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Book Review: Twin Cities Prohibition—Minnesota’s Blind Pigs & Bootleggers

Posted on by Eric Burke

Before it closed, I visited the exhibit: American Spirits, the rise and fall of Prohibition at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. I found it to be a very nice exhibit. Informative, entertaining. I saw a lot of cool artifacts and even learned a thing or two. If it comes to your area, I highly recommend it. 

After exiting the exhibit, I decided to visit the book store to see if I might find a book on the subject to pick up. I surely did. There was, of course, Last Call by Daniel Okrent. A book that while informative, had me giggling at the lengths people went to get a drink. I’d read it before and loved it. Right next to it was another promising sounding book. The title? Twin Cities Prohibition: Minnesota’s Blind Pigs & Bootleggers by Elizabeth Johanneck. This sounded perfect. A local slant on what I’d read about in other books. It was twenty dollars and short, but since I’m guessing the purchase goes to help the History Center I figured, what the heck? 

I should have kept looking. 

This title is very misleading. This is a collection of rambling, second or third-hand stories that relate the dirtier side of Minnesota in the first half of the Twentieth Century. In and of itself, this would be fine as you could see how that could be organized under a Prohibition theme. Before. During. Legacy. This is not how it is organized. Or if it is, there are no sign posts along the way. 

The subtitle claims stories about Minnesota’s Blind Pigs and Bootleggers, but spends more time on the crooked politicians and businessmen. The “Masters of the Universe” as the author calls them. The only mention of the illicit liquor dispensaries were chatty blog post-like descriptions of her visits to the modern-day businesses that happen to be in the same buildings. 

In it’s short 160 page length, I learned that the man who built the Foshay Tower was crooked, but that it now houses the swank W Minneapolis Hotel. I learned that the governor during prohibition was dirty, but also considered one of the greatest governors the state has known. That there were a bunch of robberies and murders in the first half of the Twentieth Century. And I learned that the author has an almost religious hatred of the Federal Reserve. I learned very little about Prohibition in the Twin Cities, the speakeasies or the bootleggers. 

I did learn to read the reviews before impulse buying a book though. I started out really wanting to like this. I mean, Prohibition is one of my favorite American History topics. But now? Now I just want my lunch breaks back for the week I spent reading this.