The First Emma is a moving story of love, hope, and murder that captures one woman’s journey to make her mark on history and another’s desire to preserve it.
The Grateful Reader Review by Dorothy Schwab
“There is much in life that is out of our control. The answer is not to give up and crumble. The answer is to find a way around it, no matter the difficulty. No matter how impossible the obstacles.” This was Emma Koehler’s outlook and reason for her miraculous success in steering the San Antonio Brewing company through the storms of Prohibition and the Great Depression, after the scandalous murder of her husband, Otto Koehler, in 1914.
Chug along with Camille Di Maio as she takes young, naive Mabel Hartley on the arduous train trip from Baltimore to San Antonio, Texas. Mabel has been hand picked by Emma Koehler from hundreds of applicants, to listen and record, first hand, Emma’s account of her ideas, successes and the details of Otto’s murder, as she lives out the last days of her life. The morning ‘memory” sessions are laced with 85 year old Emma’s stern demands, which over the days and weeks grow into motherly concerns and sage advice for Mable. As winter turns to spring, Mabel’s interest in the brewing company is sparked and the wall around her heart begins to crack. Camille Di Maio peeks the readers’ historical interests by interspersing the memories of Emma with actual newspaper accounts from around the country and the world: Otto Koehler’s funeral, the “other Emmas” testimony, jury selection, the pending murder trial, and outcomes. The accounting of Emma Koehler’s life story is told graciously and with great respect, for this remarkable woman and her heroic accomplishments are even more inspirational when readers discover the view is actually that of a widow in a wheelchair.
The First Emma is brimming with details of household names such as Anheuser Busch, Lone Star, and Pearl. The details of the San Antonio brewery’s process for making of beer, along with the purchase of recipes and mother yeast from Germany, will have readers reaching for a “cold one” while cheering for Pearl to survive Prohibition and the Great Depression. Readers, especially from Texas, will “cotton to the likes of” references to the Majestic Theater, the Menger Hotel, and the Alamo.
Emma Koehler and her Pearl Brewing Company emerged from Prohibition as one of the only brewing companies not to go out of business. Emma listened to advice of friends in the beer industry and diversified; changing production to ice, ice cream, and even dry cleaning- thus keeping all her employees.
Camille Di Maio has accomplished a Texas sized feat by combining an inspirational and empowering account of Emma Koehler’s Pearl Brewing company success with the murder trial of the century.
Five Stars: Big and Bright, Deep in the Heart of Texas! GR