It wasn’t until I started writing about local food that I learned Barq’s Red Crème Soda was invented in Cincinnati. I had enjoyed it after soccer games at the Kolping Society fields and the Corpus Christi baseball concession stand. It was then too I learned that the term concession stand was based on the Cincinnati Hauck Brewery, who was allowed ‘concessions‘ to provide beer at the old Redlegs Stadium, initiating food vendors at sporting events. Barq’s ‘red pop’ made great pink cows when mixed with vanilla ice cream and gave you that distinctive vampirish blood red stained mouth. Most Cincy kids’ devotion to Barq’s red pop was fueled by commercials with Captain Windy during the Uncle Al Show. She showed us all how to enjoy a pink cow and to love Mama’s Cookies.
It also wasn’t until several years ago that I learned of my father’s family ties to the creator of Barq’s Red Crème Soda. Several years ago I received a letter from a woman I didn’t know who sent an Enquirer clipping of a wedding announcement and photo. She had tracked me down through this blog, recognized the last name and though I’d enjoy the photo. It was a photo of her friend from long ago, my Grandpa’s cousin, Lillie May “Lee” Woellert and her husband Lt. McCrea “Mac” Benedict from 1943 at their wedding in Santa Ana, California. He was training to be shipped out to England with the 844 AAF Unit.
The woman said she didn’t know how we were related. Well I did! Lillie was the sister to my “Pops” Cliff Woellert, who was my closest thing to a paternal grandfather, since my own, Fred Sr., had passed on the year I was born and I never knew him. I knew Lillie owned the original Woellert Bible brought over by our ancestors from Germany. Her parents were Arthur and Mabel Woellert, who my father fondly talked about from being with them and Lillie at the annual Woellert Family Meetup at McElvoy Park in College Hill. Cliff, who lived in New Jersey, with his lovely wife Dottie, filled me in on my paternal family history and corresponded with me for decades until his passing in 1997. We visited each other several times and enjoyed the connection immensely. When I visited them in college he sent me on a spiritual journey to NYC’s Chinatown to search for “the boy riding the water buffalo.”
But I had never heard of Mac Benedict. Lillie’s last name was Lake, and she had been married to Robert Lake. Mac Benedict and Lillie had been UC college sweethearts, and perhaps even Hughes High School sweethearts, both families growing up in Winton Place. Mac and Lillie were very involved in clubs and Greek life at UC. Lillie was an artist and graduated the same year – 1942 – as Mac, with a degree in Fine Arts. She was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority, the Glee Club, Oratorio, and a color guard team called the Guidon. Mac was Mr. Campus – the Editor of the UC Cincinnatian, member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, Sigma Sigma Carnival, Ulex, Men’s Senate, YMCA Cabinet, Sophos, Liberal Arts Tribunal, Omicron Delta Kappa, and a Junior Advisor. Both worked on the Cincinnatian yearbook team together and Mac’s broad smiling mug was all over the yearbook.
Robert S. Tuttle, inventor of Barq’s Red Crème Soda, Lillie’s brother-in-law.
Lillie and Mac’s brother-in-law, Richard S. Tuttle, was married to Mac’s sister, Martha Benedict Tuttle. Richard, along with two partners, Albert Badanes, and Hugh Carmichael, had bought the local Barq’s Bottling Franchise in 1937, operating it at 520 East Fifth Street Downtown, which is now a parking lot by Sawyer Point. At the time, Barq’s Root Beer was unknown outside of the south, where it was founded in the 1890s by the French Barq Brothers – Eduard and Gaston. It’s French New Orleanian legacy is why the French ‘crème’ rather than the English ‘cream’ spelling was used. Sometime in those first few years, Richard Tuttle had added Red Dye # 40 to the amber Barq’s Crème Soda. The resulting Red Creme Soda took off so much that the headquarters in Biloxi, Mississppi, added the dye to their concentrate so that all national bottlers could market the new product. And the rest is history – generations of children have had red stained lips all summer.
Mac had worked for his brother-in-law at Barq’s during college at the 5th Street plant, while he and Lillie were engaged. Perhaps they enjoyed a pink cow with French Bauer ice cream at one of the many soda fountains around Clifton, Northside or Winton Place, where they lived and played. When Mac shipped out to California for training, the Enquirer noted that Barq’s threw him and three other cadets – Jack Murphy, Arch Holden, and Joe Barth – a sendoff party at the recreation room in the plant on September 28. There were 17 Barq’s employees total that were serving in the Armed forces. At least two others would join that number in 1944. But this was the last time the Barq’s team would ever enjoy the company of Mac Benedict.
Lillie went on to work for the Red Cross Hospitals in Taunton, Massachusetts, and Trenton, New Jersey, helping soldiers returning from the war.
Mac’s 844 AF squadron used the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. They would enter combat over Germany on May 20, 1944, with an attack on Oldenburg, Germany. The unit would then target sites in France as part of Operation Overlord in preparation for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. In July of 1944, the company began bombing strategic targets in Germany – factories, oil refineries, and airfields in cities of Ludwigshafen, Magdeburg, Brunswick, Saarbrucken and others. Then on July 13, 1944, Mac’s plane crashed at his home base after returning from a mission in Germany. He had flown 21 missions as a bomber navigator over central Europe. Lillie and his mother were relayed the sad news.
During the War Barq’s was one of the bottlers who used recycled bottles from a collection campaign with the local Boy Scouts, to conserve on materials during war shortages. And after war time shortages and inflation, they kept their prices level for local soft drinkers. Robert Tuttle continued to experiment with flavors with his chemist and introduced a lemon-lime to compete locally with Coca-Cola’s Fresca and Sprite, Pepsi’s Teem and Mountain Dew, 7Up and Squirt. His orange flavor was designed to take on 7UP’s big name Orange Crush. A grape flavor went up against Nehi’s Grape Soda. Barq’s even had a unique Fruit Punch flavor for a limited time that was meant to go up against local Over-the-Rhine bottler Wagner’s fruit flavored soft drinks. Their daughter Elizabeth got to taste all the experimental flavors as a young girl during their trials. Barq’s Root Beer went up against Canada Dry’s Dan’s Root Beer, and 7UP’s Frosty Root Beer. Barq’s would also start bottling for Vernor’s Ginger Ale and Vichy in the 1970s.
Martha and McCrea had suffered another great family tragedy when in October of 1928 their father Dr. Harris Benedict, UC Professor of Botany, and sister Jean, were killed in a head on collision with a streetcar at Ludlow and Lafayette Avenues in Clifton, one mile away from UC and Hughes High School, their intended destination. The top of their car was crushed and all four passengers, including siblings Ann and Harris, were thrown 15 feet out of the car.
Richard and Martha Tuttle had a son, McCrea Tuttle, named after his fallen uncle. In 1962, Richard moved the Barq’s bottling operations from 5th street to a new facility at 1444 Springlawn Avenue in Northside, near where he and the company officers grew up, and where the majority of the workers lived. He then bought out his two partners and became sole proprietor of the Barq’s franchise.
It was a turbulent time for the nation with Civil Rights, workers rights, women’s and LGBT liberation. The Barq’s workers had organized under the Bottler’s Union and went on strike in 1960 with other local bottling workings for better wages. In 1962 they organized with the Teamsters, and in 1968 with the Local Brewery Workers Union. But tragedy would strike once again that year for the family, as Martha and Richard’s son Captain McCrea Tuttle would die when his jeep rolled over a land mine enroute to Hoi An Village on Mar 9, 1968, in Vietnam, less than two miles away from their destination.
Captain McCrea Tuttle.
Martha Benedict Tuttle had become so disheartened with the lack of respect by that generation for Vietnam veterans , that she became interested in patriotism and history. She organized the mission and fundraising to save her family’s house, the Betts House, in Cincinnati’s West End, the oldest standing brick house in Cincinnati. Through a mother, sister, and daughter’s grief, and generous funds from the Barq’s empire and lots of other generous Cincinnatians, Martha turned her tragedy into an historically preserved gift to our city. Martha and her sister-in-law Lillie Woellert shared a love of fine art, painting and preservation. Although Lillie remarried and had a family of her own, she never forgot her first love and his family, and was one of the early donors to the Betts House and was a sustaining donor all her life.
Robert Tuttle retired and sold his franchise operations in 1980 to Harry Dornhegger after a 43 year run in the local soft drink market. Dornhegger would close the plant in Northside in 1983, and the franchise operations would move to the Coca-Cola bottling plant, which is now part of Xavier University. Unfortunately, about five years ago, Coca-Cola discontinued their Barq’s Diet Red Crème Soda, so those of us sugar-sensitive folks can no longer enjoy a ‘red pop.’