Michigan and alcohol have sordid past

by George Sedlacek

cognac-498513_640The Michigan Traffic Fatalities statistics for 2008 were released recently. There was some good news and some bad. The good news was that statewide, the number of fatalities was reduced to levels not seen since 1925.
The news in the Upper Peninsula wasn’t as good. According to Michigan State Police, there were thirty-eight fatal traffic crashes in the U.P. in 2007, which resulted in forty-five deaths. There were the same number of fatal crashes in 2008 but the number of deaths dropped to forty. Most troubling was nearly half the fatalities in 2008 involved alcohol use—twenty-one deaths due to alcohol involvement. In 2007, only ten involved alcohol.
The Marquette County Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention has worked to reduce high-risk drinking with some success. Binge drinking (more than five drinks per occasion) has fallen since the late 1990s. Binge drinking leads to an intoxication level that impairs decision making.
The U.P. has had a love-hate relationship with alcohol since early mining days. Even then, many had conflicting emotions. Prohibition was discussed nearly a half century before it took effect on January 16, 1920. Michigan had an election on April 5, 1887 on Prohibition, which lost statewide by about 8,000 votes. The news caught the attention of the New York Times, which reported the “Upper Peninsula with its iron and copper mining population, has struck a severe blow against prohibition.” The large town of Marquette had 425 more votes against enactment.
It’s not surprising that immigrants to our region brought their culture with them. Many don’t know that Scandinavian countries had a strong history of prohibition even before the United States. Nordic countries today, with the exception of Denmark, strictly control the sale of alcohol. There are government monopolies still in place for selling liquors, wine and stronger beers to consumers in Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland. Beer was prohibited in Iceland up until 1989.
Historian Marcus Robyns, in his paper, “Finnish Immigrants on the Marquette Iron Range” said Finns on the Marquette Iron Range took the lead in the temperance movement. The first organization formed in Republic in 1885 and was followed by the Ishpeming Temperance Society in 1886.
In 1888, temperance organizations throughout the U.P. met in Republic and formed the Finnish National Temperance Brotherhood of North America. Ishpeming Finns were so upset by their fellow countrymen fighting and swearing in the saloons of the time that a large temperance movement began. They feared they were getting a bad reputation and discrimination was bad enough for them at the time.
By 1906, the Finnish temperance movement on the Marquette Iron Range actively joined the national effort for Prohibition. In 1908, all the groups on the Range met in Ishpeming and formed the Marquette County Temperance League.
There are many interesting stories about prohibition in the U.P. Crime reporter Allan May provides a great story on the famous “Michigan Whisky Rebellion” that took place beginning on Valentine’s Day, 1920. An army of news reporters descended on the village of Iron River. They reported on the progress that Major A.V. Dalrymple, the federal prohibition chief for the midwest region for enforcing prohibition, wanted to make when the local law enforcement official would not.
The supervising prohibition agent for the U.P. was Leo Grove. His agents had made a raid on the home and store of the three Scalucci brothers. The brothers stated they had used a trainful of grapes the previous fall to make wine. Agents confiscated the wine—that is, until the state’s attorney for Iron County, Martin McDonough, got wind of it. His opinion was the raids were illegal since it wasn’t liquor, but wine made for the purpose of drinking in one’s own home. Also, it was seized without a warrant.
McDonough asked to see Grove’s badge and when Grove couldn’t produce it, McDonough pointed down the road and said “You see that road? Well, that leads out of town. Take it.” Grove went straight to Chicago and reported immediately to the Major. Leo told him that McDonough and the local chief of police arrested him for “transporting” liquor. The Chicago Tribune reported that McDonough said, “we have a peculiar situation here on the peninsula. We have a large number of foreign workers here and we wish to keep them. These foreigners always have their grape presses and their homemade wine. They drink this in preference to water and won’t work without it.”
Dalrymple vowed to the reporters that he’d crush the liquor rebellion with the 600 rounds of ammunition he was bringing and arrest any local law enforcement officer who defied the local prohibition enforcer.
“My judgment is to go up and clean hell out of that district,” he said.
The Chicago Tribune reported conditions of panic as residents falsely believed armed troops would be sent to quell the hyped insurrection. Reporters noticed citizens hung out anything white such as towels or pillowcases to indicate surrender. Meanwhile, every man, woman and child was being used to transport their stash up to caves located in the hills and mines. On February 25, Dalrymple went to the home of a local priest where wine was being stored in a locked basement room. The men took the barrels of wine to a nearby ditch and smashed them.
The higher ups in the Prohibition Department announced that agents, when acting without local cooperation, must first obtain warrants permitting searches of suspected premises. This provided McDonough the ammunition he needed.
The Major and McDonough met and accused each other of grandstanding for the media and argued who was a better actor. In the meantime, the assistant attorney general of Michigan was reported on his way to back up McDonough. By 4:00 p.m., Dalrymple announced he had important business in Washington and would leave within the hour. A subsequent federal investigation ruled Dalrymple had acted both illegally and injudiciously. Dago Red in the home, the investigation pointed out, was indeed legal.
Prohibition was successful in reducing the numbers of people with severe liver disease, domestic violence and public drunkenness. However, it was a social failure in that large numbers of people disregarded the law, and caused a rise in organized crime. Larry Engelmann’s Intemperance provides a story of the public debate in congress on the repeal of prohibition:
Grayson Murphy: “Personally I do not know a man—I want to make this clear: I may know a man, but I cannot remember if I do—I do not know of a single leading banker in the United States, I do not know of a single leading industrial executive in the United States, I do not know a single important railroad executive in the United States, that I can think of who does not break this law and who does not drink.”
Mr. Michener: “Henry Ford?” (Ford supported prohibition)
Grayson Murphy: “I do not know him.”
Michigan has the distinction of being the first state to repeal prohibition in 1933. With the repeal came a lot of increased regulation and responsibility, such as drinking and driving laws, reduced sale of alcohol hours, drinking age laws and a host of others. These laws are effective; we must not be complacent or we’ll see a return to the high-risk drinking rates that caused such a drastic step as Prohibition in the first place.
Education appears to be successful in reducing high-risk drinking. The most recent effort is to define what is meant by “responsible drinking.” Its 0013 program (zero drinking by minors, zero drinking and driving, one drink per hour, and no more than three drinks per event) has helped event organizers sell alcoholic beverages to a standard that does not hurt health. The body is able to metabolize roughly one ounce of alcohol per hour. Any more than that and it impairs ability and emotions.
The Sawyer Rodeo and the Marquette County Fair participate in the 0013 program. Several school groups, called “Action Troupes,” make presentations to area service clubs on the program and are willing to meet with groups across Marquette County. For details, call 315-2621 or visit www.upprevent.org

— George Sedlacek

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