Prohibition in the United States lasted from 1920 to December 5, 1933 and banned the manufacture, importation, transportation, and selling of alcohol. Prohibition affected Racine profoundly, from the destruction of long-standing family businesses such as German breweries to various illegal activities like making alcohol or running “speakeasies,” illicit taverns.
One of the first stories I heard about Prohibition in Racine was when I was waiting at the bus station on Park Avenue and someone told me that it used to be a “blind pig,” another name for a speakeasy. This name implies that the police looked the other way or even offered protection for some speakeasies.
Another story that I personally heard was that buried under 16th Street near the old Mario’s barbershop was a large tank used for storing “medicinal” alcohol.
My dad heard a story about a still that was run on the north side of the river near St. Patrick’s church. The owners of the still were having problems with the odors it produced, and so plumbed the still into the sewer system. The unintended result of this was that people walking around downtown could smell the still, but nobody could find it.
My dad had a butcher shop on the west side of Washington Ave. where Racine St. joined Washington near 11th St. He used to tell that he’d deliver bags of sugar to homes and instructed to pour it into the bathtubs probably to make bathtub gin. Prohibition was over by the time I was born in 1937. Earliest recollection of Racine saloons was the opening of the Dreamland Bar on 12th and Herrick, operated by a guy named Djinjeleta…or something like that [ed: Dzindzeleta, 1521 12th Street]. I remember that because someone flicked cigarette ashes into my eyes. Must have been 2 years old. The operator later went on to run a tavern on 6th that catered to the gay population.
Racine: Growth and Change in a Wisconsin County
p. 82: By the 1920s the City abounded with New Immigrant grocery and fruit stores, bakeries, meat markets, restaurants, ice cream and confectionery shops, barber shops, shoe repair stores, dressmakers, tailors, laundries, dry goods, and notions stores. To provide money for prospective homeowners, a group of Poles founded the White Eagle Savings and Loan in the 1920s. Perhaps the most numerous and popular ethnic neighborhood business was the corner saloon, where the immigrant laborer could go for a cheering drink, good fellowship, and conversation in his native tongue. Saloons were “poor men’s country clubs”; they often provided free lunches and sleeping quarters to the poor and destitute, lent money, helped find jobs, supplied meeting rooms for national organizations or unions, and served as clubhouses for local politicians. During Prohibition most of these ethnic saloons became “soft drink parlors,” but they reopened in triumph in 1933, with the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.
p. 95: The family usually worked together, played together, and stuck together against outsiders. Its members tended gardens for vegetables, cured their own meat, and kept a variety of animals. The Irish and Germans in the Fourth Ward once had so many animals running wild that the City Council passed an ordinance against the practice. A Racine woman of Hungarian descent remembered that her family kept cows, chickens, geese, and pigs on their Lakeside property, and that she fed the geese on the land where the giant Case plant now stands. Most families also made beer or wine in their home, a practice continued with great difficulty even during the days of prohibition.
p. 114: The two most explosive ethnocultural issues revolved around the use of alcoholic beverages and the instruction of foreign language in parochial schools. The native American churches and those immigrants whose religions were derived from Calvinism generally opposed the use of alcohol and felt justified in suppressing its use. Catholics, most Lutherans and Episcopalians, Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Bohemian Freethinkers, on the other hand, regarded alcoholic beverages as beneficial, if used wisely, and relied upon personal temperance under the guidance of the church. Some Scandinavian Lutherans, more influenced by Calvinism, leaned toward legal prohibition, but German Lutherans were unalterably opposed. The Calvinist religions also practiced the Puritan Sabbath, forbidding all forms of worldly pleasure, while most European immigrants believed in a Continental Sunday, a judicious mixture of worship and recreation. The reformers’ main target was the saloon, the working man’s social club and the base of operations for ethnic politicians.
In the late nineteenth century, prohibition and the Sunday closing of saloons were strongly pushed by a combination of Protestant ministers and industrialists of British-American, Calvinist ancestry, who hoped to replace the saloons with coffee and reading salons. In the 1860s the German and Bohemian press led a successful effort to defeat Mayor George C. Northrup because of his strict enforcement of the liquor law. Prohibition Party candidates regularly received almost no support on the north side. In 1882 a petition to force Sunday closing of saloons was presented to the City Council, signed by Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Congregationalist ministers, mostly of Yankee, British, or Scandinavian derivation. It was also backed by 450 of the City’s industrialists, mostly from similar backgrounds. The German, Irish, and Bohemian aldermen, however, succeeded in squelching most such attempts. One German saloon keeper, arrested for being open on Sunday at the complaint of a prominent Yankee socialite, screamed at her husband: “Your voman! Your voman! Vhy you not hold her, hold her mit a string?”
Probably the most famous and ardent foe of prohibition in any form was Martin Secor, the bombastic Bohemian Freethinker, industrialist, and politician. Early in the century, Secor issued two strongly-worded broadsides entitled, “Warning to the Tax Payer” and “Grier Not Here, But His Ghost Is.” In the first, he warned that closing saloons would cost the City $115,000 in lost license fees, while in the second he attacked Racine’s chief advocate of prohibition, Reverend Albert Grier of the Good Shepherd Methodist Church. An avowed foe of religions that tried to impose their moral views on others, Secor contrasted their outlook with that of many immigrant churches: “If these gentlemen only knew enough to keep still as the German Catholics and the German Lutherans and take care of their own affairs and stay in their own churches and not stick their noses into public affairs, they would be more appreciated.”
Most southern and eastern Europeans also opposed prohibition at the time of its enactment; they and the Germans, Bohemians, and Irish suffered through the outwardly “dry” 1920s, finding solace in homemade beer and wine, stills, speak-easys, and “soft drink parlors.” In 1933 these ethnic groups voted overwhelmingly in favor of repealing the odious affront to their personal liberty. Although Racine County voted a staggering five to one in favor of repeal, there were some significant ethnic trends. The Irish and German Fourth Ward and the German and Bohemian Fifteenth voted nearly twenty to one in favor of repeal, while the heavily Polish, Slovak, Hungarian, and Italian Fourteenth supported it nearly ten to one. The only wards below the City-wide average were areas with substantial Yankee, British, or Scandinavian populations. In the Towns, repeal fared best in Burlington, Waterford, and Caledonia, with their predominantly German, Bohemian, and Irish populations. It failed to carry English Settlement in Rochester and barely passed in Union Grove and Yorkville, sites of other British populations. In largely Scandinavian Norway and Raymond, the repeal vote was significantly below the County average.
p. 175: The emergence of wheat as an important crop in Racine County did not result in the complete disappearance of barley production, just as wheat continued to be cultivated in the County in the 1880s when barley production was more profitable. Barley was produced initially for animal feed, but its production began to increase during the early part of the century when it was increasingly used for malting. The repeal of the prohibition law gave a tremendous boost to its cultivation. The acreage under barley more than doubled from 6,230 to 15,470 during the period 1930-1938 (see Appendix I-L), then declined in the 1930s because the County was not able to supply the quality required by the malting industry.
p. 243: The mayors of the City of Racine, like those of other Wisconsin cities, were elected for one year until 1891, when the term was expanded to two years. With few exceptions the mayors were local industrialists who ran either as Republicans or as members of independent parties with various labels. The issues raised in some of the campaigns reflected wider concerns, such as prohibition and nativism, but for the most part the mayor’s role was conceived to be that of a manager, and residents chose candidates such as J. I. Case and Massena Erskine on the basis of their qualifications for that role.
p. 325: Retail Trade. Table 16 reports the number of establishments in various trade and service fields for selected years from 1862 Saloons, later classified as taverns, played an important social role in I community. Their number more than doubled between 1878 and 1886 possibly reflecting the early industrialization of the City, as well as a more complete city directory. The number remained relatively constant until 1920 and the onset of prohibition. Post-prohibition saw a significant increase in the number of saloons, but 1939 the number has gradually declined.
p. 464: The usual postwar shift towards indulgence after sacrifice colored all the wartime changes, and the collapse of Woodrow Wilson’s peace greatly increased the tendency toward cynicism. But the main monument to the war’s idealism and austerity remained, demanding continued veneration: Prohibition had sprung from the joining of anti-liquor and anti-German sentiment, strengthened by the wartime need for the grain used in distilling. The generation which had fought the war later reflected its own discredited idealism by mocking Prohibition as the embodiment of outdated values.
p. 498: The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 must have received a mixed reaction from Racine’s churches, or at least from the clergy. Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Congregationalist ministers had been prominent among signers of an 1882 petition for closing saloons on Sundays, and their successors of the 1930s probably shared their views. Catholics and most Lutherans, however, felt otherwise, as evidenced by the overwhelming vote for repeal in areas of the City inhabited by Irish, Germans, and Bohemians. Many Scandinavian Lutherans, however, supported Prohibition. This was probably because their more pietistic approach to religion tended to discourage such activities as smoking and drinking, matters classed by other Lutherans as adiaphora, that is, things neither required nor forbidden by the New Testament, so that the Christian was at liberty to choose.
History of Timers, from http://timersbevcenter.com/History/History.html
Coming to America from Hungary in 1897, Joseph Timer found a new home in Racine, Wisconsin. Serving his new country in World War I, Joe returned to Racine, and in 1926 opened a small store.
Despite being in the midst of Prohibition, Joe found a demand for selling hops, malt and barley, for home brewers. Also, church wine and medicinal alcohol could be sold to those who held proper permits. On occasion a few barrels of beer would arrive from Chicago. Canada was a source for whiskey, and four or five cases would arrive periodically to help satisfy the illicit thirst for liquor.
As time progressed, a tiny store on a busy corner led way to a new store built in 1955, and a new generation of the Timer family came on board. The business continued to grow and in 1995 a new 12,000 square foot facility was built on the edge of Racine’s west side.
Today the business remains family owned, with Ed Fahnrich Jr., a great grand son of Joe Timer, along with Shawn Voss co-owner. Both being responsible for daily operations.
Believing in the community, superior customer service, along with the largest selection of beer, wine and spirits, with everyday low prices. That simple formula has been the driving force, making Timer’s a market leader for over 80 years.
Angelo Puma, 1890-1930
I learned about Angelo Puma from his great granddaughter, Tanya Craig. I am interested in Angelo because he is someone who lived in Racine who we know directly interacted with Prohibition laws:
I started finding articles about Angelo Puma in local and state newspapers.
Racine Journal News, November 2, 1926
Three Hunters Hurt In Crash
Auto Hit by Street Car at Douglas Avenue, Kewaunee Street
Injured In Hospital
A sedan containing three returning hunters was hit by a Douglas avenue street car at the intersection of Douglas avenue and Kewaunee street at 3:20 p.m., Monday, two of the occupants being so badly injured they were removed to St. Mary’s hospital in the city ambulance. The crash was one of the most spectacular occurring here in some time past; the street car was knocked off the tracks by the impact and the automobile was hurled into a telephone pole on the northwest corner, a tangled bit of wreckage.
Angelo Puma, who conducts a confectionery store at 1400 Albert street, owner and driver of the car, an expensive new sedan, said he saw the Douglas avenue car coming from the south as he was crossing Douglas avenue, east bound, and attempted to apply his brakes which failed to function. The pavement was slippery at the time and the big automobile slewed directly in the pathway of the street car which was operating by W. Werner, veteran motorman.
Two Are Injured
Werner applied his brakes but the car hit the automobile with full force on the right hand side and hurled it into a telephone post on the northwest corner of the intersection. Mike Camello, 1435 North Erie, was one of the men accompanying Puma and was sitting with him in the front seat. He was cut by flying glass which littered the street, suffering several lacerations on the face and side. Frank Hruska, 1514 State street, the third occupant, was in the back seat with the hunting paraphernalia, and escaped with bruises. Puma was the most seriously injured of the trip as it was found that he suffered several fractured ribs.
Ambulance Is Called
A call was sent in for the police ambulance which was driven to the scene by Officer Martin Kowalsky, who was accompanied by Officers Bergerson and Smith. They picked up Puma and Camello and took them to St. Mary’s hospital. Camello’s cuts were dressed after which he was sent to his home, but Puma will be laid up for some time.
As the street car was off the rails, the streets littered with broken glass from the wrecked automobile and the city car, and a large crowd gathering, Kowalsky called the station asking for more help and Officers Jack Rulle, Hoberty, and Lucas responded in a police car. They directed the replacing of the street car in the rails and handled traffic until the excitement was over.
The automobile was hauled to the Flint garage while the street car was taken to the car barns for repairs. Puma and his friends had been out on a hunting expedition and were on their return home at the time of the crash. A police dog which was in the car with them and is owned by Sam Camello, father of Mike, leaped out following the crash and has not yet been located.
Rhinelander Daily News, April 22, 1930
Two Held Under Bond After Federal Raids
MILWAUKEE, April 21 (By A. P.) — Angelo Puma and Sam Vassalo of Racine were place under bond of $5,000 each today after prohibition officers had described them as members of a Chicago rind which operates a chain of stills in southern Wisconsin counties. They are accused of conspiracy to manufacture and transport liquor.
Racine Journal News, July 10, 1930
Coroner Fixes Cause of Death
Autopsy Is Held in Case of Angelo Puma, Who Died in Hospital
An autopsy held yesterday afternoon determined that Angelo Puma, aged 35, Rural Route 4, Lake Park, who died at St. Luke’s hospital on Tuesday night at 7 o’clock, was stricken with an ambulus which was caused by heart trouble.
Mr. Puma was severely injured in an automobile accident at Wilmette, Ill., last Friday. He was en route to Chicago at the time. The driver of the car going in the same direction cut in ahead of the Puma car, overturning it. The offender failed to stop. Mr. Puma was taken to a hospital at Evanston and late Monday at his request was brought to Racine and taken to St. Luke’s hospital. He had suffered several fractured ribs in addition to other injuries.
Coroner Kisow announced that death was due to the ambulus which reached the heart.
Mr. Puma is survived by his widow; four children, James, Charles, Caroline, and Munio; one brother, Charles Puma of De Pew, N. Y.; one sister, Mrs. Charles Dagonese of Buffalo, N. Y., his mother-in-law and father-in-law, six sisters-in-law and three brothers-in-law.
Funeral services will be held at his home at 8:30 Friday morning and at 9 o’clock from the Sacred Heart church, Racine.
Speakeasy on State Street
Bryan Halverson writes: Our grandparents (Irv and Fran Halverson) ran a speakeasy on State St. The band that played there on weekends were sheriffs deputies.
They would buy 5 gal. cans of alcohol, maybe from Tanya’s grandfather. For gin they would soak juniper berries in it. For scotch they would add burnt cork. They served the booze in coffee cups. My grandmother made fried chicken and some other food. When prohibition ended they closed it. They said they couldn’t make money when it was legal.
[The speakeasy] was on the North side of State St. across from the Shoop building between the bridge and Main St. It was called “The X Club” and their slogan was “X marks the spot.”