Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VII: Those Amazing Menches Boys

Bookmark and Share
(The seventh part in a series of seven)

Brothers Charles and Frank Menches were prolific concessionaires. They didn’t start that way. By the time he was twenty, Charles had a “successful season” with the Bob Stickney circus. Contemporary reporters called him a “thoroughly proficient” trapeze artist.1 After spending several years as a high wire and trapeze artist with the Bob Stickney circus and the Old John Robinson circus, Charles decided to enter the concession business full-time with his brother Frank in 1884.2

Frank, six years younger than Charles, was no slouch when it came to athleticism, either. He was an award-winning bicycle racer, competing into his early twenties.3,4

Born in Canton, Ohio, the brothers dove into multiple business ventures at an early age. While working with the circus, Charles began dabbling in concession sales. Very quickly, he Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VII: Those Amazing Menches Boys”

Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VI: A Day In Hamburger History – September 18, 1885 – Everything is the Same, Except, “You Are There!”

Bookmark and Share
(The sixth part in a series of seven)

“What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… all things are as they were then, and you were there.”

– Walter Cronkite, at the conclusion of each episode of the CBS Series You Are There

On this day, September 18th, 1885, the last day of the Erie County Fair, Hiram P. Hopkins woke up to threatening skies. While the weather appeared ominous, he breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t see the clouds as presaging rain. Rather, he saw the southwesterly breeze as ushering in unusually warm temperatures. In exchange, he’d accept the oppressive humidity.

In the early morning, before the expected thousands of fairgoers arrived, Hiram strolled the grounds. Just a day earlier, the place was packed, the crowd so dense it was difficult to move. This morning the only people Hopkins could see were the many vendors prepping their booths for the final day. Popcorn, peanuts and candy sellers had a brisk business the day before. The same was true of those selling lemonade, pop, and sandwiches.

As he passed close to the grandstand, he noticed two young men fretting about. It was Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VI: A Day In Hamburger History – September 18, 1885 – Everything is the Same, Except, “You Are There!””

Hamburger WhoDunIt Part V: CSI: Hamburg(er), N.Y.

Bookmark and Share
(The fifth part in a series of seven)

“Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk..”

– Henry David Thoreau

And then there was one. Charles and Frank Menches were born in Canton, Ohio. Their father, Jacob Menches, an engineer in Prussia, immigrated to America and became a grocer in Canton. Their mother, Charlotte Hahn Menches, was originally from France. As young men, both boys were quite athletic. Charles as a well-regarded gymnast who travelled with a popular circus as a trapeze artist and high wire walker before he turned twenty.1 Frank, six years younger than Charles, was an award-winning bicycle racer.2,3

While the brothers’ lives contain several amazing stories, our focus here is on only one: Their role as (potentially) the first to sell a hamburg sandwich. How this story became known is itself a story. The brothers’ claim was widely known (the headline of Frank’s 1951 obituary reads “‘Inventor’ of Hamburger Dies.”4 The real story, however, lay hidden for half a century and was published decades after the brothers had passed away.Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part V: CSI: Hamburg(er), N.Y.”

Hamburger WhoDunIt Part IV: A (Swiss) Cheesehead Tale

Bookmark and Share
(The fourth part in a series of seven)

“…with each recollection the memory may be changed.”

“Memories don’t just fade, as the old saying would have us believe; they also grow. What fades is the initial perception, the actual experience of the events. But every time we recall an event, we must reconstruct the memory, and with each recollection the memory may be changed – colored by succeeding events, other people’s recollections or suggestions, increased understanding, or a new context.”

From Witness For the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness, and the Expert Who Puts Memory On Trial, by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham (St. Martin’s Press, 1991)

When you’re a reporter, you often find yourself interviewing sources to try to get a broader perspective on the story. Reporters will often Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part IV: A (Swiss) Cheesehead Tale”

Hamburger WhoDunIt Part III: The Texas Two Step

Bookmark and Share
(The third part in a series of seven)

“Heroes stand not in my presence: they fall to earth beneath my hand.”

“He answered, like a wave on a rock, who in this land appears like me? Heroes stand not in my presence: they fall to earth beneath my hand. None can meet Swaran in the fight but Fingal, king of stormy hills. Once we wrestled on the heath of Malmor, and our heels overturned the wood. Rocks fell from their place; and rivulets, changing their course, fled murmuring from our strife.”

From FINGAL, An Ancient Epic Poem. In Six Books, Together with Several other Poems, composed by OSSIAN the Son of FINGAL, Translated from the Gallic Language, By James MacPherson. (Published by Richard Fitzsimons, Dublin, 1762)

James MacPherson, a Scottish poet stunned the literary world when he published an Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part III: The Texas Two Step”

Hamburger WhoDunit Part II: The Shrine of the Four (and a half?)

Bookmark and Share
(The second episode in a series of seven)

“You will not apply my precept,” he said, shaking his head. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

Illustration from the Monday, July 23, 1894 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle

Thus spoke crime fighting sleuth Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second novel featuring his most-popular character, as published in the February 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. By coincidence, the most noted hamburger origin stories occurred within a few years on either side of this date. It’s fitting, then, that we employ the deductive techniques of the Baker Street mastermind in attempting to solve one of histories greatest culinary mysteries: Who sold the first hamburger.

First, as in all good police thrillers, let’s take a look at our line-up of suspects (in reverse chronological order). In each case, their hometowns have created what amounts to a shrine to their claims. We count them as four and a half because two are inexorably tied together. Still, for our purposes we’ll untie them. Here’s the line-up:Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunit Part II: The Shrine of the Four (and a half?)”

Hamburger Helper – Solving the Greatest WhoDunIt? In Culinary History

Bookmark and Share
(The first part in a series of seven)

“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Hamburger today.”

When J. Wellington Wimpy first voiced that phrase on December 28, 1934 in Fleischer Studios short “We Aim to Please,” Popeye’s 17th theatrical cartoon, [http://popeye.wikia.com/wiki/We_Aim_to_Please] the White Castle hamburger chain had already been around for 13 years. By the time E.C. Segar added the character of Wimpy to his King Features Syndicate cartoon Thimble Theatre in 1931, White Castle was well on its way to selling 50 million hamburgers. It would achieve that mark in 1941.

A year earlier, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald moved their father’s food stand from Route 66 in Monrovia, California to the streets of San Bernardino. They rechristened their Continue Reading “Hamburger Helper – Solving the Greatest WhoDunIt? In Culinary History”

A Confession from a Hypocrite: Alas, I, too, am a Free Rider

Bookmark and Share

It was the most regrettable thing I had ever done in my entire life. At the time I thought it was a giant step forward, a statement that, because of who I was, because of who we were, would make a difference.

Organizing the protest had other alluring advantages. Our teacher encouraged us. We respected her and she respected us. She treated us like adults. We liked that. It presented us with the ultimate reward: greater self-esteem. In addition, the entire class participated. That meant we could be with our friends, and all the social rewards that brings. Finally, only our class was allowed to participate. It was a reward for getting our schoolwork done in a timely fashion. There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment to fill the soul with self-confidence.

Of course, it helped that we hooked our wagon to a national movement. It was the first Continue Reading “A Confession from a Hypocrite: Alas, I, too, am a Free Rider”

Buffalo’s Mystically Magic Resurgence

Bookmark and Share

With twin Romanesque columns towering over either side like two rooks joined at the hip, Henry Hobson Richardson’s 19th century creation looms like full scale Gotham City prop. Traveling along a long-abandoned side road that circles the vast complex, one sees up close the details from the decades of decay. Unattended since 1994, New York State left what remained of the old Buffalo State Asylum to the elements.

The wind-swept snows of Lake Erie would take its toll on the buildings as well as the 200 acres of once elegant grounds laid out by none other than Frederick Law Olmstead. Western New York’s famous winters have only enhanced the eerie feel of the place. Built in oversized fashion from garnet-colored Medina Sandstone and industrial-red brick, the institution carries the burden of its initial purpose.

Elisabeth Stevens once wrote of the building (The Baltimore Sun, Saturday, August 11, 1979, page 7), “…one can conveniently imagine the character such as Mr. Rochester’s wife (in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte) screaming wildly at one of the uppermost windows of the twin, medievalizing towers of the central Romaneque-style building.”

Yet, for all this creepy sensation, Richardson’s realized vision remains alluring. “It’s haunted. There’s a history here that you have to experience,” says Kelly Reitnour of Continue Reading “Buffalo’s Mystically Magic Resurgence”

3 Reasons Why Amtrak Should Not Rename Rochester’s Train Station after Louise Slaughter

Bookmark and Share

Many who met her say she seemed like a nice lady, but should Amtrak rename the Rochester train station after Louise Slaughter? To best answer this question, we should consider her legacy, a legacy long forgotten but memorialized in a book written nearly three decades ago. Here’s what made me remember it:

About a year ago, Ted Benna went over the beginnings of the 401k with me. The interview was for part of a series of articles that would eventually be published in several national media outlets. You might not recognize the name “Ted Benna” but you should. Chances are he changed your life and the lives of many of your neighbors. He was the man who discovered and created the world’s first 401k account. Well, he didn’t exactly do it alone.

Ted Benna’s discovery of the true significance of section 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code required confirmation. As he retold the story of the very beginning, he read through the litany of executive branch policymakers who helped pave the wave for Benna and his coworkers. They represented familiar figures from the Reagan administration.

But Benna said the seeds for his discovery were sown years before when Congress amended the U.S. Tax Code in 1978. He mentioned many names, quite a few who I remembered. I listened and let him talk uninterrupted. Until he said one congressman in particular offered the key piece to this 1978 legislation. His name was Barber Conable.

“Barber Conable?” I asked in shocked disbelief. “You mean the same Continue Reading “3 Reasons Why Amtrak Should Not Rename Rochester’s Train Station after Louise Slaughter”