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Ocean County Men Under Scrutiny

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Aug 30, 2017

In August 1917, two Ocean County men were being carefully watched – one secretly by U.S. government agents, Frederick Ostendorff, the other by the nation’s press, Kingdom Gould.

Ostendorff was born in Germany in 1856 and in 1882 immigrated to Philadelphia, where he became a well-known restaurant owner. During the 1890s and early 1900s, he, his wife and two children made two visits back to Germany. He also became a summer resident of Beach Haven, where in 1914 he opened a large garage.

Within days of the U.S. declaration of war on Germany in April 1917, he was brought to the attention of government agents in Philadelphia when a loyal American reported, “His belief is based chiefly on the fact that Ostendorff constructed an unusually large garage at Beach Haven on the Jersey coast, the size of the plant being entirely out of proportion to the small community it was to serve and that last summer his parents attempted to purchase some gasoline from this garage, but that the attendant would (not) sell them any and refused them admittance to the garage saying ‘You can’t come in here.’”

The reason there was cause for alarm? “He stated that an unusually large amount of machinery had been installed in this building. In view of the deep waterway behind the island where Beach Haven is located and the isolation of some parts of this locality, he conceives it possible that the submarine recently reported off the Jersey coast was constructed near this place, and thinks that perhaps a wireless plant is also operated there, the location not being far from the Tuckerton (Wireless) station.”

Ostendorff’s name appeared again in an April 28 investigation.

“I asked her if she knew Ostendorf (sic). She replied that she did not. I asked her whether or not she ever went into Ostendorf’s. She admitted that she did. … I asked her whether or not she stopped at Ostendorf’s that Sunday, April 8th, at Beach Haven, to which she answered that she had stopped at the St. Rita (Hotel) and that at dinner she had sat at the same table as the mayor, Mr. Butler, and was introduced to him by the landlady. She said she knows that Ostendorf has a garage there but she was not in the garage, but suddenly remembered that she had stopped to look in the window.”

The government agent concluded, “I think the whole thing is a little suspicious and that the garage at Beach Haven should be looked into. The woman said that she walked for three hours and a half on the board walk and said that maybe the one who made the report thought she was giving signals.”

Again on May 4, in another interview, “Mr. Schouder is American born and so is his father but of German descent and the elder Schouder is well acquainted with Ostendorf, all three having their homes at Beach Haven.

“He thinks that Ostendorf would be worth investigating, that he was out-spoken in favor of Germany before relations were broken off with the United States, and the elder Schouder has said to Ostendorf, ‘You had better watch yourself or you will be getting into trouble’ to which Ostendorf is said to have replied, ‘He did not care.’

“Schouder said that if I stop around again in a couple of weeks, he would let me know if anything new turned up.”

In August, a federal agent was dispatched.

“Having received several communications to the effect that Ostendorf was very pro-German and further, that he had a garage in Beach Haven which was too large for this small resort, and believed to have foundations upon which guns could be placed, and that he was making utterances against the United States: I today visited the garage and didn’t notice anything unusual about its construction, it having the appearance of a first-class garage at a seaside resort. It is located back of several hotels and quite a distance from the beach.”

This raised his interest, but, “Upon making inquiry with respect to the foundations, I quizzed various hotel men about their establishments, and they stated they had to go from 20 to 30 feet deep to get a good foundation and the conversation was discreetly turned to the Ostendorf garage and they stated that he had gone down probably 15 or 20 feet to get a solid foundation for the place. That this is not unusual in that vicinity as there is considerable quicksand.”

Like any good secret agent, “During the evening I visited the American House bar and remained there some time. Ostendorf puts in a considerable amount of his time at this bar and is drunk almost every day. … All the time that I was at the bar, he did not make any reference whatever to the war, merely discussing various local topics with the bar-tender. In fact he seemed to be in a drunken stupor most of the time. I met his son at the Beach Haven House and he was also intoxicated.”

The next day, “I again threw myself in Ostendorf’s company during the afternoon and evening at the American House Bar and also on one of the benches along the beach. I engaged him in conversation, but he seemed to reluctantly discuss any subject whatever with a stranger. He again was drunk this evening, but at no time did he break out in any reference to the war, although the bar-tender told me that he occasionally goes on a rampage and shouts for the Kaiser.”

Government agents would secretly keep an eye on Beach Haven for the remainder of the war.

The other resident being watched was one of the county’s richest men, 29-year-old Kingdom Gould of Lakewood. On June 5, 1917, he had joined millions of other men when he registered for the draft. In August, the Trenton Times described him.

“Kingdom Gould, according to the Directory of Directors, is President of the Consolidated Coal Company of St Louis and the Western Coal and Mining Company. He is vice president of the Utah Fuel Company and the Texas and Pacific Railway Company. He is director in three other railroads – the Denver and Rio Grande, the International and Great Northern, the Western Pacific. Reared in leisure and luxury and skilled in sports, he is apparently in perfect health.”

With that, interest in Gould should have died, but then the Trenton Times broke a story.

“NEW YORK, June 30 – Young Kingdom Gould surprised exclusive eastern society circles with an international romance of a new sort here tonight.

“Neither friends, associates, nor even his parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Gould, of Lakewood, knew a thing about it.

“The first hint that the young millionaire was so deeply interested in the young lady was when he walked into City Clerk Scully’s office just before closing time this evening and got a license. According to Gould’s notation on the application, the wedding will be solemnized at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral Monday morning, (by) Mgr. Ferranti.

“‘It’s all news to me,’ said Gould’s father. ‘I know nothing about it. Thanks for the information.’”

The New York Times the next day said when “Miss Lucci was asked if Mr. Gould, who is within the conscription age, was going to war, she said: ‘Well, if he is drafted, I am sure he will do his duty. Further than that I do not know, I am sure.’”

On July 20, draft numbers were drawn and Gould learned he would be among the first to be called. The New York paper reported, “TOMS RIVER, N.J., Aug. 6. – Kingdom Gould, son of George J. Gould, appeared before the Exemption Board at this place today, having been summoned to take his physical examination in the national draft army. Mr. Gould was passed as physically fit, but at once went to the office of Sheriff Brown, in the Court House, and asked for an exemption blank.

“Mr. Gould was but a few minutes filling out this blank, claiming exemption under Class H., which reads: ‘A person having dependents upon his labor for support,’ and also under sub-Class 1, ‘A married man with a wife or children depending upon him for support.’

“Mr. Gould refused to see reporters tonight or to make any statement regarding his claim for exemption.”

The next day he did talk to the Washington Post.

“‘The only doubt in my mind was whether my wife could skimp through in my absence,’ he explained. “That led me to declare intention of claiming exemption. Just now it seems as if we could make it, and I certainly want to go, and my wife still wants me to do all that the country desires for men of my age.

“Nobody has any idea of how my finances stand. I am not even wealthy. People, it seems, merely think that the name Gould should mean that one has great wealth. I am situated now just as anybody in the middle class is situated. I have my wife to think about.

“It will be tough sledding, but now we think she can skimp through. I wouldn’t leave her in want, and I understand that that is just what the government doesn’t want – that men should leave their wives in any way dependent upon the community.”

The editorial page of the Trenton Times summed up the feelings of many on Aug. 8.

“Poor Kingdom Gould! He has dependencies, or a dependency. Brave as a young lion filled with the athlete’s pride of life, eagerly patriotic, earnestly seeking rather than avoiding duties, his hands are tied. Others must revel in the glory of service to a land that has been good to them; others must put on the uniforms, shoulder the rifle, drill in the hot sunshine, or tramp through the mud, drink coffee from a tin cup, sleep when directed and wake as ordered. He has married a wife and, therefore, he cannot come. ‘I pray thee, have me excused,’ is his appeal to a New Jersey Exemption Board chairman.”

As August 1917 ended, there were still questions. Was Ostendorff an agent of the German government? Would Gould report for duty?

Next Week: Induction day.

tpfcjf@comcast.net

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