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The Madera Tribune

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Shoe store suicide mars expansion

October 6, 2018

Madera County Historical Society
Brammer’s shoe store, this three story building on North Yosemite Avenue, was built in 1917. The occasion would have been a happy time for the Brammers had it not been that one of them committed suicide shortly after it was built.

In 1917, Herman Brammer and his son, Will, decided to expand their shoe store and build that three story, brick building that still stands on the north side of  Yosemite Avenue. At about the same time, they determined to bring Jim Brammer, Herman’s stepson, into the business by placing him in charge of the new clothing department.


By all accounts, Jim was enthusiastic over the opportunity, and in October 1917, he was making ready to launch his new business venture. That’s why most Maderans were shocked when they learned that he hanged himself.


To be sure, Jim Brammer had been somewhat depressed of late. His haberdashery partnership with Gerson Price had gone sour. A small disagreement a few months earlier had pushed Brammer to buy Gerson out. Then in an about-face, he sold the business back to him.


Apparently Brammer had second thoughts; this threw him in the throes of such a depression that he took off for San Francisco. That’s when his father stepped in and made him the clothing department offer. With that, Jim returned to Madera and moved in with his brother, John Brammer.


On the surface, it appeared that everything was fine. Jim seemed much more in control of his emotions and in better spirits. A few of his very close friends, however, knew that he remained a very troubled man. He couldn’t get his mind off selling his haberdashery back to Gerson.


“Why did I do it?” he asked some of his intimates. “I was a fool for making such a move.”


Therefore, while most of the town thought all was well, those closest to Jim knew that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown caused by his constant brooding.


On Sunday evening, Oct. 21, 1917, it all came to a head. John Brammer and his wife decided to take in a picture show at the Madera Opera House that night. They tried to get Jim to go with them, but he begged off.


“No, I’ll stay home tonight,” Jim said, so John and his wife left. That was the last time anyone would see Jim Brammer alive.


When the Brammers returned from the theater, they retired for the night. Everything was quiet, and they believed that Jim was asleep in his room. The next morning, John got up about 6 o’clock, and in what had become his custom, he went to Jim’s room to see how he was feeling.


The bedroom door was partly open. The room had little light, but John could see the form of his brother standing in a slightly stooped position by the side of the door leading into the clothes closet.


“What’s the matter, Jim?” he remarked as he stepped inside and walking up to him, gave Jim a friendly slap. It was at that point that he knew something was wrong. His brother didn’t answer back.


John grabbed Jim by the arm. It was cold. Then he noticed that one of Jim’s feet was on the floor and the other one on a chair by the closet door. That is when he saw the cord from the electric iron tied around Jim’s neck and the other end tied in a loop to the edge of the door. What had happened was obvious.


After John and his wife had left for the movie, Jim had gone to his room and removed his coat, collar, and tie. He used the chair to loop the cord around the door and tied it to his neck. Then he just slumped down and strangled himself.


Undertaker R. S. Jay was called, and he removed the body. The shock to Madera was severe. The 34-year-old Brammer had lived in Madera most of his life. He was born in New York State and came to California when he was just 10. When his mother married H.C.E. Brammer, Jim assumed the name of his stepfather and was always treated as his son.


Jim attended grammar school at Madera’s Eastside School and graduated from Madera High School, after which he attended business college in San Francisco. His best friends as he was growing up were Art Hensley, W.C. Utter, and Gerson Price. The three often took trips together, and it was on one of these outings that the plan for opening a men’s clothing store emerged.


For six years, Jim and Gerson successfully operated Brammer and Price, their Madera haberdashery, and then came the dissolution of their partnership and Jim’s descent into the mental anguish that drove him to suicide that Sunday night. His funeral took place on Tuesday, and he was buried in Calvary Cemetery.


Well, that was all a long time ago. The Brammers went ahead and built their three-story building on Yosemite Avenue. It still stands as a monument to those halcyon days when families used to flock to town on Saturday night to spend their money and greet their neighbors.


It also stands as a reminder that even our pioneer families had their own demons to fight in those good old days.

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