How Quincy Greeted Prohibition
The Volstead Act of November 21, 1918, stated that “after June 30, 1919,
until the conclusion of the present war and thereafter until the termination of demobilization, the date of which
shall be determined and proclaimed by the President of the United States, it shall be unlawful to sell for beverage
purposes, any distilled spirits.
It had been done.
True, some states were dry, but few thought it ever possible that the entire
country would be this way. How could a man find the “hair of the dog that bit him” (the night before), if he couldn’t even
find the “dog”!
The Eighteenth Amendment became a part of the Constitution on January
16, 1920, but actual prohibition came through the enforcement of the wartime emergency act more than seven months
after the war’s end, or on July 1, 1919.
Here in Quincy, Mayor P.J. O’Brien said, “There will be no dram shops
in Quincy because no saloon licenses will be issued and all existing licenses will expire July 1.” Chief of Police Thomas
Ryan said, “There will be no sale of intoxicants after midnight, Monday, June 30.” The state’s attorney, J. LeRoy Adair, and his assistant,
Arthur R. Roy, said, “The law will be rigidly enforced.”
Up to eight o’clock Saturday evening, June 28, there was hope that President
Wilson would act to keep the country from going dry.
Then the newspapers posted bulletins saying that the president stated he would
not interfere with the wartime prohibition, and all hope faded.
The attorney general had advised Wilson that he had no legal power on the ban
of liquor.Until demobilization was terminated, Wilson count not act.
The defeat of the Kaiser was soon forgotten in the death of King Barleycorn. After July 1 the licenses
would be issued by the federal government, not for the sale of the “good stuff,” but for soft drinks and near-beer.
There was only one thing to do—stock up! There was an estimated fifty thousand
Gallons of whiskey in the city’s wholesale houses.
The wholesale houses, J.H. Duker at 323 Hampshire and Siepker’s at 319 Hampshire,
caught the rush, as did Urban’s at 507 Hampshire.
Crowds jammed these wholesale liquor firms until midnight and came back on Monday,
the last day before the deadline. Hampshire was jammed with cars.
Everyone was very serious about his business—there was no joking. None took chances because
of the search and seizure law, and each carried his “treasure” home in a suitcase. There were more suitcases to be seen on Hampshire Street
than during an Elk’s convention!
Ott Urban sold $5500 worth of whiskey to one local man and had an order
for $2500 worth from an out-of –town customer.
A man walked into Urban’s and asked if they had Hermitage whiskey on hand. Thinking he wanted to
buy a bottle, Gus Urban replied that they had it.
The man ordered 10 cases at $3.50 a quart. Another customer took five thousand dollars worth of whiskey
and another three thousand dollars worth.
Duker’s sold one man $1500 in gin at $6.50 a bottle. Siepker’s said the poorer grades of whiskey were selling
for twenty-six dollars a case and the better brands for forty dollars.
Monday, the last day, was like Saturday. The wholesale houses remained open until midnight, with
Siepker’s cutting the price of Old Taylor from $2.50 to $2.25.
Many hoped for more substantial cuts, which didn’t materialize. It was said that the
whiskey factories in Peoria had enough of the “golden amber” on hand to float a battleship.
Wholesale dealers here shipped a lot of stuff out too in those last
days before prohibition became effective. During the two weeks preceding the deadline, the little stern wheel steamboat Keokuk of the Blair
White Collar Line, which hauled freight and passengers between Quincy and Burlington, Iowa, transported liquor
and beer upriver to the Illinois and Missouri towns it served (Iowa was already dry). On its last run as a legal “rum runner,” it did not lay
overnight at Keokuk, as it usually did, but pushed upriver to unload the last of its alcoholic cargo at Nauvoo.
Saturday night, June 28, was like Christmas Eve in Quincy saloons and,
for that matter, in most cities and states in the nation, with the exception of those already dry. Men were crying, “It’s
a long time between drinks, so let’s have another.”
More than thirty-five thousand dollars worth of liquor was sold here on Saturday
and perhaps ten thousand worth went “down the hatch.”
A big sign on Hampshire Street said “its bone dry after July 1.”
Everybody was stocking up. Quincy basements were reported to be booze parlors, although
no names were ever printed in the newspapers.
Chief Ryan assigned nine officers, instead of the usual four, to business district
to keep order. All
saloons were ordered to close at midnight.
The old No. 9 Saloon at 526 Hampshire-opened in 1840 by Peter Sengen,
then bought by Carl Peine in 1862 and operated by his sons after his death, where the sandwiches were always famous—planned
Col. Henry Hofer, who started working at the No. 9 (or Apollo Saloon
as it was called at one time) at the age of seventeen in 1872, said he would quit bartending. Louis Nebe, who first worked for Gus Roth in the basement
saloon on Fifth between Maine and Hampshire and in 1919 worked for Fink’s at Sixth and Maine, also announced his
plan to quit. He
had had it!
Dick’s Brewery ran out of beer early in the rush and let their drivers
help Ruff. Manny
Dick said plans were indefinite for their brewery.
It was an orderly crowd for the most part, although as the time to close drew
near, the police did get calls to pick up stragglers, which kept the paddy wagons busy. One fight between four men had to be broken up by the
arrival of the blue coats in front of the Whig Office.
A touring car was seen near the Hotel Quincy with seventy dozen bottles
of beer in the back compartment, plus miscellaneous quarts and gallon jugs. The Golden Gate Saloon of Fred Bickelhaupt, at 116 North
Fifth, was the first to run out of liquid refreshments and closed at 10:30 on Monday night. This establishment would remain closed, for the building
was to be converted into the Odell Edison Gramophone Store.
When the time came to close the doors at midnight, the White Mule had
lost its kick. Some,
like Fred Smith, anticipated a good soft drink trade.
Al Grimm would run the St. James Bar on Sixth Street. The Hotels of Quincy and Newcomb had ordered fountains
and would serve soft drinks.
Art Hageman’s Doc’s Place would stay open. Steve Malone of the S & S Bar would try near-beer,
as would the Franking House. Charlie Lutenberg, at Sixth and Maine, said he was closing. The next day a sign in a Maine Street drugstore read as
lies John Barleycorn. Born
B.C. 50,000,000 and died July 1, A.D., 1919.”
Urban’s didn’t open until noon, and a sign on the front door of Hagan and Rundle
said, “Gone on vacation.” The Duker and Siepker wholesale houses were deserted on that first day of prohibition. The blinds were drawn
on the windows and a sign said “Dead.”
The old No. 9 was empty. Down on the levee all was gloom. The Hasse Bar was open and Harry Woods was working. Both Ruff’s and Dick’s
were working full force, producing beer with 2.75 percent alcoholic content. Only a handful of the 123 saloons in Quincy opened their
doors that day. The
enthusiasm of the war effort had succeeded in accomplishing what the temperance workers could not. Had this come at a different
time, the result might have been a different matter.
But in the gigantic effort to control and ration grain during the war, the legislation
went through the Congress and was ratified by the states in short order. It would take a depression to rescind it.
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