This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of temperance advocates like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and Anti-Saloon League killing off “John Barleycorn,” an antiquated yet clever name applied to their foe… alcoholic beverages. The 18th Amendment banning “the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors” was ratified January 16th, 1919 and slated to go into effect the following year. However, Ohio’s enforcement of prohibition would begin May 27th, 1919 after voters passed Ohio’s prohibition amendment that previous November. The vote passed by a margin of less than three percent! [1]

Needless to say, the idea of taking away an individual’s right to consume alcohol was a divisive issue. The good ol’ USA did not decide to go dry on a whim. Temperance forces grew in numbers, force, and political savvy since the 1830s. Driven by religious and moral ideologies, what started out as a women’s crusade in Ohio quickly spread across the nation. In fact, so many temperance organizations operated in Marietta in the late nineteenth century that the Marietta Temperance League was formed to help direct the work. [2] The movement continued to grow and by the early 1900s won the support of prominent politicians, elite families (aka the Rockefellers), and voters in favor of progressive reform.

By the turn of the century, Americans believed Americans had a drinking problem. At its seemingly worse in the 1830s the average American over the age fifteen drank over seven gallons of alcohol per year. [3] By the time of Prohibition, consumption was reduced to less than two and a half gallons per capita, comparable to today’s average. While it is easy to discount history’s temperance advocates as party-poopers, their stance was rooted in distressing moral issues such as domestic abuse, crime, and violence to name a few. Staunch advocates of temperance believed the only way to cure America of these sins was total abstinence from alcohol. On the other hand, there were those who’s motives were not so altruistic. Many wanted to take away an embedded cultural pastime of the nation’s growing German and Irish immigrant communities. The saloon culture and beer garden were deemed un-American.

In 1919, the tide turned on the “wet” population giving way to a “dry” nation. Well, in theory at least. The 18th Amendment lacked much forethought on enforcement and the Volstead Act, written to define the law, had several loopholes. Millions of Americans exploited those loopholes and many others chose to simply ignore or break the law. Al Capone, the mafia, and bootlegging all became familiar terms. Across the nation, a growing population of young adults were more than willing to thumb their nose at authority and enjoy the excitement of a speakeasy.

Locally, we didn’t experience all the glamour, excitement, and crime syndicates of the big city, but Marietta had the bad luck of being positioned on a popular bootlegging route between Akron and Charleston. Additionally, quite a few locals enjoyed making their own wine, ‘shine, or brew. Several articles from The Marietta Times during Prohibition have similar headlines to “Find Still Well Hidden in Cellar” while one sensational article describes a highspeed police chase down Front Street. “A score of pistol shots and a number of shattering loads from a sawed-off shotgun were fired into a fast-flying liquor car as it sped through Marietta at an early hour Saturday morning” exclaims the article. [4] Following the car over the Putnam Street Bridge, the chase began and shots rang out from the police car as they sped onto Franklin Street and through Harmar. The pursuit of the bootlegger abated just outside Barlow where the police car suffered engine trouble, only after having to turn on their windshield wipers to clear the glass of all the liquor streaming out of the bullet ridden car that got away.

With the onset of The Great Depression, Prohibition was repealed with the 21st Amendment in 1933. While largely considered a failure, it is believed that alcohol consumption was reduced as much as eighty to ninety percent. [5] The legacy of Prohibition still lingers today. For example, cocktails and cocktail hours became popular during this time to mask the taste of the usually disgusting alcohol being made at home. Also, one of those loopholes in the Volstead Act never defined the consumption of alcoholic beverages as illegal nor did it state that the possession of alcohol within a private residence as illegal. You couldn’t purchase, transport, or manufacture alcohol, which pretty much took care of any way for you to possess it within your home. Regardless, having guests over for cocktails became an exciting, edgy thing to do.

Password guarded speakeasy rival the image of tommy gun wielding gangster in Prohibition’s popular memory. Speakeasies, operating on the DL, were abundant and ranged from dingy garages to well hidden, glitzy barrooms and dance halls. Patrons of these establishments were probably paying twice as much for a drink as they would have pre-Prohibition, but the speakeasy was usually the only place to go for quality alcohol.

Armed with this knowledge you are now fully prepared to enjoy People’s Bank Theatre’s 1919 Speakeasy Party on Saturday, February 2nd 8pm – 11pm. Partying Prohibition Style with live music, you’ll have the chance to sip era appropriate themed cocktails. One of which is the popular “Bees Knees.” This cocktail features gin, honey, and fresh lemon juice served shaken and chilled usually in a cocktail glass with a twist of lemon. Honey, instead of the more common addition of sugar, bolstered by lemon should be able to reduce the odor and taste of homemade gin fresh from the bathtub. Rest assured, we know it must have been tasty. After all, “Bees Knees” is 1919 lingo for “the best” and I’m sure Peoples Bank Theatre’s 1919 Speakeasy Party will be the cat’s pajamas!

[1] Ohio Prohibition on Alcohol, Amendment 2 (1918),_Amendment_2_(1918).

[2] Reece Nichols, “Temperance in Marietta: The Riverside Speakeasy” (Marietta College, 2017.)

[3] Dr. David J. Hanson, “Temperance Movement Calls for Abstinence.”

[4] “Shots from Police Car Fail To Halt Liquor Car Speeding Through Marietta Saturday” The Marietta Times, January 4, 1931.

[5] Jason S. Lantzer, Interpreting the Prohibition Era at Museums and Historic Sites. (New York: Rowan and Littlefield, 2015), 55.