A copy of Lewis C. Reimann’s book, Hurley­­––Still No Angel, is pictured.

By Larry Chabot

If you walk west out of Ironwood and cross the state-line bridge into Wisconsin, you’re on historic Silver Street in Hurley, toughest town on the Iron Range. At its peak during Prohibition (1920-1933), Hurley was home to an estimated 130 illegal bars, many disguised as legitimate store fronts selling candy and fountain treats. Taverns, strip joints, and brothels did a thriving business serving miners, lumberjacks, tourists and others seeking a good time in a wide-open town.

Roy Vandercook, a Michigan state police chief then, complained that “Hurley is against law and order, and it is the one thing responsible for a great share of the lawlessness in upper Michigan. Hurley is the rottenest town I have ever heard of.” The town not only ignored Prohibition, but was aggressive in scoffing at the law. One official testified that he had seen more than one Prohibition agent “kicked out of Hurley taverns with their uniforms cut to pieces.” The reputation of Hurley and Iron County lured crime kingpins like Al Capone and his brothers, even John Dillinger. (Note: Capone’s brother Ralph died in Hurley in 1974.)

“Hurley was known as the hell-hole of the range,” noted the Depression-era federal publication Michigan: A Guide to the Wolverine State, in a colorful jab at its neighbor. “Even Seney, at its worst and liveliest, could not compete with the sin, suffering, and saloons that gave Hurley a reputation unrivaled from Detroit to Duluth.” It’s no wonder that nearby Ironwood blamed much of its crime problem on…

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