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U.S. News
18: Prohibition

Wednesday, November 27, 2002


After a generation of agitation by the temperance movement, Congress outlawed the sale and importation of alcoholic beverages. The morning the amendment went into force, July 16, 1920, evangelist Billy Sunday held a mock funeral over the body of John Barleycorn and declared: "The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent."

By 1926, the Treasury Department was meeting an unprecedented demand for $10,000 notes -- a sure sign of large, cash transactions among bootleggers. The American lexicon had a new noun: speakeasy. New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia would testify before the Senate judiciary committee and inform them, "It is impossible to tell whether Prohibition is a good thing or a bad thing. It has never been enforced in this country."

Certainly Prohibition was not being enforced on Fourth Avenue in Patton, Cambria County. There, a butcher shop featured a trap door that led downstairs to a dank, but well-stocked cellar where trusted visitors could enjoy a range of high-octane beverages smuggled from Canada. When the supply ran short, a bartender could skitter through the tunnel that ran from the basement, under the alley and into a garage where the cases were kept. Scott Scheirer, above, and partner Cory McNutt bought the place a few years back. "I realized what was going on when I noticed parts of the yard collapsing," Scheirer says. Today the tunnel is sealed, the Miners' Rest Hotel is a restaurant and, under powers delegated to the states when Prohibition ended, is still waiting for a license to serve alcohol.

18th Amendment :

Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2. The Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.

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