INTERVIEW WITH MATT HOLLRITH (BORN 1903)
CONDUCTED AT 1431 12TH AVENUE, GRAFTON
MARCH 22, 2000
WHAT WERE THE FIRST RECOLLECTIONS OF THE FACTORY?
I was here on 1909 or 1910. We had Saturdays off, there was nothing to do, there was no school and then we’d go down to these places, hang around, watch them. They had the doors wide open and you could see the operations.
BY THEN IT WAS STILL A FURNITURE COMPANY?
Yes, a fellow by the name of Wilke was the operator. He had a private home along side the factory. It’s still there. He was the boss for the whole factory.
That house is still standing there, hiding. [Mr.] Uehlein built that and they added to it, but the stone part is straight up and down.
The factory was there and they had a walk way across on top of the road for storage. On the other side there was a big barn that was for the factory’s supplies. And they had tenement houses there, a whole lot of people they got in there, mostly Slovenians. You couldn’t talk to any or most of them. They were gathered to them selves. There was a lot of activity, they would fight amongst themselves. It was inconvenient, everything was inconvenient. There was no heating, no decent plumbing, nothing you know. Just a wood building, probably not even insulated. Just a shack. They had a number of those that those people would live in and there would be a lot of fights and knifings.
THERE WAS VIADUCT BETWEEN THOSE BUILDINGS?
Yes, there was a pretty good sight. It was high enough so that they could take all their stuff and transfer from the factory to there and let it drive.
DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN THEY STARTED MAKING RECORDS?
It was after, that was New York Recording, that was somewhere (....) about to the 1930s.
IT STARTED IN 1917
Yes, a guy by the name of Mitchell, some operative from Port Washington that ran this.
WHAT WAS HIS JOB?
His job was just to operate those tables and make it up to records and get the irons. Jerome Zahn did some of that after that (Zahn began working in the plating department by 1926). They all had a lot of those old tapes (?) and the old records and they would scratch as hell and they didn’t last long because the way the needle, it was so heavy and the record was cut into the plates.
ALFRED SCHULTZ RAN THE PRESSING PLANT
Yes, Al. They would press the stuff. They would bring the records home themselves, because anything that was on physics they would bring home, play them. But they didn’t last very long, arm-bow was too heavy on them.
[Artists] because they come in and stayed overnight they’d be gone the next day so we never got to see that much on that. Because there was a real convenience here for the hotel, the Grafton Hotel. I doubt if they used that.
WHAT IS NOW THE BOWLING ALLEY, THERE USED TO BE A DANCE HALL?
BANDS FROM MILWAUKEE WHO RECORDED HERE PLAYED IN THE WEEKENDS IN THE DANCE HALL.
Oh Yea, that was every weekend. Big dance hall. There were not a lot of bands from Milwaukee, most of them were local, would get together.
DID YOU EVER HEAR OF ANY GRAFTON BAND RECORDING HERE?
No, that would have made sense, because a lot of them, a couple of them were pretty good. They played on all these different occasions, New year’s Night.
WHAT WAS THE PLACE CALLED?
It was just Schanen’s. It was owned by Nick Schanen. He owned that whole works, that whole corner. There was a drug store on the corner and then he had this tavern there. In the back end he had the dance hall and between his dance hall and the tavern they had a shooting ring. Targets like they would have on duck shooting or turkey for the Holidays or Thanksgiving.
There were no houses between my house and the record factory (about 15 minutes walk). All the houses were here. Population was way down, was only 800 or 900
WAS THIS AROUND 1930 OR EVEN LATER?
Earlier than that. I knew every person in town. There were no houses, just empty lots and a few people (today Grafton’s population counts over 10,000).
There was an interurban on 11th Street, passed right here. When blacks came from Milwaukee by streetcar we didn’t make too much out of that because we were used to see them. When we got to Milwaukee they would be working on sewerage and mine holding. The same thing is they’d come out here and ask if there was any dirty work to be done. So they would clean out their johns all over. The wood johns that stood between the buildings.