Prohibition in the United States

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach, right, is watching agents pour liquor into the sewer following a raid during the height of prohibition. This wasn’t the only way the government attempted to stop illegal drinking.

History is full of interesting facts, and although local history is what usually appears in my articles, it is sometimes a welcome change to write about facts and events that are a bit more global. This week, for a change in pace, I thought I'd offer some historical tidbits that I find not only amusing, but interesting as well. Enjoy!

Poisoned alcohol

Prohibition of alcohol is one of America's more favorite topics when it comes to history. It's not hard to understand why. One could even argue that the events to follow prohibition were a demonstration of the American spirit (no pun intended).

Much like the colonials who protested taxes by dumping tea into a harbor, those who stood against prohibition (at least some) could be seen as standing up for their rights as Americans. The United States Government, however, was not going to stand for such law breaking within its borders.

One of the deterrents tried by the government was to poison alcohol and then set it out for easy "lifting" by bootleggers.

Captain Morgan

I'm sure there is somebody reading this who has tasted the sweet taste of Captain Morgan rum. Even if you haven't, you're likely familiar with the swashbuckling cartoon captain who stands proud on the bottle's label.

What not everybody knows, however, is that Captain Morgan was a real man — a Welsh privateer who fought alongside the English against Spain in the Caribbean. His real name was Henry Morgan, and he was even knighted by the King of England — an honor that is held in high esteem, but maybe not as memorable as being on a bottle of "Captain."


Queen of the Nile. Close your eyes and imagine Cleopatra. My guess is that she looks like the classic ancient Egyptian — dark eyes, tanned skin, black hair and so on. In case you didn’t know, Cleopatra was the last active ruler of the Kingdom of Egypt. She was born in 69 B.C. and died in 30 B.C.

What few people know about Cleopatra, however, is that she was not of Egyptian descent. Rather, the last Queen of Egypt was Greek. Not only was she Greek, but she was also a descendant of Alexander the Great.

Berry-Lincoln Bar

The 16th President of the United States is known for many things. Most notably, President Lincoln was the man who guided the United States during the Civil War, effectively freed the slaves, and was then assassinated at the war's end. Lincoln is such a force in American history that he's basically now a folk hero.

Lincoln had a "tough" side to him as well. He was a wrestler and is said to have won more than 300 matches, and he was also a licensed bartender. At one time Lincoln is said to have opened a bar with William F. Berry. The bar was short-lived, however, as the supply of liquor was diminished faster than it could be sold — Berry was accused of consuming it all.

The Puritans, Thanksgiving and religious freedom

With Thanksgiving fresh on the mind, you may have recently thought of the Puritans.

As the story goes, the Puritans left the Old World in search of religious freedom, struggled across the Atlantic and barely survived in their new homes. It was only through the goodwill of the Native Americans that these newcomers were able to survive. As thanks, the Puritans held a great feast and invited their indigenous neighbors to partake.

As usual, a deeper dive into history shows a little different story.

Firstly, the Protestant "separatists" left Holland because they offered too much religious freedom. The Puritans were trying to get away from Judaism, Catholicism and even atheism.

In the New World, they entered a political landscape dominated by powerful "nations" of Native Americans where violence and murder reigned. In truth, the Pilgrims were being used as a pawn by their neighbors. Though they were aided by the locals, when the Pilgrims did have a harvest feast, they did not invite the people that helped them to create the feast. Rather, the Native Americans that appeared crashed the party.

I will say, however, that though our accepted version of Thanksgiving is not entirely true, there is nothing wrong with teaching it as it demonstrates goodwill, giving thanks, and helping a neighbor in need — all the things that are good in humanity.

Brian Haines is executive director of the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum, 380 School Road N.W., Hutchinson. Do you have a historical anecdote to share? Haines can be reached at 320-587-2109 or by email at

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