August 18 , 2014
One of the many jobs Carl Sandburg held during his youth was cleaning the drugstore owned by Harvey A. Craig at 324 East Main Street. He arrived at 7:00 in the morning to sweep the floors, chamois fingerprints off the glass showcases and re-fill bottles of medicine, including various kinds of spirits. Large containers of chemicals were stored in the basement. There were also barrels of port, claret, whiskey and rum. Carl's job was to put the contents into smaller containers for the druggist to dispense.
Carl tasted some of Harvey Craig's inventory. The port tasted better than he expected. Whiskey didn't appeal to him, but there was some twenty-year-old rum that was “as grand and insinuating” as could be. He allowed himself only “a half-mouthful” per day.
Sandburg came from a family of abstainers with one exception. His father August would purchase a pint of grain alcohol at the beginning of winter. After a hard day's work in the railroad blacksmith shop he would put a teaspoon of the alcohol into his coffee and enjoy every sip. The bottle was made to last until spring. The Sandburg, the Krans and the Holmes families had better uses for their money than buying alcohol.
Carl had taken a pledge at the Mission Sunday School to never drink intoxicating beverages. Like the other children, he may not have understood all the words used in the pledge. Even though he tasted Dr. Craig's intoxicating beverages, Carl was still concerned about what they could do to him. He remembered the lessons of his grade school teacher describing the ruinous things alcohol could do to one's body.
Galesburg was established as a “dry” town from the very beginning in 1837. The founders were temperance people. They insisted that every deed for a parcel of real estate include a clause prohibiting alcohol in any form.
The sale of liquor in Galesburg was not licensed until1872. When Knox County was formed in 1830, the first tax it levied was for a liquor license. In those days whiskey and hard cider were the drinks of choice.
By the 1880s there were thirty saloons in the city. There were no saloons located on Main Street. An effort was made by the city fathers to keep the taverns out of the sight of people going to church. The elite of the community did not drink at home or at social events, although there were a few who spiked the punch at their New Year's Eve parties. The town wavered back and forth over the regulation of the sale of alcohol a number of times, depending upon who had been elected as mayor and members of the city council.
Those wishing to hide their drinking, purchased alcohol at the several drugstores on Main Street. They even went so far as to acquire a doctor's prescription. It was considered a stimulant which helped with some health conditions. It was alleged some druggists would sell the product out of the back door, even on Sundays.
Women were against drinking alcoholic beverages of any kind. They knew that husbands and fathers who drank to excess deprived their families of food and other necessities. In 1914, shortly before the First World War began, women in Galesburg were allowed to vote for the first time on an issue of public policy. They overwhelming cast their votes against licensing the sale of alcohol by the drink. The town would stay “dry” until the end of Prohibition in 1933.