Samuel Oliver Barlow (June 17, 1855-April 15, 1912)
Samuel Oliver Barlow was born in County Limerick, Ireland, in 1855. Barlow’s alcoholic father lost the family farm when Barlow was a small boy. Lured by a cash bounty and the promise of cheap land in America, Barlow’s father agreed to enlist in the Union Army and fight the Confederacy during the American Civil War. The Barlow family immigrated to the United States in 1862 and settled in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, an Irish ghetto. A few days after their arrival in the United States, the elder Barlow marched off to war. It was the last time any of the other Barlow family ever saw him.
Barlow shouldered the responsibility of helping his mother provide for his younger siblings when he was 8 years old. He grew up fast in the tough environment. While he had no formal education, Barlow developed street smarts and had an uncanny ability to read people’s thoughts and predict their behavior. Barlow also acquired a deep appreciation for the value of a dollar in his early days. No job was undignified for him because Barlow possessed an innate understanding that eventually small gains led to a large wallet.
Despite his work ethic, the young Barlow barely eked out an existence. He sometimes went days without tasting even the smallest breadcrumb, insisting that his younger brother and sister eat instead. He fantasized about the finer things in life and sometimes dug around trash heaps for things that other people had thrown away. They might have outgrown their usefulness to those people but they were treasures to Barlow. He’d bring them home, fix them up and use them himself or give them as gifts to his family.
Eventually, Barlow’s repair skills became well-known in the area. People from wealthier neighborhoods paid him handsomely to fix up older furniture or just to take unwanted items away. Barlow refurbished and sold them for a profit and his reputation and solid business acumen eventually allowed him to work his way out of poverty. He opened a small store in Brooklyn and he moved on from searching junk piles and trash heaps to attend estate sales to find items to bring back to his shop. Barlow specialized in buying items on the cheap and turning them around for a good profit. While a fair businessman, Barlow was a tough negotiator and many of his customers, upon concluding a deal with Barlow often good-naturedly exclaimed, “You really are a S.O.B.!”
Looking for more discarded treasures, he traveled outside of New York City. In 1890, he met Barton Alexander Dorr, a picker who had served in the Confederate Army under General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The two men formed a fast friendship and opened a larger store, Barlow & Dorr, in Midtown Manhattan. For 16 years, they traveled both together and separately looking for the best deals they could present to their customers back in New York City before Dorr disappeared, apparently a victim of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire.
By the time of Dorr’s death, Barlow was a wealthy man, thanks to investing the profits of the business in railroad and oil stocks. He sold the business to the Glaubinger family in 1911 and retired. Barlow returned to Ireland to reconnect with his Irish heritage. After spending six months in Ireland, Barlow booked passage back to New York aboard a brand new passenger liner on her maiden voyage, the RMS Titanic.
Barton Alexander Dorr (March 23, 1843-April 18, 1906)
Born in Lexington, Virginia, in March 1843, Barton Alexander Dorr was raised in modest comfort, his father was a professor of natural science and theology at Washington College, and his mother was the daughter of a leading merchant in the town.
A bright student, Dorr attended the nearby Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and volunteered for the fledgling Confederate Army soon after the start of the American Civil War in 1861. As a cadet at VMI, Dorr learned the basics in leadership, instruction in the manual of arms and infantry maneuvers. Popular with his classmates and with the older men who made up most of his company and with more military experience than most, Dorr was nominated and elected a Lieutenant in the 27th Virginia Regiment, part of the famed Stonewall Brigade, named for its first commander, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
During the war, Dorr served with distinction and saw some of the war’s most bitter fighting. He was eventually promoted to Major but disfiguring shrapnel wounds suffered during the Battle of Cold Harbor ended his military service in 1864. Dorr returned to Lexington to recover from his wounds. During his convalescence he started growing a thick beard to cover scars on his face from some of those wounds.
Shortly after the end of the war and recovered from his wounds, Dorr traveled west to Texas where found employment as a cowboy, driving cattle to the railheads in Kansas. In 1876, Dorr was swept up by the mania of the Black Hills Gold Rush. He settled in Deadwood, Dakota Territory but instead of seeking his fortune looking for gold, Dorr purchased a stock of all the necessary supplies that eager would-be miners would need to find their fortune. Most of the newly arrived Gold Rush immigrants never found their mother lode but Dorr established a modest fortune from them.
When the gold rush mania ended and the stream of prospective prospectors dwindled, Dorr left Deadwood and traveled back east to Virginia to visit family and friends in 1880. While in Lexington, he discovered that people were fascinated by his stories of the West and marveled at the keepsakes he had brought back with him. Dorr was amazed himself that some people asked him to sell some of his mementos. Safe in their comfortable homes back East, these folks fantasized about living the adventures of a western cowboy and prospector.
Dorr decided to help them live their fantasies. “If they wanted to pay good money for some old shovel, used pick or a discarded branding iron, who was he to stand in their way,” he reasoned. He scraped together a few dollars and traveled back to Texas, purchasing any old item he thought people would want. His intuition proved to be genius. Within weeks of his return to Virginia he had sold all those goods he had brought back with him. He eventually made several trips a year out West to find more treasures to bring back East.
In 1890, Dorr met Samuel Oliver Barlow, an Irish-American picker from New York City. The two men became close friends and traveled the country together seeking more goods to sell to their Eastern clientele. Eventually, the two established a store in Midtown Manhattan called Barlow & Dorr. They remained business partners until Dorr traveled to San Francisco in late March 1906 on a quest to secure Chinese artifacts for Barlow & Dorr. He disappeared in the wake of the 1906 Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire and was presumed dead, though his body was never identified.