Couple's Discovery of Prohibition-Era Whiskey Unravels Mystery of Bootlegger

The handsome, early 20th-century American Foursquare perched on a pastoral rising along Highway 10 in uber-rural upstate New York had long been the topic of whispers and innuendo.
By Merri Jill Rhodes
December 23, 2020

Nick Drummond, 30, and his partner, Patrick Bakker, 29, bought the sturdy but aged fixer-upper last year in the sleepy Mohawk Valley farming village of Ames, N.Y., in Montgomery County. It’s a stone’s hurl south of the small town of Canajoharie, just at the banks of the Mohawk River, and sits just four miles north of Sharon Springs in Schoharie County.  

The young couple were drawn to the peaceful surroundings, the wide-open pastures with cows and intermittent barns and silos that comprise the mildly sloping landscape around the home for days. They loved the aura of the house, the intrigue and all the potential they envisioned for its restoration. Drummond and Bakker also got an earful of the hot tittle-tattle that came with the deal, including the urban legend that a bootlegger had built the property.  

While looking at a 1915 fixer-upper in Ames, New York, Nick Drummond and his partner, Patrick Bakker, were captivated by the beauty of the rural landscape around the property.
| Credit: Lance Manning

“The stories about this house just made the whole thing better,” says Drummond, adding that neighbors and former owners had filled them in on some of boozy lore. “Was there cash stashed somewhere? There were rumors that a count lived here, that he was a baron. The house was always childless. Was he a barren baron?” he laughs.  

“We loved the fact that the house came with these legends,” he says, "but [we] thought it was all fake.” 

Then, while renovating the home’s mudroom in September, the couple discovered the first of what now totals 78 bottles of early 20th century-era blended Scotch whisky, secreted away under floorboards, false siding and makeshift compartments — 13 meticulously bundled packages of six bottles each.  

Nick Drummond, left, and Patrick Bakker, hold up some of the Prohibition-era blended Scotch whisky they discovered hidden in the crawlspace under the mudroom of their Ames, New York, home.
| Credit: Lance Manning

Word of the couple’s Prohibition-era find spread fast on news sites and social media, igniting interest among collectors, distilleries and auction houses, including Sotheby’s, that want to acquire, taste or feature the bottles. The couple dared to taste some of the shady brew just before Christmas. It wasn’t half bad, Drummond admitted. “It definitely had a kick to it and tasted like whisky. Almost smokey, maybe? We determined it tasted like tweed suits, old pipes and a dash of sexism.” 

But among old-house lovers, house restoration experts and preservationists, the couple’s discovery has kindled a more familial joy, with some drawn to the romance of what their own homes might reveal as they painstakingly refurbish them to their original luster. (Drummond and Bakker chronicle their ongoing discoveries and restoration adventure on Facebook and Instagram, where the account, @bootleggerbungalow, has amassed a following of more than 58,000 just since early October.) 

The scotch that Nick Drummond and Patrick Bakker found hidden behind walls and under floorboards at their New York house during renovations appeared to have been undisturbed since the 1920s, when Prohibition was in full swing.
| Credit: Lance Manning

Drummond understands their interest. He and Bakker are hard-core history buffs who have dedicated their upstart careers to historical architecture, restoration, and period design and décor. Drummond attended architectural school at the University of Maryland, where he focused on design and studying historical preservation of period buildings. In his teens, Drummond left his hometown outside Baltimore to live for a stint in Sharon Springs, solely to inspect the decaying architecture and interiors of the once-grand hotels and historic buildings across the valley and environs — many of which still sit empty today. Bakker, originally from the Netherlands, is a floral designer who recently opened Botanie, a beautifully appointed boutique flower and gift shop inside a trendy, newly renovated bank building in Sharon Springs. 

Their 2,000-square-foot house, with its original exterior stucco, is an American Foursquare-style with a few Colonial Revival touches: columns with Ionic capitals, and a half-wrap-around porch. It was built in 1915 by an enigmatic real estate dealer known around the Mohawk Valley as “Count" Adolph Humpfner — also dubbed by locals and newspapers around the rural environs as “The Mystery Man of the Mohawk Valley.” 

And this is where their astonishing tale really takes off. Because Drummond and Bakker’s discovery, unfolding over several stranger-than-fiction days, proved to be about more than hidden bottles of nearly century-old bootlegged scotch. Pieced together with decades of newspaper articles and other records, the discovery would fill in the portrait of the enigmatic, self-styled Count who first owned the home, his shady smuggling operation at the height of the Prohibition era, his unexpected death and long-contested estate overseen by a dodgy interloper, and a perennial runaway bride — gone missing for 21 years, declared dead, and then found living in a quaint little town on the shores of Brooklyn. 

In September, Nick Drummond began renovating the white-sided mudroom that was added to the house sometime after the home's initial construction in 1915. While removing the skirt boards around the foundation, he discovered bundles of Prohibition-era blended Scotch whisky.
| Credit: Lance Manning

How the Unearthing of a Piece of History Unraveled a Twisted Tale

Drummond’s vision for the home included remodeling the mudroom that’s just off the kitchen, fitting a powder room in the 70-square-foot space. The structure was not original to the home, he says, and was tacked on after construction, presumably by Humpfner. 

So in September, as contractors worked inside, Drummond went to work outside the addition, along the foundation on the northwest corner of the house. “I was trying to get access to underneath the mudroom to insulate it, so I began taking off some of the rotted skirting boards.”  

While prying off several feet of flimsy wooden slats, Drummond uncovered a material he thought was insulation. Strange, he thought, insulation was not commonly used in homebuilding during that period. “Then I reached underneath and felt the bottom of a wall, which was also weird. I thought, ‘This room is a porch, so there’s no reason to have walls under the floors.’” 

As Drummond tore away at more of the slats, a bottle dropped out of a bulky package wrapped in brown paper, he says. He pulled out the tattered bundle to inspect its contents and could see what he thought were bottlecaps poking through some of the paper. “When it finally hit me what I was looking at, and realizing what these bottle tops were, I thought, ‘Oh my God, Humpfner actually was a bootlegger! This is a bunch of bootlegged booze!’”  

Each bottle of scotch was wrapped in tissue, and then painstakingly cloaked in long, hardened sticks of straw. The bundles were stuffed with loose straw, then wrapped together in multiple, heavy layers of brown packaging paper.
| Credit: Lance Manning

Drummond bellowed for the contractors to come out. “We pulled the rest of the boards off and realized the whole side of the mudroom was filled with these packages… The workers wanted to open them, but I wanted to leave them as they were because they are historic.”  

Bakker returned home from work just as Drummond was in the throes of extracting the booty. “He was so excited,” Bakker says. 

The men carried the packages inside the house and carefully piled them on the dining room table. “A few days went by and I thought, ‘What else is in that mudroom?’” Drummond says.  

The couple immediately thought of the crawl space hatch in the floor of the old mudroom. “But then I said, ‘Oh my God, now we have to crawl into that hole!’” Drummond recalls. 

They descended into the dank hidey-hole with a flashlight. “The first thing that was weird was, we didn’t see any floor joists,” he explains. “Then, we noticed a solid ceiling made up of a bunch of boards, and all the boards were attached with flathead screws. 

“There would never have been a ceiling in a crawl space. That was never an insulated room. So, that made no sense, either. And the flathead screws take more effort and expense to install, and no one would do that. So, I thought, ‘There’s something in the floor.’” 

Sure enough, as they pried back a few boards, four packages of the aptly named brand, “Old Smuggler,” six bottles in each package, were hidden away. Two more bootlegged packages remain in compartments in the crawl space.

Drummond and Bakker no longer just own a home with a past; both are committed to safeguarding its history, both hidden and in plain sight. To that end, they will install a clear partition on the new floor in the mudroom to showcase the two bundles that remain in their original compartments.

“In some ways,” says Drummond, “I don’t want to rip it all apart totally because Count Humpfner nailed those boards.” So the two parcels remain in place, visible but under the mudroom.  

Bakker agrees. “You were right in thinking, ‘We should leave some of this and be careful with it,’” Bakker tells Drummond. “This is only original once.” 

Both relish the idea of keeping some of the booty bottles in the house and on display as part of their décor. “This is so crazy,” Bakker says. “Those two boards in the mudroom. Why didn’t anyone rip them up? There’s a weird romance in the anticipation of that. Is it filled with jewels, is it a body, is it money? You only get that once. I like the anticipating. 

“We have a legend here that is real,” Bakker adds. “When do you get those? And that’s one reason why we haven’t taken the rest of the bundles up yet from under the mudroom.” 

Lending credence to the authenticity of the stockpile, Nick Drummond and Patrick Bakker say each bottle was sheathed in the original Old Smuggler tissue-paper, reading, “The Produce of the Heather Hills of Scotland."
| Credit: Lance Manning

Today, the other 11 bundles consisting of 66 bottles of Old Smuggler scotch are displayed in what was once Humpfner’s grand dining room. Except for a few bottles left dry when their contents evaporated, much of the collection appears to have been undisturbed since at least the 1920s, when Prohibition was in full swing. Of the few loose bottles that can be inspected, each is signed with the name R.M. Clark, a signature of the companyand dated October 23, 1923The original labels are in-tact and plainly legible: 

OLD SMUGGLER 
Blended Whisky Produce of Scotland 
THE GAELIC WHISKY 
Very Old  
Stirling Bondinc Company, 
Stirling & Glasgow, Scotland 
Stirling Bonding Company Limited. 
Stirling & Glasgow, Scotland. Est. 1878

That the stash is so well preserved is not surprising: Each bottle was sheathed in the original Old Smuggler tissue-paper, reading, “The Produce of the Heather Hills of Scotland,” then painstakingly cloaked in long, hardened sticks of straw. The bundles were stuffed with loose straw, then wrapped together in multiple, heavy layers of brown packaging paper. Like a cherished Christmas present, the bulky parcels are tied and knotted tightly, several times over and crossways, with sturdy white string.  

The bottles were also fitted with what Drummond believes was an early version of a nonrefillable cap. A spirits expert at one of the auction houses Drummond consulted told him the cap was most likely created to prevent counterfeiters from using established brand labels and bottles.

Drummond and Bakker speculate that such an assiduous swaddling regimen was meant to protect the hooch for either shipping or receiving, or both. “This was all imported,” says Drummond. “Humpfner was not making this stuff in his house. So, this was the good stuff.” 

The location of the home would have aided any bootlegging operations. “The history of the brand shows it would come in from Scotland to Canada, and they would move it through here,” Drummond says, noting that Ames, which teeters on the line between Montgomery and Schoharie counties, is three hours or so from the Canadian border. The nearby Mohawk River and Erie Canal, which connects to the Hudson River down into New York City, lends a guess as to how the booze may have been coming and going through Humpfner’s residence.  

“This would have been a good, out of the way place because it’s connected to factories, rivers, and railways,” says Drummond.  

A bottle of “Old Smuggler” blended scotch whiskey sits in the grand dining room of a 1915 Foursquare in Ames, New York, where homeowners this fall discovered 78 bottles of the Prohibition-era booze during a home renovation project.
| Credit: Lance Manning

It was not unusual for people to be making moonshine in bathtubs and stills all over the country during “the great social and economic experiment,” nor was it illegal to drink alcohol during the federal outlaw, from 1920 to 1933. But the Humpfner find is exceptional because of the originality, the authenticity, and the story that comes with it all.  

“The other finds that I’ve seen are all private collections of booze like this,” Drummond says. “But none have been a bootlegger’s bundle.” 

Distributors and auction houses, including Skinners in New York City, a distillery in nearby Cooperstown, another in Kentucky, and private collectors and outlets in the Philippines, Australia, and Russia, have been seeking information from the couple for months, all showing interest for various reasons in the authentic booty.  

“It doesn’t age well, but it doesn’t go bad, either,” Drummond explains. “We’ve had a bunch of places reaching out, places that make modern spirits that want to test them to analyze spirits from the Prohibition era to recreate them. They need untouched bottles, which is what we have here.” 

The find has also been recounted in various local and national news reports and may soon be the subject of an episode on a mystery and crime-based television show. 

“It’s a who-done-it,” says Drummond, “and everyone wants to help figure out what the actual story is. Everyone is sending us snippets of crazy information.” 

A full bottle of newly discovered Old Smuggler blended Scotch whisky bears a label dated October 23, 1923, and signed by R. M. Clark, who attested to the purity and flavor of the liquor.
| Credit: Lance Manning

The Bootlegger, The Bamboozler and The Bride

Emigrated sometime in the late-1800s from Germany to New York City, the stolid, 200-pound Count, with his signature Van Dyke beard and air of European sophistication, moved from Manhattan to Ames around 1915, when he built and lived in the house until he died in 1932. He was long suspected by locals of operating a hush-hush bootlegging operation out of the house in Ames — among other semi-scandalous goings-ons — though no one over the decades had been able to prove it.  

While his life may have been a mystery, Humpfner’s death without a will at the age of 58 and the subsequent efforts of a local lumberman to settle his estate are well documented. 

Harry V. Berry, owner of Harry V. Berry Lumber Company and the former mayor of nearby Fort Plain, went to Humpfner’s residence on Oct. 12, 1932, to negotiate a renewal on a real estate lease when the Count’s health began to deteriorate: “Suddenly, Humpfner’s face reddened,” Berry would recall, the Albany Knickerbocker News reported on January 6, 1940. “‘Something’s wrong with me,’” he recalled Humpfner saying. “Then, he collapsed. I put him into my car and drove him to Amsterdam City Hospital… That night, he died.” 

Humpfner’s death gained almost as much interest among the valley townsfolk as had his mysterious life. “Death of The Count,” the papers would report, “was big news.” Not much had been known about the secretive man’s personal life or his business dealings. Described in news accounts as a “graying” man who “struck a suave figure,” Humpfner was known around Ames and Sharon Springs only by name and by sight.   

Any common knowledge that did exist about Humpfner included that he moved into Ames from New York City, where legal notices in newspapers from 1910 show he owned, leased, and sold rooming-house properties around the city, scattered mostly around the lower east and west sides. Some reports imply Humpfner may have had business dealings in the Ames/Sharon Springs area before he built the house in 1915. Auction notices from 1933 reveal Humpfner was “known far and wide for his purchasing, storing in his numerous properties, and never selling entire stocks of drug stores, meat markets, hotels and private residences.”  

For sure, the mystifying figure had amassed certain well-known properties all around the Mohawk Valley: a bank building in Fort Plain, an interest in a dance/sports hall in Fort Plain, the flatiron building in Canajoharie, possibly a hotel in Sharon Springs, and the lease on the Fort Plain High School gymnasium, which was the subject of the negotiations between Berry and Humpfner on the day the Count died.  

The Fort Plain dance hall, in fact, would power the rumor-mill engine about Humpfner’s suspected bootlegging activities in early 1930. Federal agents raided Moyer Hall in March of that year based on suspicion that a bootlegging still was being operated on the second floor. The still was found and demolished, and tongues began to wag that Humpfner, perceived to be the owner of the building, either knew about the still or was outright running the operation, according to the Canajoharie Courier. 

He lived in the house in Ames with Charlotte Geissler, his common law wife, who had died four years before, in 1928. Geissler’s stately marble tombstone is combined with Humpfner’s in a cemetery in Ames today, about 100 yards south and across the highway from the house. Reports show people also knew Humpfner had money, though not how much or from where.  

The rest of the real story surrounding the life and times of Adolph Humpfner, however, had been concealed behind the mahogany doors — and under the oak floors — of the Foursquare on Highway 10.    

“Count Humpfner and his wife resided in Sharon Springs for many years, withdrawn from the affairs of the world, never entertaining or entering into other social life of the valley,” says an article in The Morning Herald of Gloversville and Johnstown, N.Y., in 1940. “Despite his rural clothing there was something Chesterfieldian about his Van Dyke beard and poised manner which led many to believe that he might have trod Europe’s marbled halls in years gone by.” 

Humpfner did seem to have at least one confidant: Berry. Along with their business dealings, Humpfner and the “energetic little lumberman,” as one newspaper described him, appeared to have been close friends. When Humpfner died, Berry would step up to disentangle the Count’s disheveled affairs, alternately emerging as both villain and hero during his seven-year goose chase to settle the estate. Berry paid for and organized his funeral, knowing he had no living relatives — Humpfner’s second wife, Helen Haas Humpfner, had not been seen since 1912, several years after her failed attempt to divorce the Count. 

Berry launched into an exhaustive search to find living heirs to the unclaimed estate. Yet, before any money or property could be distributed, Berry would first have to dig out and untangle Humpfner’s business affairs, which came to include numerous bank books and deeds, as well as a handful of aliases. When all was said and done, reports showed the estate was worth nearly $160,000, an amount that dropped to about $104,000 after debts and expenses were deducted (adjusted for inflation, even that smaller amount would equal about $2 million today).

Then the intrepid gumshoe went on the hunt for heirs, including the Count’s missing wife, Helen Humpfner. “From information at hand, he found that Adolph Humpfner was married in 1894 and divorced in 1895 and then, in 1896, married to Helen Haas,” the Fort Plain Standard recounted in 1935. “They lived together until 1905, when divorce proceedings were instituted by Helen Humpfner, which failed. In order to live by herself, she left her home, without leaving any trace of her future home behind her.”  

Helen Humpfner accused her husband of cruelty, according to news reports of divorce court proceedings, but the court denied her divorce petition because she had sent love letters to her husband during episodes when she had fled from him. Remaining the Count’s lawful wife, Helen was said to have disappeared sometime in 1912. 

As Berry searched for the missing bride — an heir to Humpfner’s estate — more than 20 years later, a former business partner recalled talking several times by telephone with Helen Humpfner, only to be told on his last call to her number that she had died during a medical procedure. The court on February 6, 1935, declared Helen Humpfner dead.  

Berry had simultaneously been tracking other possible heirs to the Humpfner fortune, eventually discovering two widows in Germany, who proved they were Humpfner’s sisters. “From all appearances, the widows, Mrs. Anna Nusser, 72, and Mrs. Theresa Muller, 73, hadn’t ever enjoyed the luxuries of life,” Berry would tell the Cobleskill Index. “I knew now that Humpfner had come over to this country from Bavaria, Germany after differences with his family over money matters. I knew that he had not communicated with his German relatives in 60 years.”  

Berry would give the widows $21,000 in exchange for granting him power of attorney over the estate. When the sisters learned the estate was worth more than $104,000, they hired New York-based attorneys and claimed they had been roundly bamboozled by the lumberman. Berry was eventually indicted on federal mail fraud charges for allegedly misrepresented the amount of the estate to the sisters in his letters.  

In July 1935, as the slew of complaints flew back and forth between Berry and the widowed sisters, the lumberman continued to unravel Humpfner’s business. During a search of public records, he found a bank book from Williamsburg Savings Bank in Helen Humpfner’s name, the Fort Plain Standard reported. The account was closed in 1907, but it included a Brooklyn address for her. “Starting from there, Berry went to as many addresses as he could to find where Mrs. Humpfner previously lived.” Along the way, he would meet an “old German” who had known Helen Humpfner for many years and said he had seen her as recently as 1934. Berry then appealed to the police precinct in Brooklyn, which assigned an officer to help him search the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. A full-day search proved unfruitful, until Berry recalled that the German man had told him that Helen Humpfner was living with the widow of a brick layer who had died two years before. Armed with this tidbit, and after a happenstance conversation with a mailman in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, Berry would discover a current address for the very-much-alive Helen Humpfner. 

“When she came to the door, Mr. Berry shook her hand warmly and exclaimed, ‘I was never so happy to meet anyone before as I am to see you right now.’" the Standard reported. "When Mr. Berry’s errand and her good fortune were explained to her, Mrs. Humpfner said she was more surprised and astonished than pleased. She had heard nothing of her husband since 1914 — a period of over 21 years.” 

Word that Humpfner’s second wife had effectively been raised from the dead would become a bigger news story around the Mohawk Valley than the death of the Count had been three years earlier.  Helen Humpfner was declared Adolph Humpfner’s legal widow on August 8, 1935, sending Berry’s ongoing court battles with the Count’s sisters into a tailspin. With the legal widow suddenly in tow, Berry would be reinstated as administrator, and he continued to seek his fees. But the sisters in Germany, through their attorneys, continued to “object to any settlement which takes any portion of the estate from them,” the Canajoharie Courier reported in September 1935.  

In 1937, a judge in the case ruled largely in Berry’s favor, but he simultaneously handed down a stinging rebuke of the administrator’s dealings with the sisters. He questioned Berry's motives and his conduct, and he accused the former mayor of Fort Plain of trying to secure the balance of Humpfner’s estate for himself. The judge denied Berry’s claim for commissions related to his work on the estate. 

Humpfner’s estate would finally be settled in 1940. His widow was entitled to the first $10,000 and half the balance of the estate, according to reports in the Fort Plain Standard. What remained after expenses and debts was distributed to Helen Humpfner and the Count’s two sisters.  

By then, Berry’s health was in tatters, according to reports. The lumberman’s attorneys petitioned the court to dismiss the four-year-old indictment against him for lack of prosecution and said Berry’s health and finances “were virtually ruined.” Berry would point to his role in finding the heirs and how he had racked up “heavy expenses” in doing so. Sentiments in local newspapers seemed to support the former mayor, with the Cobleskill Index calling him “the energetic little lumber merchant who turned super sleuth and became the hero of the plot,” in a January 11, 1940, article. 

Berry would be asked by the newspapers how Adolph Humpfner had accumulated such a fortune, but the answer to that “seemingly remained beyond the comprehension of the little lumberman.”  

“I don’t know,” Berry would tell the papers. “That’s part of the mystery that may never be solved.”  

The former mayor, lumberman and close associate of Humpfner then offered this: “There were several trucks on Humpfner’s property and all of them had secret compartments,” he said. “Take that for what’s it’s worth. I couldn’t begin to guess.” 

'The House Behind The Story'

No one need guess any longer as to Berry’s final salvo regarding the compartments found in Humpfner’s trucks. While some of the mystery of Humpfner’s life may never be known, as Berry had proffered, a lot of the story today sits in big, dusty, dirt-packed piles on a table in Drummond and Bakker’s dining room.  

“Was he the villain, was he the hero?” Drummond asks, musing, as he loves to do, about Berry’s motives. “If he was trying to bamboozle everyone, why would he try to find the widow? (She was) declared dead … but then Berry went to find her. Could it be as simple as he wanted to get paid? Did he have to find her to get his share?” 

Hero, villain, villain, hero, the centuries’ old whispers of Humpfner the suspected bootlegger have been stilled. It’s the booze under the floors. The booze in the walls. And for the two new owners, the self-professed lovers of the “layers of history,” the whole ordeal was one big serendipitous boon of a lifetime. 

“All of this made us love the house behind the story even more,” Drummond says. “The ridiculous, over-the-top, absurd story. 

While rooms are being refurbished, all the original details of the Drummond-Bakker home — like the mahogany grand staircase bannister, doors and molding — will remain.
| Credit: Lance Manning

Transforming a Space

While fielding calls from reporters, the whiskey world and its enthusiasts, the couple today stays busy with their renovations — room by room — of the house.  They chose the house with the intention of restoring it to its 1920s roots, but they’ve decided to mix it with the architectural and design periods of the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and a little bit of their own, special, vintage ’50s and ’60s kitsch.  

“We wanted to find a place that had a lot of the original detail left because I am a historical preservationist,” Drummond says. “I’m a freak for original stuff. Things are only original once, and I love the patina of history. You can have an old house and make it new, but it’s going to be new. I love original; I love that this woodwork is original.” 

They call it chaos, the ongoing renovations, which they hope to complete in a year. “We’re not interested in little projects,” Drummond says. “We’re interested in uncovering, revealing and transforming a space.”  

Surveying the long, wide second floor hallway “that goes to nowhere,” Nick Drummond says he hopes to repurpose the space into a larger master bedroom. “We’re trying to open it up and make things more efficient, but it’s important to me to respect the historical nature of the house,” he says.
| Credit: Lance Manning

Surveying the long, wide second floor hallway “that goes to nowhere,” Drummond recounts the couple’s plot to repurpose the space into a larger master bedroom with the best views of the sweeping, surrounding farmland, vast and unobstructed for miles.  

“We’re trying to open it up and make things more efficient, but it’s important to me to respect the historical nature of the house,” he says. While rooms are being refurbished, all the original details, like the mahogany grand staircase bannister, doors and molding, will all stay as is. 

“I’m a total floor plan freak,” Drummond adds. “Figuring out ways to improve it. It’s like a weird little puzzle. We’re making giant changes to the way the house feels and functions, but we aren’t actually changing much of the house.” 

Period pieces abound in the home that Nick Drummond and his partner, Patrick Bakker, are renovating. A mid-1960s French Provincial chartreuse couch faces its match, not pictured, in the 105-year-old home's living room.
| Credit: Lance Manning

Always on the hunt for vintage furniture and accessories, Drummond and Bakker have curated for the house a mix of throw-back oldies-but-goodies from bygone eras that rival the collections of any high-end antique dealers in New York City: Period pieces abound, including two, mid-1960s French Provincial matching chartreuse couches, which face each other, and flank Humpfner’s original mahogany living room fireplace. Drummond describes the eye-popping pair as “ooh-lah-lah fabulous,” covered in an “insane color.” 

Other vintage pieces include an original Sputnik chandelier from the ’50s that the couple restored after rescuing it from a hotel that was being demolished, a “crazy” 1959 Sylvania television encased in a white plastic frame that glows when it’s turned on, and a Philco stereophonic record player cabinet, replete with all the original knobs, buttons and turntable. 

“We sort of jump around from era to era,” says Drummond of the couple’s style. “But the common thing that is consistent is, I love when a piece is really over the top. That it’s so ridiculous and terrible, it’s amazing. I like walking that dangerous line.” 

The cavernous attic off the upstairs hallway holds other treasures and tidbits, all poised for appointments when renovations are done: A vintage Moss lamp — Drummond calls it “the holy grail of vintage lamps” — which glows and spins and boasts figurines that sparkle; two high-backed Adrian Pearsall occasional chairs from the 1960s, one hot orange, the other a pale turquoise; a pair of 1950s chalkware table lamps with triple-tier fiberglass shades. 

“The star of the kitchen will be a vintage white Chambers stove,” Drummond boasts. “We also have a bunch of rare, vintage vitrolite tiles — these sort of jade, milky tiles from the Deco period of the ’20s. We got them from an old kitchen that was being torn down; they don’t make these anymore these days.”  

A pink American Standard bathroom sink with original matching fixtures will be the star of the upstairs master bathroom renovation at Nick Drummond and Patrick Bakker's 1915 home in New York.
| Credit: Lance Manning

Another “star” feature of the house for the master bathroom being remodeled upstairs: A 1920s-era Pepto-Bismol pink American Standard bathroom suite, replete with toilet, bathtub, sink, and all the original matching pink fixtures. They’ve also painted the woodwork and trim in the upstairs guest bathroom with a color called, “Arsenic Green,” which Drummond says reads, “1940s hospital vibe.” 

Drummond’s prize collection of vintage anthropomorphic, vegetable-shaped salt and pepper shakers, most of which are playing musical instruments, will also grace the Humpfner house, when all is said and done.  

“There’s the design part to this, then there’s the other part,” Drummond says. “I’m obsessed with history and vintage and I can’t get enough. I love thinking of all the embedded history in these walls. 

Auction notices for Humpfner’s household goods posted after his death evoke images of the Count lumbering across the shiny oak floors, with that Chesterfieldian vibe, in European slippers and a buffalo robe. Perhaps he conducted his covert affairs upon his grand desks, amid parlor suites and oil paintings as his vast collection of cash registers and typewriters whirred and clacked under the cover of the home’s roaring coal-fired stoves. All of it, of course, behind mahogany doors. 

The handsome Foursquare on the pastoral rising will soon be refurbished and divinely decorated, all of it pulled together with tremendous heart and soul, reflecting its history, and its mystery, in ways that no other owners would have, or could have. As they continue to shepherd this glorious piece of living history into the future, the couple is working today to showcase a century’s worth of wonder about the Count with the booze and the Van Dyke beard under the transparency of glass on the powder room floor.  

Indeed, what had been shut behind doors, and buried in a hundred years of darkness and intrigue, has now been told and transformed in the light of the day — and there could not have been two more perfect keepers of the keys to the magnificent Humpfner crypt than Drummond and Bakker.  

“So, it’s all been so fitting,” he beams. “It’s this over-the-top ridiculous story, and we are very over-the-top people to begin with. We are not normal at all. It just fits that we have this house with such a ridiculous history.”