An amazing journey to a newly discovered family story - pieces of our history come home.......
It all began with Nicholas Vanderbilt Halter in 1903. During one of these historical detours, I had an amazing discovery about Grandma Jane’s Maternal Grandfather (my Great Great Grandpa) Nicholas Vanderbilt Halter. Leave it to our family to be behind the first US Supreme Court Decision on flag desecration! Great Great Grandpa Halter, was part of the Willow Springs Brewing Company of Omaha, Nebraska.
In 1903 they began brewing a beer called Stars and Stripes Special Brew. Because of Nebraska statutes that prohibited use of the flag in advertising, he was charged with (what equated to) desecration of the flag. He fought the charges and lost; he then appealed to the US Supreme Court. In 1907 (Halter v. Nebraska 205 U.S. 34) the Supreme Court determined that a Nebraska law forbidding the use of the flag for advertising merchandise — in this case, beer —doesn't violate the Constitution. The court, however, considered the case only on property rights and not in regard to the First Amendment. (He lost and was charged a $50 fine.)
Between newspaper accounts and Google, I tracked down information on Willow Springs Brewing Company (which later became Willow Springs Distilling Co / Willow Springs Bottling Co) and found that the Bottling Company is still in operation. Having inquired as to if they had any artifacts left from that time period, I was told that the company leased a barn where many of these items were stored. Unfortunately, the barn was bulldozed during an ownership change of the farm before the company could remove the contents! Over 100 years of the company’s history was lost in a pile of rubble.
With little hope of finding anything related to this story, I thought Ebay might just hold the key. It was as if the heavens opened and angels sang as I spotted a coveted bottle from the original Stars and Stripes Special Brew! Nearly $30 later (including shipping) the bottle was on its way,back home to the family in which it originated.
I continued hunting for information via Google when a Craigslist Ad popped up from the San Francisco area. My heart fluttered as quickly as hummingbird wings when I saw it…. a beer shipping crate from the Willow Springs Brewery, Omaha Nebraska. The nail heads are square, which indicates they used “cut nails” a product seen before 1910. So, this substantiates that this crate is one from the era in which Great Great Grandpa was working with the brewery! The gentleman who advertised the crate had purchased it over 25 years ago at an antique shop in San Francisco. Shortly after a little further explanation and a deposit into his checking account, the crate was on a FedEx truck bound for Seattle.
The crate and bottle arrived in my office the same day, 10/29/10. The photos to the left and below are from that auspicious occasion.
Late December 2010 brought an amazing find from a collector in Omaha, NE. He had a duplicate churchkey, just like the one pictured (but in pristine condition) that he sent my direction. The amazing thing is that he is keeping our family in mind as he comes across more Stars and Stripes Special Brew items.
February brought the discovery of a tasting glass and a couple more bottles which have been disseminated to certain family members.
We really appreciate those people who have helped my family reclaim little pieces of our heritage. What was a scandalous event turned into a pretty amazing story of which our family is proud. (...and explains that our tenacity is merely genetic...passed from Great Great Grandpa Halter!)
Original Advertisement from Stars and Stripes Bottled Beer:
Note that consumers received "Green Stamps" with each bulk order, and that "its absolute purity, make it, for family use and all occasions..."