now motherless child into his care. Most of this illustrated story told how little Rosa, while sitting on the front steps after the funeral with Mrs. Slupsky, enacted the details of the murder in pantomime.
With Mrs. Slupsky by her side, the girl had "uttered a peculiar cry as if to attract attention," the Picayune reported. "Then she cried out 'papa' and 'mama,' and with her tiny hands and arms described the murder so effectively that it was pictured to Mrs. Slupsky as if the poor little mute were able to talk."
In an entirely different vein, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat published a humorous story that was reprinted Sept. 24, 1894, in the Middletown (N.Y.) Daily Argus and Sept. 29, 1894, in the Bangor (Maine) Daily Whig & Courier. Headlined "A frost for a frost: Colonel Slupsky puts a gentleman on ice to take the chill off," the Globe-Democrat story recounted an incident that occurred in Jim Cronin's tavern at 21st and Market Streets in St. Louis. A Mr. F.C. Howard, who apparently had been drinking for a while, ordered a round of drinks for everyone in the establishment just before Colonel Slupsky arrived with a few friends.
"When he saw the colonel ranging up to the bar, Mr. Howard looked at him severely and said 'Nay, nay, Pauline; it's off!'
" 'What's off?' queried Slupsky, who had not been aware of Howard's generous intentions. 'Your graft. We are not playing ringers on this track. You're ruled off course. In other words, such drinks as you pays for, you gets; not otherwise. See?' "
Slupsky was "paralyzed," but not for long, by this insult from someone he didn't even know, the Globe-Democrat reported. Abe surreptitiously gave a quarter to a tavern employee and whispered to him to leave open the long, low icebox that was nearby against the wall. He then addressed Howard: "I don't know who you are, sir, but you mustn't leave me out of a general treat this way. It hurts my feelings." Howard responded, according to Slupsky, by saying "he'd see me gormed [smudged or smeared] first." At that point, Slupsky "caught him, and before he could even begin to cuss any I had him in that icebox, with the cover down. ... He was the most surprised man I ever saw in my life. I guess that icebox was about the last place on earth he thought he was heading for when he began his play."
Abe told the newspaper that he had intended to keep the man in the icebox until he agreed to buy him a drink, but instead took pleasure in a further prank: "While they were getting him out and peeling things off him somebody asked him what he wanted to insult Congressman [Nathan] Frank that way for. 'Great Scott! Was that Congressman Frank?' he says. 'Let me see him,' and he came to me, with his hand out, saying 'Congressman, you must forgive me. I had never seen you before, and I'm sorry that I insulted you.'
Abe continued the charade: "I stood on my congressional dignity awhile and asked what my constituents would think of it if they heard I was grafting for a drink, but finally I forgave him, and we all went in and had something. I invited him to come down and see me at my office in the Turner building, and when he calls I guess Nat Frank and he will have a nice time getting themselves straightened out."
On Oct. 17, 1894, the St. Louis Republic announced that Abe Slupsky had been hired as district water inspector for the city at the "insignificant" salary of $90 per month. The newspaper characterized him as "the suave Hebrew midget and brunette Republican politician" and commented: "He knows that for every chance to grasp a portion of the spoils, there are countless fingers clutching, and when the opportunity is thus thrust upon him he knows enough to clutch." The newspaper claimed that Abe had once proposed drying up the Mississippi River so its rich bottom could be used for farming, but he had changed his mind because "he is now more favorable to water."
The St. Louis Republic again wrote of the Colonel's job on Oct. 28, 1894, commenting that "his manner went far towards confirming the rumor that his duties are not to inspect water so much as to inspect the people who drink it---especially the voters."
On Dec. 13, 1894, the St. Louis Republic (reprinted Dec. 14, 1894, in the Kansas City Star) briefly noted that Abe had been arrested in a raid with more than 20 other gamblers for allegedly playing poker at a location on North 8th Street in St. Louis. The Colonel claimed to have been playing hearts.
Also in 1894, Col. Abe Slupsky's name appeared in a book of poetry, "Versatile Verses" by George Albert Wilson. The poem titled "Athens' Defection" was a strange, satirical rebuke of the wealthy residents of the South Nyack section of Nyack-on-Hudson, N.Y., who in 1894 had voted against the appropriation to fund the community's free public library. This now-forgotten poet ridiculed the voters as "non-appreciative souls" who had "Repudiated the spirits of Sainte Beuve, Shakespeare, Servetus, Shelley, ... Pope, Plutarch, Poe, Paine, ... And Col. Abe Slupsky."
In February 1895, the New York Sun took offense at an item in the National Provisioner, a food industry publication, that mentioned Abe Slupsky in a very brief but disparaging way. The Provisioner had commented that New York State Commissioner of Agriculture Schraub "is not a farmer and knows as little of agriculture as the Rajah of Tenam knows about Abe Slupsky." In response, the Sun published a spirited rebuttal to the Provisioner's allegation. "Not only is the Rajah of Tenam aware of the existence of Colonel Abe Slupsky," the Sun declared, "but he happens to be one of the great school reformer's warmest admirers and most constant correspondents."
The Jewish Voice, a weekly newspaper in St. Louis edited by Reform Rabbi Morris Spitz, published a curious commentary on Feb. 15, 1895, about Jewish Republican politicians, without naming Abe Slupsky: "The political ravens and ward-bummers who, unfortunately classify themselves as Jews, have again organized themselves into a 'Hebrew Republican Club.' How contemptible! No decent Jew in the city recognizes these 'bleeders' anyhow. The Jews, as such, can have no political clubs anywhere in this country."
The Jewish weekly later that year (Dec. 13, 1895), published a similar diatribe decrying Jewish politicos: "Every political club in this country which uses the 'Jewish' or 'Hebrew' or 'Israelitish' name is a fraud, be it Republican, Democratic, or any other political club. No decent man ought to affiliate with an organization of that kind, because, we believe, it is solely and exclusively conducted by fellows who do not care whether or not they besmirch our fair name, since they go for 'revenue only!'"
In an instance of politically facetious mischief, a Democratic member of the Missouri House of Representatives proposed a "bill" that would authorize spending $80,000 for a silver bust of Republican boss Chauncey I. Filley that would be installed in the main room of Colonel Eph Houston's Eagle's Nest, a St. Louis tavern owned by a well-known Native American. The measure, reported by the Kansas City Journal of March 3, 1895, included a proposal to appoint a commission--including Abe Slupsky and two others--to contract for and purchase the statue. The measure undoubtedly was never meant to be enacted, but it was entered into the official record and 300 copies were printed.
In the March 16, 1895, issue of Outlook magazine, the educator A. Emerson Palmer (who later was the secretary of the New York Board of Education) seized on his doubts about the existence of Abe Slupsky to begin a serious editorial commentary on the need for school reform, particularly in New York and Brooklyn:
"This mythical personage was represented to be especially interested in school reform, and so persistently and frequently did the 'Sun' chronicle his alleged remarks and movements that a good many people came to believe that there was such a man as Slupsky, despite his uneuphonious [not pleasant sounding] name, and a number of portraits of him were printed in various papers of the country...."
"Although recently vouched for again as a veracious [accurate] personage," Palmer continued, "the Slupsky myth has apparently lapsed into 'innocuous desuetude [disuse],' but not the cause to which he was supposed to be devoting all his energies."
Palmer used these comments on the "Slupsky myth" as a springboard to his endorsement of actual bills pending in the New York legislature to reorganize the public school systems of New York and Brooklyn.
The Philadelphia Enquirer commented satirically on national Republican Party politics in a short May 13, 1895, column titled "An Unwarranted Slur." The Philadelphia paper chastised the Indianapolis News for suggesting that U.S. Sen. William E. Chandler's "little boom for Vice-President means the other end of the Abe Slupsky boom for president. ... The slur upon Mr. Slupsky is in itself unwarranted. After the present administration [of Grover Cleveland], Slupsky and Chandler would be such an improvement that the people of this country would imagine they had reached the millenium at last."
On Oct. 21, 1895, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published this brief: "Col. Abe Slupsky has reappeared in politics. He has just thrashed a man on a St. Louis street car." No further explanation was provided.
The New York Sun took umbrage on Jan. 13, 1896, at the Jan. 6 reporting in the St. Louis Star-Sayings of an incident that occurred in Tony Faust's drinking and eating establishment. Late one evening, upon entering Faust's "gastronomical department," the Colonel allegedly expressed "disgust at the apparent lack of lack of animation there," the Sun noted. To remedy the situation, he took out a wad of cash, counted out fifty $2 bills, and told the head waiter, according to the Star-Sayings, to "call every employee of the house in, waiters, barkeepers, cooks, oystermen, drivers, hostlers, the whole shooting match. I want to give each of them a present."
Abe's table became the busiest one in the place as he deftly passed out the bills. In the rush, several of the waiters managed to get three of the bills, the Star-Sayings reported.
The Sun expressed no doubts about the Colonel's philanthropy, but called into question that Abe, "who is almost a precisian in his punctilious observance of the properties of speech," would have ever used the phrase "the whole shooting match." Furthermore, the Sun warned all friends of the school reform (a cause long facetiously associated with Abe Slupsky), not to believe the Star-Sayings reporting: "The reporter goes too far and defeats his own purpose. ... Half truths are often more dangerously deceptive than whole lies."
On Feb. 12, 1896, The Republic newspaper of St. Louis hinted of the possibility of an Abe Slupsky-Benjamin Harrison presidential ticket when it said: "The Presidential year will witness the marriage of two Republican leaders whose fame is national."
Abe Slupsky made money in many different ways. A brief article in the Sept. 10, 1895, St. Louis Republic provides evidence that he bought and sold diamonds. The article described the Colonel noticing a $100 diamond pin in a pawn shop window that he thought he had sold to the "proprietress of a resort" at 15 S. 21st St. from whom the pin was stolen. But Abe and the woman apparently were mistaken because the pawn shop owner knew who had sold it to him and that person had the pawn ticket for the bauble.
He was also a gambler. He once even offered a St. Louis alderman a $50 wager to settle a dispute over a point of grammar, but the official turned him down, according to a July 28, 1896, article in the St. Louis Republic. Another time, after having defeated Dr. J. Finkelstein in a poker game, the physician, who was low on cash at the time, presented the Colonel with a $200 IOU, the Republic reported on Sept. 11, 1896. After some time had elapsed, the medical man still had not paid his debt, so Abe obtained a writ of attachment from a justice of the peace on the horse and buggy that the doctor used to make his rounds. After trying out the vehicle, Abe auctioned it off to make good on the debt.
Taking the plunge into matrimony
On Oct. 8, 1891, Abe Slupsky married a widow, Mrs. Sophie Fry Levy Michaels, an immigrant from England who was Abe's brother Jacob's sister-in-law. (Sophie's first husband, Morris Levy, died in about 1877. Her second husband, Herman Michaels, died in Jonesboro, Ark., on March 17, 1891, seven months before she married Abe.) But Abe and Sophie's marriage didn’t last long, because Sophie died on Jan. 18, 1895, of peritonitis.
On their marriage license, Abe had claimed to be 33 years old, and Sophie said she was 30. (But if we are to believe her death certificate, Sophie was actually about three years older than Abe, and if we are to believe the 1860 U.S. Census, then Sophie was actually about five years older than Abe. A subsequent court case indicated that Sophie was 35 and Abe, 31 when they got married.)
A year after Sophie’s death, on Feb. 15, 1896, Abe married his second wife, Caroline Fischer, who was about 13 years younger than he was. Abe’s second marriage came five years after his first, but Abe claimed to have aged only two years in that time on his second marriage license. Abe claimed he was 35, and Carrie Fischer said she was 21. Interestingly, Abe signed the application for their marriage license for both himself and Carrie.
The St. Louis Republic published an article announcing the forthcoming marriage of Abe and Caroline, which was picked up by the Daily Chicago Tribune on Feb. 13, 1896. Carrie was described as "well-known in South St. Louis as a young woman of many accomplishments and a charming personality." The groom, the Republic wrote, "is worth $10,000 or more, besides his real estate, and is the possessor of a paying position in the Water Rates office, earned for him by his services in behalf of the Republican party."
Similar follow-up articles based on the St. Louis Republic story appeared Feb. 29, 1896, in the Daily Herald of Steubenville, Ohio, March 2, 1896, in the Ft. Wayne (Ind.) Sentinel. and March 10, 1896, in the Kalamazoo Gazette in Michigan.
On Feb. 28, 1896, the Jewish Voice, a weekly newspaper edited by the Reform Rabbi Morris Spitz that generally ignored Abe's doings, noted that the Slupsky-Fischer wedding had taken place the previous week in the bride's Carondelet home. "It was a jolly affair in every respect, and the happy couple were duly honored with gifts, telegrams, etc. Mr. and Mrs. Slupsky receive their friends at their elegant home, 3319 Laclede Avenue."
A group of Abe's influential cronies, including GOP politician Nathan Frank, tavern keeper E.A. Faust, and brewery owners Louis Lemp and Adolphus Busch Jr., took up a collection for a wedding gift purchased from the Mermod & Jaccard jewelry store. Temporarily on display in the upscale store were: 12 cut glass champagne glasses with a solid silver tray, a cut glass water pitcher and tray, a cut glass whisky decanter, six glasses and tray, and a solid glass champagne cooler with solid silver tray, according to the St. Louis Republic (reprinted Feb. 16, 1896, in the Sioux City Journal in Iowa).
The St. Paul Globe in Minnesota on Feb. 14, 1896, hinted that politics would soon take a back seat to Abe's new bride: "Col. Abe Slupsky, the St. Louis politician, is going to get divorced from the Republican Party and get married to Miss Carrie Fischer, a St. Louis belle."
The Feb. 17, 1896, St. Louis Republic published an account of the wedding ceremony, which took place in the bride's mother's home, 7209 S. Broadway. The 68 people in attendance, mostly relatives, consumed 10 cases of champagne, according to the newspaper. A large banquet was served on a long table that stretched through the dining room and parlor, and a live band performed behind a screen. Rabbi Morris Spitz and the groom spoke; the toastmaster was Adolph Knoch, an uncle of the bride. Speeches were also delivered by Leo Kober, another of the bride's uncles; Sam Kober, a cousin of the bride; and Ed Clifford, a cashier in the collector's office in City Hall. Gifts were received from various relatives and friends of the bride and groom. Among the non-relatives who were listed by the newspaper as having provided gifts were: C.J. Stolle, principal clerk of the water rates office, where the groom was employed; Amadee Cole, a merchants exchange official and wheat trader; J.D. Lucas, a wealthy horse breeder; and Bud Mantz, assistant treasurer of the Olympic Theater. At the end of the festivities, Abe Slupsky, undoubtedly fortified with a generous dose of the champagne, offered the following toast: "Here's hoping that none of you die until I kill you."
After the wedding ceremony, William Marion Reedy's St. Louis Mirror took the occasion to publish a brief tasteless insult concerning Abe's surname (reprinted in the Chicago Daily Tribune on Feb. 26, 1896): "Col. Abe Slupsky was, on Sunday evening, with great gusto married to a charming young lady of Carondelet. When the Colonel kissed his pretty bride, the sound, they tell me, resembled his own most sibilantly propulsive name."
In a less insulting comment, the Constitution of Atlanta on Feb. 18, 1896, remarked: "Colonel Abe Slupsky, the St. Louis statesman discovered by Mr. Dana [of the New York Sun], is married. This shows what advertising will do for a man."
In 1900, Abe Slupsky was sued by survivors of his first wife over the title to his home at 3319 Laclede Ave. in St. Louis. Sophie Slupsky's mother, two of Sophie's sisters, a half-sister and a half-brother sued Abe in St. Louis City Circuit Court, alleging the title to his house should belong to them because it had been paid for by Sophie Slupsky's $4,500, the total price of the house, the title of which was in Abe's name. Sophie had died only seven or eight months after the house was purchased and 13 months before Abe's second marriage.
Sophie had inherited the money from her first two husbands, most of it from Herman Michaels, a jeweler and hotel owner in Jonesboro, Ark. The plaintiffs testified that they had seen the money, which was kept in a safe deposit box, being counted prior to Sophie's marriage to Abe and that, afterward, they had repeatedly heard Abe acknowledge that he had bought the house for his wife with her money. Abe Slupsky, however, testified in St. Louis Circuit Court that he had paid for the house with his own money. The St. Louis court considered the plaintiffs' testimony "incredible and beyond the possibilities of human belief" and ruled in Abe's favor.
But Sophie Slupsky's relatives appealed the case to the Missouri Supreme Court, which ruled on Dec. 11, 1900, that Abe should not have been allowed to testify in the case. The court cited several precedents, saying: "When one party to the contract is dead, the other party is incompetent. ... A trust is raised in favor of the one who pays the consideration for land, although the deed is made to the other. ... A husband investing wife's personal property in land holds the title in trust for her."
The Missouri Supreme Court ordered the legal title to the property be turned over to Sophie Slupsky's heirs. The St. Louis Republic of Feb. 7, 1901, reported that the share of the property awarded to Sophie Slupsky's family was sold under a deed of trust on Feb. 6, 1901; that was the same day that the second Mrs. Abe Slupsky filed suit to seek the sale of the property to have her three-fifths share of the house be paid to her. [The aforementioned Republic article erroneously said that Abe's first wife was his second wife's sister. The error could have been caused by confusion over the fact that Abe's first wife was the sister of his brother Jacob's wife.]
It is unclear from public records exactly when Abe and Caroline Slupsky moved from 3319 Laclede. They were there at the time of the 1900 U.S. Census in July, five months before the Supreme Court ruling, and were reported to still be living there in April of 1902, but by 1908 they had moved to a house at 3852 Lindell Blvd.
For a time, as part of his city employment, Abe handed out free dog, buggy and wagon license plates that should have required payment of a fee. In 1901, he was indicted for allegedly counterfeiting the licenses. Abe denied any wrongdoing a June 26, 1901, St. Louis Republic article: "Why I had nothing to do with it. I have not seen a license tag this year. I don't even know what they look like, but I know of some who have been peddling them around."
A June 26, 1901, New York Sun described the situation in a short article headlined: "Abe Slupsky Arrested: Accused of Participating in the Forgery of St. Louis License Tags." The Sun reported that Abe was arrested and charged with forgery in the third degree on June 25 and was freed on $1,000 bond. His arrest came as the result of a follow-up to a fraud inquiry in which three "pool sellers" in the fairgrounds grandstands had confessed to defrauding the city by counterfeiting and selling thousands of license tags. After the report of the arrest, The Daily News-Democrat of Belleville, Ill., noted that Abe was well known in Belleville for his business trips there and commented, "He is considered one of the smoothest politicians in the West."
After the initial arrests, it had been reported that some in City Hall had been implicated in the misdeeds. The Sun said, "Slupsky is a deputy in the office of the Assessor and Collector of Water Rates, and, it is alleged, was implicated in the forgery or manufacture of bogus tags, which were sold below the regular rates." But Abe contended that he was arrested because of his name, saying that "it was a case of Jew-baiting, that if he had been called Jones or Smith his political enemies would not have made such a charge against him."
According to a later article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “The tags were, in fact, genuine, but Slupsky could not make this plea without embarrassing the city official who had permitted him to fill his pockets with them. So he said nothing, and the case collapsed when it developed that there was no statute against counterfeiting license tags.”
Judge Horatio D. Wood quashed the forgery indictment against Slupsky, Alfred Reynolds, William Gerken and Frank B. Warner, according to a Dec. 7, 1901, article in the St. Louis Republic, on the technical grounds that the indictment was imperfectly drawn.
Abe is known to have had two brothers, Samuel and Jacob, a sister, Hannah, and several half-siblings named Rosenstein. On Aug. 6, 1895, the New York Times published a letter to the editor whose author claimed to be Abe's brother "Ikey Slupsky." The letter from St. Louis, dated July 26, 1895, starts: "My brother Abe and myself have become convinced that President Cleveland is fishing for something more than trout and tautog [aka blackfish]; that he is, in fact, baiting the largest of all hooks for another nomination. His silence is ominous and alarming." The letter-writer continues by explaining that Missourians have a saying that his brother Abe invented---"'silence give consent.' What could be more evident, therefore, than that the President has consented to run again?" The writer teasingly raises the possibility of Abe seeking the top job in the nation as he concludes: "Politics is business. If you don't want a thing, say so, and give somebody else a chance. For instance, there are my brother Abe and myself, either of whom would---but that is another matter."
The October 1895 edition of Ev'ry Month, a popular women's music magazine, contained a "Review of the Month" column written by its editor, Theodore Dreiser, that mentioned Abe Slupsky. Dreiser, who later would become a major novelist, asked: "What has become of Col. Abraham Slupsky? ... Where is he and why does he not come forward?" Dreiser said he had been "proud and excited" when he had learned that the colonel really existed and his name "was not a fake and a delusion." In extraordinarily exuberant prose, Dreiser continued: "The glitter of Col. Abraham's name streaked the zenith above St. Louis and from thence streamed down upon us like golden whiskers, pendant from the serene chops [jowls] of some mythical God of Peace. We were drunk with pure, seven-ply delight, and we did not wot [know] whether we ate or waked or slumbered, so long as we had Col. Abraham Slupsky and we had him safe." He pleaded for the Colonel to show himself again because "With Reform racking the country and ten percent increases inveigling everyone into doing hard and continuous labor, I think we have a right to Col. Abraham's restful presence. With New York gone dry and Chicago gone crooked, we pine for Col. Slupsky and his opinions. ... What this reform-stricken and paralytic land needs is the magic of a name, and when it comes to that sort of thing Col. Abraham Slupsky still leads the procession."
(The abovementioned 1895 column by Dreiser has been reprinted in the book "Theodore Dreiser's Ev'ry Month" edited by Nancy Warner Barrineau, published by the University of Georgia Press, 1996.)
Abe's half-brother Louis Rosenstein's troubled history was mentioned a couple of times in 1896 in The Republic, a St. Louis daily newspaper. A full-page feature was published on Feb. 2, 1896, about the inmates of the House of Refuge, a detention center for "young good-for-naughts, law breakers, [and] incorrigibles," according to The Republic. The newspaper said Louis had been in the House of Refuge seven times. He was alleged to have robbed a "country boy" at Union Station by pretending to be a train ticket agent. He took not only the boy's money, but also a ticket, which he then sold to buy one for himself to Nashville, Tenn. Another time Louis allegedly stole $175 from his mother. While The Republic's reporter was visiting with Louis, his parents arrived with a letter of reprieve from the mayor granting the youth another trial.
On Sept. 20, 1896, The Republic reported that on the previous day Louis Rosenstein, 15, had been sentenced by Judge Murphy to 6 months in the Workhouse for stealing $15. His mother appealed to the judge for clemency, but he refused. She then went to the Chief of Police Harrigan to ask him to reverse the sentence. "Chief Harrigan informed her that he was not in the habit of interfering in the affairs of Judge Murphy's court," the newspaper said.
A few months later, Louis, 17, was stabbed five times by a fellow inmate of the House of Refuge. Louis and the assailant were working in the shoe shop when they began quarreling. About a half hour later during recess, George Miller, 17, the son of a retired police officer, stabbed Louis with a knife taken from the shoe shop. The assailant, who claimed that Louis had teased him, was charged with assault with intent to kill. Louis was in serious condition in the House of Refuge hospital, The Republic reported on March 16, 1897.
By 1910, Louis had apparently settled down because the U.S. census of that year indicated the 29-year-old former ne'er-do-well was living at home with his parents and working as an inspector for the Water Department, a job that his half-brother Abe probably arranged for him.
In the election year of 1896, Abe Slupsky's name surfaced in the newspapers in a humorous way. The New York Sun (in a political note republished in the Chicago Daily Tribune on Jan. 4, 1896) ridiculed the assertion by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat that Missouri had no favorite son (a presidential candidate favored for nomination by his own state) by listing several obviously false statements: "Missouri is situated east of the Mississippi River, isn't it, on the south slope of Mount St. Elias, abutting on the foothills of Mount Copernicus? ... Missouri has a favorite son, a favorite son of Fate's, too. His name is Abe Slupsky, and the world is but the fringe of his fame."
Similarly, on April 20, 1896, the Chicago Daily Tribune made light of the number and variety of people who might run for president: "It is the glorious privilege of anybody in this country to be mentioned for the presidency. Tillman, Coxey, Debs, Dennis Kearney, Mrs. Helen M. Gougar, ... George Francis Train, the $3 shoe man, and Col. Abe Slupsky all have been suggested at one time or another as possible presidents. ... There is no place at which the line may be drawn in cases of this kind."
The St. Louis Republic of May 12, 1896, published a full-page account of the battle between Chauncey I. Filley, the Republican Party boss of the so-called Hoodlum faction, and Richard C. Kerens, leader of the Silk-stocking faction, over control of the Republican State Convention in St. Joseph, Mo., that would choose the at-large delegates to the national GOP convention. Abe Slupsky, a supporter of Kerens, was mentioned only briefly in connection with an encounter with Chris Schawacker, a Filley supporter from the 1st Ward of St. Louis. Schawacker was engaged in a boastful, pugnacious exchange on behalf of Filley with St. Joseph Mayor Hastain when Abe and two of his fellow Kerens men showed up, causing Schawacker to "beat a hasty retreat," the Republic wrote.
Two days later, in the Kansas City Star of May 14, 1896, GOP boss Chaucey Filley was alleged to have accused a group of his Republican foes, including Nathan Frank, Dick Kerens, "Snake" Kenney, Charley Comfort, Abe Slupsky, and others of having "hired seventy-five damnable police in St. Louis to prevent Republican citizens from participating in a Republican mass meeting and who resorted to the same methods in St. Joseph."
A reporter from the New York Sun sought out "the well-known apostle of school reform" who had been reported dead 10 days earlier in a tornado, according to a June 9, 1896, Sun article (reprinted June 19, 1896, in the Atchison Daily Globe of Kansas). The colonel, who had replaced the diamond in his shirt front with a "ruby as big as your fist," according to the New York paper, predicted a McKinley victory on the convention's second ballot. The Sun characterized Abe Slupsky as a "warm personal friend of Maj. McKinley. He has worked for the major, has gone on many private and secret missions for him, and has known him as a friend for years." Abe praised McKinley as "a man you can get at" and criticized Cleveland as an elitist: "Why if a bum like me went at a mug like Cleveland, he'd yell 'Go 'way young man; g'way; keep off the grass!' Why it's only the big mugs as can get near him."
Once the national convention got under way in St. Louis, the St. Louis Republic claimed on June 11, 1896, to have hired Abe Slupsky to "scoop" all the other reporters by paying him $1,000 a minute to write for them. Among the observations attributed to the Colonel was the prediction that McKinley would be nominated, but that he would face several competitors and would not be chosen by acclimation. When questioned about his opinion on the money issue, Abe was quoted as saying, "Personally, as is well known, I am in favor of a good big roll of bills." In the Republic article, the Colonel proposed that he be the vice presidential nominee and that, if he couldn't be chosen, then at least the nomination should go to someone he approved of.
In a separate article also published June 11, 1896, in the St. Louis Republic, it was reported that Abe had been the victor in a fight with Julius Wuerzburger, a 9th Ward Republican and a Filley supporter, but both men were facing a charge of disturbing the peace.
In the issue of June 12, 1896, the St. Louis Republic reported that Abe Slupsky had again been the victor in a pugilistic contest with a member of the Hoodlum faction, "Texas" Tom Walsh, a St. Louis poolroom operator and bookmaker. Walsh had encountered Abe and a couple of his friends drinking at Faust's bar. When Abe left the room briefly to buy a cigar, Walsh punched Abe's two friends, Pete Busch and John Sutter. But when the Colonel returned, he "struck Mr. Walsh with his knee---somewhere ---and Mr. Walsh went down," the Republic said. The defeated bookie had to be sent home in a cab, but Abe came away from the encounter with a "scar that would be large on anybody else, but looks small on the side of his nose," according to the Republic.
In a separate brief also published June 11, 1896, in the St. Louis Republic, some 30 or 40 assistant sergeants-at-arms were reported to have "made the air blue with highly charged language" after they had arrived 30 minutes late and found the Auditorium's employee's entrance locked. They were eventually admitted at the gallery entrance. Abe Slupsky, who had observed the obscenities, remarked, "Those guys think the convention won't run until they get inside. It is a case of Filley-head. Swelled."
In a "Convention Gossip" column datelined from St. Louis in the June 13, 1896, Washington Post, an unnamed St. Louis newspaper [the St. Louis Republic] was quoted as having said that it had "after great difficulty secured the services of the Hon. Abe Slupsky, at $1,000 a minute" to cover the Republican National Convention about to take place in St. Louis. The Washington Post gossip column noted that Abe had been very much in evidence in recent days "by reason of a fight in a couple of beer saloons." The D.C. newspaper described him as "a man of diminutive size with a small face and large nose, slouchy in appearance, and his black-haired head is covered with a soft hat."
In the report that Abe supposedly wrote for the St. Louis newspaper, he accurately predicted the nomination by the Republicans of William McKinley, a former congressman and governor of Ohio: "From the way it looks to me," Abe was quoted as writing, "there won't be a guy in the convention with enough pulse to nominate [Sen. William B.] Allison [of Iowa] or any other gun. McKinley will go through that hall the same as the tornado went through St. Louis."
On June 13, 1896, the St. Louis Republic published another column above Abe's signature. In it he recounted an interview with Joseph Manley, a Republican politician from Maine who was a close associate and backer of presidential candidate James G. Blaine. "Joe never did a thing but drink his booze and look at me like he was trying to figure out whether I wanted his watch or his roll [cash]," Abe wrote. Abe also told of a conversation with Matthew Quay, a Pennsylvania GOP "kingmaker." Quay, who was backing William McKinley against Blaine for the presidential nomination, told Abe, "When Bill's elected, I'll be Secretary of the Navy and you'll be chief lighthouse keeper at the Chain of Rocks [a rocky area in the Mississippi River]." But Abe was skeptical of this promise, recounting an incident when he had asked Quay to help get a friend of his out of jail in Philadelphia. "Now this friend of mine is dated to make little ones out of big ones for seven years."
In the June 14, 1896, St. Louis Republic, a convention report attributed to Abe, written in the second person, suggested he become the GOP vice presidential nominee: "Mr. Slupsky is an able man and a representative of a people who have been turned down with disgusting frequency in national politics." In the same article, Abe described a conversation with Ike Tumbro, an advocate of free coinage of silver who was from Salt Lake City (The "silverites" favored an inflationary monetary policy that would enable debtors to pay off their debts with cheaper dollars. Some Westerners who supported the silver cause split from the GOP in 1896.). "Ike," Abe told Tumbro, "Don't you know you people stand about as much show in the convention as the man did who went to hell with a straw blanket and talked Yiddish to the devil?"
The New York Journal published a list of "St. Louis Wonders" that was reprinted in the July 4, 1896, St. Louis Republic. Included among such alleged facts as "St. Louis manufactures more coffins and caskets than any city in the world. St. Louis is acknowledged to be the largest mule market in the world. ... St. Louis had the biggest cyclone the world every knew. ... [and] St. Louis has the only liver-colored drinking water in the United States," was the fact that the city was the home of Abe Slupsky.
In a Kansas City Star article published July 9, 1896, St. Louis GOP boss Chauncey Filley vowed to retain control of the city committee and prevent the overthrow of the state committee through the local primary elections. He was reported to have threatened to call police "to maintain order and if ... party disturbers aid bolters as Frank, Comfort, Slupsky & Co."
A couple weeks later, in a completely non-political article with the headline "The Public Prints Did Abe Slupsky Great Injustice," published July 19, 1896, Abe was quoted in the St. Louis Republic as denying reports in other newspapers that he had been beaten up in a fistfight with one "Shorty" McCormack. After "Shorty" had punched him in the mouth, Abe claimed to have overcome his assailant using his incisors, which he called his "food reducers." The Colonel's only injury was a small mark where he had allegedly bitten himself during the battle.
Of the fight, Abe said, "I didn't go out with a dark lantern looking for the scrap. He forced it on me. ... My only regret is that I didn't take home his nose or his eye with me." In response to the allegedly false reports of his defeat, Abe offered to pay anyone $1,000 if he had insulted anyone and to pay the same amount if he failed to "properly lick the man who says it."
A follow-up article from the St. Louis Republic that was reprinted Aug. 2, 1896, in the Sunday Herald of Syracuse, N.Y., quoted Abe boasting: "I wasn't a bouncer at Esher's for eight years for nothing. The only way they can do me is for four of 'em to hit me with lead pipe at once, and kick me when I am unconscient."
In an article headlined "Some Stories About People We Know" in the Sept. 11, 1896, St. Louis Republic, Abe Slupsky told the newspaper that about a year earlier he had defeated Dr. J. Finkelstein at poker and the physician had given him an I.O.U. worth $200. The doctor had been unable to repay the debt, so on the previous Wednesday Abe went to the justice of the peace and obtained a writ of attachment for Finkelstein's horse and phaeton. Now Abe, driving around town, was "looking as prosperous as a director in a national bank" and "mingling with the swells on the boulevard and enjoying the fullness of life." At one stop, a woman tried to give Abe $8 that her husband owed the doctor, but the colonel refunded the money, or so he said. Abe announced plans to auction off the rig himself the next morning at Selkirk's Stables.
The Republican William McKinley defeated the Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the presidential election of Nov. 3, 1896. A month later, on Dec. 4, 1896, the St. Louis Republic speculated on the federal jobs that were up for grabs in St. Louis as a result. The newspaper indicated that Col. "Dick" Kerens' approval, rather than that of long-time boss Chauncey Filley, would be required. The Republic also speculated that Abe Slupsky would be in line for a "sleuth" job with the Treasury Department.
On Nov. 25, 1896, Abe and Caroline Slupsky's first child, Morris Frank Slupsky, was born in St. Louis. In a brief congratulatory note published the following day, the Kansas City Star--perhaps with political tongue in cheek--claimed that Abe's new son was named William McKinley Slupsky to "perpetuate 'one of the few immortal names that were not born to die'."
A fictional character
Also in 1896, an unidentified author published "The Fat Knight: His Complete Career with Conquests and Collapse and Final, Marvelous Triumph." In this 124-page satirical poem on the life and political career of President Grover Cleveland, Abe Slupsky is mentioned on more than two dozen pages. Abe, seen variously as riding an ass, a bicycle and a lion, is portrayed much like Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes' character of Sancho Panza, as the side-kick of Cleveland, who is presented in a role much like Don Quixote.
In pursuit of reform, Abe Slupsky accompanies the "Fat Knight" on a cross-country journey: "Disdaining traditions, party practice, set rules, Men one time his friends now treating as fools, Knight, mounti'g stout bike, with good, sound rubber tire, With Slupsky along for adviser, guide, squire, Struck out for far West."
In real life, the Democrat Cleveland was an ardent advocate of the Gold Standard, a stance that would have been anathema to the Republican Slupsky. But in "The Fat Knight," Abe is seen defending the knight, whose outfit and bike were both yellow (that is, golden), against those who would aid the "white-metal knave."
In this excerpt, despite its similarity of Cervantes' classical novel, Abe Slupsky, riding an ass, is contrasted with both Sancho Panza and Don Quixote:
At the end of the book, Abe Slupsky meets a bad end, as he is devoured by the lion that, for a while, had been his transport until knocked from his seat by David B. Hill, the governor of New York who had been defeated for the Democratic nomination for president in 1892 by Grover Cleveland:
Soon after publication of "The Fat Knight," Abe Slupsky was involved in a couple real-life dramas.
In St. Louis Republic articles of Jan. 20-21, 1897, it was reported that real estate agent John Knoth had filed suit two years earlier against Abe Slupsky, Slupsky's business associate Col. C.D. Comfort and the Kingsland Realty Co., alleging that the defendants were guilty of usury in a loan of $100 arranged on July 28, 1895, by Abe for Cornelius O'Callahan, whose interest in seven shares of Kingsland stock Knoth had purchased. In exchange for the loan, Abe had received a note for $105, and for a 30-day extension, he had received an additional $10, which the Colonel considered a commission, not interest. The plaintiff, Knoth, alleged that the $10 paid to Abe amounted to 120% annual interest and demanded the return of his seven shares, said to be worth $700, that had been provided as collateral for the deal. But Abe, claiming the note was overdue, had sold the stock to Comfort after receiving his so-called commission.
Judge Klein ruled for the plaintiff, calling the deal a fraud and declaring it null and void because of its illegality. But he ordered Knoth to pay Comfort $97.95 to regain the stock, and Slupsky and Comfort were to pay for the trial's legal costs.
As part of a long-term, eventually successful campaign by the St. Louis Republic to oust St. Louis Jailer "Butch" Wagner for incompetence and brutality, the newspaper used the persona of Abe Slupsky as a foil to make the German-American jailer appear a fool and buffoon. In a series of illustrated, humorous articles published in the Sunday editions of the newspaper, Slupsky was quoted as describing his visits to local saloons, the opera, and a masked ball accompanied by the disgraced, gullible, well-lubricated jailer.
In the Feb. 14, 1897, episode, Abe tells Butch about a talent show being put on by Abe's political foe, the GOP boss Chauncey Filley, to raise funds from those hoping to be hired for patronage jobs by the next mayor, Henry Zeigenhein. The Colonel persuades Butch to take him down to the jail first so that they can borrow some brass knuckles, revolvers and bullets. When they arrive at the show, they find Filley doing a "song and dance." Butch mistakes the political boss for a jail escapee, but he calms down once someone brings him a drink and he puts on his glasses.
In the Feb. 28, 1897, account, Abe's thoughts briefly turn to grand opera. He describes how "Butch" Wagner told him how to "spiel them foreign names," such as Vognerian instead of Wagnerian. While visiting a tavern, Abe wins free drinks for everyone in the establishment by coming up with a drink (named for a wealthy New York socialite) that the bartender cannot identify. Butch admires Abe's success in winning the drinks and suggests they move on to another saloon where they can try the trick again. When they get to Cronin's place, Butch ineptly orders the drink for everyone and ends up being charged $280. Later, the two go to a show called "Longgren," according to Abe, who finds the performance a "dead one." "This Vogner business is one too many for me," he says, so Abe leaves early and goes to another tavern. The Colonel gets tired of waiting, so he sends a boy over to the opera house to tell the jailer that seven of the jail inmates had escaped. Butch "purty near breaks up the show getting out," and as he approaches the saloon, Abe flags him down to tell him that he made up the tale of the escape.
A week later, in the Republic of March 7, 1897, Abe persuades Butch to accompany him to a bal masque. The jailer first wants to go as a female impersonator, but Abe "knocks against this and finally jars him loose from that idea." Then Butch suggests he dress up as a bartender, carrying bottles of whiskey and seltzer, but Abe prevents that from happening by pointing out that the jailer would have trouble keeping the bottles filled. In the end, Abe goes to the party as Hamlet, and Butch goes as Hamlet's father's ghost. Abe tries to teach Butch some lines from Shakespeare. But when they get to the ball, the jailer drives "the gang pretty near crazy" when he says: "Ich bin der ghost of Abe Slupsky's father, und I vas sentenced to valk der streeds by von saloon so long as I don'd vas square myself mit dot Board of Heal'."
Occasionally one newspaper would respond to another newspaper's mention of Abe Slupsky. When the New York Sun published a short letter to the editor from a reader inquiring "as to the whereabouts and doings of Colonel Abe Slupsky, whose illustrious name has not recently appeared in your columns," the Republic of St. Louis reprinted it and had an answer.
The Republic of St. Louis commented on Aug. 15, 1897, that since coming to St. Louis, Abe Slupsky "has not shone with the lone star brilliancy that once distinguished him from the mediocre men of Gotham." The St. Louis paper assured everyone that "Colonel Abe Slupsky when last seen was right here in St. Louis basking on the cushioned ottoman of a very decolette Victoria, drawn by two spanking hackneys ..." and he has no intention of leaving Missouri. "His affection for St. Louis is deeply grafted at the City Hall."
When shown the article from the Sun, Abe told the Republic, "Does yer Uncle look like a relic o' de Stone Age? Dem Eastern sheets think a man what leaves N'Yoik gols off de map. W'en I want t' get into exterior doikness 'll go to N'Yoik. See? This town is loige enough for me, an' I'm loige enough for it."
Sometimes even when a matter did not directly concern the Colonel, his presence was noted. When a St. Louis judge was taking under advisement a criminal case alleging that poolrooms were nuisances and common gaming houses, Abe was seen in the courtroom seated in the bailiff's high chair, according to the Republic of Sept. 5, 1897. When court was adjourned, Abe was heard whispering to friends, "the outlook for the poolroom people ain't no cinch."
A month later, the Republic ranked Abe Slupsky as one of St. Louis's "four most notable characters" in an illustrated feature published Oct. 7, 1897. "Colonel Slupsky is a self-made man," the newspaper declared. "He glories in the fact that he was once an office boy. Whether the man who employed him in that capacity feels the same way history does not disclose." The Colonel first achieve national fame in 1892 when he was a delegate to the Republican national convention in Minneapolis.
"He can say more witty things and and keep on saying them than most anyone; not the same things, always different. On the train [to Minneapolis] he met a crowd of newspaper men and by the time he had reached Hannibal [Missouri] he had them all 'conned.' His name went over the country as 'Colonel Abe Slupsky of St. Louis,' and now he lives in a swell house in a fashionable neighborhood and is talking about running for Congress," the Republic reported.
On Oct. 14, 1897, the Age-Herald of Birmingham, Ala., ran a vivid, lengthy feature article on the colonel that had previously appeared in the Chicago Chronicle. "ABE SLUPSKY TALKS. Says He Cannot Help Making Money--Gives His History" was the headline. The article provided a detailed description:
"A little man wearing a soft felt hat well down over his brows, looking keenly out of half-closed blue-gray eyes, his hair slightly touched with gray and gesticulating with his hands almost to the level of his shoulders is Abe Slupsky, detective, politician, poker player and broker of anything on earth that can be bought or sold, from a pair of old pants, to a diamond ring. Abe is commonplace in most aspects, but he is nationally famous.
"He is short, slight of build, with a large head thickly covered with black hair showing a predisposition to curl. His mouth is broad and expansive and has about it a lurking smile, half cunning and half good nature. His nose is large, pear shaped and decidedly Jewish in mold. On each side of it are the closely-set blue-gray eyes, constantly on the alert.
"His short stature makes it necessary for him to look up at most men he talks to, so that he has acquired the trick of turning his head sideways and looking up through the corners of his eyes, which adds greatly to the shrewdness and cunning of his demeanor."
In this article, Abe provided a rare first-person account of his personal history:
"I'm a Jew. My father was a Pole. His name was Slupsky. My mother is English. She speaks no language but English. I was born in London. So were my two brothers and one sister. I am the youngest. I am 38 years old and never went to school in my life. My father is dead. My mother is still living. She lives here in St. Louis. Her name is Rosenstein. She is married a second time.
"I came to America in 1869. I came alone on a German line steamer. I landed in New Orleans. I was only a kid, only ten years old and I hunted work on the levee. I got a job as deck sweeper on a towboat. They don't have deck sweepers on a towboat as a rule, but I learned to pass the call and made myself useful. I changed my name. I was Tom Brooks. These river men would never have time to call me Abraham Slupsky. It was Tom or Jim in a hurry in those days."
Abe went on to explain the term "passing the call" as the process used in relaying river depths to the boat's captain. He continued being "useful" and working on the river until 1875 when, after having saved up some money, he opened a used furniture store, according to the Age-Herald. A second-hand clothing store followed the furniture store. Abe then did some "secret service" work for the Thiel detective agency, he told the newspaper.
At the time of this interview, Abe said, he was in the process of trying to track down his missing brother, Samuel, "who has not been heard of since we left England."
"I have traced all the Slupskys I can find. I located one in Arizona the other day. He is a son of my father's brother, and he told me he had met a Samuel Slupsky in Cape Town, where he runs a big transfer company. I have written to the chief of police there and expect to get a letter from his soon. We do not know if my brother is dead or alive, but I shall find out."
The article concluded with Abe describing how he earns his livelihood: "I make it every way. I made $1,300 the other night in a poker game in a certain hotel in this city. I can always make money playing poker. I can play poker so I always win. I am too lucky for my own good. Some men won't play with me any more, even if I guarantee to return 90 cents of every dollar I win from them."
"I make money doing secret service [detective] work. I make money selling you what you want. I see things every day and remember where I see them. Then I find a man who wants what I saw. I buy it and sell it to him.
"I can't help making money. I see may chance and make it. Everybody has the same chance, only they don't take it. That is the only difference."
The Kansas City Journal reported on Jan. 28, 1898, under the headline "Slupsky Chews a Bartender," that Abe Slupsky had come to the aid of a friend, promoter Eugene Sweeney, when the latter picked a fight with the Southern Hotel's head bartender, Thomas Murray. "Murray, who is herculean, hit Sweeney once, and the promoter shot through the swinging door," the Journal noted in the article datelined from St. Louis. "Then Slupsky violently espoused Sweeney's cause. Murray knocked him down, but Slupsky arose and clinched. Police Captain Picket found it impossible to separate the combatants until Slupsky's teeth had left a series of deep marks on Murray's right wrist."
In 1900, the St. Louis street car workers joined the Street Railway Employees of America, Local 131, resulting in a strike that went on from May 8 through the summer and into September. A federal judge, seeking to avoid possible disruption of mail deliveries that might have been carried on street cars, ordered militia duty for some 2,500 prominent St. Louisans. Abe Slupsky was one of those called to duty, according to a St. Louis Globe-Democrat article reprinted on June 11, 1900, in the Sun newspaper of New York.
The story noted that Abe was aggrieved because he had been accused of failing to answer the call of citizenship. "Col. Slupsky has not been much in evidence," the article noted, "about the barracks on Washington Avenue or at the sheriff's office nor at other places where deputy sheriffs and posse men most do congregate. Some caluminator [calumniator] noted this, and the story was given currency that the Colonel has slipped his trolley in the matter of duty as a citizen."
In response to these allegations, Abe explained that Sheriff John H. Pohlman, "recognizing his talents in certain lines of work," the newspaper said, "called on him for special secret service. ... Under this commission, he has been 'sleuthing,' hence his mysterious absence from the places where people expected to find him---in the forefront of the firing line."
The St. Louis Republic expressed editorial doubt on June 7, 1900, about St. Louis Mayor Henry Ziegenhein's abilities in the face of the civil turmoil; and as expected, the newspaper included a dig at Abe Slupsky: "Thoughtless people talk about the mayor's duty in a time of disorder. The present mayor of St. Louis could perhaps do nothing better than his present course of negligence. If he should begin to act he would be sure to make bad worse. The governor of Missouri could depend for advice as well on Abe Slupsky as on Henry Ziegenhein. Both are jokes on the body politic and should be so esteemed. As jokes they are successful. Let them go and turn to business."
The St. Louis Republic Magazine Section of June 10, 1900, ran a feature article describing operations of the posse comitatus comprising more than 1,000 armed men occupying the street car sheds around the city that had brought the return of peace and quiet to the community. "The moral effect of loaded shotguns has been amply demonstrated," the Republic correspondent noted. "One feature of the new plan for preventing outbreaks has been the amazing cheerfulness with which men summoned on the posse have performed their duties. Men of affairs and prominent in the community have left their business interests without complaint to assist in restoring order, leaving comfortable homes and accepting the hardships of sleeping on narrow cots, eating at haphazart [times] and walking four and five hours a day with shotguns on their shoulders without protest."
In a detailed listing of some of the businessmen involved in the posse, Abe was mentioned in a less than favorable way: "Abe Slupsky is supposed to be a member of this company, but has not appeared on the scene since last Monday. When he reported on Monday afternoon he seemed dissatisfied with his surroundings and made a few remarks indicating that he did not intend to return."
In its issue of Oct. 14, 1900, the Republic alleged that Abe Slupsky's influence may have been instrumental in the mayor's approval of a building permit for a planned horse and mule sales stable that had been rejected by Building Commissioner Longfellow. Abe denied any involvement in the awarding of the permit in the face of neighborhood opposition, but conceded that he had introduced the stable owner to the building commissioner. "The Colonel declares he did not have a thing to do with the matter except to escort Mr. Kavanaugh to Mr. Longfellow's office and to say, 'Mr. Longfellow, Mr. Kavanaugh.'
"'I did not go with him to the Mayor's office, and I had nothing whatever to do with the issuance of the permit by the Mayor,' fervently declared Colonel Slupsky," the Republic reported.
In November 1900, a committee of the St. Louis House of Delegates was considering a proposal to lower water rates. Those against the change cited the fact that some sections of the city still did not have access to the city water supply and reduced revenues would delay much needed pipe extensions. Those favoring the lowering of rates cited allegations that the city water department was a center of "grafta." In discussing the latter point of view, the St. Louis Republic of Nov. 16, 1900, noted, "Abe Slupsky, who is well-known in St. Louis, is an important employee of the Water Rates Department, and Mr. Slupsky is an intimate friend of Fred Ziegenhein, the mayor's son and private secretary."
A front-page article in the St. Louis Republic of Nov. 20, 1900, reported opposition growing to the water rate reduction among citizens and retail merchants throughout the city. Immediately under a breaker headline, "Zeigenhein and Slupsky," the Republic observed, "Clerks in the City Hall and officials who know something about municipal politics are laughing quietly and expressing the hope that the bill will be a boomerang to its promoters."
When the Republican Mayor Zeigenhein was succeeded by a Democrat, Rolla Wells, in April 1901, Abe Slupsky was mentioned in an April 19, 1901, St. Louis Republic article. Wells was revoking dozens of allegedly illegal permits granted by the GOP mayor or by his son and private secretary, Freddie, for signs, pennants and streamers, and street, sidewalk and alley obstructions.
The previous summer, the Republic reported, it had been alleged by a prominent Republican businessman that money had been paid for a permit to erect a sign on a building at 8th Street and Lucas Avenue. According to the Republic, "The merchant who procured the permit stated that he had paid Abe Slupsky, an employee in the Water Rates Department and a close friend of Fred Zeigenhein, to get the permit. 'You see,' the merchant said, 'I did not give any money for the permit, but I paid Abe Slupsky for his time in attending to the matter for me. I was too busy to go to City Hall, and, as Abe Slupsky was there every day anyhow, I just offered to pay him to transact my business for me."
In the March 5, 1901, edition of the St. Louis Republic, the Colonel's name again surfaced in print in a political context in a story about a speech given by former St. Louis Republican Party boss Chauncey I. Filley. The deposed boss angrily denounced the local primary election GOP machine ticket as made up of boodlers and tax-dodgers and urged voters to write in their own names on the ballot as a good-government protest.
"This is the meanest town for a public official that I ever saw. Everybody tends to his own business and and lets the public business tend to its own business -- until [GOP politicos] Julius Wurzburger, Norman Florsheim and Abe Slupsky run away with the town," Filley said.
An intoxicating wager
Abe Slupsky worked for many years as a brewery industry lobbyist. In that capacity, he more than once engaged in a wager nearly as bizarre as his fictional antics as the "Fat Knight's" side-kick. According to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat: “In 1899 [actually 1898] he drank 20 pint bottles of St. Louis beer every day for 30 days to win a bet of $100 and a $125 suit of clothes. Never once did he become dizzy, much less intoxicated, he boasted.” The loser of the bet, an auctioneer, also had to pay for the cost of the beer.
Abe made this big splash splash in March 1898 when he participated in this wager that brought him nationwide acclaim and notoriety. One day while visiting the saloon in the Planters Hotel in St. Louis, the auctioneer named Daniel McCann observed as a series of seven different men entered and each one separately bought the Colonel a pint of beer. McCann then came over and bought Abe two more. The auctioneer was amazed that a man standing five feet four inches and weighing 106 pounds could "hide so much of the amber fluid," a St. Louis newspaper reported.
The wager was set with an agreement that starting March 18, 1898, Abe would drink 20 pints a day for 30 days, rotate among five different taverns and the bartenders would be supplied with cards on which to document the Colonel's consumption.
Abe told a reporter for the Republic that the wager had cause several people who owed him money to delay paying their debts because they hoped he might burst from the effort and avoid payment. He described McCann as a "dead rank sucker" and remarked of the wager, "I never had but one job that was easier than this and that was in the clothing business."
On March 30, 1898, the Republic published a tongue-in-cheek article claiming that Colonel Abe Slupsky was interested in the job of postmaster of St. Louis because his existing job as an inspector with the Water Department didn't pay enough and "water is not his long suit." In an attempt to appease the temperance Republicans, it was said he would strive to set a good example after his wager by agreeing to drink no more than 19 pints of beer a day if appointed postmaster.
A reporter from the New York Sun interviewed Abe about his 1898 drinking feat six years later, when the Democratic National Convention was taking place in St. Louis. In an article published in the Sun on July 4, 1904, Abe's achievement was redundantly and facetiously described as "the international beer drinking championship of the world." The article said a large, portly man named McCann, who had been boasting of his beer consuming capacity, one day met Col. Slupsky, "who is slight, short, and has a reputation as a temperance man."
McCann offered to bet Abe $100 that he could drink 15 bottles of beer a day for a month. Abe countered the offer with one that he could drink 20 bottles a day for a month. Abe told the Sun that McCann had agreed to the bet and each of them put up $100. As part of the plan, Abe would drink his first bottle each day at 10 a.m. in the Planters Hotel, and the bartender would save the label from each bottle in his cash drawer. The drinking continued the rest of each day at one of four other places, where the same procedure was followed.
"It wasn't long before I found out that all of the brewers were anxious to have me drink their beer," Abe told the Sun. "Say, they would write to me and say, 'Drink our beer, and we will send you $500.' That opened my eyes, and I made a little out of it that way."
"I won the bet," Abe told the Sun reporter in 1904. "I drank the whole 600 bottles, and it cost McCann $900 to pay the bills. The loser had to settle for everything."
An unrelated tragedy reported Feb. 17, 1899, in the Buffalo Express provided an opportunity to make fun of Abe's drinking ability. The paper published a brief item about a man named Harry Slupsky, a St. Louis saloon employee who had attached a hose to a whisky keg and drank himself to death. The Express scoffed that the dead man could not have been related to Abe because "No true Slupsky ever was knocked out by a keg of whisky."
After his successful 1898 drinking wager, Abe vowed to never again try the beer consuming stunt, and he repeated that declaration in the 1904 Sun article, but in 1910, he repeated the drinking stunt, and again won the bet.
On May 25, 1898, the Republic declared "Abe Slupsky has declared an alliance with the Salvation Army." The Colonel was not "joining as a penitent to carry the big bass drum or blow the trombone," but rather to serve in the voluntary capacity as official lobbyist for them in St. Louis City Hall. The Salvation Army had for several weeks failed to secure official approval to vacate part of a street near the city Workhouse that they needed for the site of a House of Refuge they planned to build.
Abe, according to the Republic, "in his spare moments, poses as a philanthropist." The day he appeared in the City Council chambers to lobby for the proposal, the measure passed quickly, but, having recently won a drinking bet, Abe continued lobbying for it afterward.
At the time, St. Louis had a bicameral legislature. After City Council members finally succeeded in assuring him the measure had in fact been approved by them, Abe thanked them effusively: "You may rest assured, gentlemen, that our prayers will be with you always, and if you should ever resolve to try different lives, we will be glad to show you our assortment [of rooms]. There are second-story front rooms on the widest, solid gold street in heaven reserved for each of you, and the rent is paid for a thousand years in advance. But I can't promise this to the members of the House of Delegates, even if the bill passes over there."
One final, brief 19th Century reference to Abe Slupsky came in author and journalist Leon Mead's 1899 volume of humorous short stories and poems titled "The Bow-legged Ghost and Other Stories: A Book of Humorous Sketches, Verses, Dialogues, and Facetious Paragraphs." In a piece called "Some Possible Titles of Future Books" was this suggestion: "'What I Know about School Reform and a Good Many Other Things,' by Colonel Abe Slupsky."
Into the 20th Century
The Washington Post once floated the possibility that Col. Abe Slupsky might run for Congress. On Feb. 3, 1901, the paper reported that a group of St. Louis officials visiting the nation's capital to seek an appropriation for the World's Fair suggested that the eccentric aid-de-camp to former U.S. Rep. Nathan Frank might run for Congress himself in the near future: "The little Hebrew of St. Louis is said to have announced his candidacy for Congress, and he is generous with his money," the Washington Post said. Abe was described as being very effective in mobilizing voters in a "tough" ward and as being particularly astute as a political prognosticator. The Post asserted: "His foresight into political events is extremely shrewd, and generally he can forecast the result of an election of an alderman, congressman or governor to a dot, being looked upon as a wonder in matters of this kind."
On Feb. 10, 1901, the Washington Post published Feb. 6 humorous response from the St. Louis Republic, urging Abe Slupsky's friends to resist any effort to push him into a race for Congress: "There would be something pathetic in the fact of Col. Slupsky's enforced plunge into Washington life---an existence of political intrigue, sharp dealing and general chicanery, in which the colonel would be but as a helpless babe in the woods," the Republic wrote. "It brings tears to the eyes of those who know and love Col. Slupsky to even think of that trustful and native statesman encompassed by the wolves of the Washington political pack. ... Col. Slupsky must be kept at home---he is too innocent and guilelessly trustful to be thrown upon the outside world."
But Abe was, in reality, hardly the shrinking violet portrayed by the St. Louis Republic in its 1901 amusing political commentary.
Abe made the front page of the Republic on April 21, 1902, the day after he seriously wounded his neighbor Charles Pinckard of 3323 Laclede Ave. after a dispute concerning a children's baseball game. The headline in the upper left corner of the the St. Louis Republic's front page read, "Abe Slupsky Seriously Wounds Charles Pinckard." The deck head under that main head read, "Probably Fatal Shooting, the Result of an Argument with Victim's Wife Over a Neighborhood Baseball Game--Slupsky, Who is Under Arrest, Pleads Self-Defense--Mrs. Pinckard Says the Assault was Unwarranted."
The incident was publicized across the country. On April 21, 1902, the San Francisco Call printed a short article about Abe on its sports pages headlined: "Fatal Quarrel Over a Baseball." And on April 22, 1902, the Idaho Statesman in Boise and the Gazette and Bulletin of Williamsport, Pa., each published short articles in their news pages from the Associated Press about the shooting incident the preceding day in St. Louis involving the colonel that left Pinckard, the tavern owner, dead. The reports were not totally consistent. While neighborhood children---possibly including the tavern owner's children---were playing a baseball game behind the Slupsky home, 3319 Laclede Ave., a dispute arose between Abe Slupsky, 40, and Charles Pinckard, 36, either regarding a point in the game---or over a ball that landed in Abe's yard.
Mr. Pinckard hit Mr. Slupsky in the face with his fist. In response, Abe either drew a revolver or seized Pinckard's revolver, or Pinckard dropped the weapon in the scuffle and Abe picked it up, and shot the tavern keeper in the abdomen and right leg.
The Hartford Courant made only brief mention of the incident in its April 24, 1902, edition, saying: "If he can substantiate his story---that in Monday's affray Charles Pinckard was the aggressor and was shot with his own pistol---the 'New York Sun' will be spared the sorrow of seeing one of its special favorites in the hands of the hangman."
In perhaps the most complete account of the incident---from Abe's point of view---the April 21, 1902, Evening World of New York and the Washington Times explained that Pinckard lived next door to Abe on Laclede Avenue and the trouble started when a group of boys, including a son of Pinckard, thought they had hit their ball into the Slupsky yard, where a vicious dog lived. Abe said he warned the boys about the dog and sent a servant to look for the ball, but she couldn't find it. Later, Mrs. Pinckard came to the door of the Slupsky home to ask about the missing ball, but Abe refused to talk to her. (On this issue, the Republic reported that Slupsky doubted the ball was in his yard because his servant could not find it, and he denied quarrelling with Mrs. Pinckard.)
"About 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon," Abe told the World, "I was standing near my surrey in front of my house waiting to take my family driving. I heard someone say, 'That man insulted me.' I turned and saw Mrs. Pinckard standing in the door of her home and her husband advancing toward me. I tried to avoid him, but he struck me a blow in the face, almost knocking me down.
"I then knocked him down, and he got up and drew a revolver, but I was too quick for him. And before he could use it, I wrested the weapon from him and, pushing him away, fired two shots. The man ran, and I saw nothing more of him."
Slupsky promptly surrendered to a nearby police patrolman immediately after the shooting.
After being shot, a bleeding Pinckard wandered the streets for nearly half an hour before going home to bed. (On this point, the Republic article indicated that Pinckard, in fear of being chased by Slupsky, walked around the block before going home and collapsing on his bed.)
In a similar article, on April 25, 1902, the Tri-County Chronicle of Cass City, Mich., wrote that according to Slupsky's version of the incident, "Pinckard assaulted him, when he knocked him down. When Pinckard rose to his feet he pulled a revolver, but Slupsky grappled with him, wrested the weapon from his hand and fired two shots, one striking Pinckard in the abdomen and the other lodging in his right thigh." Doctors performed surgery in an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve the bullet that had punctured Pinckard's abdomen. Abe was initially arrested, but successfully claimed self-defense.
The Kansas City Star editorialized about the incident on April 21, 1902, saying that Abe's defense likely could stand on his unusual forbearance, considering the "joshes" he has had to bear because of his name. "It is to be profoundly deplored that Colonel Slupsky has gotten into trouble, but a man with such a name could certainly not expect to go through the world without some eventful passages in his history," the editorial commented.
The St. Louis Republic noted in an article on May 27, 1902, concerning an unrelated bribery case, that Abe Slupsky had been summoned before the grand jury that was considering several cases. The Republic reported on June 1, 1902, that Abe Slupsky had been indicted on a charge of assault with intent to kill. On June 27, 1902, the Republic announced the death the preceding day of Charles W. Pinckard. At the time of the tavern keeper's death, Abe was out on $2,000 bond.
A few months later, in a separate incident, the Chillicothe (Mo.) Daily Constitution on Jan. 17, 1903, alleged: “Abe Slupsky, the notorious, is again in trouble in St. Louis. He is charged with having assaulted a Jewish rabbi.” Then on April 2, 1903, the same newspaper reported: "Col. Abe Slupsky has again proven himself indomitable by being cleared of a charge of murder." Whether this is a reference to the alleged assault on a rabbi or the fatal shooting of Mr. Pinckard, is unclear. The matter is further confused by the fact that the Daily Constitution republished the item about the rabbi on April 18, 1903.
(Further research in the St. Louis papers will need to be done to clarify the basis of the two incidents.)
In the Feb. 6, 1903, issue of the St. Louis Republic, it was announced that Abe Slupsky resigned his post as an inspector with the Water Rates Department after Francis Scharwitz was appointed the new assessor and collector of water rates. Abe had been receiving a salary of $90 a month. "Abe Slupsky is one of the best-known political workers in the Republican party, and has held office under Republican heads of departments in the State, Federal and municipal service for nearly twenty years," the Republic noted. "He bears the reputation of being a 'fine worker,' politically speaking, and was invaluable to the party in campaigns."
"Slupsky is noted for his belligerent spirit, and he has frequently figured in police reports," the Republic continued. "His most serious offense occurred last spring, when he shot and fatally wounded a man named Pinkard, a neighbor of his, in a quarrel about children. For this he was indicted, and the case is pending. Slupsky claims he shot in self-defense."
In 1904, the same year that the World's Fair and the Olympics were held in St. Louis, the Democratic National Convention also convened in Abe Slupsky's hometown. The Sun newspaper in New York ran a long article about him on July 4, 1904. The article was filled with quotes from Abe in which he expressed doubts about the probability that Joseph Folk, a well-known St. Louis prosecutor who campaigned as a Democratic reformer, would be nominated for governor of Missouri. Abe's political prescience failed him in this case because not only was Folk nominated by the Democratic Party, he was also elected governor.
Four days after the Sun article ran, both the New York Times and the Washington Times of July 8, 1904, described Abe as follows: "There is not a man, woman, or child in St. Louis who does not know what the colonel has accomplished in the way of instructing his henchmen how to deliver votes on election day, and the sociological information he has acquired by lending money at 8 per cent, and bartering diamonds is admitted by all those who enjoy his acquaintance."
Abe was well aware of the Democrats' presence in St. Louis and even had obtained a ticket to the convention, according to the Times report. But instead of seeking admission to the convention, Abe "gave a demonstration of his skill as a barker in front of the Coliseum ... which was convincing to all who heard him that the Colonel's place was on the pike [the World's Fair carnival midway] at a salary of $500 an hour," the Times correspondent reported.
Abe had noticed posters on the side of the building publicizing the Hagenbeck animal show that was one of the attractions at the World's Fair pike, he stood on a box, held up his convention ticket and addressed the crowd. The Republican Abe proceeded to describe Democratic personages inside the Coliseum as if they were participants in the animal show. For example, in reference to Sen. Joseph W. Bailey of Texas, the Times said he declared: "Come right in and see 'Joe' Bailey of Texas; feed him raw meat from the naked hand. His teeth will be taken out before your very eyes, and you can watch him roar."
Abe commented on former Sen. David Bennett Hill from New York and would-be Democratic presidential candidate Alton B. Parker with this characterization, the Times reported: "Our second exhibition will be David 'Bosco' Hill, the turtle boy, in his great feat of eating anti-Parker reptiles alive, not pies and cakes, but anti-Parker snakes. He eats 'em alive."
Of Joseph W. Folk---the St. Louis circuit attorney who later that year would be elected governor of Missouri---Abe said: "We will introduce to you 'Joe' Folk and his marvelous trained troupe of Missouri zebras. Missouri is raising more of these striped animals just now than she is mules. As a corraller and trainer of the animals, Folk is without a peer in the world."
After describing the Democratic menagerie, Abe tried to start an auction for his single convention ticket, starting at $5, the Times reported. But the action was quickly stopped as a police officer "told him that if he didn't come down off his perch, he would be going to the Four Courts. The Colonel came down."
On Aug. 31, 1904, the Chicago Daily Tribune expressed regret that Abe's political involvement seemed to have waned: "Campaigns are not what they used to be. They are enlivened no longer by the inspiring voice, the flashing eye, and the commanding figure of the illustrious Abe Slupsky of St. Louis."
When recently elected Missouri Gov. Joseph W. Folk issued an edict in early 1905 that all lobbyists in Jefferson City, Mo., would have to announce their presence in the capital to him, make themselves available for questioning by newspaper reporters and limit their sojourn in the city to 30 hours, Abe Slupsky was one of the lobbyists interviewed by the New York Tribune.
One day in 1904, Abe's fame brought to his doorstep a cousin whom he had never met before. Abe was initially suspicious of this stranger, thinking he might be trying to dispose of estates in the old country, the Sept. 14, 1904 Post-Dispatch reported. But it turned out his visitor was Edward Slupsky, a wealthy New York City businessman, who was the son of Abe's father's brother, Louis.
Edward Slupsky, the Post-Dispatch said, "had read a great deal of Abe and desired to make his acquaintance," so he traveled to St. Louis and rang the doorbell at 8319 Laclede Ave.
In a dispatch from St. Louis published Feb. 6, 1905, in the New York Tribune, Slupsky claimed to have managed to do some "detective work" as a lobbyist for the railroad companies in Jefferson City "beneath a clever disguise" for 16 days without his identity having become known.
"You see, nobody knew me up there," Slupsky told the New York Tribune. "I didn't wear these clothes and this sparkler [diamond]. I wears a stiff hat---it's always slouch here---and my pants is hooked over my boots---and I wears a beard and my hair like this," the usually cleanshaven Slupsky said as he sent his hair "flying in all directions."
In commenting on the governor's lobbying policy, Slupsky said: "I have been a lobbyist thirty-two years, and I've never heard of a Governor doin' such a thing before. What good is a lobbyist to a railroad if he can't stay around more than thirty hours to warm up to a legislator? . . . It took me ninety days once, and I never warmed up to the fellow much then."
Abe also offered the New York Tribune a perspective on how he makes money as a lobbyist. He described doing "a little work for a fellow" in Jefferson city for "$25 and sustenance." His final bill: $200.
"I have a way, you see---it's mighty funny---of chargin' a man so much---and sustenance. Sustenance means drinks, smokes, lunches, etc. I have to get information from Mr. So-and-So. Well, I've got to give him drinks and dinners and things. That's 'sustenance'," he told the New York newspaper.
A nationally distributed magazine, The Mirror, edited in St. Louis by William Marion Reedy, devoted one of its series of "Kindly Caricatures" to Col. Abe Slupsky in the edition of Dec. 21, 1905. A cartoon of Abe by the artist Albert Bloch showed the Colonel smoking a cigar and wearing dark baggy pants, a long dark coat over a light-colored vest, with a jewel shining from the knot of his tie, a homburg on his head, and his hands in his pants pockets.
The accompanying editorial commented: "There is no more famous citizen of St. Louis than Col. Abe Slupsky. The New York Sun once devoted over three hundred columns to the exploitation of a doubt as to his existence." After his political ambitions were foiled, the Mirror noted, Abe then resorted to "vending of diamonds and watches, incidentally boosting Budweiser, playing 'the great game' of secret service, speculating in real estate, and doing any small service for a fee. ... The Colonel is something of a rough-and-tumble fighter ... and is widely known as a gourmet since he ate a quail a day for sixty days and offered for a dignified sum to do it for a year. He is addicted to frequent and strange disappearances, but always turns up where there is trouble and where velvety and insinuating services are useful to the parties in interest."
The Mirror also described Abe as both a "lavish bon vivant [one fond of good living]" and a "business flaneur [loafer]." Nevertheless, the Colonel has assets worth "half a hundred thousand dollars [$50,000]," the Mirror claimed. The editorial concluded: "St. Louis loves Colonel Slupsky while it smiles with and at him."
In 1906, the name of Abe Slupsky had gained so much notoriety that it joined the likes of Theo. Roosevelt, James G. Blaine and James J. Corbett in a volume titled "American Line Type Book, Borders, Ornaments. Price List Printing Material and Machinery," a typography catalog published by the American Type Founders Co. Abe's name, preceded with the ironic honorific of "Rev.," was used, to identify one of the typefaces available from that company.
Abe enjoyed dining, drinking and smoking with his cronies. At one such gathering in early 1906 at the Hotel Rozier, the fun included taking turns singing songs. In an account published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Jun 3, 1906, Abe told the newspaper, "Along toward the last it came to be my time, and I got up and sang 'Pay the Respects to McGinnis,' and I sang it wid a Irish brogue. Then I tole some Irish jokes.
"Jim McCann says, 'W'y, you'd t'ink that fella was a Irishman.'
"I says, 'Sure, an' me mother was born in Dublin."
"He thought I was drinkin' too much or crazy," Abe said, so McCann offered to bet $50 he was wrong. Abe offered to make the wager for $100, and the amount at stake eventually rose to $250. Abe asked for three months to prove that his mother had been in fact born in Dublin, and McCann agreed.
Abe's friend Ed Devoy was acquainted with Dublin's mayor, Mr. Hill, so he agreed to write to the official and inquire about Abe's mother's birth, the Post-Dispatch reported. Hill wrote back saying he had found no record of the birth, but after a second letter from Devoy to Hill, Abe received on May 19, 1906, the answer he was seeking.
Hill's more than a dozen pages included the following brief note from A. Gudansky, minister and secretary of the Dublin Hebrew Congregation: "I hereby certify that Deborah, daughter of Jacob Abestases [Abecasis] of Morocco, was born at Grafton Street in the city of Dublin in the month of May 1836."
This letter was accompanied by another from Arthur Donn Platt, the American vice and deputy consul in Dublin, certifying that Gudansky's signature was on the letter and that Gudansky was the minister of the Dublin Hebrew Congregation.
Abe told a Post-Dispatch reporter: "I'm tickled pink to deat' about dis t'ing. I think when people know I'm Irish, my stock'll go way up. As a matter of fac' I'm a Cockney Jew, you know. I was born in de city of London, England, in Mile-En' Road. But me mother was born on Grafton Street in Dublin, across from Stephen's Green, and her people owned a big store dere. Dere's a carload o' Irish Jews, ye know," he told the reporter.
Nearly a year later, the Post-Dispatch on May 18, 1907, published a follow up to report that Abe had recently spent $100 of his winnings on a birthday party for his mother at his home, including a cake with 72 candy candles on it and festivities that lasted until midnight.
According to the Post-Dispatch, Abe regaled his mother and other guests with an allegedly original poem:
This is the best world to live in,
To lend, to spend or to give in.
But to beg or to borrow,
'Tis the very worst world you know.
Speak not to me of we'lt' or wrong---
They're like bubbles in the sea.
A man may dwell in gilded halls
and may not honest be.
Then give to every man his due
Who owns an honest heart.
For 'tis the heart and not the coat
That makes the honest man.
[Although this poem was attributed to Abe himself, it was not totally original. A slightly different version of the first stanza was published in 1737 in "A Collection of Epigrams" and in an altered form in 1840 in "The Mirror" by J. Bromfield. The second and third stanzas do seem to be original.]
This 1907 article's account of the year-earlier wager about his mother's birth strayed a bit from the original Post-Dispatch article. This one quoted his challenger as having said, "I'll bet you $50 your mother was born in Jerusalem!"
The Colonel allegedly retorted, "Begorra, me mither was born in Ireland, and there are others here whose mithers weren't."
In the July 1906 edition of "Mother Earth," anarchist Emma Goldman's monthly magazine "devoted to social science and literature," Abe Slupsky's name surfaced in a political commentary written by one H. Kelly titled "Politicians and Aristotle." Kelly laments: "What a pity it is that Aristotle died without meeting [Democratic U.S. senator from Nevada] "Pat" McCarren, [New York Democratic corrupt liquor dealer Arthur A. McLean] the "Grocer of Newburg," Abe Slupsky, [Chicago alderman and ward boss Michael] Hinky Dink Kenna, and [Kenna's political partner] Bath-House Johnny Coughlin. He would have had a chance to revise those beautiful studies of his."
At the Republican National Convention that was held in the Chicago Coliseum from June 16 to 19, 1908, Abe Slupsky's first choice for the presidential nomination was Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks, but he put his money on Secretary of War William Howard Taft, according to a news story June 20, 1908, issue of the New York Sun. He bet $4,800 on Taft and managed to double his money. But the way the convention had been managed by incumbent President Theodore Roosevelt had outraged the colonel:
"Well, I am a Republican, but I think it was an outrage," he told the Sun. "I was for Fairbanks. He had the love in my heart, and if he couldn't be nominated [for president], I was for [New York Gov. Charles Evans] Hughes. But nobody but Taft had any chance. It was a shame the way Roosevelt said: 'I don't want the pie, but none of you fellows can have it. Bill Taft is going to eat it.' Why, that was worse than Siberia or Dreyfus."
The 1908 presidential election pitted the already twice-defeated Democrat, William Jennings Bryan, against incumbent Roosevelt's pick for the Republicans, Taft. According to a short news item in the Oct. 7, 1908, Washington Post and the Dallas Morning News, a wealthy Republican St. Louis brewery owner, Otto Stifel, had bet Abe Slupsky $500 to $1,000 that Taft would carry Missouri. And in the Oct. 24, 1908, Washington Herald, it was reported that Abe had bet $1,500 that Bryan would carry Missouri against $1,000 that Taft would win the state. In betting for the Democrat Bryan, Abe never let his Republican politics get in the way of what he felt would be a good wager. But the Republican Taft did carry Missouri and was elected president, calling into question Abe's vaunted political acumen.
Also sometime in 1908, Abe and his family moved from 3319 Laclede Ave. to a house at 3852 Lindell Blvd. There he became involved for a time in a series of lawsuits involving two families of well-to-do neighbors "whose sons burned one of Slupsky's boys on the arm with a stick of punk [a substance used to light fireworks]," according to Abe's Post-Dispatch obituary. The conflict was never resolved and the hostile neighbors eventually moved away.
A bizarre highlight (or lowlight) of this feud between neighbors, occurring on June 28, 1909, involved chickens and a dog. The incident went all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court. Abe and Caroline Slupsky's family at the time included four sons and a daughter, ranging in age from 2 to 13. Abe, who was then working as a lobbyist for Anheuser-Busch, had moved his family into the house on the south side of Lindell a year or so earlier. In the house to the west lived the wealthy Prince family, including father and son cotton brokers, Lawrence, age 62, and Marius, 25. The Prince family also included Lawrence's wife, two more adult sons, two adult daughters (ages 21 and 23), and a 17-year-old son, Benton Prince.
On the day of the incident in question, while the high-society Prince family was eating lunch in their dining room, Benton Prince went into his family's back yard, according to court records, "where he heard a turmoil in the Slupsky residence, and soon Mr. Slupsky came down his back steps apparently driving his children before him." Abe, seeing Benton in the yard next door, started talking to him, the court records say, "in a loud tone and with much profanity and vile language, and threatening not only him [Benton], but the Princes generally. He came up to the [chest-high wire fence that separated the back yards] where he stood for a while continuing the same kind of conversation, shaking his fists and swaying his body, while a few people gathered in the alley, looked over the fence and listened."
Mrs. M. Noonan, 42, who lived in the upstairs apartment of the flat across the alley from the Slupskys, had heard the uproar from inside her home. She "went out and listened, and remarked that she would not stand for such language," the court records said. Mr. George Desloge, 29, a lawyer from a prominent socialite family, who lived in the house across the alley from the Princes, heard the noise from inside his library, and came to his kitchen window to listen. Desloge's cook and laundress came out to listen from the alley gate.
Meanwhile, a policeman, Officer Rainey, who was walking in the alley about a half-block away could hear the uproar and was told by "a colored man" that there was a fight going on in a yard down the alley. When Abe saw the policeman arrive at his alley gate, he went inside his house. But at the request of one of the Princes, Rainey followed Abe inside and arrested him.
Among the neighbors whom Rainey interviewed was the Prince family's butler, who had been an eyewitness to the incident from his bathroom window. According to the court records, the Prince butler, referring to Abe Slupsky, said, "Then he went in and got his butler and brought him out and told him if the [Prince family's] chickens came in, to sick [sic] the dog on them and let them kill every damned one of them, and the son-of-a-bitch that would lay a hand on his dog, he would cut the bastard's heart out. Mr. Benton [Prince] came around in the yard and he [Slupsky] says to Mr. Benton, 'Did you hear what I say?' He [Benton] said he didn't know whether he did or not. He [Slupsky] says, 'If the son-of-a-bitch lays a hand on my dog, I will cut the bastard's heart out.' Mr. Marius [Prince, Benton's 25-year-old brother] walked out and he [Slupsky] began to shake his fist in Mr. Marius's face. Mr. Marius says, 'Don't cuss me,' and he [Slupsky] went on talking. Then as he [Slupsky] walked away, he says, 'Society stiff, raising chickens in this neighborhood!'"
According to the police report, dated June 29, 1909, Abraham Slupsky was charged under a St. Louis city ordinance, which provided for a potential fine of up to $500, with wilfully disturbing the peace "by violent, tumultuous, offensive and obstreperous conduct and carriage, and by loud and unusual noises, and by unseemingly [unbecoming], profane, obscene and offensive language, calculated to provoke a breach of the peace, and by assaulting, striking and fighting others, and particularly Lawrence L. and Marius D. Prince, contrary to the peace and dignity of the city and the ordinance. ..."
Abe requested and received a change of venue from the 1st District police court (in north St. Louis) to the police court south of Arsenal Street (in south St. Louis), where he was acquitted. In a short article about the initial acquittal in the July 23, 1909, New York Sun, it was reported that Judge Kleiber had ruled that Abe had not disturbed the peace of Lawrence L. Prince, "a millionaire neighbor," when he had told his butler to "knock off the heads of the Prince chickens" if they came into the Slupsky back yard and to "cut out the heart of anyone who followed." The Sun put the case into the context of the "punk" incident when it wrote: "Judge Kleiber said he believed Slupsky came home exasperated over the 'branding' of his son with hot punk by sons of his millionaire neighbors and talked more violently from his back porch than he would have done otherwise. Slupsky says because he is a Jew the sons of his aristocratic neighbors have made life a burden for his small sons."
In a short article that appeared on June 29, 1909, in the Grand Forks (N.D.) Daily Herald, it was reported from St. Louis that a 12-year-old boy named Adrian O. Rule Jr. had appeared in juvenile court on a charge of disturbing the peace. He admitted having burned Morris, 14, and Solomon Slupsky, 11, on the arms and hands with lighted punk to "get even." The judge continued the case and ordered the arrest of Rule alleged accomplices, Benjamin Price [Benton Prince], 17, and Francis Niedringhaus, 14.
(Niedringhaus was the son of the second vice president of the family owned National Enameling and Stamping Co. Prince was the son and brother of cotton brokers. Rule was the son of a lawyer and real estate agent. All those involved in the branding incident lived on Lindell Boulevard: Niedringhaus at 3745, Rule at 3832, Prince at 3846, the Slupsky brothers at 3852.)
The Grand Forks paper described Abe as a "famous Hebrew Republican politician," and said he had declared in court that the reason the two accomplices who branded his son had not been arrested was because "their fathers are millionaires." Abe said he didn't mind the social boycott his family had been subject to since moving into the millionaire's block.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis city prosecutors appealed Abe's acquittal to the St. Louis Court of Criminal Correction, where a jury trial, presided over by Judge Benjamin J. Klene, was held.
Abe's lawyers, citing provisions of the city charter, argued at trial that the city lacked the power "to prevent one from using whatever language he chooses upon his own premises." The prosecutors asserted that "The vile, profane and noisy tirade of Mr. Slupsky ... was as offensive discharged from one side of the wire fence as from the other."
The St. Louis jury found Abe guilty, but he appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which reversed the conviction in a decision handed down on Jan. 3, 1914, more than four years after the back yard chickens and dog incident. The higher court chastised the St. Louis judge for his instructions to the jury that ignored a requirement of the city ordinance that, for a guilty verdict, the offensive language used must have been "calculated to provoke a breach of the peace." The St. Louis judge had instead substituted a lesser requirement of his own that "the peace of someone must have been actually disturbed."
By the time of the 1920 U.S. Census, most of Abe Slupsky's neighbors who had been witnesses against him in this case---the Princes and Mrs. Noonan---had all moved away from the neighborhood. George Desloge had moved away from his family home, but some of his kin still lived across the alley. The Niedringhaus family remained in their home a block away. Abe continued to live in the house on Lindell until his death in 1936.
Throughout his life Abe Slupsky was involved in many different money-making deals. In November 1908, Abe and two other investors (E.F. Lugar and Bernard Greensfelder) formed a new corporation in East St. Louis, Ill., to bore for and deal in oil and gas. The Gallatin Oil and Gas Co.'s total capitalization was valued at $25,000. The success or failure of this venture is uncertain.
In a strangely heartwarming account about the Slupsky family published in the Nov. 30, 1909, New York Sun, it was announced that Abe Slupsky had reconciled with his brother Jacob after a long estrangement. The headline was "PEACE IN THE HOUSE OF SLUPSKY: Col. Abe and His Brother Bury Differences of Fifteen Years Standing."
The Sun said that the brothers had not spoken to each other "since they told each other in their mother's home fifteen years ago what they thought of each other." (The rift may have been related to a short time in the 1890s when the brothers were in business together in La Crosse, Wis. Abe's brother's wife mentioned this shared business venture when she testified in a lawsuit brought against Abe by his first wife's heirs.)
According to the Sun, "Abe's son Morris brought about the rapprochement by getting his uncle Jacob to attend his confirmation in B'nai Amoona Synagogue Saturday [Nov. 27]." In a "great peace celebration" held Sunday night in the Slupsky home on Lindell, "200 Slupskys from all parts of the United States enjoyed themselves until nearly dawn," the Sun reported.
At the family party, Abe "announced his plan to have his mother's brothers [actually, his wife's uncles], Leopold and Louis Kober, reconciled," the Sun said. "They hadn't spoken to each other since dissolving their business partnership thirty-five years ago, until they met at the Slupsky celebration."
The fight of the century
Throughout his life, Abe Slupsky was well known as a gambling man. He bet on his own drinking prowess, on horse races, on boxing matches, on politics. He once even jokingly offered to make a bet on his son's name. While being interviewed at home in St. Louis for a July 4, 1904, article in the New York Sun, his then-youngest son, who was about 2-years-old at the time, entered the room: "Now I'll show you something that you won't find anywhere in Missouri," he told the Sun's reporter. "You may not know that the Jews all name their children after the dead. This is the only Jew in the State of Missouri who is named after his [still living] father. This is Abe Slupsky Jr., and if you can find anywhere in the State of Missouri another Jew child that is named after his father, I'll give $100 to any charity that you name."
In 1910, Abe traveled to Reno, Nev., to see the 4th of July Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries heavyweight championship fight. According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: “At the taxi rates of the time and place, he paid $12 to ride to Jeffries’ training camp. He found the champ playing cards, while fishing tackle, strewn about, indicated another sedentary occupation.” As a result of his observations, Abe placed his bets on Johnson.
“Arriving in St. Louis, a few days after the fight,” the Post wrote, “Slupsky painfully removed two porous plasters from his chest, and took from beneath them his winnings, more than $3,000. ‘It was the only way to get out of Reno with that much money,’ Slupsky declared. ‘I would have stuck it on my back, but that would have required help, and there was nobody I could trust.’”
“I didn't sleep two hours all the time I was in Reno,” he was quoted as saying. “I knew my roll was stuck to me, but I didn't feel safe. When I wanted to eat I went out into the suburbs and bought a glass of milk and a sandwich from a farmer, because nobody ever went into a restaurant there and came out with his roll.”
The Waterloo Reporter newspaper in Iowa also reported on Abe's visit to the championship boxing match on their July 9, 1910 front page. In addition to describing how he stored the "yellow backs" he won from his wagering under a porous plaster, the newspaper also noted that the colonel, sporting a three-days' growth of beard, had been unable to get a haircut in Reno: "After the fight, I couldn't get shaved at Reno," he explained. "All the barbers lost their shops on Jeffries."
Strangely, two similar stories about Slupsky hiding money on his body under a porous plaster had appeared in newspapers more than a dozen years earlier. On Jan. 24, 1894, the Constitution of Atlanta, wrote that Abe "attended the Minneapolis [Republican national] convention [in June 1892], and carried $2,000 with him to bet on [President Benjamin] Harrison's [re]nomination. To prevent the possibility of being robbed on the train, he put the money in the hollow of his back, between his shoulder blades, with a porous plaster over it. He felt pretty sore when he reached Minneapolis, but when he raked in his bets, he was himself again." And on Aug. 20, 1894, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported: "It is related of Col. Abe Slupsky of St. Louis that he traveled safely to St. Louis many years ago with a $100 greenback in his possession by adopting the ingenious expedient of placing the bill on his bare back, putting a rag over it, and covering it with a large porous plaster."
The porous plaster tale was part of a humorous column, "Town Talk," published Sept. 17, 1894, in the Kansas City Times. It included an anecdote related by an unidentified "St. Louis suburban constituent" about the various ways a group of five men sharing a room secured with a flimsy door had hidden their valuables against possible theft. The "seed" then told of the related case of Abe Slupsky's $100 that he sought to safely get from St. Louis to New Orleans: "He wanted to git it down river, 'thout bein' relieved of 't. Pockets, o' course, warn't in it. He hedn't sense enough t' think 'f a [money] belt, bein' from the city. 'T last he gets an idea. He gets his money changed into a bill. Then he gets him a porous plaster -- jes' a reg'lar ol'-fashion sticker. He puts a rag over his bill, puts 'em both on his back, heats up his plaster, slaps that on top o' the rag an' bill both -- an' there he was! ... We'd a probably given ten cents f' an express money order, we're such durn fools."
Abe Slupsky's notoriety reached even across the Atlantic Ocean to London, where in 1896, a volume titled "Fores's Sporting Notes & Sketches: A Quarterly Magazine Descriptive of British, Indian, Colonial, and Foreign Sport" published an essay by "Wilf Pocklington" called "Betting Eccentricities." The essay included this detailed account of a porous plaster incident:
In 1910, Abe repeated his beer stunt of 1898---successfully drinking 20 pints of St. Louis beer for 30 days (except on Sundays), this time for a bet of $100 against $250 and a new suit of clothes. The total amount to be consumed is 600 pints, or two barrels of beer. "I am going to win or die in the attempt," he said.
Commenting on his technique in a special dispatch to the Chicago Daily Tribune on Nov. 21, 1910, Abe said, "When I am about to swallow a bottle of beer I pour it into a large lemonade glass and let it slowly slide down on the upper side of my tongue." He said diet was important for winning any drinking wager. "White bread should be shunned. But hardtack and rye bread are good. ... Thick beefsteaks with onions are also good."
Among his witnesses in the Hotel Jefferson in St. Louis on Dec. 8, 1910, the final day of his 30-day quest, were August A. Busch and Eberhardt Anheuser, owners of the Anheuser-Busch brewery; St. Louis Water Commissioner Benjamin C. Adkins; S.C. Herbst, a German-Jewish wine and liquor importer from Milwaukee; and J.W. Wilkerson of the Savoy Hotel in New York. After the 30 days, Abe weighed 11 pounds heavier, but reported feeling fine.
On Dec. 11, 1910, the Times-Dispatch of Richmond, Va., implied that Abe would not have succeeded if his wager had involved stronger drink: "Colonel Abe Slupsky of St. Louis drank forty bottles of beer Friday, after drinking twenty bottles every day for thirty days. One drink of North Carolina corn, however, would have killed him."
In contrast, the Dec. 12, 1910, Washington Post editorial page compared Abe's feat to that of Hercules: "Hercules it will be recalled cleansed the Augean stables by turning the course of a river through the scene of his industry. Col. Slupsky, likewise accomplished his self-imposed undertaking by diverting a river of beer into the irrigable portions of his system." The editorial ranked Abe "among the famous drinkers of all ages," namely Friar Tuck, Prince Hal and Falstaff.
An editorial in the Dec. 14, 1910, New York Tribune commented on the successful stunt: "Before that peerless achievement, all St. Louis stands entranced with wonder and delight, and even the catfish in the river wiggle their whiskers in irrepressible pride. Henceforth, Slupskyville must rank as the centre, the nub, or let us say the spigot, of the bibulous world."
Abe's drinking feat was even covered in the Dutch language newspaper Nieuwsblad of Sioux Center, Iowa, with a brief notice appearing on page one on Dec. 21, 1910. Abe seemed to enjoy declaring to the world that he was no better than a pig, the newspaper commented.
The Washington Herald of Dec. 21, 1910, managed to insert an insult about the Colonel's name in its comment about the drinking bet: "It was a man named Abe Slupsky who drank twenty bottles of beer a day for thirty days, thereby winning a wager. A man of that name might do anything."
In subsequent years, Abe was called on by the St. Louis newspapers less frequently and for less spectacular reasons.
On Sept. 3, 1911, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a short article headlined, "COL. ABE HAS $5 FOR A POOR WOMAN." Abe's right to vote in the Missouri Supreme Court election had been challenged by attorneys, so he had bet one of them, W.J. Berger, $1,000 to $5 that he could produce his naturalization papers. Abe found the papers, issued in 1896, in his safe deposit box. His first papers, issued in 1882, had been lost, he explained, "Because at that time I could not afford a safe deposit box and had to hang my valise and valuables out of a window. My room was not large enough to hold them." Abe declared he would give his $5 in winnings to a poor woman.
He resurfaced on June 9, 1914, in a St. Louis-datelined dispatch published in the Syracuse Journal. The New York paper reported that Abe had appeared early in the St. Louis city assessor's office to file his return for the following year's taxes. He claimed he had a piano worth $10 and household furniture worth $150. The assessor's clerk asked Abe about the gold watch and chain he was wearing. The Colonel acknowledged the timepiece, and the clerk avowed, "I guess that ought to be taxed for about $10."
At that point, in hopes of avoiding the added levy, Abe offered to sell the watch to anyone in shouting distance for $5. He found no takers, so he reduced his offer $3.50. District Assessor Edward H. Baumann agreed to buy the watch. After accepting the cash, Abe confessed to having purchased the timepiece in a pawnshop for $1.75. "I've got a lot more just like it," he told Baumann. "Do you want any more?"
The assessor declined the offer and charged Abe the original $10 tax on the watch.
In October 1916, Abe Slupsky filed a civil lawsuit in circuit court in an attempt to cash in a $2,000 note that he had obtained. As plaintiff, his only evidence was his possession of the document that was signed Sept. 22, 1908, by William Haffner and Harry Starr and indorsed by the alleged payee, Sam Mintz. Complicating the case were the facts that Mintz had died before the court case was filed and the note had been reported stolen in a home burglary. The trial judge ruled for the defendants, and Abe appealed the case. In ruling against Slupsky, the court emphasized the point that there was no way to prove that the deceased Mintz had actually indorsed the document.
The St. Louis Court of Appeals ruled on July 15, 1920, that the original court's ruling was valid. The case, Slupsky v. Starr et al., can be read at http://tinyurl.com/yfst4cv.
The St. Louis mayor's race caught Abe's attention in 1921 when he was quoted in the Jefferson City Daily Capital News on Feb. 16, 1921. At the time, Republican Mayor Henry Kiel was nearing the end of his second four-year term in office. Abe told the newspaper that he would wager 2 to 1 that Col. Robert Burkham -- the Board of Education attorney, head of the local American Legion, and the choice of the Republican "reform" element and the leading Republican newspapers -- would not be the next mayor. Abe was correct about Burkham's chances. In the spring election, despite strong opposition, Henry Kiel was re-elected.
In early 1928, the Belt Electrical Supply Co., owned by Abe’s son Morris, went bankrupt. Morris revealed that in July 1927, his father “grew tired of lending” him money. Abe’s last direct aid to Morris was a $4,700 second deed of trust on the son’s $27,000 house at Bonhomme and Dielman Roads in St. Louis County. (Nine years later, Morris Slupsky’s tavern on Vandeventer also went bankrupt, but Morris eventually had a successful career as a real estate broker.)
Whooo took the owl?
Back in 1904, a reporter from the New York Sun visiting St. Louis for the Democratic National Convention took some time to seek out Abe Slupsky at his home to question him on a variety of issues.
The Sun article, published July 4, 1904, started with this paragraph: "In the grass plot through which the visitor passes to reach the marble steps of the handsome home of Col. Abe Slupsky, warrior, educator, philosopher, statesman and school reformer, there stands a heroic owl, done in bronze, with wide, meditative eyes, a high and intellectual forehead and pinions [wings] that rest ready for fight or flight. The owl is typical of the master of the house. It is his selection to designate his home. It is the representation of wisdom. He is its personification."
Twenty-five years later, in December 1929, a 35-year-old stone owl was stolen from in front of Abe’s house on Lindell. It was found a week later in a vacant house in the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood missing both eyes and one ear but with a new coat of gold paint and a note urging Abe to bathe the owl more often, according to the St. Louis newspapers. "It was the meanest trick ever played on me, and, believe me, I have been on the receiving end of some pretty mean ones," Abe said. A week later, another similar owl was found on a lamp post at Kingshighway and Lindell. But Abe denied that it was his.
The Chillicothe (Mo.) Daily Constitution of June 9, 1924, noted Abe Slupsky's presence at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where he offered to bet $1,000 to $500 that President Calvin Coolidge would have no opponents for the nomination. (In fact, Coolidge was overwhelmingly renominated, but two minor candidates received a few dozen votes.) The Constitution asserted that Abe had attended every Republican National Convention as an assistant sergeant at arms since 1876, when Rutherford B. Hayes was nominated. The Colonel was quoted as saying, "I have three hobbies---horse-racing, prize-fighting and Republican National Conventions."
In a Dec. 15, 1932, Associated Press dispatch from St. Louis that was published in the Seattle Daily Times, Abe Slupsky lamented the fact that he had not been called to testify in Washington about the then-pending bill in Congress that the following year would result in the repeal of Prohibition. "Why don't they ask somebody who knows his beer to testify!" Abe declared. "I could tell 'em about it."
He showed the reporter a frayed scrapbook containing articles about his 1898 beer drinking wager for which he drank 20 pints of beer for 30 days.
In 1933, at the time of Prohibition’s repeal, the long-time brewery lobbyist told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that home-brewed and other illegal beer sales would likely continue, but the breweries would also profit: “The breweries will not sell as much beer as they are expecting, but they will make money, and their business will grow as people get used to the good old German custom of drinking their beer sitting down,” he said.
On July 19, 1934, the St. Louis Star did a lengthy profile on Abe. During a two-hour interview with the reporter, Abe showed off his scrapbook of yellowed newspaper clippings, his collection of 35 canes and autographed photographs of President William McKinley, Cleveland industrialist and GOP U.S. Sen. Mark Hanna, New York Sun publisher Charles Dana and brewer August A. Busch.
In 1933-35, Abe Slupsky, who owned $23,000 in bonds from the St. Louis Public Service Co., sued in federal court in an unsuccessful attempt to defend his interest in the bankrupt St. Louis streetcar and bus service provider. Slupsky alleged the company had acted without authority in pledging $10 million in bonds from its predecessor company as collateral for a loan from nine St. Louis banks. Slupsky sought to block the sale of the bonds and have them turned over to Henry W. Kiel, the receiver under the company’s bankruptcy reorganization. But the judge ruled that the company’s actions had been proper.
Abraham Slupsky, 76, died of heart disease Oct. 23, 1936, in St. Louis's Jewish Hospital. At the time of his death, the value of his estate was estimated at between $145,000 and $250,000, quite a large sum in those days.
Two days after Abe's death, the New York Times made note of his death with a fairly detailed, but concise, six-paragraph obituary. The newspaper characterized him as "the ex-barroom bouncer whose sober-faced comments on education and the world in general as 'Colonel Abe' produced such rollicking humor, faithfully reported, in the editorial column of The New York Sun under Charles A. Dana that other Eastern papers doubted his existence."
The New York Times explained that after Abe had announced that he was running for the school board, "an editorial writer for The Sun read the State document and, with quotations from the original text, congratulated St. Louis, with mock solemnity, on having in its midst a great educational reformer."
While Abe Slupsky's national reputation as a "school reformer" was mostly a myth manufactured by Dana's New York Sun newspaper and other journalists, his local fame as a successful politician, lobbyist and businessman seemed to be based in reality. His was a character marked by intelligence, cleverness, wit, sociability and generosity seasoned with feistiness, combativeness and showmanship. His sense of humor may seem stale today, but during his lifetime, the newspapers were accurate in describing him as "a little joke machine."
Two years after Abe died, his wife, Caroline Fischer Slupsky, perished from a gunshot wound in the abdomen mysteriously received near the front door of her Lindell Boulevard home. Her daughter, Elda Slupsky Duke, was charged with first-degree murder, but acquitted in a well publicized jury trial.
A few years later, Abe's son Amedee, 33, again brought notoriety to the Slupsky name. He pleaded guilty on June 6, 1941, to having tried to bribe a draft board physician. He was sentenced to 2 years in prison and was fined $250 "for what federal Judge George H. Moore called the 'despicable' offense," the Associated Press reported.
Abe: the horse and the horseman
Abraham Slupsky owned a thoroughbred race horse named for himself: Abe Slupskey
“I’ll bet on anything in the world except a horse, even if I owned the horse,” Abe Slupsky told the St. Louis Star in July 1934. “Once I had a horse named after me. It cost me $400 that the owner borrowed from me after paying me that honor.”
Abe Slupskey the horse was named for Abe Slupsky the man. Abe Slupskey was a bay colt born in California in 1908 at the Rancho del Paso stud farm of his breeder, James Ben Ali Haggin, a major breeder in the early 20th Century.
Later, Abe Slupskey was owned by the Woodlands, believed to be the farm owned in Bridgeton, Mo., by Barney Schreiber of St. Louis. According to “History of St. Louis County, Missouri” (published by S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1911) by William L. Thomas, Schreiber, a member of the Missouri Live Stock Breeders, was a “noted horse farm man, with an extensive establishment near Kinloch [Mo.], for many years.”
According to the American Stud Book, which documents thoroughbred horses’ ancestry, Abe Slupskey was of royal stock. Abe Slupskey’s dam (mother) was a sibling of a Belmont Stakes winner and of a Preakness winner. And one of Abe Slupskey’s great-great-grandfathers sired two Kentucky Derby winners.
Abe Slupskey was a very good but not a Kentucky Derby-caliber race horse. He raced from 1910 through 1915, mostly at tracks in the West.
During his racing career, the Racing Form never lists Abraham Slupsky as one of Abe Slupskey’s owners. Most of the time his only owner is identified as the trainer J.W. Murphy. At various times in his racing career his ownership was shared by Murphy with people named Ferguson and Bell. So, although Abe Slupsky claimed to own a horse named for himself, it is uncertain whether he did so during the horse's racing career.
An incomplete listing of Abe Slupskey’s racing career follows:
One day in 1910, Abe Slupskey won the sixth race at Oakland, Calif. According to the Racing Form, Abe Slupskey started “away fast, easily made the running from start to finish and won easing up.”
On May 5, Abe was a 9 to 1 shot when he came in third in the second race (four furlongs) at Oakland.
On June 1, 1910, Abe won the second race (7/16th mile) at Oakland; and five days later, on June 6, Abe. a 9 to 5 shot, won the second race (1/2 mile) at Salt Lake City, Utah, reported the Chicago Daily Tribune.
In July 6, 1910, Abe raced at the Buena Vista track in Utah, where he came in fifth in the first race.
In late November 1910, according to the Racing Form, in races at Oakland, Abe came in fourth and first; and in a Dec. 14 futurity course race, he ran seventh. On Dec. 16, he came in second in the third race at Oakland where he was a 3 to 1 shot.
On Jan. 12, 1911, the Nevada State Journal reported that Abe Slupskey, a 60-to-1 shot, came in third in the fourth race at Oakland. Later in January, the Washington Post reported Abe came in second, ninth, first and fifth in Oakland.
On Feb. 1, 1911, the Chicago Daily Tribune said, Abe, with 7-to-1 odds, came in second in the fifth race (3/4 mile) in Oakland. On Feb. 7, 1911, the Nevada State Journal reported that Abe, a 10-to-1 shot, came in third in the third race (futurity course) at Oakland. On Feb. 16, 1911, the Journal reported that Abe came in ninth in the sixth race at Oakland.
On June 16, 1911, at Salt Lake City, Utah, Abe Slupskey won the third race. The Racing Form said he “was badly outrun for the first half, but saved ground by a close stretch turn, and in a fast finish, just got up.”
On May 11, 1912, at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Abe Slupskey won the third race. Abe “went to the front quickly and led throughout, never fully extended.”
On July 26, 1912, the Washington Post reported that Abe came in 9th in the sixth race at Salt Lake City.
On Nov. 6, 1912, Abe Slupskey won the 3rd race on the muddy track at Salt Lake City, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. Abe had taken the lead from the gun, lost it, and then "gamely forged to the front" for the victory.
In 1913, from Feb. 8 to March 22 at the track in Juarez, Mexico, Abe Slupskey placed 7th, 2nd, 4th, 8th, 10th, 6th and 9th.
In April 1913, at Coeur d’Alene, Abe placed 7th and 2nd. In July 1913, at Butte, Mont., Abe placed 11th, 1st and 1st. In August at Anaconda, Mont., Abe placed 7th, 7th, 5th and 1st. In September at Deer Lodge, Mont., Abe placed 5th and 1st.
There is a long gap in Abe Slupskey’s racing career at this point.
On June 22, 1915, the Nevada State Journal reported that he came in 8th in the third race at Denver, Colo.
A selection of quotes attributed by various newspapers to Col. Abe Slupsky of St. Louis:
"Anything less than 4 percent [alcohol] isn't beer."
"I'm for the higher-ups who take care of my workers in the 2nd Ward."
"Patronize the bar as you enter." [told to customers entering Jake Esher's museum and saloon]
"This place is in no way connected to Famous." [sign at Abe Slupsky's Locust Street used clothing store refers to the Famous-Barr department store]
"Run with the big fellows if you can afford to. If you can't afford to, do it anyway."
"I got a great respect for money, especially money in de dark."
"I can't help making money. I see my chance and make it. Everybody has the same chance only they don't take it.
"When you get a man workin' for you, you got to trust him the same as you trust yourself."
"I didn't strike the first blow, but I struck the last one, and I wasn't the one that had to be hauled away." [commenting on his fight with John Thomas Brady outside an Olive Street cigar store]
"I am 38 years old and never went to school in my life."
"The man that sits at a table drinking beer will take three to one that a guy standing up will take, and the talking he does won't tire him out, as it would if he were on his feet."
"If you don't mix your drinks, 20 pints [of beer] a day is a baby task."
"Usually, I take whiskey only when I'm sick, to make me well. When I'm well, it makes me sick."
"I take beer every 20 minutes. Come an' have one with me."
"It won't hurt any man, woman or child to drink beer, unless they drink it when they don't want to. Never drink beer when you don't want to."
A toast: "Here's hoping that none of you die until I kill you."
"Give every man something for what he gives you in return, and impress upon him that he has received just what he wants."
"Personally, as is well known, I am in favor of a good big roll of bills."
"Now, where I get my rest is by finishing the work of the day early and loafing. I have to be through each day by midnight, but I am always up when the hands on the clock point to 3 or 4 in the afternoon."
"I know, and say, money, money talks. Say, I got a great respect for money, especially money in the dark."
"I have three hobbies---horse-racing, prize-fighting and Republican National Conventions."
"The only difference between the vice president and a dead man is that the vice president ain't buried."
"President [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt? A lovely man, personally. But his policies? Phooey. Who's going to pay the bills when we get through spending all those billions?"
"There's no man in the world that can beat me at figuring or reading. I'm a little slow at writing."
"I tell you gents, it does not pay to be honest. I illustrate this sad truth myself. I am poor, but I am honest." [Reportedly said while glancing at the diamonds on his shirt.]
"No one had to die to leave me my money. I'm proud of that."
"I don't believe in a college education. When a boy is old enough to go to college he shouldn't be living off his parents."
"Every mother wants her son to be a lawyer or a doctor. And thousands of lawyers are starving, while bricklayers make good money."
"The toughest life in the world is a gambler's life: Thirty dollars one day, and thirty days without a dollar."
"You can't make anything out of a lunkhead. It's the smart guy who makes the best sucker. I happen to be one that didn't fall. And now I'm too old to fall."
What's in a name: Slupsky as a stereotype in fiction
By Martin Fischer
Abe Slupsky's notoriety and eccentricity in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries may have contributed to writers' using the Slupsky surname for stereotypical Jewish or foreign characters.
Scholars disagree on the origin of the name Slupsky. According to Lars Menk's "A Dictionary of German-Jewish Surnames," Slupski/Slupsky is a geographical name derived from one of several place names in Poland---Słup, Słupy or Słupia. But Heinrich and Eva Guggenheimer's "Jewish Family Names and Their Origins: An Etymological Dictionary" asserts the name is based on one of two other locations in Poland, Słupsk or Słupca, or is derived from the Polish word słup, meaning pole or stake. And Alexander Beider's "A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland" prefers the town of Słupca as the name's source.
Its origins may offer a generally neutral context. But for English speakers, Slupsky's sl-vowel-consonant(s)-vowel spelling bears an unfortunate resemblance to a slew of words with negative connotations---slowly, slyly, sloppily, slovenly, slouchily, slobbery, slithery, slatternly, sleazy, slippery, sluggardly, slimy, etc.---that lend themselves, at worst, to ridicule and disparagement and, at best, to satire and stereotype.
For writers of fiction exposed to the newspaper accounts of Col. Abe Slupsky of St. Louis, the origins of the name didn't matter, but the strangely sibilant sound of it offered an appellation that easily could be applied in stereotypical/satirical ways to any Jewish or foreign-born character.
Because of his involvement nationally with the Republican Party, Abe Slupsky had already been a public figure for more then five years when, on June 16, 1895, an unnamed sports writer for the New York Times published an account of a most unlikely conversation between "two foreign sports" named Slupsky and Bierfass at a New York Giants-Cincinnati Reds baseball game. The story was headlined: "Crippled Giants Losers: A German Dialogue the Feature of Yesterday's Baseball Game."
The two German characters exchange insults and discuss the game in what amounts to pigeon English punctuated with broken Germanisms and dialect. A brief excerpt of the conversation:
"Och, setz Dich---sit yourself down, Bierfass, und look at der came mit your mout. Versteh?"
"Vell, all reidt, Slupsky, old poy, but do you dink der Chiants vill gif us a run for our money?"
"I don't can tell," replied Slupsky. "I dink dey all got der Charley Mule, und dot iss a stubborn ding to fight mit."
The reference to Charley Mule is not to a member of the Giants team. It is rather a corruption of charley horse, a slang term for leg cramps or other sports injuries. In addition to the stereotypical ethnic dialect, one character's name, Bierfass, translates from German as beer barrel. The other name, Slupsky, stands on its own as a stereotype.
The following year, a short story published in The Jewish Voice, a weekly community newspaper in St. Louis, corrupted the Slupsky name into Schlipsky. Written in Yiddish dialect by Laura Jacobson, the story title "The Wooing of Rachel Schlipsky" was published as a two-part narrative on Aug. 14 and Aug. 21, 1896. The story told of a widow who operated a millinery shop, her struggle to make a living and her attempts to find a husband for her reluctant daughter.
A few years later, in a short, rather weak satire on the anti-saloon activist Carrie Nation, the San Francisco journalist and humorist Ambrose Bierce claimed that her maiden name was Carrie Slupsky. (Her birth name was actually Carry Amelia Moore.) This story, first published on March 10, 1901, in the New York Journal as "The Maid of Podunk" and nine days later in the San Francisco Examiner as "Ambrose Bierce's History of the Maid of Podunk," is one of Bierce's many fictional accounts based on the work of an unnamed future historian.
His use of the Slupsky surname is typical of the author's habit of using distorted or completely made-up names for real historical figures in his short stories. Its identification with the Prohibitionist Carrie Nation is not in any way part of a stereotype, but it is one small part of the writer's satirical method. The fact that Abe Slupsky's wife's name was Caroline, and Carrie could have been her nickname, is most likely pure coincidence.
("The Maid of Podunk" has been reprinted in Volume III of "The Short Fiction of Ambrose Bierce" edited by S.T. Joshi, Lawrence I. Berkove and David E. Schultz, 2006, published by the University of Tennessee Press.)
In a Jan. 11, 1904, New York Times un-bylined essay headlined "Tales of Street Fakirs," on the activities of street peddlers, a very brief mention is made of one named Dave Slupsky. The peddlers, referred to in the vernacular as "fakirs," are described as being skilled in the art of buying low and selling high.
One "fakir" has lost his pushcart to a former partner over an unpaid debt: "How will you start in, now, Charlie, since yer've lost yer wagon," another peddler asks. "Starting in will be easy," Charlie says, "if I can only get the loan of a good barrel. Dave Slupsky wants 12 cents for the one he's usin', but that's too much money. Over on Warren Street, I can get a brand-new barrel for 20 cents, and I'm not fool enough to pay more than half that for a bum second-hand affair." In the end, a wealthy bystander offers to lend the man $1 to enable him to re-establish his business.
However brief the mention of Dave Slupsky is, he is presented in a negative light as a peddler who is expected to sell shoddy goods for too high a price.
Short-story writer Bruno Lessing took liberties with the name by changing the "p" to an "m" in "The Sad Case of Mr. Slumsky," which was published in the October 1908 issue of Cosmopolitan. In this fanciful tale, a wealthy young gentile named Wilfred Blake reacts in a strange way to being rejected by his blue-eyed love interest: He rents a room on Orchard Street in New York City's East Side Ghetto to improve the "desolate and distressing" lives of the "children of Israel." His goal is "to cheer them with words of kindness, to point out to them the beauty of the higher, intellectual life, to encourage them to read and study, to instruct them in hygienic laws, to help them to develop their natures, and to relieve distress."
Blake first befriends a young boy named Ike Slumsky, the son of a Delancey Street butcher, who arranges at Blake's request to introduce him to his father. Through a series of misunderstandings and preconceived notions, Blake's first impressions are that the Slumsky family is suspicious of outsiders, living in dismal poverty, unable to afford sufficient food, required to pay exorbitant rent and are in such a pitiful state that they have had to force the beautiful daughter in the family to work 14-hour days in a sweat-shop.
For example, in one encounter, Mr. Slumsky notices Blake's magnificent pearl-scarf pin. The butcher writes $500 down on a piece of paper. Blake takes it to be an expression of curiosity by the butcher, and responds by writing $100 (much less than its actual value), to which Slumsky smiles and shakes his head. Blake regrets flaunting his wealth and decides he won't wear the pin again. (He doesn't realize that the first number was actually an offer by the butcher to buy the bauble from him.)
Later, an English-speaking rabbi happens to be in the butcher shop at the time, and Blake and the rabbi are invited to dine with the Slumskys.
During the visit, Blake finds that the family abode, though small, is spic-and-span. Mrs. Slumsky serves a steaming soup to everyone present, and Blake thinks to himself, "Great heavens! To think that these people can live on one plate of soup for a meal! And that poor, hungry lad! And that beautiful creature going to bed hungry every night! Terrible! Monstrous!" But then Mrs. Slumsky brings out "a huge dish of boiled fish, with a sugary sauce teeming with raisins." That is followed by roast meat and dumplings.
Blake also learns at dinner that Mr. Slumsky doesn't have to worry about paying rent, because he in fact owns the building and another one that contains an apartment he is willing to rent to the gentile. Blake also is informed that the Slumsky's daughter doesn't have to work in a sweat-shop. She is employed in a store owned by her uncle and works there only because her aunt has a nephew who is the store manager.
After dinner, the butcher raises the issue of the scarf-pin with the rabbi, who makes it clear to Blake that Mr. Slumsky realizes it is worth more than $100 and offers to buy it for $200---in cash. Blake declines the offer.
He returns to his apartment a "forlorn, disheartened philanthropist ... a sad and disappointed missionary." But his dismay is quickly remedied when he finds on his table a letter from his mother, informing him that the sweetheart who had rejected him has changed her mind.
Unlike some of the other stories with Slupsky characters, this Slumsky story at least shatters initial stereotypes. But it replaces preconceived notions with an impression of great wealth that seems to be very effectively hidden from view. This is an idea that could easily be twisted into the prejudiced notion of the rich Jew.
In 1911, Ambrose Bierce published a satirical word book titled "The Devil's Dictionary." It defines the word "portable" as an adjective meaning "Exposed to a mutable ownership through vicissitudes of possession." Immediately below this humorous, but wordy definition is a related poem:
"His light estate, if neither he did make it
Nor yet its former guardian forsake it,
Is portable improperly, I take it."
Bierce attributed this poem to Worgum Slupsky, one of the many totally made-up names that the writer used in his fictional satires. A close reading of the poem, if taken too seriously, leaves one with the impression that this fictional Slupsky must have undoubtedly been a thief who could justify his crimes with a creative turn of phrase.
The March 1913 issue of Munsey's Magazine published a short story by poet, playwrite and journalist Wallace Irwin titled "The Zoo, the Zodiak, and Mo Slupsky: A Story of the Garment Workers' Strike in New York." (It was republished in August 1925 in the Daily Boston Globe's Sunday Globe Magazine.) This intriguing story starts in a mansion on 5th Avenue overlooking Central Park as the wealthy members of the Daughters of Zoroaster are meeting with a mystical high priestess. She tells the beautiful horsewoman Consuela Thorne, "You are destined to walk among the poor and lead them. If a poor man seeks you out, call him 'brother,' and give to him your talisman of fortune. He will show you the path that leads away from sorrow---"
The seer's mention of sorrow angers her and Consuela leaves to go to the zoo across the street.
While looking at the hyenas, Consuela meets a strange little man, described as "bow-legged and something under five feet in height" who was wearing a second-hand hat and a coat several sizes too large for him. As the man tosses peanuts to the hyenas, Consuela informs him that the creature is a carnivore. The man and Consuela move on to the next exhibit, where he displays similar ignorance about the hippo that Consuela tries to set right.
The man formally introduces himself: "Me name's Slupsky---Mo Slupsky---und I vork by a pants-factory. Eleven hours a day vork for a dollar ten, und me not strong. Ain't dot a crime? I got to shupport me mutter und her rheumatism mid dis. Den 'long comes Sadie Bloomfield, who gits engaged onto me. Sadie is a anchel, but a awful loafer."
He explains that Sadie earns seventy five cents a day working at a stitching machine, but the lamplight for the job has made her sick, and now the Garment Workers' Union is on strike, so how can he marry her? Consuela sympathizes with the poor man, expresses "communistic sentiments" about the plight of the workingman, urges him to take a stand for his fellow workers and impulsively gives him a small flawed emerald that had worked loose from its setting.
She dropped the jewel into "Mo Slupsky's grimy palm" and, before leaving, told him "Take it---it's a wedding present."
A week later, after returning from a horse ride near her family's Long Island estate with her beau, Billy Robertson, Consuela is startled to find that Mo Slupsky and his new bride had shown up uninvited at her home. Mo's wife, Sadie, tells Consuela, "See vat Mo gimme to make marriage by!" as she holds up her hand to show the real emerald mounted in artificial pearls.
Consuela remarks that she thought Mr. Slupsky would sell the emerald to pay for the marriage, but Mo, after verifying that it was a real jewel, had it put in a ring because Sadie wouldn't marry him without it. The wealthy young woman then asks where he got the money to pay for the marriage.
Mo tells her: "You remember last Saturday you give me some Sunrise Club spiel about jump up und be free? I go right down to Grand Street, vere I got a rich cousin makin' thirty dollars a veek in gents' furniture goods. 'Abe,' I say, 'I got a rich Four Hundred lady interested in der clothing strike." Abe doesn't believe him until Mo shows him the emerald. Abe tells him, "Git dot Four Hundred lady into der parade next Vednesday, und dere ain't nothin' ve can't do yet. Maybe ve'll have a riot."
His cousin Abe lends him $75 for the wedding and arranges for Mo to get a $3 a day job as a "valkin' delegate" for the union, "just to loaf around talkin' freedom to vorkin' people," Mo tells Consuela.
After this explanation, Mo persuades Consuela to show up at the big demonstration outside the building where the owners of the garment factories are going to be meeting with each other. Consuela surprises herself by agreeing.
At the union protest rally, Consuela, accompanied by a maid and her chauffeur, is introduced to the crowd by Mo, speaking in Yiddish. She voices her support for the sweat-shop workers, and Consuela and Mo lead the marchers to the building where the owners are meeting. When they arrive, Consuela is shocked to see standing on the balcony as acting president of the owners' association, her boyfriend, Billy. Then Consuela, as "acting spokesman" for the union, voices their demands.
In the surprising conclusion of the story, Billy agrees to all of the workers' demands in exchange for Consuela's agreement to marry him. A year later, the new Mrs. Billy Robertson learns that Mo Slupsky is running for Assemblyman when she sees a poster that reads, "Vote for Mo Slupsky, the People's Friend."
However unrealistic, this is a charmingly fanciful story, but the Slupsky character is presented in stereotypical terms. He is short, dressed in ill-fitting clothing, ignorant and grimy. He speaks with a strong Yiddish accent. Except for the reference to Mo's cousin Abe (whose surname is not specified) and Mo's political involvement at the end of the story, there is no obvious connection to Abe Slupsky of St. Louis.
A more literary writer who was inspired by the name Slupsky was popular novelist and short story writer Fannie Hurst, who had grown up in St. Louis but moved to New York City after graduating from Washington University. In at least three of her short stories, which portrayed Jewish immigrant families, there were characters whose surname was Slupsky, but none of them had the given name of Abraham.
In her short story collection "Humoresque: A Laugh on Life with a Tear Behind it," published in 1919, was a story called "The Wrong Pew" in which a very minor character, Louis Slupsky, manned the ticket booth for a New York burlesque show and, because of his childhood acquaintance with the groom, was a guest at the sudden wedding of a visiting merchant from St. Louis and a New York showgirl. Except for the connection to St. Louis, there is no indication that Louis was a stand-in for Abe Slupsky.
Another Hurst short story with Slupsky characters was published in the Baltimore American on Sept. 20, 1925; the Oakland Tribune on Nov. 15, 1925, where it was headlined "DOUBLE JOY OF BUYING AND FRYING BREAKFAST"; and in the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 13, 1925, where it was titled merely, "The Slupskys." It recounted the tale of two brothers, Hiram and Leo Slupsky, who owned a stationary, a small neighborhood variety store on Columbus Avenue in New York City, and their mother. The brothers decided that their hardworking mother deserved a rest because "For sixteen years, while the boys were growing into their maturity, Mother Slnpsky had run this shop alone."
One summer, Hiram broke his little finger trying to open a streetcar window, and that brought the Slupkys a financial windfall in the form of a damage payment from the streetcar system. It was then that Mother Slupsky took the first vacation in her life, at the Royal Palace of Auverne-by-the-Sea, "a four-story frame structure, on a paved street, surrounded by delicatessen shops and fruit stands." While there, Mother Slupsky enjoyed ordering breakfast, lunch and dinner from a mimeographed menu: "fruit AND cereal AND eggs AND herrings" at every meal. She "sat around after breakfast on a wide veranda and knitted or played poker at a half-a-cent ante, or walked down to the beach and sat under an umbrella and watched the young people bathing." After four weeks of this "heaven," Mother Slupsky decided she couldn't stand it anymore.
She went back home so she could fry her boys' breakfast. In this case, there is also no link to the real Abe Slupsky. But the brothers' ownership of the stationary, a small family operated storefront business, and their mother's overarching desire to take care of her sons by making their breakfasts, are stereotypical representations, respectively, of Jewish merchants and Jewish mothers.
Another short story by Fannie Hurst with a fictional Slupsky, but one that was somewhat more like the real one, was first published in Cosmopolitan in September 1925. This story, called "The Gold in Fish," starts with a successful young auctioneer from the Bronx named Morris Goldfish, who decides for business reasons to change his name to Maurice Fish and insists his parents and sister, Birdie, also change their last names.
One thing leads to another, and the brother and sister argue about her choice of a male companion. With their parents present, Maurice says: "Once more, before them, I ask you. Are you or are you not going to stop running around town with that crook---that defaulter---that gangster that even today's papers mention in that bond stealing case? Isadore Slupsky."
But Birdie and Isadore had secretly wed the day before, even though Isadore had told Birdie he was being framed for a bond theft. The quarrel in the Goldfish family ends in a family divided as Birdie walks out to live with her new husband.
When she surprises her husband by insisting on moving in with him right away, he confesses that he has deceived and lied to her about the crime. Eventually, Isadore Slupsky is sentenced to a year behind bars. But Birdie loves him anyway and moves to an apartment near the prison so she can be close to her husband. The story continues melodramatically as, on his deathbed, Birdie's father asks for her. She hurries back home from the out-of-town prison town, and the family rift is healed.
While in prison, Isadore Slupsky has learned "the gentle art of automotive engineering and expects to enter his new profession shortly after his return," the feisty Birdie tells her family, ... "and I have already landed him a job. We are asking nothing of anybody. You can take us or leave us. My year of working in an Auburn tearoom, waitressing---yes, Irma, don't get seasick---and living two blocks from the prison, has taught me this much. About the lonesomest road any man can travel is the road back. The road back from down and out. Well, me and Izzy have traveled it. And we're back, all right. No favors asked."
There is no reason to think that the fictional Isadore Slupsky is based on Abe Slupsky, whose only known incarceration was a relatively brief one in connection with his killing of a man that was ruled self defense. Instead, this story was just another example in which the surname came to represent a stereotypical fictional Jewish character in a tale about how a woman's love helped a conman to go straight after taking his punishment.
("The Gold in Fish" has been reprinted in "The Stories of Fannie Hurst" edited by Susan Koppelman, 2004, published by The Feminist Press.)
The 1895 New York Times sports story set in the stands of the New York Giants-Cincinnati Reds baseball game, the 1904 New York Times essay on street peddlers and the 1908 Cosmopolitan story about the butcher Slumsky were all published after Charles Dana, editor of the New York Sun, had brought Abe Slupsky national notoriety. The rest of these stories were published after Abe Slupsky's 1910 beer drinking bet, which received coverage in newspapers from coast to coast.
But instead of reflecting the endearing and charming character of the real Abe Slupsky, these fictional stories generally present the Slupsky characters as stereotypes, some speaking German- or Yiddish-accented broken English, as street peddlers, small shopkeepers, sweat-shop workers, criminals or Jewish mothers.
Do you have a black sheep in your own family's past who is worth documenting? Experienced amateur genealogist Martin Fischer may be able to help. He is available to conduct freelance family history projects, including searching online databases, creating family trees and editing memoirs. For more information,go to http://www.the-efa.org/, click on find a freelancer, and type Martin Fischer in the search box, or go to http://www.apgen.org/, click on search by name, and type Fischer and Martin in the search boxes.