Today marks the 80th anniversary of the United States' repeal of Prohibition. This isn't a big red-letter day on my calendar, but I'm aware of it this year for two reasons: First, I'm reading a great book about America in the late 1920s. The author, Bill Bryson, makes a case about how destructive Prohibition was economically, politically and socially. (He thinks it was stupid.)
The other reason is that I recently came across an organization on social media called The Whiskey City Collaborative, which is trying to revitalize my hometown of Peoria, Illinois. Peoria was The Whiskey City for a large part of its history -- in fact, taxes on alcohol generated the most internal revenue on alcohol in any district in the nation.
Growing up in Peoria, I never heard much about the town's boozy roots. This may be because I grew up in a house where no one drank alcohol. My extended family, for the most part, didn't drink alcohol.
This will probably surprise people who read my Facebook page, which is a virtual catalog of libations, particularly beer. Obviously there came a point in my life where I decided that alcohol would be part of my life -- even as I recognize the societal ills it can carry.
But the convergence of Bryson's book and the Whiskey City have made me think, What effect did Prohibition have on my hometown? Did people lose their homes? I know there were plenty of speakeasies and even organized crime in Peoria during Prohibition, but I wonder what happened to the people who lost their jobs at distilleries. What happened to the old brewery buildings? What was the immediate effect of Prohibition?
And how did people celebrate in Peoria 80 years ago today?
I feel a research project coming on.