Thursday, March 3, 2016

Brewery Cave Tall Tales - Part Two

Last posting I gave you the implausible yarn of an army of unusually large, aggressive rats infesting a brewery cave in Franklin Pennsylvania; and of the valiant battle of the young Grossman boys in their pursuit of a nice Swiss Cheese snack.

That had the feel of a real story much exaggerated.  But what, oh what are we to make of this tale from January of 1882?

(originally from the Oil City Derrick)

Anyone familiar with the heavy oil developments knows that a goodly part of the drilling is done on the hill known as the "Point" near Franklin.  It rises from the bank of French Creek in a very abrupt manner.  Phillip Grossman's brewery is situated at the foot of South Park Street, on the west side of the creek.  His beer vault is on the other side.  It is an immense vault, blasted out of the solid rock, and penetrates into the hillside nearly 100 feet.  In this is stored large quantities of lager beer.  The casks that hold the beer contain on an average about ten barrels each.  The cask in the rear end of the vault is used as a supply cask.  All the others are connected with this one by pipes, and the supply cask, being sunken, is always kept full of beer.  The hill at this place is so steep that it cannot be ascended.

Above this vault, on the hilltop, Rial and Son own a lease. They drilled a number of wells on their lease, and they were all profitable.  Some time ago they located No. 9 directly over this beer vault. The rig was built and things ran along in the usual manner for about a week.  When they had reached a depth of 400 feet, 200 feet less than where they usually find the sand, the drill struck a crevice and dropped away several feet.  The tools were withdrawn from the hole and the bailer ran.  It came up seemingly full of oil.  Bail as they would they could not exhaust the supply.  They decided to tube the well, and were ordered to do so by Mr. Rial.  The next day the well was turned without being shot. They commenced to pump it, and it threw the fluid out at a great rate.  Noticing something queer about the oil one of the men tasted it.  He found it so good that he put his lips to the pipe and took long gulps of the delicious stuff.  First one and then another drank.  They became what is known as drunk.  The owners visited the well, drank, and were overcome.  Operators came to see it, drank, and were overcome.  The people of the town who had heard of it went up the hill, drank and were overcome.  Little by little they came to realize what they had been drinking.  One man was found in the crowd who had tasted beer before.  He affirmed that it was beer, but they laughed at him.  How would this Rip Van Winkle elixir get into the bowels of the earth?  At last they decided to call in an undoubted authority on the beer question and sent for Phillip Grossman.  Grossman came.  He tasted it once, twice, and then he tore his hair.  "Is it beer?" they asked.  "Beer? Yes, its mein own make. Mein Gott in Himmel you are pumping mein beer vault dry."  Such was the fact and the way that well was shut down was a caution.  They visited the vault and found it to be so.  Three of the huge casks were empty.

If the overall tone of this article did not tip you off just try to get your brain to accept that in an entire crowd of oil field workers only one man could be found who had ever tasted beer!

Obviously Phillip Grossman and the editor of the local newspaper were collectively having a little fun with us.  I should think they were great friends and in the habit of spinning a few yarns over mugs of Herr Grossman's lager.  Which, one fervently hopes and expects, did not taste like oil at all.

For breweries far outside my Midwest haunts I do not have extensive resources for research but a few bits come my way via the Internet.

This ad is roughly contemporary with the 1880 and 1882 tall tales ( I wonder, was it some annual event?) and shows that he was in fact primarily a brewer.  The saloon mentioned in the first story was likely a side line.

Phillip Grossman was born in Wurtemburg Germany in 1836. He emigrated to this country in 1850 and practiced various trades including being a baker.  The fellow named Minich mentioned in Part One of this story was his father in law, and when he drowned in 1865 Grossman took over the brewery.  In 1895 he discontinued brewing and became a manufacturer and bottler of soft drinks up until his death in 1917.  His son, also named Phillip and one of our "Rat Busters" from Part One, succeeded him in the business.  With Prohibition just over the horizon the decision to quit making beer was likely looking quite wise by that point.  

The former brewery cave should not be difficult to locate.  Franklin PA, east side of French Creek, low enough that an 1865 flood was a problem. I found one reference that indicated it was near the (now long gone) South Park Street Bridge.   I can see on Google Earth the spot (give or take a hundred yards) where it has to be.  I would not encourage anyone to enter it - what with the floods, roof weakened by drilling, Giant Rats and all - but I would be obliged if anyone local could snap a picture of its exterior.  

The story of the "Beer Well" has been kicking around a while and I did find one geo cacher who explored the area up above a bit.  The Beer Well

Oh, and my theory that Grossman and the local newspapermen liked to cook up a fanciful yarn over their mugs?  Here is an enigmatic quote from Mr. Grossman's obituary:

PHILIP GROSSMAN, late of Franklin, was a business man of that city for over half a century and stood high in the esteem of his fellow men both in that capacity and as a private citizen. Of social disposition and habits, he formed an extensive acquaintanceship in the various relations of life, particularly among local fraternal bodies, but he was nowhere more appreciated than among his everyday associates, those who in familiar contact had the best opportunity for judging his nature and the sincerity of his good intentions toward others.

Grossman's Brewery/Soft Drink factory still stands.  On Google earth it can be seen at:

I bet you can see the brewery cave from the third floor.

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