Garrison-Logan Family History & Genealogy
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The Demon Rum, Verne Garrison and Mrs. Bohn Adventures during Prohibition

A look back at life's curiosities and hard lessons from a young boy's perspective.

In the late 1800's the Temperance movement took hold. In those days a laborer would find relief from his twelve hour day in the saloon and arrive home having spent his pay packet. Few people got paid by checks those days. There was the Women's Christian Temperance Union -WCTU - which developed considerable political clout. But it is important to remember that women did not get the vote until 1919. In 1881 the State of Maine passed the first laws prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages. Thirteen other states shortly followed.

After the end of the Great War and President Wilson's dream of a future without wars, there was a widespread feeling that social problems could be solved. Women had just been given the vote and the stage was set for the great experiment. On January 16, 1920 the 18th amendment to the constitution was ratified. It had already been anticipated by the Volstead act. The booze suddenly stopped. Not only did hard liquor become unavailable but also wine and beer. Some sacramental wine was available for the clergy, and the story goes that one preacher wanted "sacramental gin."

Beer in Mug This immediately set the Italian mafia up in business - all romantically catalogued in movies and in the media. Elliot Ness and the Untouchables for one. Chicago was the perfect location at thebottom of Lake Michigan. It was easy to bring in Canadian whiskey - there was no prohibition in Canada. And it was no trick to set up breweries in factory buildings. Alfonse (Scarface) Capone ran the Chicago show after he got rid of his competitors, the O'Banion gang in the St. Valentine's day massacre. All of this was front page news. And the "speakeasy", the illegal membership only clubs sprung up. The three Marx brothers, a comedy trio of the silent screen survived the introduction of sound, but Chico Marx remained silent. To gain entrance to a speakeasy with the password "swordfish," produced a fish and a sword. The "roaring twenties" would have been less noisy without the illegal alcohol.

Eventually, the government simply gave up and on January 20, 1933, the 21st amendment to the constitution abolished the 18th. For a long time, individual states and communities could remain "dry." Oklahoma was one of the last holdouts and many regretted its demise. Service to your door from the bootleggers was excellent. Now they had to go to the liquor store.

For some reason I never understood, Dad (Verne) was almost violently opposed to anything alcoholic. Apparently he felt that just taking one drink would start him on the slippery slope to alcoholism. There may have been a problem somewhere in the family. We'll never know. But that didn't dampen his curiosity. The next door neighbor, Claude Bertrand, of obviously French extraction had no scruples about alcohol. Making beer and wine at home was no trick at all. You could buy compresed bricks of dehydrated grapes. Each came with instructions that started with the admonition: "It is illegal to make wine by the following recipe." Claude liked his beer so Dad helped him with the brewing and bottling. I remember some of the bottles exploding.

Now, we had a well equipped photographic laboratory in the back yard. That's another story. But one of the photographic formulas required alcohol. Denatured alcohol containing methanol would have worked fine, but the challenge of actually owning a pint of pure ethanol was too much. To meet the legal requirements to buy the stuff, you needed a secure locked storage place plus a register to keep track of all withdrawals. He built a special little cabinet on the wall for the precious commodity. I don't know if he actually used any. It may still be there on 6126 Velasco St. in Dallas.

About 1932 the idea developed that beer containing 3.2% alcohol was not intoxicating and therefore legal under the Volstead act. People like Anhuyser Busch were ready even though a large segment of the population was not. It was a highly emotional thing. Now little 11 year old Howard was a science junkie. Every month I used part of my money to buy Popular Science magazine for ten cents.

At school the students took turns giving little talks about things of interest and Popular Science was my source. When they came out with an article about brewing beer it seemed like a good subject, and so it was. I drew diagrams on the blackboard and explained the process. Then, the roof fell in. The reaction from the teacher, Mrs. Bohn, was shattering. It was as if today a grade school student gave a talk on performing partial birth abortions. She excoriated me all that day and the next and complained to my parents. Few people really understand how devastating something like that can be to a sensitive child. It took years to fully recover from the trauma. And it took my Spanish wife to teach me that wine and beer in moderation is not a moral hazard.

HRG

Owner/SourceHoward Ray Garrison
Date16 Oct 2008
Linked toFamily: GARRISON/LOGAN (F1)

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