In March of 1924, Adolf Gobel, crowned the “Sausage King”, died in his home in the Highland Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. His meat company, the Adolf Gobel Company, had grown from door to door peddling to the largest independent processed meat company in the country. His sausages, frankfurters, bacon, bologna, ham, and other products were on the shelves of delicatessens, restaurants, and in the homes of millions. Like Oscar Meyer, and Boar’s Head, today, in the 1920s and beyond, one could find Gobel meats everywhere. See Part One of our story for more details.
The popularity of delicatessens, hot dogs, and sandwiches; the “fast food” of the day, had made German immigrant Adolf Gobel a millionaire. At his death, his company was worth millions, and his personal fortune was estimated by the papers to be at least $3 million, to be split between his widow, Ottillie, and their four children: son Adolf Junior, and daughters Ottillie, Helen and Edith. Sadly, like many wealthy families, once the funeral was over, the battle for the estate began.
The Gobels were devasted after Adolf’s sudden and early death, he was only sixty years old. Mrs. Gobel arranged for her husband to be buried at their summer estate in Annandale, New Jersey. She wanted his grave to be worthy of him, so she hired an architect and monument designer named Sigwart John Reed to design a fitting memorial. Meanwhile, the company was being managed by three of its most trusted and senior employees. Mrs. Gobel was the executrix of the estate, with Adolf Junior, who was nineteen at the time, slated to run the company when he reached his majority. The eldest child, Ottillie Gobel Moore, was married, and no longer lived at the house in Highland Park, but lived at 1 Montague Terrace, in Brooklyn Heights. She actually inherited the business acumen in the family, and kept an active hand in the affairs of the estate.
Nine months after Adolf Gobel went to his rest; his widow married Sigwart John Reed. His rather tweedy, WASPY name draws to mind a tall, thin aesthete, which he may have been, but that wasn’t his real name. He was really Joseph Rittmeier. He may, or may not have been, the same Josef Rittmeier who came to the United States from Germany, in 1896. In any case, he was now an architect, and went by the name and title of Doctor S.J. Reed. He swept the heartbroken and rich widow off her feet in the months they were working on the monument for her husband, an edifice that was going up in cost every day. Their wedding shocked their children, especially Ottillie and Adolf.
By mid-1925, things were not going well for the family. The new Mrs. Reed had changed. She had replaced two of the three old Gobel employees who were running the company, with her brother and another new employee, both of whom were drawing much larger salaries than their predecessors. She had also restricted access to both the Highland Park home and the Annandale estate, and did not allow Ottillie or Adolf on the properties, and relations between her and the adult children were strained. The children did not like Reed, who had secretly married their mother not a year after their father’s death.
So strained, that in June of 1925, Ottillie Moore filed suit, asking for the removal of her mother as sole executrix of her father’s estate. Twenty year old Adolf was also a plaintiff. In addition to the changes her mother had instituted in the company, she also alleged that her new step-father was bilking the family for the gravestone monument. It was now slated to cost $50,000. Mrs. Reed had paid her husband $4,000 before they got married, and had promised him an additional $25K after the monument was finished. The case was up before Surrogate George Wingate. A detailed perusal of the will would have to take place. The relationship between mother and eldest children was frosty, to say the least.
In November of 1925, young Adolf Gobel got married. His mother and her new husband were not invited. The couple had a church wedding, and then retired to the Hotel St. George for the reception, Adolf was marrying his long time sweetheart, Miss Alice Marie McQuillan, a school teacher. Adolf’s sister, Ottillie, had made all of the arrangements for the wedding, and it was her decision to “forget” to invite her mother. The other two sisters, who were teenage students at boarding school, were there, and Ottillie’s husband, Lt. Claude E. Moore, of the 53rd Field Artillery, was best man. The guests immediately noticed that the groom’s mother was not in attendance, and great speculation followed.
Mrs. Reed put on a brave face, however, and invited a group of fifty of her first husband’s old friends to the house on Highland Boulevard to celebrate, even though none of her children were there. There, she explained to her guests that she thought she and her daughter had resolved their differences, and she also thought that she would be invited, but sadly she was not. But no matter, they would all celebrate the nuptials as well as Adolf Junior’s birthday, and have a good time.
Tragically, this wedding celebration would not go well, no matter how hard Mrs. Reed tried to minimize the social disaster. It would get worse. Highland Boulevard sits high on the terminal moraine, with steep hills leading down from the street to the valley below. Leaving early, one of the guests lost control of his car and plunged over the guard rail and down the viaduct to Vermont Street, far below. Some of the passengers were thrown from the car, and one was pinned, as the car came to rest upside down in the grass. The driver was killed instantly, and his other passengers severely injured.
When word reached Mrs. Reed, the party ended abruptly. The bridal party at the St. George reception also learned of the accident, and that party ended early as well. The Times interviewed both Ottillie Gobel Reed and her daughter, Ottillie Gobel Moore, and the mother hoped that this tragedy would bring the family closer, as life could end at any time, and one should be reconciled with family. That would be a prescient statement.
The next year, in 1926, the Gobel heirs sold the family business. The buyers were a group of Wall Street bankers, with a small portion of the company going into publicly held stock. The new company, Gobel Incorporated, would take the products, name and good will of the old, with former VP, Robert Kleiber, the sole remnant of Adolf Gobel’s administration, in charge, and up for the position as president of the company. The company had annual sales of over $8 million, with 96 trucks, 450 employees, the original plant in Williamsburg, and new plants in the metropolitan area. The amount of the sale was not published.
That same year, Adolf Gobel’s widow sold the house on Highland Boulevard. It was sold to Alphonse A. Shalare, a stock broker from a Wall St. brokerage house. Perhaps one of the buyers of the company? We don’t know. He would not reveal how much he paid for the house to the papers. Shelare beat out former Mayor of NYC, John Hylan, for the property. Mrs. Gobel Reed was living full time in Annandale, and perhaps the house had too many bad memories for her. She was still in litigation with her children.
That November, the case was finally settled. Mrs. Reed had been ordered to turn over 500 shares of stock, worth $120,000 to her two eldest children. She refused, and was ordered to do so at the beginning of November, or be jailed for contempt of court. This was the catalyst that enabled the case to finally end. She turned over the stock, and the contempt charges were dropped.
Much of the battle had been over how the company was run, but the family had just sold the company, so many of those decisions had been rendered moot. Adolf Gobel had willed the presidency of the company to Adolf Junior when he turned twenty-five, but the sale of the company now made that impossible, and this part of the will was also nullified. Both sides stated that they were satisfied with the settlements, but the details were not released to the public. It seemed that the saga was over.
The Sausage King’s company no longer belonged to the Gobel family. But they stayed in the news, even as the new owners expanded the Brooklyn brand to new heights. The conclusion of our story is next time, with a horrible accident, the end of a marriage, and in business – the company of the Sausage King is acquired by the Salad Oil King of Wall Street. You can’t make this stuff up. (Gobel’s Toasted Frankfurthers sign: liveauctioneers.com)