The Grand Days of Prohibition
When you hear about prohibition (in the USA during 1920-1933 alcohol was illegal) , people tend to glamorize how the sneaky partiers were always one step ahead of Johnny Law. You hear about the glamorous secret parties, the underground tunnels between establishments, and the bathtub homebrewers. It was a time where the little guy thumbed his nose at the law. Unfortunately it was not all fun and games. Prohibition was serious business.
The Italian Job
My great-grandfather, Louis Circo, was a poor Italian worker living with his family in Garcia Plaza (the tent city near Trinidad, Colorado). He had worked in the coal mines, but at the time he was out of work. Like so many others, he was desperate to make ends meet for his family. Circo was approached by another Italian man for a “job”. This story almost sounds like something out of a Godfather movie.
Louis Circo didn’t tell his family what he was doing. My great-grandmother Josephine knew something was up, because men would come to the door and my great-grandfather would leave with them. Josephine did not like the men and could tell they were up to no good. She wasn’t happy about the situation, but stayed quiet.
My great-grandfather was going up into the foothills to make bootleg whiskey. To this day, no one in the family knows exactly how the transactions went. We know there was one man who was the contact, and two other men who were not seen. The trio and Louis Circo were making bootleg whiskey in the foothills, but we’re not sure who was buying it. It was most likely the local underground bars in the neighboring towns or possibly organized crime. One day while travelling to the foothills, the bootlegging business did not go as planned.
My family thinks Louis Circo was sold out to protect a bigger operation. He might have just been unlucky. It’s a piece of the story we will never know. For some reason, the police followed him to the whiskey site. He was the only person arrested, and the only person of the group convicted of illegal bootlegging. Louis Circo spent six months in Canon City Penitentiary.
Naturally my great-grandmother was very upset and horribly humiliated. She was left to fend for herself during the depression with three children. She stayed with my great-grandfather, because no one divorced back then. My grandmother remembers going with her brother and sister to visit her father once a week while he was in prison.
When Louis Circo got home, things changed. He stayed at home and did the cooking and caring for the kids. My great-grandmother would work all day because it’s hard for ex-cons to find work, especially during this harsh period of American history. When she came home she would leave soon after. Their marriage didn’t end in divorce, but for all concerned it was over. The crime, the shame of the arrest and prison, and prohibition wrecked the family.
I can’t say he would not have run afoul with the law if prohibition did not happen, the times were hard. Prohibition provided the situation, and Louis Circo made a poor choice. I can see how the seriousness of the crime could be trivialized when the amendment banned alcohol. I do not believe I would give up homebrewing, especially since I’ve brewed for so many years. It is hard to think of alcohol as a crime.
When you raise a glass today, celebrate your right to a drink. Also remember the lives Prohibition harmed because someone thought to cure a headache with decapitation. The right to drink is a serious right, so make sure no one takes it from you ever again.
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I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!