Prohibition experiment failed here, too

     Author F. Scott Fitzgerald called the Prohibition Era and Roaring Twenties the "Age of Wonderful Nonsense."
     And as historians reflect, they wonder how a gay, carefree, jazz-roaring party era ever had prohibition.
     However, the drive for national prohibition emerged from a renewed attack on sale of liquor in many states after 1906.
     The attack had support of small towns, churches, Progressive sentiment and rural political power. It was led by a powerful, well-organized Anti-Saloon League.

Rural area power dominated

     Political power of rural areas, which dominated sate legislatures, attacked new industrial and alien cultures developing in the cities.
     Liquor and beer industries failed to control the worst features of urban saloons - prostitution and political corruption. The saloon became a symbol of the evils of urban society and municipal government.
      Victor Tronsdal, Eau Claire County prosecutor during the Prohibition, said after the era saloons were called taverns "to take the curse off saloons."
     "It sure was an interesting era," Tronsdale said. "The legislature was pressured from all sides; yet it was drinking wet and voting dry."
     In the U.S., national Prohibition was adopted when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in January, 1919.
     Known as the Volstead Act, the 18th Amendment prohibited manufacture, sale or transportation of alcoholic beverates. Breweries, such as Walter's in Eau Claire, were forced to close.
     However, many remained open, manufacturing "near beer" - beer containing one-half of one percent alcohol. It was the only beer which could be legally sold.
     However, many remained open, manufacturing "near beer" - beer containing one-half of one percent alcohol. It was the only beer which could be legally sold.
     Prohibition was generally enforced wherever the population was sympathetic. In large cities where sentiment was strongly opposed, enforcement was weaker than in small towns and rural areas.

'Hipper comes on scene'

     Tronsdale said although saloons were allowed to just sell near beer or pop, they would hire "hippers" to spice up the drinks.
     The hipper would have a bottle of alcohol in his pocket. When a person was served near beer, the hipper would begin his work. "Near beer would be poured out and alcohol would be poured in," Tronsdale said.
     Alcohol was manufactured by bootleggers who often used farmhouses as storage places for moonshine. Others made home brew or bathtub gin.
     "The big bootleggers had their operations out in the brush out in the country," Tronsdale said. "You'd watch the traffic coming in and out of these places; if there was a lot of traffic, especially during unusual hours, you would become suspicious."
     He said police officers had to be careful about arrest.

Search warrant difficult

     "You had to describe the building accurately, including all the details, in order to get a search warrant," Tronsdale said.
     "Ninety-nine times out of 100, lawyers would attack the legality of the search warrant," he said. "After that was settled, the case would fall apart for the bootlegger."
     An officer had to be careful about preserving the evidence, he said.
     "Quantity was the important matter in a bust," he said. "It's similar to marijuana today. If you found 100 gallons of moonshine somewhere you kinda' had an idea that it wasn't being used for personal consumption."

Bootlegger lost motor

     One local bootlegger in 1927 was arrested after a car he rented lost its motor. The engine mounts broke as the vehicle drove across railroad tracks on East Madison Street and Dewey Street.
     The vehicle, destined for Altoona, was loaded with a large quantity of moonshine whiskey.
     The bootlegger most said of the stills were north of Eau Claire, although it was common to find some in "a farmhouse in back of the hiss around the Eau Claire area."
     In a three-to-four block area near Madison Street, there were at least six or seven stills. "Blind bigs," stores which had bars in the back room, were numerous in Eau Claire.

State, federal boys tough

     "The local police didn't push us too hard, but those state and federal boys would strike without warning," he said.
     He told of an Eau Claire barber who had been selling liquor.
     "One day we were playing cards in the barber shop and the state and federal boys walked in and looked the place over," he said. "They noticed a suit hanging on a coat rack. The pockets looked bulged and padded. The checked and found a pint of moonshine."
     The bootlegger remembered bar owners being rounded up and sentenced to 30 days at the House of Correction in Milwaukee.

Rode 'Bootlegger Special'

     "They had no room in Milwaukee so they had to be sent to Superior on an old North Western coach," he said. "People called the train the 'Bootlegger Special.'"
     Tronsdale said "prescription whiskey" purchased at the local drug store was common.
     "You'd go to a doctor and he'd issue a prescription for the whiskey because maybe you had a bad cold," Tronsdale said. "You were limed to how much you could have."
     In the downtown area in Eau Claire, police would destroy barrels of moonshine whiskey, pouring the contents down sewers while citizens watched.
     Prohibition brought a new-type criminal on a large scale - the bootlegger. Al Capone, famous Chicago gang leader, earned more than $60 million annually from bootlegging.

Created other problems

     "Prohibition should have never been recommended," Tronsdal said. "It probably created the Mafia."
     "It was an experiment," he said. "Hoover (President Herbert) called it the 'noble experiment,' but it was an experiment that didn't work.
     The 21st Amendment ratified in 1933 repealed national prohibition. However, several states continued statewide prohibition.
     By 1966, all states had abandoned prohibition.

--By Terry Rindfleisch

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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