Over the next three weeks, we will be learning about the life of the creator of the Pisco Sour.
Till next time,
Part I (Victor Morris the early years)
By Guillermo L. Toro-Lira – February, 2008
I presume the least I say of it the better, as were I to express my feelings as they really are it will not look well in print. Victor V. Morris, March, 1900.
Victor Vaughen Morris was born on August 5, 1873 in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States, from a large and well reputed Mormon family. His father, Richard Vaughan Morris, was born in Abergele, Wales, in 1830, and emigrated to Salt Lake City in 1855, where he was a member of the Nauvoo Legion. He came to Utah with his recent wife, Hannah Phillips, also born in Wales. In the 1860s he built an Adobe house, which is currently registered as an historical monument by the State of Utah. Richard V. Morris had five children with Mrs. Phillips, of which the oldest, Richard P. Morris, born in 1855 in Salt Lake City, was major of that city in 1904.
After Mrs. Phillips’ death in 1864, Richard V. Morris marries Harriet Jones, mother of our personage and born in Nishnabotna, Missouri, in 1848. Victor V. Morris was the fifth of nine children and the second oldest of the three boys. Little is known about his childhood, other that he received a proper middle school education and that, according to a 1900 census, he knew how to read, write and speak English. The same census shows that his profession was a florist. In 1899, he worked in the flower shop of his oldest brother, Burton C. Morris, along with his youngest brother, Sidney H. Morris. Since 1900, Victor became the manager of the shop after his brother Burton was murdered in 1899.
The murder of Burton C. Morris can be summarized as a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened and that occurred because of the charms of a beautiful young lady and some Mint Julep cocktails badly prepared. In the afternoon of the 17th of July of 1899, Burton C. Morris was walking through Salt Lake City downtown with Miss Leda Stromberg, a lady that was the object of his attention for the last four months. They decided to go to the Vienna cafe, where Morris ordered two Mint Juleps. Morris didn’t like them and sends them back. This rejection occurs three times and thereafter an exasperated Morris approached the bartender and teaches him how to prepare them correctly. Immediately, Morris proposes for them to go to the Merchant restaurant instead. Without showing her anger, Miss Stromberg agrees to meet him there in an hour because she had some errands to run.
After arriving at the restaurant, Leda Stromberg stumbles on John H. Benbrook, a married man and owner of a popular gambling house. She had known him for some years. They decide to have a couple of Mint Juleps and dinner. A few minutes after being served, Burton Morris shows up in the room and gets enraged after seeing the object of his love dinning with another man, and worse of all, with two Mint Julep on the table. He throws a punch on Benbrook’s face, who then leaves to an adjoining room and asks the owner of the place to bring him a gun. A few minutes later, with the weapon in Benbrook’s hand, Morris arrives in the room and quickly approaches his opponent apparently without realizing that he had a gun. Benbrook shoots three times, Burton Morris falls to the floor and dies after a few minutes with two holes in his aorta.
Because of this tragedy, the State of Utah begins a trial against John H. Benbrook for the murder of Burton C. Morris. The trial lasts from the 19th of February of 1900 until the 9th of March of the same year. The details of the trial were front page news in Salt Lake City’s newspapers and it was one of the greatest events of the city in those days. Victor V. Morris was present in all the trial sessions, except in the last one, when the Jury gives its verdict. The Jury declares Benbrook not guilty because they ruled that he acted in self defense.
The City’s public opinion became outraged with the Jury’s decision, but not the gambling houses, which were jubilant. The chief of police declared that he will not permit any type of celebration in those establishments. After the trial, Victor Morris declared in an outrage:
I presume the least I say of it the better, as were I to express my feelings as they really are it will not look well in print. I think however, that when the Legislature meets again, that it should immediately repeal the law making murder an offense in Utah and thus save the State the expense of going to trial with cases the outcome of which is little more than a farse.
The sudden death of Victor Morris’ brother was the third tragedy that occurs to the Morris’ family. The first is the murder of Fred Jones, the uncle of Victor, which happened nineteen years before and perpetrated by a “drunken loafer” named Halloran in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The second, was when a cousin named John Burton is murdered in Salt Lake City twelve years before by the owner of a saloon and gambling house, named Martin. In all cases the slayers escaped punishment.
After his brother’s death, Victor became the manager of the flower shop (named The Burton C. Morris Floral Company), where his brother Sidney also worked. In May of the same year, Victor is in charge of preparing a train wagon full of flowers in honor of the miners that died in an explosion of a coal mine in the near city of Scofield, which left 107 widows and 270 children without a father. This was the largest mining disaster in the history of the United States at the time, and the fifth largest today. The wagon where the flowers were transported, was offered by A.E. Welby, the general superintendent of the Utah branch of the the railroad company Rio Grande Western. Victor traveled to Scofield in private wagon along with the event organizers, including A.E. Welby.
Victor Morris worked in his flower shop for a couple of more years, sometimes participating in important events of the city, such as for example, a banquet in honor of a Mormon delegation that was to travel to Europe and Japan in may 1901. Morris was in charge of decorating a large table for one hundred people, which included roses, carnations and violets, in addition to palm trees spread around the room and a large quantity of electric lights, giving the place a “picture of rare brilliance” according to a witness.
Our personage was a member of the Elk’s Lodge, an association similar to the Masons, having him serve as a member of the Resources Commission of Utah during the Carnival of August of the same year. He also was a candidate for the position of Secretary in March of 1902, but he lost the election. In August of the same year, he is one of the assistants in charge of decorating Salt Lake City in honor of the visit of an important person.
Two of the passions of Victor Morris were fishing and hunting. He used to take several weeks vacations during summer to visit several remote locations such as the Weber River, situated north of Salt Lake City or Jackson Hole located 300 miles away in the State of Wyoming. During a trip to the last place in August of 1901, he started to feel sick and decided to return to Salt Lake City where he was diagnosed with typhoid fever, sickness that, thank God for all us lovers of Pisco Sour, he was able to overcome in one month.
Next week: Part II, how Victor Morris came to Peru