March 25, 1929: 305 gallons of liquor poured down the drain in Duluth’s city Hall

On this day in Duluth in 1929, Duluth officials dumped 305 gallons of confiscated liquor down the drain in the basement of city hall. The city estimated the retail cost of the liquor at $21,960—nearly $300,000 in today’s dollars. The city, along with the rest of the nation, was under the law of Prohibition; the liquor had been confiscated during various raids over the previous six weeks and stored at city hall until it was no longer needed as evidence. Once a case was cleared, the liquor was dumped—if the amount was relatively small. For larger caches, police waited until they had time to spend half a day pouring booze into the sewer, the result of which, the Duluth Herald joked, was “stimulating the fish in Lake Superior.” The March 1929 “dumping party” included Duluth Police Department patrolmen Victor Isaackson and Paul Strange along with sergeant Frank Lake, who was in charge of the DPD’s liquor and vice squad. Sgt. Lake declared that Duluth was drying up rapidly, thanks in part to the new Jones Act which had gone into effect earlier that month, and essentially said that anyone violating the 1919 Volstead Act, which established Prohibition, could be fined up to $10,000 and imprisoned up to five years. Lake felt that the law caused many bootleggers to “suspend business rather than run risks of being caught.” Two days before the liquor dump, St. Louis County Sheriff Frank Magie’s “raiders” confiscated a 150-gallon still capable of “turning out moonshine at the rate of sixty gallons a day” along with “dozens of barrels;” they also destroyed 700 gallons of mash.

This sketch of the 1928 accompanied a handout published that year, not only touting the new building, but commenting on all the other investments the city had made that year. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

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