Quartermaster Joseph E. Gräff 1832–1889
Board of Directors’ Reportof the German Pioneer Club of Cincinnati, Ohio for the 22nd Administrative Year ending 30 June 1890 and containing an exact statistical analysis of the club, as well as Biographies of Deceased Members
For many immigrant Germans, America was the land of disappointments and bitter experiences. Ripped from the relative orderliness of the old homeland, arriving at a place where, according to the Goethe expression, “you think you are going to push, but instead you’re the one who gets pushed” and facing the many prejudices against Germans, only relatively few were successful in achieving a respectable position within the human society here.
Joseph Gräff was one of those few. Born on the 9th of June 1832 in Bamberg, Bavaria, he was destined for the academic path in life by his parents, as well as by his own inclinations and talents. After completing his elementary education at the public school in his hometown, he attended the High School there as well. Unfortunately, he was unable to realize his heart’s desire and the wishes of his parents to become a teacher, because his parents passed away (within 2 years of one another) by the time he was just 17 years old (1849). The young man was thus robbed of the means to further continue his studies and was forced to struggle in life in a sphere other than that of a teacher. Gräff’s decision to emigrate was therefore natural, but it took him until 1854 to finally leave Germany. In October of 1854 he arrived with his sister Anna in New York and after a short stay there they headed west, arriving in Cincinnati before the end of that year. All of his efforts to find a place for his talents were in vain and only too soon he had consumed the small amount of capital he had salvaged from the remnants of his parents’ estate. Money did not allow for any non-necessities, to the point where he was forced to neglect even the somewhat necessary wardrobe. Eventually, all Gräff was left with was a tuxedo [a “Ball Suit”]. Thusly clad, he was forced to grab the first job he could find, driving lumber down the Ohio River. Decked out in tails and a silk hat, he made an interesting river pilot. The push of necessity helped Gräff get past his first bitter experiences and his new job provided him with food and shelter until the spring. That spring (1855) he landed a job as a houseboy at a wholesale clothing company. Within only a few months he demonstrated to the owners of the business that the “porter” was destined for better things than being houseboy service and soon a bookkeeping position was arranged for him. From then on fate seemed to be tired of persecuting the determined young man and from that point on his fortunes started looking up. Gräff played a prominent role in the “Turner Affair” which took place in Kentucky the second day of the Pentecost Celebration in 1856 and was one of those upon whom the Kentucky Rowdies primarily targeted their attacks. His life was in danger for several days during that memorable event. In 1859 he founded his own clothing company using his own money in Xenia, OH. He managed the new business for only 9 months and then went on a visit back to his old homeland. After his return he functioned as an agent for the Aetna Insurance Company, then as the No.2 Bookkeeper at the company of A. & F. Trounstine.
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 Gräff volunteered with the 9th Ohio Infantry Regiment and remained with that unit for the entire duration of his service of 3 years, 2 months, ending his service in the position of Quartermaster. After the end of the war, Gräff obtained a position as a clerk with the Cincinnati Post Office; a position he held for 2 years. Then he opened a specialty business on the corner of 9th & Vine Streets, which he ran with good success until 1873. Around this time he entered as a partner into the “Cincinnati Bottled Beer Company” and from the next year (1874) he ran the company using his own funds with great success. Afterwards, he was owner of an inn on the northwest corner of Court and Race Streets, which he expanded with the addition of a spacious and attractive pub for families and festivities, and which he made into one of the most popular establishments of this type in our city.
Since 1866 Gräff was married to Miss Amalie Weber of North Columbus, daughter of Friedrich Weber. She delivered him 10 children, of which 5 sons and one daughter are still alive.
On July 5, 1889, after a lengthy illness, Joseph Gräff’s earthly journey came to an end and his remains were put to final rest in the beautiful Spring Grove Cemetery.
Courtesy of Fred Graeff