The Lager Beer Riot

Apr
16
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Raise a glass to the Lager Beer Riot! It exposed a strain of bigotry that ran through the Temperance movement and opened doors to recreation.

In the 1840s, Chicago’s population expanded with the influx in immigrants. Irish escaped the Great Famine. Germans sought to escape European unrest. Both nationalities brought Catholicism, an anti-English sentiment and a strong community tavern cultures. The working class Irish and Germans faced six-day workweeks. Illinois would not see eight-hour workday legislation until 1867. Sundays were days for the Irish and Germans to unwind and get together with their neighbors in local taverns.

Know nothing

Mayor Levi Boone had been elected as part of the anti-immigration American Party. They were also knows as the Know-Nothings as the semi-secret nature of the party encouraged the members to say, “I know nothing,” when asked about their activities. Boone enforced a blue law that closed taverns on convivial Sundays. He struck at the tavern owners and bar keepers by raising the annual liquor licenses from $50 to $300, which would be renewable on a quarterly basis.

Several owners and two hundred beer drinkers were arrested after the prohibition was implemented. On April 21, 1855, they had a hearing at the Cook County Court House. The Lager Beer Riot broke out. Mayor Boone ordered bridges to be raised to prevent the passage of the hundreds of protesters. Police fired shots at those who were stuck on the Clark Street Bridge. Officer George W. Hunt was shot in the arm by rioter Peter Martin. Police retaliated by shooting and killing Martin. He was the only fatality of the riot. Sixty arrests were made. The presence of loaded cannons encouraged rumors that more deaths occurred.

As a result of his actions, Boone would not run for office again in 1856, and Chicago repealed the prohibition. The city would open its tavern doors again and the beer would flow, at least until 1920 when there was another massively unsuccessful Prohibition.

Pocket Guide to Hell and Marz Community Brewing Company present a reenactment of the Lager Riot at Benton House (3052 Ma Benton Lane in Chicago, IL). The riot and beer tasting will be held a dodgeball game in the Benton House gymnasium as cops vs. bar owners from 6 to 9pm on April 25. Tickets and information are available at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-lager-beer-riot-fundraiser-tickets-16069291684.

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Topics: Chicago, History

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