Jacob Moritz, as an alcohol producer and supporter of a 19th century anti-Mormon political party, is not the kind of man I would ordinarily choose for the subject of a Tribune column — not that he wasn’t a fine man according to ordinary lights, but only because I’m not naturally attracted to his story. His grave, though, has become notorious as a rendezvous for high schoolers and the object of their vandalism, to the point where the real man is invisible behind the ghost. It bothers me when people abuse the memory of those who can no longer speak up in their own behalf, no matter who they are. This was my attempt to set that injustice right.
Legions of Salt Lake City’s high school boys have terrified their girlfriends – gallantly offering to protect the girls by holding them close, of course – by the legend of “Emo’s Grave.” If you circle that grave in the City Cemetery, they say, chanting “Emo, Emo, Emo,” and then look quickly into the window at the shattered remains of a vandalized flower urn, you will see Emo’s blood-red eyes glowing back at you.
The name on the monument is “Moritz.” And while you can find 400 webpages devoted to “Emo,” a decent biography of the fine man that monument honors is lacking.
Jacob Moritz was born in Bavaria in 1849. He was educated for business, and at 17 he emigrated to America. After two years in New York, Moritz migrated to Helena, Montana to try mining.
In 1871 he came to Utah and opened business as a brewer. His first company, the Little Montana Brewery situated at the warm springs north of the city, was begun, he liked to say later, “without capital save energy and intelligence.” Moritz accumulated more tangible capital, and in 1875 he bought an interest in a brewery at 10th East and 5th South. Moritz added quickly to his holdings, and in 1881 the Salt Lake Brewing Co. was born.
His brewery increased in prestige and capacity, his beer winning medal after medal at the state fairs of the 1890s. His output soon eclipsed the next five largest Utah breweries combined. By the early years of the 20th century, Moritz was capping 6,000 bottles a day and operating 36 saloons.
Business success aside, Moritz integrated himself well into Utah’s social fabric. He married Lahela Louisson, a belle of Honolulu, in 1889; Lahela became a leader within the Hebrew Ladies’ Relief Society, while Moritz served as president of the B’nai Israel congregation. Moritz, a Republican in national politics and a Liberal in Utah’s party system, chaired various committees for the advancement of Utah’s mining industry. He was a member of the 1895 convention that drafted the constitution under which Utah would become a state. He was active in the Commercial Club; one of his projects raised the money to build the first Salt Palace. He donated liberally to charitable causes, including $100 toward filling a boxcar with food to send to survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Despite his involvement with both alcohol production and Liberal Party politics, Moritz was accepted by Utah’s Mormon population. That acceptance may have grown from an incident in 1885 when arrests for polygamy dominated local events. Moritz was a member of the grand jury that year, when the prosecutor sought indictments against two men whose prison terms for unlawful cohabitation were about to expire. Under the theory of “segregation,” he could prosecute a man multiple times for essentially the same offense, each indictment naming a different date, and thereby imprison polygamists indefinitely.
Moritz objected. He thought that “where parties had been indicted, tried and convicted, those parties ought to have a chance after they came out.” If they didn’t obey the law, Moritz was ready to indict again, but keeping a man imprisoned as the prosecutor sought was not right, he said. The judge dismissed Moritz from the grand jury for refusing to cooperate.
In Nov. 1909, an ailing Moritz and his wife sailed for Europe, hoping a change of air would bring health. “I’ve worked hard for 26 years without hardly a day’s rest. Don’t you think I’m entitled to one now?” he joked.
The vacation ended six months later, at Wiesbaden, with Moritz’s death of stomach cancer. Lahela brought his ashes home to Salt Lake City. Tributes noted that he had accumulated a fortune, “not a single dollar of which was dishonestly gained,” and he “never betrayed a trust.”
Who can say why the story of “Emo” became associated with his grave? Whatever the origin of the fable, the truth is that Jacob Moritz was an honorable man, a respected contributor to the life of Utah.