Cincinnati History: Romeo and Juliet, Cincinnati-Style

I thought it would be fun to share another exciting story with you that I found while digging up cocktails created right here in Cincinnati! Follow along and become transported to another time in a place that you have probably walked past a hundred times! This true Cincinnati story is the very essence of a jilted love affair gone wrong!

It’s 1904. Envision a four-story walk-up located on the north east corner of Canal and Vine streets (Central Parkway and Vine now) in Cincinnati. Edward G. DeGasteaux and his wife have owned the building for a little over seven years now. He runs a saloon on the ground floor and his wife, Mrs. DeGastaeux, tends to the tenants who rent out the rooms on the third and fourth floors. The DeGastaeuxs live on the second floor. It’s a usual Monday afternoon in early May. Over-the-Rhine is bustling with people and you can hear the bell of a lone old canal boat making its way under the Vine Street Bridge. The clatter of buggies and those new, fangled automobiles rolling over the Berlin Stone can be heard. Edward is proudly rockin' his a third-place bartending medal that he won in a cocktail contest the year prior and chatting it up with some of his regulars.

A man named James Roach strolls in after his last day on the job as a Deputy City Weigher at the Marmet Company on Front and Canal. Mr. Roach rents a room with his new wife on the third floor of the building. He’s excited and anxious for Thursday morning, when he and his wife will be catching a train and moving to New York City - although fate would have other plans. Roach rests his foot upon the brass foot rail and settles in to a comfortable lean on the bar and orders a lager. He lifts the glass to his mouth, just as gunshots go off from the parlor just above the saloon, which startles him. And then, he hears screams...

Now, let's meet Edward's wife. Sadie Marie Gurtner was born and raised in Geneva, Indiana. She attended a boarding school there. She was a free spirit who longed for excitement... more than she could ever find is such a small Indiana town like Geneva. So, she hopped on a train moved to the big city of Cincinnati. Ms. Gurtner worked as a dressmaker and milliner. eventually opening her own establishment. She was independent, yet liked the company of men. She met James Roach seven years ago, shortly after she moved to Cincinnati. They married in Newport three years later. The marriage had considerable trouble due to Sadie’s penchant for other men. James had to send her to her mother's house in Indiana several times to break off her attachments. She would always return and promise to stay true to him. That was until about a year ago...

She was with friends at one of the lively beer halls on Vine Street when she met a handsome man named Oscar Saeger and fell head over heels! James found out and Sadie admitted that this Oscar fella had a strange influence over her. She again promised not to see him. This went well for a bit until one night Roach ran into the pair at the popular amusement park, Chester Park.

Just a side note: Chester Park was located along the railroad lines near the intersection of what is now Spring Grove and West Mitchell avenues. The site began as a local horse racing club in 1875. It was one of the most popular amusement parks in Cincinnati in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It had a lake for boating and swimming, rides, a concert hall, and a bicycle track. Chester Park closed down in the 1930s.

Oscar Saeger was a bright young man of 23 years old. He had a promising career as a sales man for the Ira D. Washburn company, where he sold paint. He lived with his widowed mother and younger sister at 1531 Vine Street. His sister was uneasy about her brother's love affair and had warned him to stay away from Mrs. Roach. But Oscar Saeger was in love! The pair would meet secretly. Sometimes, Saeger would visit her in her rooms while James Roach was at work. Their evening at Chester Park was the last straw! After a stormy fight in the middle of the park in front of hundreds of people, James Roach made them both promise not to see each other. They agreed... but he just couldn’t trust them. He took matters into his own hands.

In order to save his marriage and keep his wife, James decided to take it one step further by giving Sadie ultimatum. The Roaches would move away from Cincinnati if they saw each other again. News had gotten back to Oscar Saeger that his love Sadie Roach would be leaving town with her husband. Oscar was distraught! He ate dinner with his mother and sister that Saturday evening. He remained silent and had an eerie, distant look in his eyes... like he was replaying an act in his mind that hadn’t even happened. But could it? After dinner, Oscar announced he was going out. He spent all Saturday night and Sunday drinking heavily at the casino concert hall on Vine Street . His friends noticed how discontent he was. On Monday, he was to have made his way to Chicago for business, but instead he made his way to Evan’s Hardware store at Fifth and Elm and purchased a .38 caliber revolver.

Around 1pm on Monday May 2,1904, Oscar Saeger went to confront his love, Sadie Roach. He arrived at her rented rooms above Ed DeGasteaux's saloon. He knocked on her door, but she did not answer. Oscar asked Mrs. DeGasteaux if she could ask Sadie to meet him in the Gasteaux’s second floor parlor. Sadie came down. Oscar took off his overcoat and asked if Mrs. DeGasteaux could order them some beers. Just as she started to leave the room, she heard Oscar ask Sadie if she was leaving him. “So you are going to leave me and go to New York with that other fellow, are you?" he asked. “Yes Oscar, I am going away Thursday, sure," she replied. “Then take that with you!”

Oscar shoved the .38 caliber revolver to the breast of Sadie Roach and pulled the trigger, and then turned the revolver to his own temple and shot himself.

Mrs. DeGasteaux rushed back into the room and found the two bodies strewn across the floor. She screamed at the top of her lungs at the sight before her! Sadie was unconscious with blood spreading out from the tiny bullet hole in her chest. Oscar was lying some distance from the dying woman, but was still conscious. Realizing the reality of what he had just done, he rolled himself over to Sadie’s body and fell across her breast, his lips meeting hers and the blood from his head dripping on to her face as he tried to awaken her. He said he was sorry over and over again, claiming he didn’t mean it and begging her to speak to him just one more time. He begged for forgiveness.

Mr. DeGasteaux and his saloon patrons rushed up the stairs! James Roach was with them. Upon seeing the tragic scenario, he rushed to his wife’s side just as the police arrived and quickly took the two bodies away to city hospital. Sadie Roach died on the way to the hospital. Oscar Saeger underwent multiple surgeries to try to save his life, ultimately just so he could face a court of law, which would have indubitably lead him to the electric chair. Saeger fought up until June 17th of that same year when he finally succumbed to his injuries. You can visit him in Spring Grove Cemetary.

Now about Mr. DeGasteaux's third place cocktail...

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