George F. Berger

15 07 2012

In 1905, 48 people were admitted to the Oregon State Insane Asylum with a diagnosis of “alcoholism” and 16 for syphilitic symptoms.[1]  George F. Berger was one of those people.

Berger was born in Wisconsin in April of 1869 to Frank and Margaret Berger, Germans who had immigrated to the United States from what is now Baden-Württemberg.[2]  His family, including an older sister Mary, farmed in Randolph, Courtland, Columbia County, Wisconsin.[3]

Sometime between 1870 and 1880, the family moved to Oregon.  By the 1880 Federal Census, George was 12 years old and living on Olive Street in Eugene.  Father Frank is no longer in the picture and mother Margaret is going by the last name of Haney, suggesting she may have remarried.  With a two year old brother named Jacob Berger, it would further suggest that George’s father died or left sometime between 1878 and 1880, leaving George as the man of the house at a very young age.

Due to an unfortunate fire which destroyed the 1890 Federal Census, we are forced to pick up George’s trail again in Oregon City in 1896 when we find him working as a bartender for Thomas Trembrath.[4]  Four years later, he had moved back to his mother’s 5th Street home in Eugene, where he and his now 21-year-old brother both worked as bartenders.[5] Berger did not keep a low profile after his move back to Eugene.  He was arrested and fined for gambling at least twice.  As a 1903 Oregonian article reported:

 The police have become active again in the matter of suppressing gambling in Eugene and today Tom Gilliam, Fred Ware and George Berger paid fines of $50 each for gambling.

The article goes on to state the crack down had come about after the death of C.W. Griffith who was supposed to have committed suicide after accruing large gambling debts at Eugene’s “gaming resorts.”  Berger was arrested again in November of 1904 for with W.Waddell, T. L. Gillam, Mac Sumerville and A. Henlein for “gambling or allowing gambling in the Reception and Oregon Saloons.”[6]

By 1905, George had worked up the ranks and was part owner with Mack Somerville of the Sommerville & Berger Saloon located at 591 Willamette St.[7]  In October of that same year, George was committed by Lane County Judge G.R. Crisman to the Oregon State Hospital.[8]  According to the hospital’s admissions records, George had been suffering an 18 month attack of General Pareasis brought on by “Alcohol and Venereal Excesses.”[9]  In addition to having irregular habits and possibly being homicidal, he is described as: “Quite Voluble – buys without regard to cost.  Violent at times.”[10]  General Paresis is a medical term that describes a condition of brain damage done by untreated syphilis which can include mood changes, hallucinations and delusions, and speech changes.[11]

From hospital records we find out a little more about George.  He is listed as a single man standing 5’10” tall and weighing 170lbs.  He had a common school education.  His race is listed as “brown.”[12]

The only other record we have of George’s time at OSIA is his patient account.  Patients were charged for transportation, services, and individually purchased foods and personal items.  During Berger’s stay at the hospital, his account was charged for:

  •         Car Fare
  •         Oranges
  •         Theatre and Car Fare
  •         Butter
  •         Dental Work
  •         Tobacco
  •         Tooth Brush
  •         Powder [most likely tooth powder, a precursor to toothpaste]
  •         Bananas
  •         Eggs
  •         Oysters
  •         G. Snaps [maybe ginger snaps?]
  •         Beans

In all, George spent thirteen months and three days at the Oregon State Hospital.  When he was discharged with a notation of “Improved,” he returned to Eugene, arriving in November of 1906.[13]  By 1907, he was back in business at 591 Willamette St., this time partnering with his brother Jake to operate the Berger Brothers Saloon.[14]

He would work in his new business for just about a year, as it appears George died in 1908.  Although no death record was located in the Oregon Death Index, two gravestones matching with his name and matching his birth date were found in Eugene, one George F. Berger (1869-1908) at the Masonic Cemetery and one George F. Berger (April 1869-February 1908) found in the Rest-Haven Memorial Park.

Note: The picture of George Berger shown above is from the Lane County Historical Society and Museum’s collections.  You can click on the picture to see the full catalog record or click on this link to learn more about the Lane County Historical Society and Museum.

—-

[1] Statistics from the 11th Biennial Report of the Oregon State Insane Asylum, 1905. pg 28-29.  The report lists 45 men and 3 women being admitted for “alcoholism,” 12 men and 1 woman being admitted for Syphilis, and 3 men being admitted for Paresis.  In modern terminology, Paresis can apply to any type of slight paralysis.  At the time it could be used as a synonym for “General Paresis” which indicated a symptom of syphilis.  See: Medical Dictionary and MedlinePlus.

[2] Germany did not become a cohesive state until the later part of the 19th Century.  The 1870 Census, lists the birth places of Frank and Margaret as Baden and Württemberg respectively.  1880 lists Margaret as being born in Prussia, which makes sense as the new German Empire, established in 1871 was dominated by Prussian influence.

[3] 1870 Federal Census.

[4] Oregon City Directory, 1896. Pg 685.  George F. Berger, bartender, Thomas Trembrath, board S Water Street.  – Note:  A George Berger also appears in the 1890 Oregon City Directory, pg 686 as a Dyer for the Oregon City Woolen Mills.  Also there is a Mary F. Berger, Dressmaker.  We know from other city directories that his sister Mary worked as a dressmaker for some time.  Although they are not listed as living at the same address in Oregon City, it is possible these are our Bergers as well.

[5] 1900 US Federal Census.

[6] Morning Oregonian Portland, Oregon.  July 31, 1903.  Morning Oregonian November 14, 1904 page 13

[7] 1905 Eugene City Directory.  N.B. in the Directory listing Mack Somerville is spelled with one “M,” where the saloon name is spelled with two “M”s, Sommerville.

[8] George was committed October 26, 1905.  Admissions Record Male, Volume D 1863-1910. (2/10/06/02).  Oregon State Archives, pg 161.   Personal And Medical Histories.  Volume 7a.  1905-1909. (2/10/6/…) Oregon State Archives, pg. 52.

[9] Admissions Record Male, Volume D 1863-1910. (2/10/06/02).  Oregon State Archives, pg 161.

[10] Personal And Medical Histories.  Volume 7a.  1905-1909. (2/10/6/…) Oregon State Archives, pg. 52.

[11] US National Library of Medicine. “General Paresis.” A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001756/

[12] Personal And Medical Histories.  Volume 7a.  1905-1909. (2/10/6/…) Oregon State Archives, pg. 52.

[13] Discharge Ledger, Volume F. 1883-1912. (2/10/6/5) Oregon State Archives.

[14] 1907 Eugene City Directory.

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One response

24 10 2012
Linda Perkins

Such great historical reading. Plan to visit the museum.
Linda P. Cottage Grove, OR

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