Archive for Sunday, October 3, 2004

Lawrence once led state’s temperance movement

October 3, 2004


Many of those living in or visiting bar-friendly Lawrence don't realize that it was the site for anti-alcohol gatherings for more than 60 years.

"We think that Lawrence has always been so freedom-loving and liberal, but it hasn't," said Chuck Magerl, owner of Free State Brewing Co., 636 Mass., which became Lawrence's first legal brewery since 1880 when it opened in 1989.

Now known as a bustling college town, Lawrence was host to temperance gatherings in the 1880s and '90s; one attracted 25,000 people from all over the country to Bismarck Grove.

In 1880, Kansas prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol through an amendment to the state constitution. The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, banning the sale, manufacture or transportation of alcohol, did not take effect until Jan. 16, 1920.

Magerl said the motivation behind the state's prohibition law was a legitimate concern about the impact of alcohol abuse and situations where husbands were squandering their families' future by spending money on alcohol.

"Instead of liberalizing divorce laws, the state proceeded with a plan that attempted to prohibit or bury the idea of alcohol consumption in the state," Magerl said.

Plenty of people protested the sale of alcohol before the prohibition law. In 1855, Lawrence women smashed a saloon, in one of the earliest recorded acts of violence against such establishments. One infamous woman in the Prohibition era was Carry Nation. Nation was born in Kentucky in 1846 but moved to Medicine Lodge in 1890. She was notorious for smashing saloons in the Midwest and worked closely with the Women's Christian Temperance Union to close down bars in Kansas.

Fighting for repeal

There were illegal breweries in Lawrence, however. The Walruff Brewery, a 5-acre beer garden located behind the hospital and owned by John Walruff, a Prussian immigrant, ignored the 1880 state law and used the underground caves behind the hospital to brew and store beer. Walruff even attempted to disguise his beer as medicine, calling it a "stomach invigorator."

Kansas remained "dry" until 1948.

Daniel Berger, a KU graduate student researching the history of alcohol in Kansas, states that the Kansas Legislature presented a bill in 1947 allowing voters to decide the issue.

Leo Mulloy, a 33-year-old World War II veteran from Wichita, led the fight for repealing prohibition by securing the signatures of 10,000 residents across Kansas and publishing their names in a newspaper. A 60-year-old Lawrence physician named C.D. Walker fought him and organized a band of 200 teenagers to support the prohibition law.

During this campaign, Atty. Gen. Edward Arn made it clear that in Lawrence, only those voters registered in the city would be eligible to vote on this matter. This was directed at Kansas University students who normally would submit absentee ballots in their hometowns. The proclamation led to a rush by students to register locally. On Oct. 11, 1947, two KU students set up a taxi service outside Strong Hall to take people to register. Their effort led to 620 people registering to vote at the Watkins National Bank, which at that time was the City Hall.

Tough restrictions

Private clubs such as American Legion and Eagles Club came into being after the repeal of the state constitutional ban in 1948. Lawrence then allowed the sale of 3.2 percent beer.

Between 1948 and 1984, anyone wanting to have wine, mixed drinks or strong beer in a restaurant or bar had to join a private club, Magerl said. They also had to buy a prepaid liquor card that was punched every time they bought alcohol at that establishment.

"It was illegal to buy a drink in the state, but if you prepaid for your booze, it was kind of a way around the law," said Rick Renfro, owner of Johnny's Tavern in North Lawrence.

Johnny's, 401 N. Second St., is one of the oldest bars in the city. When it was first established in 1953, it offered only three kinds of beer. Now it carries 52 different brands of beer. Johnny's is six times larger than when it first opened, and the clientele is broader.

"It started as just a local place for blue-collar workers and now it's pretty eclectic. We have a lot of blue- and white-collar workers, as well as college students," Renfro said. "But it's still just a beer joint."

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