Waverly Author Will Speak at Bremer Brewing about Prohibition in Eastern Iowa
Iowa author, Linda Betsinger McCann, has always loved Iowa history. So much that she decided to dive deeper into some of the stories she's heard over the years, and publish these stories and interviews with local Iowans about what they know about them.
Did you know Prohibition started in Iowa in 1855? Iowa passed a law banning alcohol, but with a local exception. Then, in 1874, The National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is organized and Iowan Annie Wittenmyer is the first national president.
Iowa was the first state to go "dry" in the nation.
The WCTU lobbied hard for a national ban on alcohol, due to the shape their husbands were in when inebriated. They were pretty sick of it and vowed to do something to stop drunkenness across the nation. They made their case and Iowa Republicans pass pretty strict prohibition laws, however, they were later struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court in 1883. Eventually, the WCTU, with the help of religious leaders, finally get the prohibition movement to Washington where, in 1919, nationwide prohibition became the law of the land.
Society knows, all too well, that when something is wanted and then made taboo, people will find unlawful ways to get it. This opens organized crime into the business of selling alcohol, to anyone anywhere they can.
Linda Betsinger McCann has spoken with hundreds of Eastern Iowans with stories to tell about the days of moonshine running and homemade stills in their family's past. Many tell of their grandparents or great-grandparents who were part of the distribution of booze across Iowa. Of course, the most famous or infamous character of prohibition was Al Capone. He was in very nearby Chicago, so having farmers help make and/or move the booze between cities and states, Capone traveled to Iowa often, even setting up a Dubuque branch, where he would be found frequently.
McCann has found that most of the tales of Capone and his business associates being connected or even working with the relatives of the storytellers, to be false. She's done such in-depth investigating of the prohibition era in Eastern Iowa, that she could place Capone in certain places, nowhere near where some people allude to him having worked with their relative.
This book, "Prohibition In Eastern Iowa" (2014 Tandem Publishing Group) and the idea behind it came from McCann talking to her two middle school-aged granddaughters. In conversation, she'd asked them what they know about Prohibition. They both replied, "What's prohibition?" When she explained to them the era between 1919 and 1933 when the sale of alcohol was illegal and some of the names of those involved, the girls' eyes got wide and mouths dropped open. "We had no idea that this could have happened in this country!"
That got her thinking about what role her beloved state had, if any, during this time in our history. When she was at speaking engagements at libraries all over Eastern Iowa, she was there to talk about the certain history she'd found and written about in whichever topic she was brought in to speak. When she solicited stories about the era and if anyone in the audience knew of anyone that had shared a story about prohibition in Iowa, hands raised and she ended up with a long list of names. She contacted every one of them to get the tale they were told or factual events from those with first-hand knowledge of the prohibition years. Thirty to forty people all spoke with her about the things they knew or had heard about their family members and what hand they had had in the distilling, sale, or distribution of booze during those years.
"Only two people refused to talk to me about anything that had to do with what their relative's connections did," McCann said. "One flat out refused to say anything about it and another became quite irritated and loudly inquisitive about how I knew to reach out to them."
"Who told you that!?" he questioned, over the phone.
"I was given your name at the library when I asked if anyone knew of anyone else who had a story to tell..."
"Well, who was it?! What did they tell you?" he continued.
McCann replied, "Well, I didn't get their name and I was only given your name to reach out to..."
The man then sternly instructed, "Erase my number. Don't tell anyone you talked to me. Just forget me."
To hear more of this and other stories from McCann's book, "Prohibition In Eastern Iowa", Linda will be speaking at Bremer Brewing Company, 102 West Bremer Avenue in downtown Waverly, on March 10th at 7 pm. There is no fee and space is limited so get there early.