08 Oct Chicago—Home of the Finest Saloons!
The personalities that erupted during Prohibition really made it a spectacular experiment. There were few personalities as imposing as Carrie Nation’s. Carrie often went by the name, Carry A. Nation, as a play on her name and a slogan for her one-woman vendetta against alcohol. She actually trademarked the variation of the spelling of her own name and claimed she was carrying a nation towards Prohibition.
What makes Nation stand out in during a time of complete mayhem was her approach to temperance. While most of the pro-Prohibition crew at the time preached moral values, Christianity, happier marriages, and essentially looked like grandmotherly librarian types, Nation went extreme.
When Prohibition became the law in her home state of Kansas she was not content to just have the law on the books. She actually wanted it enforced. She quickly became well known for using rocks to destroy bottles of liquor and saloon windows. She’s also rumored to have used bottles and bats to accomplish her mission. Because “murder mills,” Nation’s preferred term for saloons were illegal, the police couldn’t actually charge her with destruction of anyone’s property. This realization seemed to be what spurred Nation on to further her efforts NATIONwide (pun, very obviously intended).
After her early forays into destruction of property, Nation went all in and started using a hatchet to destroy alcohol, which even the Kansas police had to admit was a crime. In a ten year span between 1900 and 1910, Nation was arrested thirty times for using her hatchet to make the State of Kansas dry.
If ever there was a city that would present a significant challenge to Nation, it had to be Chicago. And so it’s only natural that Carrie Nation eventually made her way to Chicago by train to further her cause. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported each of her steps in the windy city on February 13, 1901. By 11:45AM that morning, she had already convinced a bartender at Harry McCall’s to clothe a nude statue. With the remainder of her day, she entered City Hall to verbally abuse Mayor Harrison, ridiculed patrons of a Turkish Bath, and visited at least three separate saloons to provide lectures, one that employed her grandson as a bartender. Surprisingly, Nation gave a positive review of Chicago, calling its saloons the most “dreadful” because they were the finest in all the land! Good job, Chicago! There was nowhere else in the nation that she thought more needed her activism.
Spoiler alert: there is no evidence that she took a hatchet to any of the city’s finest establishments!
Was Nation just really passionate or crazy? Like everything in the 1920’s, it’s complicated. Alcohol did play strange roles in Nation’s life. Her first husband, Dr. Charles Gloyd, was an alcoholic. Their daughter had emotional challenges that Nation believed were caused by her husband’s alcoholism. In an ironic twist of fate befitting of the early Prohibition days, Nation was supported in her last days by her son-in-law and the profits he earned from his—can you guess?—saloons in Texas. Though she died before the Volstead Act was ratified, she was an early, very strange pioneer on behalf of nationwide Prohibition.
But can you imagine if she had lived long enough to meet Capone in a saloon in Chicago?
Written by Amy Williams