Henry Varenes Bemis Junior was born in Center Almond, New York, the son of a Baptist Minister. In 1859 he moved to Chicago, Illinois where he became a distiller in the young and rapidly growing city. He was an early member of the board of trade in that city and prized the membership card to his dying days.
In 1851 he married Martha A. Downer, the daughter of Truman Downer, a brewer who was had also just arrived from the East. In 1860 Bemis and his brother-in-law Corydon E. Downer formed a partnership and erected a small ale and porter brewery on the shore of Lake Michigan called Downer, Bemis & Company.
A few years later Downer followed Horace Greeley's advice and went West to pursue the beer-making business in the frontier. Bemis continued the brewery in Chicago, retaining Downer's name in the title for years afterwards. Under his guidance the brewery expanded and extended into the malting business.
After Bemis retired from the brewing in 1884 he took proprietorship of the Hotel Richelieu and he remodeled it into one of the grandest in Chicago. The hotel was considered retrospectively to be a decade ahead of its time. It was for this reason, the Chicago Tribune speculated, that the venture was a spectacular money loser.
Bemis was considered a "Bon Vivant" and spent his money as quickly as it came in. This lifestyle combined with massive losses from the Richelieu drained his assets. When in his 70s his health declined the friends he had won with decades of largesse were nowhere to be found. He became bitter and depression set in. On the 6th of March 1906 Henry Varenes Bemis Jr., "Cardinal Bemis" as he was called, put a gun to the back of his head and shot himself. His widow was left with scarcely a cent.
Learn more at the links below
The Brewer & Bemis Brewing Co. of Omaha, Nebraska, USA
The McAvoy Brewing Company, Chicago, Illinois, USA