I live on a great block, on a grand street, in a fantastic neighborhood in a fine community.
I love Sherman Park. The place is vibrant, alive and fraught with history. A few days ago a neighbor on the block e-mailed me a video clip of an 8mm film that his parents made in 1947. The clip showed our neighborhood after a big snowstorm had rolled through the winter of 47. Wow! I could see my alley, garage and front yard as it looked 50 years ago.
I’ve said it before but my street in Sherman Park is the Urban Mayberry.
Recently a new family moved onto our block in Mayberry. Their new house is an Art and Crafts Bungalow like all of the houses on the block. It was a blast to help our friends move in and even a bigger thrill checking out the house in an empty state.
Empty houses have a vibe. Empty houses have history, and this empty house has a secret.
While checking out a section of the spacious basement we saw a shelf, a bookcase that looked out of place. The layout was cool. Stained glass leaded windows, built-in oak benches… an open space for dancing or standing and a bookcase.
The owner of the house saw me looking, smiled and walked over and removed a shelf from the case. In the back of the bookcase was a lever set in the groove that held the removed shelf.
“What’s that for?” The owner continued to smile as she pulled the lever, and then pushed the back of the bookcase further into the wall only to reveal a hidden compartment. A secret room that was (get this) full of booze! Shine, hooch or whatever they called adult beverages back in the 1920’s and 30’s. Yes my friends this house, on this grand block, on a great street in a fantastic community, used to be (70 years ago) a Speak Easy!
Prohibition was the law. Drinking adult beverages was illegal and our neighborhood, the city; the whole darn country was dry, dry dry! The “Doughboys” who returned from WWI returned to a dry country. They could fight and die for liberty but they couldn’t drink a beer at home. The temperance movement became so powerful that this simple vice was vanquished from the land.
Or so some thought.
Prohibition my have been law but it was a stupid law and one that many people invest a considerable amount of money to get around. Some have argued that it was the Prohibition movement that gave rise to organized crime and the likes of Al Capone and other infamous mobsters.
Standing before me were bottles of liquor that were deemed contraband a mere 60 years ago. They were caked in dust; stacked in racks, ready to serve, long forgotten.
Makes you think, doesn’t it... The lengths that people will go to, the chances they will take to get what they want. A blind pig, a speak easy in a residential neighborhood built during the very decade that prohibition became the law of the land.
So Governor Doyle wants to raise the tax on cigarettes by a buck fifty and outlaw smoking in all public buildings (except casinos, of course). Will it stop there? How long will it be before you can’t smoke in your car or in your own home? Before you scoff, remember restaurants and bars are PRIVATE PROPERTY and yet citizens in the name of “the common good” have given government the right to violate its citizens’ freedoms. Kind of reminds me of the temperance movement.
History is rhyming. Generations are repeating.
This ban will pass. This ban will soon be the law of the land. Prohibition became the law of the land in 1920. My neighbor’s house was built in 1927. I wonder what impact the new prohibition will have on the future architectural plans of bars, restaurants and some homes in the fine state of Wisconsin? Will the increase in the cigarette tax create a new black market for cigarettes?
How will Governor Doyle’s decision affect our great city, our state, the individual rights of citizens and the properties that they own?