The Fabulous Life of Champagne Charlie

Adventure, intrigue and Drink.
Adventure, intrigue and Drink.

Some people live large and don’t ask for permission. Charles Heidsieck. There’s your example. Champagne Charlie, as his adoring American public dubbed him, had drama in his veins like some of us have fear and loathing. His father rode before Napoleon into Russia on a white stallion to take orders for celebratory champagne (someone was going to win, right?).

Charlie toured New England and the state of New York and saw at once that these people needed some bubbly. Have you met New Englanders and Upstate New Yorkers at the end of a long winter? He seized the opportunity by hiring an agent to sell his family champagne and when he came back five years later it was to roaring crowds and banquets. He had become the toast of New York high society!

charles-heidsieck-posterDrinks are fun, but someone has to pay for them and when shots were fired at Fort Sumter Charlie wondered who was going to pay the tab for his bubbly. The US government declared that since the South seceded Northerners didn’t have to pay their cotton debts–or their drink debts. More than half of Piper Heidsieck assets were in unpaid US drink debt.

What to do, what to do? A lot of people would throw up their hands in despair, maybe go into hiding or commit suicide, but not our good man Charlie. In the midst of war, Charlie determined to get his money directly from the  merchants. All of this must be done in secrecy so he made for New Orleans in hopes of eventually sneaking north.

One merchant gave him cotton as repayment, but the boats loaded for France failed to get through the blockade and were sunk. By now all routes north were cut off so he tried getting out of the country. The consul in Mobile gave him a pouch  to deliver to New Orleans before leaving, but Benjamin Butler’s men caught him, found the pouch that had documents about French textile merchants supplying Confederate uniforms and Charlie was sunk, imprisoned at Fort Jackson as a spy.

The whole thing created a big stir between France and the North and left Charles a broken man–but wait. There’s more. Once back at home he received word that the brother of the New York merchant who had cheated Charlie had a guilty conscience. He wanted to repay Charlie but only had a stack of deeds to land out west–Denver deeds. In a very short time he recouped all of his losses and with the profit rebuilt his drink business and everyone was happy.

The End


Thanks, mbracedefreak for the great lead! If you like cryptic, opinionated blogs here’s one for all of you.

“Desperately Poor and Uncivilized” Proud To Be Irish Anyway

George Henry Hall, A Dead Rabbit, or Study of an Irishman, 1858.
George Henry Hall, A Dead Rabbit, or Study of an Irishman, 1858.

The Irish in my family were rogues and dreamers, back stabbers and the kindest people I’ve ever met. They knew how to throw a good funeral, but their parties were awkward with new wealth and old wounds. They were treated as the scum of the earth but knew how to fight. My blood’s been mixed with more civilized tribes, but I still like watching a good scrap and getting together at the funeral parlor with my clan.

Do Irish people really like potatoes? Damn straight. My father ate them every day of his life. He also told police stories so amusing that people came from all over to hear him when he visited his home town in New Jersey. Yeah, and the Irish in my family drank (not my father) and died doing it. Others lived on to make sure their kids would have plenty of hilarity, dysfunction and a sense that no one but another member of the clan could ever fully understand them.

That’s why the NYC parade is so great. You march along with other freckled faces thinking– “What a bunch of misfits we are but we’ve taken over the town.”