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Willa Cather Foundation - Red Cloud Nebraska (NE)

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Apollinaris Water — Annotations from the Archive

Apollinaris Water — Annotations from the Archive

1917 Perrier advertisement
1917 Perrier advertisement
ca. 1920 Apollinaris advertising postcard
ca. 1920 Apollinaris advertising postcard

As the larger world has retreated to their own homes, work goes on at the National Willa Cather Center, though the shape of our days is significantly different. The past week's remote work provided us an opportunity to re-read (in a more leisurely way) transcripts of archival materials and do a deep dive on the little details that present themselves there. Many of these tiny treasures don't tell us much about Cather as a writer, but taken in sum they help to paint a vivid picture of the world in which she lived and worked.

This week, we read through several autumn 1921 letters from Cather to her childhood friend Irene Miner Weisz, in which she hopes to get her "money-debts paid up" following a visit in Omaha and Chicago. In a December 10th, 1921, follow-up letter, in making payment to her friend, Cather notes "I've made a slight change in the hotel account, as I know the three charges I have marked X under the restaurant items were for me and not for you at all: two breakfasts and a bottle of Apollinaris; this adds about $1.60 to my total as you figured it."

Apollinaris water, self-styled as "the Queen of Table Waters," comes from a natural spring near Bad Neuenahr, Germany; it was discovered in 1852 on Georg Kreuzberg's failing vineyard. Curious why his grapes weren't successful on the new estate, Kreuzberg began digging and came upon the below-ground spring of naturally carbonated mineral water. Kreuzberg named the spring Apollinaris after the patron saint of wine. By 1900, the company was producing more than 40 million bottles a year, nearly all of it for export, after the company was sold to a London hotel group.

Drinking water was a precious commodity and a booming business interest, then as now. The Practical Hotel Steward lists Apollinaris as one of five recommended table waters in its 1913 edition, and railroad dining cars across the United States served it. During World War 1, sparkling water rival Perrier developed advertising urging allies to support them "in War and Trade" against German rival Apollinaris. Later, during World War 2, the Apollinaris spring and other holdings were expropriated by the Germans and acquired by Heinrich Himmler and the Waffen SS in an attempt to curb rampant beer drinking among Nazi soldiers.

Culturally, Apollinaris has been featured in song and on stage; in literature, it's been everywhere from James Joyce's Dubliners to Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho. Cather, in addition to drinking Apollinaris herself, gives the famed water just a single mention in the short story "Her Boss," published in The Smart Set in October 1919. In that story, doomed attorney Paul Wanning asks his butler Sam for an "Apollinaris on ice," since he is feeling unwell. Further reading in Cather's December letter tells us that she had seen Dr. William Harley Glafke, a much-respected and often-published specialist at the Stomach Clinic of St. Luke's in New York, who recommended a strict diet for Cather's "misbehaving" digestive system. Let us hope that the "pollies," as Apollinaris was often known, were a part of Dr. Glafke's recommendations!

A special thank you to our friend John Flannigan, who put us in the mind of doing something with research notes while the world's gone topsy-turvy!


  • "Apollinaris Co." Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Web.
  • "DR. W.H. GLAFKE, INTERNIST, WAS 70." New York Times. 2 Oct 1956. 
  • Foley, Michael. Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner's Guide to a Holy Happy Hour (2015).
  • "Himmlers Wirtschaftskonzern: Selters und Sudetenquell - Marke SS." Der Spiegel, 11 Feb 2008. Web.
  • Porterfield, James D. Dining by Rail: The History and Recipes of America's Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine (1998).
  • "The SS: A New History." New Statesman, 23 Aug 2010. Web.

Note: Cather's letter to Irene Miner Weisz is held in the Newberry Library in Chicago.