Thursday, October 11, 2012

Moonshining Miners

Just back from a visit back East to see Mom and the family. It was fun in both the planning and execution of it all. Met Cousin Steve and his wife and their grand-baby at the mall after Mom got her hair done on Friday morning. You can't tell me Steve and Kitty don't love that little one! Always great to see the love of family passed from one generation to the next:)

There were wonderful other happenings that I'll blog about in the coming days: a fascinating author of local history came for coffee after her last class on Friday, and a trip to the Frostburg Museum with Aunt Betty and her good friend, Shirley. Plus, Mom and I had a blast digging around her archive! The dust was flying off the files on the "back shelf"!

Here's a photo of little Frostburg, all nestled into the fall foliage of scenic Western Maryland... then I'll tell you a story:)

Frostburg, Maryland, Fall 2012
I picked up two books by Betty VanNewkirk about Frostburg: Windows to the Past, and Kalidascope. They are both collections of essays written for the Cumberland Times-News newspaper. Here's a link: . Betty taught at Frostburg State University for many years as did her husband, whom I think I had as a professor. I believe Mom told me that Betty just celebrated her 97th birthday!
One of the articles in her first compilation, Windows to the Past - simply titled "Prohibition", on page 61 - illuminates the difficulties and amusement surrounding the enforcement of the Volstead Act along the George's Creek coal mining area. My GGF, Daniel Williams, was a miner there. He died before all the turmoil over prohibition but never mind because he was a non-drinker anyway. His boys, however, were drinking men:) 
Windows give a clear analysis of the situation: the miners went out on strike, and times were hard but not impossible because the miners had savings accounts, owned their homes, had chickens for eggs and meat, perhaps a cow, and of course gardens. The United Mine Workers sent care packages that included corn to be used as chicken feed. The miners, ever resourceful, saw the possibility of turning the corn into mash and that mash into moonshine. And moonshine was a hot commodity during prohibition!
The town officials knew what was going on but didn't want to get between the revenuers and their miner neighbors. As Mrs. VanNewkirk writes:

They worried about the situation - but their real concern was for the town's precious water supply. They estimated that there were 100 stills operating within the city limits, each one requiring a half-inch stream of water running over the coils for 24 hours at a time; the Frostburg reservoir wasn't up to that demand!
She goes on to explain the percent of alcohol in beer and how it was tweaked over time. Interestingly, when the revenue agents finally caught up with the moonshiners and confiscated the wares, they "followed up with the pronouncement that local moonshine was the best to be had anywhere in the State." That had to be the best advertising that a moonshiner could get!
Copies of Betty VanNewkirk's excellent and entertaining book can be had from the Frostburg Museum. Call for information on ordering. Here's the link:
Photo of the Day from Aunt Betty's Archive:
GGF Daniel William's home in Ocean Maryland,
center of the George's Creek mining activity...
and Prohibitoin Era moonshining.

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