Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Talking Prohibition at the Rathskeller

 Last night I had the honor of taking part in a public discussion about Prohibition.  Sponsored by the Indiana Humanities Council and the Indiana Historical Society, a special "Chew on This" event was held around the city.  The venues were largely historic eateries/bars, and the topic of conversation was on Prohibition's legacy, inspired by Ken Burn's PBS miniseries.  My venue was the Rathskeller, the German bar and restaurant in the historic Athenaeum.

In some senses, this was taking the dry message into the heart of enemy territory, literally.  In Shumaker's time, the neighborhood around the Rathskeller was the heart of Indianapolis's German neighborhood.  Nearby St. Mary's Catholic Church was the "German parish", while just down the way is Lockerbie United Methodist Church (where German Protestants worshiped).

The Athenaeum was the center of German life and culture in the city.  Included in the founders were the Vonnegut and Lieber families.  Author Kurt Vonnegut's bust adorned the room (the Vonnegut Room) we were in, his father's family had helped design and build the Athenaeum.  His maternal grandfather was Albert Lieber, who headed the Indianapolis Brewing Company and headed a national brewing association in the years before Prohibition as well.

The event went very well.  There were about thirteen people (including one of my former Butler students) gathered for our conversation, complete with drinks and good German apps!  There were many good questions and nice conversation over the course of about an hour and a half.  After our time together, we went upstairs to be joined by the other participants (one nice thing about the Rathskeller as a venue, we didn't have to go anywhere else) for a burlesque show, complete with historic actors from the Historical Society's "Prohibition" exhibit (complete with police officers and WCTU advocates).

If this is my final "Shumaker" event, it was a great way to end it.  Of course, I thought that in January at AHA, and again in July (when I spoke at the Indiana Historical Society), so I guess we'll see!

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