How Pansy Williams Beguiled Cincinnati’s Deaf Saloonist

Their partying and quarreling made the couple local celebrities in 1889.

Cincinnati saloonkeeper William Geiger never heard of Hartley’s Second Law, which states, “Never go to bed with anybody crazier than you are.” Or, perhaps, the charms of Pansy Williams blinded him to the perilous fervor of her affections. In any event, Geiger’s dalliance with the delightful Pansy led to some hot times in the old town in 1889.

An alcohol-fueled lovers’ quarrel inspired Pansy Williams to throw herself from one of the bridges spanning Cincinnati’s canal.

Image digitized by University of Minnesota Library and extracted by Greg Hand

Pansy Williams was approximately 19 years old at the time and was, as they used to say, an “inmate” of Emma Davis’ bordello on George Street. Somehow, she caught the eye of William Geiger, who was around 35 and married. It must have been Geiger’s eye she caught, because his other senses were limited—William Geiger was a deaf-mute. (That term, common then, is discouraged these days.)

There weren’t many deaf barkeeps in the 1800s, but Geiger’s condition was not much of a handicap. He was associated with several saloons from the 1880s into the early 1900s. Only mostly honest men got promoted to proprietor, so maybe Geiger had integrity going for him. His condition imposed a rare level of discretion, always a welcome trait in a saloonist.

It’s something of a mystery, then, how Geiger got mixed up with Pansy. Soon after they met, they set up housekeeping in rented rooms and quickly gained a reputation as hard partiers, especially after the events of January 22, 1889. That’s when Geiger, Pansy, and two other members of the “frail sisterhood” found themselves thirsty in Over-the-Rhine. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer [January 23, 1889]:

“They visited all the concert halls. By eleven o’clock they were loaded up to the guards. They were put out of Schumann’s and then proceeded to Kissel’s. They had several more drinks and then proceeded toward home. Geiger is deaf and dumb, but this did not prevent him from believing Pansy did not love him. Pansy thought the same way. Consequently they quarreled in their own peculiar style.”

Geiger, tiring of the dispute, hopped a passing streetcar, leaving a distraught Pansy on the bridge over the canal.

“Acting at once, and before anyone could stop her, she jumped in the canal. Then there was a scream, and the hero showed up in the person of Willie Kellar, a nineteen-year-old boy. He jumped off the bridge and rescued the withered Pansy. She was taken in to Tom Buchanan’s, where her red plush dress was removed. In fact she was stripped and then wrapped up in blankets and taken to the Hospital. When she landed at the Hospital she indulged in a few hysterics.”

Geiger, arrested later, provided “a rather weak” version of the incident and was released.

Six months later, Geiger and Pansy were still together in their rented rooms and still drinking heavily. The ongoing squabbles of these star-crossed lovers brought regular visits from the constabulary, who entreated them to give the neighbors some respite.

In the middle of Cincinnati’s summer heatwave, Pansy had too much liquor and entirely too much, she thought, of William Geiger. According to The Enquirer [July 17, 1889]:

“She was very drunk last night, and by way of diversion built a red hot fire in the stove, closed all the windows, and announced her intention to turn the house into a crematory. Geiger tried to prevent her drunken idea from being carried out, when she fought him. The noise of the struggle attracted an immense crowd, and Sergeant [Joseph] Wilmes and the officers of Patrol No. 1 had a big contract in loading her into the wagon and taking her to the House of Detention. She fought like a tigress, and severely injured Sergeant Wilmes.”

For this particular exploit, Judge James Ermston sentenced Pansy to 10 days in the Workhouse on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Geiger seems to have had an attraction to tough women. A couple of years later, he was managing a saloon on Vine Street and hired waitresses who could take care of themselves. The Enquirer [June 28, 1892] reported one incident:

“Will Rhyn, son and two friends were playing craps with some waitresses in William Geiger’s beer garden, 424 Vine street, last night, and when they left one of them took the dice box. Belle Rogers followed them and all ran except Rhyn, who was knocked down by the woman, who, with the aid of Sue Fischer and others, dragged him back into the hall. All the females wanted to take a smash at Rhyn, but the proprietor interfered. A large crowd was attracted to the place.”

Remember that Cincinnati changed all street addresses in 1896. Geiger’s 1892 beer garden was north of 12th Street on Vine, in the general area of The Senate and Abigail Street today.

Geiger seems to have done all right as a saloon proprietor. He flashed a $10 scarf pin, which would fetch about $300 today. The city directories list him as managing saloons up to 1902, when he vanishes from the record. Did he die, or simply leave town? The trail has gone cold.

And the volatile Pansy Williams? That name is almost certainly fake, as most “soiled doves” chose what they called a “nom de joie,” so following her is even more difficult. But the newspapers are silent on her whereabouts after 1889.

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