It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Worst of Times:
Beertown in 1933 & 1983
By David James Guy
Thompson High Essay Contest
March 31, 1989
When I was little my Grandmother Eveline used to tell me stories about life during Prohibition. She worked as a secretary for Mr. Kugelhopf, who was the Brewery Manager then. B&T Brewery was still operating, but there were a lot fewer workers than there were before. They mostly made things like “near beer” which had virtually no alcohol. They also made something called “Malt Syrup” which they sold as medicine (but Grandma Evy said that the only way it really worked was as a laxative).
But she also said that secretly, the brewery still made small amounts of real beer. Since this was a very risky thing to do, they had to be very careful to not get caught. There were several ways that they smuggled the beer out. Some of the delivery trucks had a fake gas tank that would be filled with beer. My Grandmother even said that a few times she carried several bottles of beer out herself, hidden in her bag. Then she would deliver it to someone just across the state line. People always think of bootleggers as being men with fast cars, always outrunning the police. While there is some truth to this, just as often the people who transported contraband ale were just innocent looking, everyday folks like my Grandma.
She was lucky she had a job. Unemployment was very high, and everyone did what they had to do to get by. Prohibition was a hard time for Beertown. But that all changed in 1933. On March 23rd of that year, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act. This made it legal to sell beer with a moderate amount of alcohol in it. The law took effect on April 7, 1933.
This momentous occasion was called New Beer’s Day! It was one of the biggest celebrations in the town’s history. There was a parade led by the Mayor, the town Aldermen, and the Daughters Of Ninkasi. The whole town marched triumphantly from the town square, down Main Street to the brewery. When they arrived, old Rhys Bramblethorpe himself ordered the gates opened and declared “Free beer for all!” Needless to say, it was quite a party.
On December 5th, the United States ratified the 21st Amendment, ending the dark specter of Prohibition once and for all. Just hours later, Rhys Bramblethorpe, Master Brewer and Town Founder, passed away quietly in his sleep. He was 94.
For Beertown, 1933 was the year everything started to turn around. The long winter of Prohibition was over. Though much of the country continued to be stuck in the throes of the Great Depression, Beertown would start to prosper once again. The future looked bright.
1983 was the year my dad lost his job. He worked in the Beertown Bottling Plant, just outside of town. His job was to keep the machines running, and to fix them when they broke down. A lot of people lost their jobs around then. The economy wasn’t great to begin with, and when the Brewery declared Chapter 11 and laid off many of its workers, it had a big effect on all the other businesses in town.
Dad tried hard, but he just couldn’t find a new job. Sometimes he was able to get work as a carpenter, building shelves and other things in big houses in some of the near by towns, but that didn’t happen very often, and he didn’t get paid a lot of money for it. We struggled a lot to get by. Mom worked more shifts at the grocery store, and had to get a part-time job at a drycleaners in Praline on top of that. I don’t think she liked her job very much. She wasn’t home a lot, but when she was, she yelled and got fed up a lot more. She would just say she was tired.
A lot of families we knew had to leave Beertown altogether. It was a very tough year to be a Beertonian, though I didn’t really understand that at the time. But I knew that something had changed, especially for my Dad. He seemed sad all the time. Sometimes he would get on his motorcycle and be gone for days. At the time I would get upset that I didn’t get the toys I wanted for Christmas, and that we wouldn’t go to the movies like we used to, but now I realize that my parents were doing the best they could.
1983 was also the year that Ada Dot Beckner, lifelong Beertonian, passed away at the age of 86. She was the head of the Daughters of Ninkasi, and an old friend of my Grandmother. I remember Grandma Evy being terribly sad to lose such a dear friend. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think that many people felt that, with her death, we lost the last person who was a strong leader in our town.
A huge number of people turned out for the funeral service. Like a somber echo of that festive parade decades earlier, the mourners, including Grandma Evy, walked down Main Street to the old cemetery, where she was buried not far from Rhys Bramblethorpe.