ON June 30, 1919, American citizens surged into saloons to clink their last glasses of hard liquor, and staggered out. At one minute past midnight on the “thirsty-first,” Pittsburgh and everyplace else was subjected to the Wartime Prohibition Act, the “dry law,” which was a warmup before the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect in January. Newspapers ran front-page obituaries for John Barleycorn; mock funerals were held in men’s clubs, kegs laid out in caskets, whiskey bottles stuffed with black roses. There was an epidemic of hangovers. Many proprietors announced their intention to remain open with the 2.75% beer temporarily tolerated by the Allegheny County DA on tap. No mention was made of crates of ardent spirits stashed in the back; winks went unreported. Over at Epiphany Church, Father O’Connell could have his sacramental wine at Mass and doctors’ prescriptions of alcohol for internal ailments would be honoured “when the patient is under constant supervision.” No refills.
Irish, Italian, and German Americans in the big eastern cities were outraged at this intrusion by blue-nosed busybodies with nothing better to do. At least one Catholic congressman would submit a bill of repeal. “A hard fight looms,” said a headline.