Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 1997
Vigilantes enforced Prohibition laws; County Dry Enforcement League formed
By Jim Blount
Temperance advocates in Butler County -- unhappy with inaction at the state level -- took enforcement of Prohibition laws into their own hands in 1921.
The Butler County Dry Enforcement League organized Jan. 15, 1921, in a meeting at the YMCA in Hamilton. Its purpose was "to see that laws pertaining to liquor sales violations and vice are enforced."
The group formed because the Ohio General Assembly was still debating enforcement legislation for state Prohibition that had been in effect since May 26, 1919. "The league is organized for the one purpose only -- the enforcement of the Prohibition laws of the state and nation," declared David Pierce, who was elected president.
About 150 people paid $1 dues at the Saturday afternoon meeting as Butler County became the 31st among Ohio's 88 counties to form such a group.
Besides Pierce, officers were Mrs. J. E. Brate, Oxford, vice president; George Hawthorne, secretary; and A. M. Brate, treasurer. The executive committee included C. T. Elliott, Middletown; F. C. Whitcomb, Oxford; Dr. H. H. Marsh, Seven Mile; James C. Overpeck, Trenton; and the Rev. J. H. Denny, Hamilton.
The league offered more than moral support to police and prosecutors. Representatives were designated in each county precinct. They were to report violations to county DEL officers, who would then alert the Ohio Anti-Saloon League in Columbus. That group employed detectives to investigate complaints and gather evidence.
If local police failed to arrest apparent violators, the Anti-Saloon League encouraged either state or federal Prohibition agents to intercede.
"It is the intention of the (county) league to build up an organization of several thousand militant men and women who will aid the authorities in enforcing the laws without fear or favor," said Pierce.
The DEL president also warned local law enforcement officials that if they ignore prohibition violations, "some way may be found whereby they will be replaced with others who will respect their oaths of office.
Shortly after formation of the Butler County DEL, legislators enacted an enforcement act and created a state enforcement agency."
It was headed by a commissioner, who was paid $5,000 a year, and a deputy, whose salary was $3,600. They directed 20 inspectors -- paid from $1,500 to $2,500 annually -- who were supposed to police Ohio's 41,000 square miles.
The Miller Enforcement Act -- written by Sen. William Miller of Muskingum County in cooperation with the Ohio Anti-Saloon League -- set enforcement procedures, including search and seizure.
Temperance leaders said the law permitted search and seizure in private residences. Critics said it didn't. The debate continued for 12 years -- until Prohibition ended in 1933.
In Butler County, the DEL first exerted itself in the Village of Oxford. That confrontation will be covered in a future column.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 1997
Dry Enforcement League confronted Oxford officials on Prohibition efforts
By Jim Blount
Oxford was the first community confronted by the Butler County Dry Enforcement League. A delegation appeared at a May 1921 council meeting to question prohibition efforts in the village.
The Butler County DEL, formed five months earlier, was a citizen group intent on only one purpose -- seeing that state and federal Prohibition laws were enforced. Its members had organized because they were disappointed in the efforts of local, state and federal law officers
Since midnight May 26, 1919, alcoholic beverages of more than one-half percent alcohol content had been illegal in Ohio. But, in the eyes of the DEL, not much had been done to enforce state and federal dry laws.
The league appointed members in each county precinct who were to report Prohibition transgression to county DEL officers, who alerted the Ohio Anti-Saloon League in Columbus. The state group employed detectives to investigate complaints and gather evidence.
If local police failed to arrest apparent violators, the Anti-Saloon League encouraged either state or federal Prohibition agents to intercede. Local DEL groups also were pledged to work for the removal, or prevent the re-election, of officials that ignored Prohibition violations.
A newspaper account of the 1921 Oxford meeting said Professor F. C. Whitcomb told council "he had heard that liquor was being hauled through town" and "sometimes the trucks stopped here and distributed the liquor."
DEL members claimed that at least a dozen people were selling liquor in Oxford. They urged council to employ more deputy marshals.
"If conditions are as bad as they have been represented," answered Mayor James S. Hughes, "where are the evidences of crime and disorder that usually follow in the wake of intemperance? Entries in the criminal docket are 90 percent less than they were before national Prohibition."
Council members urged the DEL to provide the names of two or three members who would work as deputy marshals without pay.
Six days after the meeting, an Oxford councilman saw a suspicious car in the village and called Marshal John Sheard. The marshal found 110 quarts of whisk y in the car and arrested the driver, a 35-year-old Connersville man. The violator, who said he bought the booze in Hamilton, was fined $500 and costs in mayor's court.
Later in the year, Mayor Hughes gloated as he called some statistics to the attention of DEL members. He noted liquor fines collected in Hamilton, a city of more than 40,000, totaled $550 for the first eight months of 1921. In Oxford, with 3,000 inhabitants, fines totaled $700.
In September, President R. M. Hughes of Miami University opened a session of the Ohio Dry Enforcement League convention in Oxford by telling the audience that Prohibition had improved the conduct of Miami students. (Miami enrollment in 1921-1922 was about 215.)
Before Prohibition, Dr. Hughes said, there were many times when students had to be hauled to fraternity houses in horse-drawn drays dead drunk.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 1997
Feds tried to dry-up Hamilton 'Oasis' as 20 Prohibition agents invaded in 1921
By Jim Blount
Twenty federal prohibition agents swept into Hamilton in mid-afternoon Saturday, Jan. 29, 1921. Within a few hours they raided seven places and placed charges against 11 men.
"Hamilton has been an oasis in Southwestern Ohio for some time," said Louis S. Davidson of Cincinnati, who directed the raiders. "Thirsty people have gone there from points many miles distant," he noted. "Cincinnati and Dayton have sent their regular quota" to Hamilton for illegal alcoholic beverages.
Davidson's Hamilton sweep was described as "one of the largest" and "one of the most successful" prohibition raids in Ohio.
The raid started at 2:30 p.m. when Davidson visited the home of Mayor Culbertson J. Smith to seek local assistance.
The feds first stop at 3 p.m. was a saloon on Heaton Street near the canal (now Erie Highway). They found 123 cases of whisky. The second target was a saloon at 338 High Street where a few quarts of whisky were discovered.
Next was a cafe at Main and South C streets. Thirteen quarts and 11 pints were found in a residence next to the saloon. The owner and a bartender Joseph Ruhl were charged.
Fourth was a cafe at 435 South Fifth Street. Nothing was found, but the owner and two bartenders were arrested anyway. It was the same story at the fifth stop -- at the northeast corner of Main and North B streets. Nothing was found, but Wilkinson was arrested.
The sixth visit was to 221 Court Street. Again, agents found nothing, but that didn't stop them from charging the owner.
The final stop was a saloon at Front and High streets. Nothing was found and no one was arrested.
The "largest" and "most successful" superlatives were premature. The raid fizzled when it reached federal courts. Some cases never got to court; they were released that afternoon by the U. S. commissioner in Cincinnati.
Initial reports said the raid was based on a "quiet" visit in December by federal agents. That story changed when the agents had to explain their actions and produce evidence before U. S. Commissioner Thomas Gregory.
The first case before Gregory involved the business at the west end of the High-Main Street Bridge. Federal agents admitted no whisky was found. The owner was arrested on the basis of reports from two detectives employed by the Ohio Anti-Saloon League. The Columbus investigators said they were sold whisky Jan. 8, three weeks before the raid. They said they took the drinks, held them in their mouths, went to a restroom and emptied their mouths into bottles. They said tests showed it was 88 proof whisky.
Their testimony was refuted by a Hamilton doctor who said the owner was so ill that day and the next that he was confined to bed and could not have been in the saloon. The doctor said he had made house calls both days. The charges were dropped.
The circumstances were similar in each case. The arrests were based on information from the Anti-Saloon League detectives. In one, the raiders had used a faulty search warrant. It had a wrong name for the saloon and the address was off by several blocks. The cases fell apart, and charges were dismissed.
After the last Hamilton charges were heard, the U. S. district attorney in Cincinnati said "evidence secured through private agencies, as in the Hamilton cases, would not be permitted as a basis for federal cases in the future."
In rejecting second-hand evidence, the federal commissioner destroyed the plans of the Ohio Anti-Saloon League and the Butler County Dry Enforcement League to force local, state and federal police to enforce prohibition laws.
Instead of closing seven saloons and convicting 11 men, the Jan. 29, 1921, raid produced nothing. It was a complete failure.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 1997
The 20th century began in 1901 after Hamilton debated the issue
By Jim Blount
When does the 21st century begin? Is it Jan. 1, 2000, or the first day of 2001? That question, and the debate surrounding it, isn't new. A hundred years ago, Butler County residents were arguing if the 20th century would start on the first day in January in 1900 or 1901.
"There is one question that was long a vexed one, that seems to have been settled without much trouble by common consent after the discussion died down a few months ago. That is, when the present century closes and the 20th begins," noted a writer in the Hamilton Democrat nearly a century ago.
"Last winter the question was rampant," the reporter said. "It was discussed on forum, in pulpit, on the street corners and in the press. Scholars differed, friends quarreled, and curbstone orators vapored loudly when the matter was mentioned."
"But like all fads," he said, "the agitation died away. People concluded that they did not care when the old century died. It was an imaginary line, anyhow, drawn across time's face, and it mattered little, just where it ran."
"After the heat of the argument had died down, however, the fact was generally accepted that the new century began with the dawn of the new year 1901," said the report, published in the Hamilton newspaper on the last day of 1900.
The century question had been a steady topic in articles and letters to the editor in Hamilton newspapers.
"The 19th century does not end till Dec. 31, 1900," asserted a local clergyman, whose explanation came to be the generally accepted one. "It takes a hundred years, a full hundred years, to make a century," he said in his 1899 letter. "The first century begins with the year one and end with the year 100. The second century begins with the year 101 and ends with the year 200. So the 19th century begins with the year 1801 and ends with the year 1900."
A dictionary of recent vintage agrees. Webster's defines a century as "any period of 100 years, as from 1620 to 1720," but notes that "1801 AD through 1900 AD is the 19th century AD, 400 BC through 301 BC is the 4th century BC."
"What will the new century see?" asked a headline on a speculative article in the Democrat in the final days of the 19th century.
"In mechanical inventions, the 19th century achieved wonders," observed the syndicated writer. "Yet bold scientists declare that we may expect revelations of hidden energy in the sun and earth and air, which may be harnessed to do the work of mankind." They also saw "an industrial revolution in the dethronement of iron and the elevation of aluminum."
As 1900 ended, there were only about 8,000 automobiles in the U. S. A writer in 1900 called the automobile "an expensive luxury item for the man who does not need one."
The few cars compared with American ownership of about 10 million bicycles and 18 million horses and mules in 1900.
"The perfected airship is one of the certainties of dreamers," said the Democrat article forecasting 20th century advances. The airship the writer described was a balloon, not an airplane. Accompanying the article was an illustration of a football-shaped balloon. The airship was labeled the "Boston & Denver Flyer." The passengers were shown in an open gondola, and one person was in the process of being dropped in a parachute to Buffalo, N. Y. below.
The writer said scientists also warned that in the 20th century nations "would be ready to cast about for means of attaining supremacy in the matter of air power."
"Even war is to be robbed of its ghastliness" because "machines will do the fighting of the future and sustain all the hard knocks, their human manipulators being out of range," the 1900 writer reported. His sources believed war "will come to be mere duels between automatons, and broke metal will figure in the casualty lists instead of broken bones."
More details on Hamilton's welcome of the 20th century will be covered in a future column.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 1997
20th century welcome was noisy affair
By Jim Blount
"This morning's sun rose clear and bright, flooding the first day of a new year and a new century in Hamilton with a glorious light, prophetic of the glory and the light of a greater civilization and of advancement in all lines of human life and ingenuity expected in the greatest century which has yet advanced upon the old world," said the Hamilton Democrat in describing the start of the 20th century.
It was Tuesday, Jan. 1, 1901, and there was no radio or television to report and record the transition from the 19th century. Newspapers provided adequate coverage of local and national observances of the event.
Individuals could exchange new year and new century greetings to distant relatives and friends via the telegraph. A few Hamiltonians also had telephones by Jan. 1, 1901.
The Hamilton celebration the previous night had been scheduled to start "at 11:28, which is midnight sun time, and the din will be kept up until 12 o'clock standard time so that the new century will thus be properly welcomed." The new century was "welcomed both in a varied, but most royal fashion," the Democrat reported.
Many Hamilton churches held watchnight services. Most participants in those solemn events later joined the noisy countdown.
"Along about 11:30 p.m. or 11:40, the whistles of the shops and engines about the city began to blow long, sharp blasts," the newspaper said. The new year and new century "were welcomed with a great din, rivaling bedlam itself in its terrific outburst of shrieking whistles, clanging bells, the crack of firearms, and of fire crackers and the wild and almost hideous shouts and yells of hordes of human beings."
The reporter said "the noise which filled the city was deafening." Although boisterous, the celebrants were law-abiding. Police records showed only five arrests overnight. Three were tramps charged with loitering when found in a railroad yard. They were ordered to leave town. Other arrests included one on intoxication and another for assault.
The 1900 census had counted 56,870 people in Butler County, about a sixth of the present population. The count included 9,215 in Middletown and 23,914 in Hamilton.
More than one in eight Hamiltonians had been born in a foreign nation, and less than one in 50 was an African-American.
Writers looking ahead promised Hamiltonians of all backgrounds that they could expect their lives to improve in the 20th century.
"What will be the conditions of life, especially what the degree of immunity from grinding toil, from hunger and from disease, in the year 2001?" asked a syndicated writer in an article published in the Democrat.
"It may be assumed that in the United States, if anywhere, the progress will be steady for another century," he assumed. "The danger to health of massing millions of people in cities must be overcome by scientific appliances and discoveries."
"The water of the future city will be pure, the temperature will be equalized, food will be scientifically preserved and prepared, and men will more and more obey the common sense laws of health, avoiding extremes of exertion and stimulation."
When that was written in 1900, life expectancy was 48 years for American males and 51 for females. By 1996, less than 100 years later, the U. S. averages had risen to 72.7 years for men and 79.4 for women.
The improvement in those averages would please the 1901 Democrat writer who expected the 20th century, regarding "advancement . . . of human life and ingenuity," to be "the greatest century" in history.
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