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DISAPPEARANCE AND DEATH OF HERMAN SCHAFFNER

As mentioned by Howell Murray, and in the James book, Herman Schaffner, apparently faced with severe losses in Herman Schaffner & Co., disappeared on the afternoon of June 2, 1893. He was found dead by reason of drowning -- and apparently suicide -- some 5 days later. Taking into account the sudden disappearance of his senior partner and brother-in-law, and perhaps suspicious of the reasons, or perhaps having information available only to him, A. G. Becker immediately placed the Schaffner & Co. business in the hands of an assignee in order legally and swiftly to suspend operations and avoid any possible run on the bank. This whole saga took place over a period of about 2 weeks, from the first report of Schaffner's disappearance on June 3 until the assignee's report of the bank's condition on June 17. These dramatic developments were reported almost daily in a number of Chicago newspapers.

Below are links to the main news stories over the period from June 3-15, 1893. They provide the sense of mystery, pathos, speculation, and fast-moving developments that surrounded the disappearance and death of Herman Schaffner, and the downfall of Herman Schaffner & Co. They also provide insights into the chaotic credit and securities markets which existed at the time, and, overall, the unusual circumstances of personal, family, and business tragedy with which A. G. Becker had to cope in mid-1893.

June 3 News Report

On Sunday, June 4, 1893, two days after Herman Schaffner's disappearance and one day following the assignment and suspension of the Schaffner business, the Chicago Tribune printed two news reports relating to these surprising developments. As noted, there was an "authoritative" rumor that, a few months prior, Schaffner had assisted a client (a "prominent Chicago citizen") to obtain bank loans, due June 1, (and perhaps directly provided some funds and/or guaranteed some portion or all of such loans) to finance the purchase particularly of North Chicago Railway shares as collateral, after which the shares suffered a precipitous decline, especially during May, forcing a distress sale of the collateral, such sale culminating on Friday morning, June 2. Schaffner disappeared that afternoon.

June 4 News Report -1

June 4 News Report -2

During the next week, between June 5 and June 8, the Tribune reported daily on the search for Herman Schaffner, and the growing speculation as to his whereabouts and status. Meanwhile, creditors and depositors were beginning to file claims and suits against Herman Schaffner and A. G. Becker, and the Herman Schaffner business, and the assignee began an inventory of the bank's assets and liabilities.

June 5 News Report

June 6 News Report

June 7 News Report

June 8 News Report

The Schaffner Bank suspension, ongoing stringency in the money markets, and continuing fears and loss of confidence by the public, led to a number of small but less intensive runs on Chicago banks in the week of June 5.

Runs Reported

On June 15, 1893, after almost two weeks of suspense and speculation, and undoubtedly with a heavy toll of sadness and heartbreak in the Schaffner and Becker families, the body of Herman Schaffner was recovered from Lake Michigan. The funeral took place the next day, followed by interment in Rosehill Cemetery.

June 15 News Report

Initially posted: January 6, 2007

Completion: February 15, 2007

   



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