Prohibition led to raids, arrests in IM

Menominee Range Memories

Charles Tirschel operated a saloon at 101 West Hughitt St., west of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad tracks, in downtown Iron Mountain by 1902. By 1905, Joseph Tirschel, standing at the far left, was operating a saloon and serving as an agent for Menominee’s Leisen & Henes Brewing Company at 101-103 W. Hughitt St. Note that “Leisen & Henes Beer Always on Draught” was painted on the window at the right. (Menominee Range Historical Museum)

IRON MOUNTAIN – The 28th installment of Menominee Range Memories, a series of articles by William J. Cummings, Menominee Range Historical Foundation historian, now available on the Dickinson County Library’s website, is titled “The Roaring Twenties–Prelude to the Prohibition Era.”

This is the first in a series of articles dealing with the Prohibition Era on the eastern Menominee Iron Range.

Most of the following background information was obtained from Wikipedia and other sources.

During the 19th century, alcoholism, family violence and saloon-based political corruption prompted activists to end the alcoholic beverage trade to cure the ill society and weaken the political opposition.

One result was that many communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries introduced alcohol prohibition, with the subsequent enforcement in law becoming a hotly debated issue. Prohibition supporters, called “drys,” presented it as a victory for public morals and health.

Patrons of the Pipp & Tondini Saloon at 622 Millie St. in Iron Mountain posed for the photographer in about 1907. (Menominee Range Historical Museum)

Promoted by the “dry” crusaders, the movement was led by pietistic Protestants and social Progressives in the Prohibition, Democratic and Republican parties. It gained a national grass roots base through the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. After 1900 it was coordinated by the Anti-Saloon League.

Opposition from the beer industry mobilized “wet” supporters from the Catholic and German Lutheran communities. They had funding to fight back, but by 1917-18 the German community had been marginalized by the nation’s war against Germany (World War I), and the brewing industry was shut down in state after state by the legislatures.

Michigan passed a law for full prohibition on May 1, 1918. However, on Feb. 18, 1919, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that law to be unenforceable.

Five weeks later — on March 27, 1919 — another Michigan law was passed making criminals out of ordinary citizens who liked to drink. Before it could be overturned, the United States government passed nationwide Prohibition, legalizing all alcohol-prohibiting states.

A resolution calling for a Constitutional amendment to accomplish nationwide Prohibition was introduced in Congress and passed by both houses in Dec., 1917. By Jan. 16, 1919, the Amendment had been ratified by 36 of the 48 states, making it law. Eventually, only two states — Connecticut and Rhode Island — opted out of ratifying it.

On Oct. 28, 1919, Congress passed enabling legislation, known as the Volstead Act, to enforce the 18th Amendment when it went into effect on Jan. 16, 1920. The 18th Amendment banned the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages. A total of 1,520 federal Prohibition agents (police) were originally tasked with enforcement.

Private ownership and consumption of alcohol were not made illegal under federal law, but local laws were stricter in many areas, with some states banning possession outright.

In the 1920s the laws were widely disregarded, and tax revenues were lost. Very well-organized criminal gangs took control of the beer and liquor supply for many cities, unleashing a crime wave that shocked the nation.

By the late 1920s a new opposition mobilized nationwide. Wets attacked Prohibition as causing crime, lowering local revenues and imposing rural Protestant religious values on urban America.

Prohibition ended with the ratification of the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment on Dec. 5, 1933. Some states continued statewide prohibition, marking one of the last stages of the Progressive Era.

Although popular opinion believes that Prohibition failed, it succeeded in cutting overall alcohol consumption in half during the 1920s, and consumption remained below pre-Prohibition levels until the 1940s, suggesting that Prohibition did socialize a significant proportion of the population in temperate habits, at least temporarily.

During Prohibition in Michigan (1919-1933) 54,007 people were prosecuted in Michigan state courts for alcohol “crimes,” with 36,327 convicted.

Originating in the United States in the 19th century, the term “blind pig” referred to an illicit establishment that sold alcoholic beverages and came into prominence in the United States during the Prohibition Era.

Originally, the operator of an establishment, such as a saloon or bar, would charge customers to see an attraction, such as an animal, and then serve a “complimentary” alcoholic beverage, thus circumventing the law.

The term “blind tiger” also referred to an illegal drinking establishment in which the seller’s identity was concealed.

For example, a drawer ran into a wall of what appeared to be a billiard parlor. The customer pulled out the drawer, dropped in his change, shoved the drawer back, called for what drink wanted and then pulled out the drawer again and there it was, “straight” or “spiked.” Nobody was heard or seen, and the “blind tiger,” apparently without any keeper, worked like a charm.

An early use of the term “blind pig” locally occurred in the headline “Alleged Piggers Arrested” published in the May 20, 1915, edition of the Iron Mountain Press, as follows:

“As was intimated in the last issue of The Press, six residents of Iron Mountain have been arrested for selling liquor without a license — in other words, operating blind pigs. The victims of Mayor Cruse’s drag net are: Mary Longprey, Domenic Contarini, Ed Shea, Emma Miller, Robert Quillici and James Lambert. The warrants were served by Chief Andrews last Tuesday and are based on information furnished by Prosecuting Attorney Turner by two Chicago detectives employed by Mayor Cruse. The detectives operated here under the guise of agents for a piano house. The arrests have caused a good deal of a sensation and were followed by much street talk equally sensational. The alleged violators will be arraigned before Justice Woodward next Wednesday.”

Under the headline “Sixty Saloons,” the following article appeared in the December 16, 1915, edition of the Iron Mountain Press:

“According to the report of the county treasurer, there are sixty licensed retail liquor dealers in the county and nine wholesalers of beer. The revenue received totals $34,500. Thirty-one retailers and five wholesalers are located in Iron Mountain and seventeen retailers and four wholesalers in Norway. There are five saloons in Sagola township, three in Waucedah, two in Norway [township] and one each in Breitung and Breen. There are no saloons in Felch or West Branch townships.”

The April 12, 1917 edition of the Iron Mountain Press recorded saloon license application filings under the headline “Want Saloon Licenses,” as follows:

“Thirty-three have filed applications for retail liquor dealer licenses with City Clerk Hallman. The council is authorized by law to grant only twenty-eight licenses.”

Just a month and a half before Michigan’s first full prohibition law was passed, the following article appeared in the March 14, 1918, edition of the Iron Mountain Press under the headline “A HOUSE CLEANING: Results of Campaign Engineered By Sheriff and County Attorney”:

“An unostentatious campaign conducted for several weeks under the direction of Sheriff Lundgren and Prosecuting Attorney Brackett culminated last Friday and Saturday and resulted in ridding the city of a number of undesirable citizens and the arrest of a dozen or more other violators of state laws.

“In order to secure the necessary evidence, the officials employed a couple of detectives. That these detectives were ‘worthy of their hire’ is best evidenced by the fact that the violators, when arraigned in justice court, with only two exceptions entered pleas of guilty as charged. It is also intimated that the detectives were successful in gathering a large volume of other evidence that the sheriff and county prosecutor have filed away for future reference.

“Prosecutor Brackett and Sheriff Lundgren wish The Press to state that the campaign against vice is not an aftermath of the charges hurled back and forth by the candidates during the recent primary election. The campaign was in progress long before the primary eruption and the arrests would have been made regardless of the election. The officers are not pulling chestnuts out of the fire for anyone, but they are determined to enforce the laws not only in Iron Mountain but throughout the county. Prosecutor Brackett wants it understood that, as long as he holds his present office, there will be no room in Dickinson county for disorderly houses, blind pigs, and kindred joints. And in this decision Sheriff Lundgren has assured the prosecuting attorney of his hearty co-operation.”

Under the headline “House-Cleaning Bill” regarding the above raid, the April 4, 1918, edition of the Iron Mountain Press reported the following:

“The account of the Burns Detective company for $880.36 was audited and allowed at the last meeting of the board of supervisors. In addition, deputy sheriff bills in the amount of nearly $200 were audited and allowed. That’s what it cost to clean house in Iron Mountain recently.”

On Friday, April 5, 1918, Judge Flannigan passed sentence upon those saloonkeepers who violated the liquor laws, as reported in the Iron Mountain Press in its April 11, 1918, edition under the headline “A DAY OF JUDGMENT: Judge Flannigan Collects Nearly $2,000 from Delinquent Saloonists,” as follows:

“Judge Flannigan devoted last Friday morning to reviewing the delinquencies of saloonkeepers. When the session closed the library fund of the county had been enriched to the extent of nearly $2,000. In dealing out the fines, Judge Flannigan, in each case, warned the delinquent of what would be the result after May 1st, when the prohibitory law becomes operative. The judge, in one case, said: ‘This selling of liquor without a license is bad business. No more of it in this county. You may as well understand it one time as another. We will not permit blind-pigging after May 1st. Everything in the line of liquor selling must stop in this county. If the jail is not large enough to accommodate the crowd, we will enlarge the jail. That is all there is about it.'”

As the May 1, 1918, date for Michigan’s prohibition law to go into effect neared, concern grew regarding smuggling liquor into Michigan from Wisconsin.

An article in the April 18, 1918, edition of the Iron Mountain Press under the headline “No Smuggling of Liquors” verified this concern, as follows:

“The local joy riders who are expecting to buy beer and liquor supplies at Florence and Spread Eagle when the state prohibition law becomes operative, will learn with sorrow that our state authorities have anticipated just such a movement. In order to head off the smugglers of wet goods the state is prepared to station a corps of the constabulary forces at Twin Falls and Homestead bridges. The men will have full authority to halt and examine the carriers of grips [suitcases] and suspicious packages. Someone is always taking the joy out of life!”

The next week the following article appeared in the April 25, 1918, edition of the Iron Mountain Press under the headline “FIVE MORE DAYS: And Then the State Prohibition Law Will Become Effective”:

“At midnight next Tuesday, fifty-seven retail liquor dealers, a half dozen beer warehouses and one manufacturer of lager beer in Dickinson county will go out of business in compliance with the state prohibition law, which goes into operation at midnight on the day named. Twenty-eight of the saloons are located in Iron Mountain, seventeen in Norway city, five in Sagola township, three in Norway township, two in Waucedah and one each in Breen and Breitung.

“In Iron Mountain a considerable number of the liquor dealers will retain their places of business and it is stated will buy pool and billiard tables and will handle soft drinks. Others will engage in other lines business. The Henze-Tollen company, owners of the only brewery in the county, will employ the plant in the manufacture of a high-grade line of soft drinks. A company called the Arbutus Beverage company was organized several months ago to handle the business and already has a large trade.

“In the state 3,285 saloons will be closed and sixty-two breweries will be put out of business of manufacturing beer. Some of the breweries will manufacture ‘soft’ drinks and others, it is understood, will turn out distilled products not prohibited by law. A few beer plants will be converted into ice factories.”

In the same edition of the Iron Mountain Press in the “News in Paragraphs” column the following announcement appeared:

“The Swedish Mission congregation will hold a supper and entertainment next Tuesday evening to observe the departing of the saloons.”

In the May 2, 1918, edition of the Iron Mountain Press the headline “WITHOUT A RIPPLE: Saloons Close Their Doors With No Unusual Business Methods” summarized the local “wet” to “dry” transition with the following details:

“The saloons have departed hence and in going did not make nearly as much ‘noise’ as had been anticipated. Considering conditions, and the number of ‘floaters’ in town, there was not very much drunkenness in evidence.

“The liquor dealers made no attempt to conduct bargain sales of intoxicants and there was no unusual movement of people at their places of business. There was nothing to indicate that dealers were about to suspend business for an indefinite term in compliance with the state law.

“The police authorities — city and county — do not anticipate any extra amount of trouble from the festive blind pig. A considerable number of illegal dealers were taught a severe lesson by Judge Flannigan at the last session of the circuit court. Judge Flannigan told all concerned what would happen to them if a conviction followed after the prohibition law became operative. Piggers and boot-leggers are to be given short shrift. It is only from these classes of gentry that any possible trouble is expected in the enforcement of the law.

“For those who may be inclined to import and sell alcoholic liquors in defiance of the new law, the authorities have mapped out a plan of campaign that will make it exceedingly uncomfortable for the violators and a practical certainty that they will be caught. If necessary, state constabulary will be employed to patrol the borders to prevent the importation of liquor. The mayors of Michigan cities where state troops have been guarding docks, tunnels and munition plants have been notified to organize local forces to replace the state guards, should the services of the latter be required to enforce the liquor prohibition laws.”

Read the rest of this story on the Dickinson County Library’s website at This 12-page installment of Menominee Range Memories contains complete transcripts of the above articles outlining those arrested and/or convicted following the raids and additional information. Also included are other historic photographs showing saloons located on Iron Mountain’s North Side: John Rubbo’s Saloon, 710 Millie St.; and Louis “Luigi” Tramontin’s Saloon, located at 118 East Main St.

New installments will be added to the Library’s website and on the Library’s local history research computer.