Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Tobacco can coughs up old bucks

Posted 5/09/17 (Tue)

The above headline was used on one of the first articles I wrote as a professional journalist at the Emmons County Record in 1989.

I was fresh out of college – not even a month – when I got assigned to cover a story about my own uncle.

His name was Herman Horstmeyer and he and his wife Hazel, lived west of Hazelton near the Missouri River. Years ago they had a neighbor, an old bachelor named Henry Bremer who built a house about a mile from the Horstmeyers.

After Mr. Bremer had died, Herman bought his land and tasked himself with tearing the Bremer house down.

Herman was a good carpenter, even as he was aging in the late ‘80s so he took his time taking that house down so he could recycle  as much lumber as he could get, 15 years before recycling became a buzz word.

Anyway, when Herman was tearing away at the house, an old tobacco can came rolling out of the eave, hitting the ground and popping open. Herman was shocked at the contents.

Apparently, sometime shortly after the house was built in the late ‘40s, Mr. Bremer stashed a tobacco can full of money into the eave and had forgotten about it. Herman ascertained from writing and art work on the tobacco can that it was placed there sometime between 1947 and 1949.

The money inside the can was another story. There was approximately $400 rolled up with rubber bands inside that tobacco can. There were two separate rolls.

But what’s interesting about that is they were all $20 bills and they were all dated in the 1920s.

The outer notes on the rolls were in pretty tough condition. In fact, Herman told me when I interviewed him that a couple of the bills fell apart when he touched them.

But the money from the inner circle was still in good condition, some of the them as crisp as newly printed bills.

Humidity was just bad enough to effect the outer part of the bank roll and leave the rest of the bills intact.

Keep in mind that if that money was stashed in 1949 and this interview was conducted in 1989, that money went through heat, cold and humidity for 40 years.

Another interesting point about the money was that in the 1920s, many local national banks issued their own currency based on the amount of gold they could back it up with and so most of the bills that Herman found were issued from a Hawley, Minn., bank.

He said he didn’t know what to do. This was certainly an odd situation to be in, so he went to one of the banks in Linton to ask for advice.

They weren’t quite sure what to do either, but one thing was certain, by law, or at least what I was told by bank officials, was that the bank had to pay Herman face value for the notes, including those that were severely damaged.

What it meant for my uncle was that he was the recipient of a surprise $400 while tearing Henry Bremer’s house down.

He kept some of the bills and turned others into the bank and walked away with a nice chunk of currency compliments of the late Henry Bremer.

Taking inflation into account, and again, if that money was placed in the eave in 1949, it would have been worth $2,242 in 1989 dollars. Today, that same amount would be inflated to almost $4,500. So it was a substantial amount that was put in the eave rather than under a mattress.

Unfortunately for Herman, he was satisfied with face value on that currency. He never checked to see what additional value some of that money might have held.

Hawley is a small town east of Fargo. One would doubt it would have a lot of gold value as banks go, so you would have to wonder how many years that currency was actually circulated.

In today’s dollars, one of those $20 bills would be worth somewhere between $600 and $700 each, depending on whether it came from Hawley or not. If it came from a large regional bank like Minneapolis or Denver, it wouldn’t be worth as much today.

So Herman settled for face value when he could have earned a lot more. In fact, I saw two bills with the Hawley stamp on them so there’s at least $1,200 passed up.

But what a find. You can’t make this stuff up and, as it turned out, Herman and Hazel were pretty well to do anyway so it wasn’t as big a deal to them as it would have been to a struggling journalist just out of college.

But it was a blast doing that article and it set my career off on the right foot.