The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

100 years ago, Hurley, UP defied Prohibition


March 2, 2018

Ralph Ansami/Daily Globe

UPPER PENINSULA author Russell Magnaghi speaks at the Hurley K-12 School auditorium on Thursday evening.


Hurley - One-hundred years ago the Spanish Flu shut down much of the Gogebic Range, but not Hurley's booming tavern industry.

It was the same year Michigan joined the Prohibition movement, but Wisconsin didn't follow suit until 1920, author Russell Magnaghi told a large audience at the Hurley K-12 School on Thursday evening.

He spoke for 45 minutes about how Hurley largely ignored Prohibition and the taverns prospered.

Not only did people drink during the days of outlawed booze, but they consumed liquor that was often 90 proof or more. It's no wonder the average lifespan was about half of the present day.

Magnaghi said his mother recounted her honeymoon in a journal in 1931. "She was a 20-year-old drinking like a fish," he joked. At that time, a motorist would stop for gas and a few beers at a service station and continue driving down the road.

"Things were totally out of control," he said.

The drinking was carried on from founding fathers who would awake and consume tumblers of rum, he said.

In 1874, the Bosch Brewing Company in the Upper Peninsula's Lake Linden advertised that it was selling beer that was "pure and without poison," unlike other breweries.

Christian women supported eliminating demon alcohol, without much success, although an anti-saloon league did put enough pressure on politicians to get liquor banned in the first place.

When the Upper Peninsula was dry and Wisconsin was wet, Magnaghi said Michigan State Police set up a check point on the Montreal River bridge between Hurley and Ironwood. At one point every car was stopped and checked.

The Ironwood constable was "furious" and when the MSP were called "slackers," the worst term of that era, stuff hit the fan.

Florence, Marinette and Hurley were key points of bootlegging with the U.P., he said.

"(MSP head Roy Vandercook) thought if he shut down Hurley, most crime in the U.P. would end," Magnaghi said.

It didn't happen.

Kentucky woodchoppers who knew how to make booze were brought in and Magnaghi said it wasn't difficult to make moonshine stills that produced 150 proof alcohol.

Coffee shops run by women sprung up across the country, with booze liberally mixed in.

Rum runners sailed big boats across Lake Superior from Canada and Al Capone had a special taste for Canadian Club Whiskey. While the Coast Guard looked the other way, one shipment of Johnny Walker scotch arrived from Thunder Bay at Little Girl's Point, a remote area no one would patrol.

That whiskey went into Ironwood and Hurley, then other towns in the U.P. and eventually the big cities.

Saxon Harbor was also in the mix.

"There was tsunami of liquor across Lake Superior," Magnaghi said, with pay-offs along the way to many people.

When Hurley saloons were raided, they'd shut the front door and open the back one.

Gambling and prostitution were wide open.

Beer wasn't legal, but it was possible to buy all the ingredients and a kit to make it.

Grapes were sold in bags with the disclaimer, "Don't mix this with water or it will turn to wine."

Magnaghi said Prohibition "backfired" because it filled prisons and they were costly to build. People had to pay higher taxes and that wasn't popular.

By 1933, Prohibition ended.

Magnaghi also said when liquor was banned, heroin and opium entered the scene and doctors over prescribed it.

Magnaghi ended his presentation by taking questions and comments from the audience. One comment was from a woman whose father talked about how the north side of Hurley concocted "product" for Capone.

After his talk, Magnaghi signed his "History of the U.P." books.

The Iron County Historical Society and Paul Sturgul sponsored the event.


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