Mustaches and Malt Liquor

blog_BRENZEL George

I imagine most people would see this stained, worn cabinet card as trash.  Luckily someone knew better and it ended up in an antique shop in Indianapolis where a dear friend bought it as a gift for me.


Not only is this image interesting in itself but it’s identified as well!  I believe the men whose names are written on the reverse are standing on either end and that the guy in the middle is what you might call a ‘human prop’ for lack of a better term.

cropBRENZEL George

Why did these three men pose together?  What is the meaning behind the props, especially the scraps of flag tied around the man in the middle? I believe it’s possible this photo was taken in June 1890 when the residents of Kaukauna, Wisconsin marked the city’s 100th anniversary with a centennial celebration. Someone wrote a word on the sign, after the fact, but I can’t make it out.  If you’d like to give it a go please click on the image to view a larger version and leave your thoughts in the comments.

I was quick to locate George Brenzel and his wife Annie living in South Kaukauna. I’m not sure if the first word below George’s name is a nickname or an abbreviation of a name for the second man but there are a few of Annie’s McCabe cousins (on her mother’s side) that were close in age to George and living in the area, including William, Thomas, and Peter. Maybe one of them is our mystery McCabe.

bMCCABE Peter Middle Back Row

I found a photo of Peter McCabe (back row) on ancestry but unfortunately, he’s much older and the image is very small.  I feel like he could be either one of our sitters.

1898 Oct 26 BRENZEL Geo ARREST The Oshkosh Northwestern Wisconsin
Oct. 26, 1898 ~ OshKosh Northwestern (WI)

As a young man, George operated a saloon and often found himself in trouble with the law.  He married in 1891, at the age of 28, and by 1901 his saloon days were over and he went to work for the Union Bag and Paper Company as a stationary fireman, maintaining engines, boilers, and other mechanical equipment at the factory.  He died, aged 66, in 1929 and is buried in St Patrick Catholic Cemetery in Kaukauna.

Census records
Find a Grave
The OskKosh Northwestern, Oshkosh, WI
The Post Crescent, Appleton, WI
Wisconsin marriage index
1895 Milwaukee (Kaukauna) City Directory

8 thoughts on “Mustaches and Malt Liquor

  1. I checked for George Brenzel on Ancestry to see if he’d ever been sent to Leavenworth penitentiary for “selling liquor to Indians,” which was a very common offense in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but no luck. I would love to have a time camera and be able to take a peek into his saloon!

    No idea what the sign says, but great image and post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great interesting photo and posting~ couldn’t read the word but I am wondering if perhaps this is a New Years/Eve photo. The middle man looks dressed as Father Time and the horn held by the man on the left ???? Great research on this too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a bit confused by your description. You said: I believe the men whose names are written on the reverse are standing on either end and that the guy in the middle is what you might call a ‘human prop’ for lack of a better term.

    But aren’t there THREE names on the back? So why wouldn’t they be the names of the men as 1,2,3, typical from left to right in the photo? George Brenzel (if you say so) Jorge McCabe, and Arnie Brenzel

    Another’s comments pointed out the “horns” and thinks New Year’s Eve, but the stars and stripes wrapped around the guy, suggests to me that he ran for elected office, and possibly won, and this is a horn blowing celebration picture. Or alternatively, SOMEONE they liked was running for office and these guys were gung ho supporters bent on getting him elected. Could be that candidate’s name on the sign.


    1. Oh yes, it could be an election image. Great thinking! Regarding the names…I think one of the men originally wrote the names “Geo. Brenzel & ???” and then someone later added “McCabe” after the second name as well as the third name which I see as “Annie Brenzel.” Annie was George’s wife. Of course, that’s just my interpretation of the writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, just for the sake of argument: Why would anyone write the name of the wife, who is clearly NOT in the picture?
    Are you maybe jumping to that interpretation of the writing simply because George B did have a wife named Annie? And, if you found cousins “on her mother’s side” presumably their names would NOT be McCabe as again, presumably that would have been her father’s name. Unless her mother and father were cousins with the same surname, which does happen. Really too bad we can’t make out what is written, as if on the sign. Looks a bit like Butalb or Butolb with maybe a final “a”. I may be influenced by your research and discovering the liquor issues, but the photo overall does have a bit of a vibe of intoxication!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Annie’s mother’s maiden name was Bridget McCabe. The McCabe cousins are Bridget’s siblings’ children. Maybe my wording of the sentence “Annie’s McCabe cousins…” is confusing because it’s easy to read it as “Annie McCabe’s cousins…” Sorry about that.

      I transcribed the third name as Annie before I did any research and was puzzled as none of the sitters are women. As far as why Annie’s name might be written on the reverse, I believe it’s possible that someone came into possession of the photo who knew George only through Annie Brenzel, possibly a relative or friend of Annie, which is why they added her name. Of course, that’s just my supposition.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Clearly the McCabe and third name were added later. The sign does seem to say Butolb, but the fourth letter also looks more like a C to me. Could it be Butch something? I agree with the possibility of an election image.

    Liked by 2 people

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