John Frank Geiger, 1853–1900
Johannes “John” Geiger was born in New Glarus, Wisconsin, on 12 June 1853, to a cobbler who was also a farmer, Heinrich Geiger, and his wife, Maria (Oswald), both immigrants from Canton Glarus, Switzerland.
John was the oldest of eight siblings that lived to adulthood. In 1870, John was seventeen and living on the 150-acre family farm just west of the village of New Glarus. At some point, presumably after he left his childhood home, John added the middle name Frank.
Press reports in 1900 indicate John set out as a teenager, “traveling about the country as a sewing machine agent and repairer.” It seems he was a good story teller and this, along with his natural mechanical abilities, served him well. In 1877, he was a salesman with the firm of Fitch & Moore, St. Louis agents for the Wheeler & Wilson Sewing Machine Co.
John married Josephine Josse in a Roman Catholic ceremony on 28 December 1878. A newspaper report on the nuptials said he was “well-known in business circles” and was then a sales manager at Singer Manufacturing Company. John and Josephine’s daughter, Maria, was born in September 1880.
By 1883, John had begun the Geiger Livery and Undertaking business. Press reports estimate he was worth $100,000 at the onset of the 1893 depression. By 1895, he was one of the largest liverymen in St. Louis, feeding on average 200 horses. In addition, Geiger sold medicines, soaps, and real estate at various times. In 1888, Geiger was the leaseholder of the Dorris Mansion in the western suburbs of St. Louis, which he was operating as a roadhouse.
Many newspaper stories report on the anomalies of Geiger’s business life. He also appears in the “St Louis Men” social column on several occasions.
John Frank Geiger, 1880
Photo in the collection of James S. Geiger
Used with permission
At the end of his life, the financial tables had turned for the liveryman, yet he continued to manage the Geiger Livery Company. At this time, he was separated from his wife and daughter but continued to provide for them. He had become the landlord of the “Geiger Flats,” which was occupied by men about town—artists, writers, and theater folk—all of a decidedly Bohemian character.
After an evening of theater and dining out, John died unexpectedly at Geiger Flats on 23 March 1900, at the age of forty-six—both of his parents still living in New Glarus. His obituary appeared “above the fold” on the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and said, “Geiger was the patron of his tenants and was loved by them all for his universal kindness and generosity.” Another article said, “Of all the men about town, few were better known than Frank Geiger.”
A private funeral was held at his wife and daughter’s suburban home. The pallbearers were well-known St. Louis men including the famous master showman, Samuel W. Gumpertz; fellow horseman, Charlie Honig; journalist, Gaty Pallen; long time Clerk of Courts, Hugh Pattison; and the fashionable Eddie Clifford.
Written by James S. Geiger
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Last Modified: 25-Feb-2020 20:40