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updated: 10/24/2012 8:02 AM

Arlington Hts. stories: War, booze and gambling

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  • Julius Flentie, mayor 1927-1941

    Julius Flentie, mayor 1927-1941
    Courtesy of the Arlington Heights Historical Socie

  • American House Tavern was one of the early drinking establishments in Arlington Heights.

    American House Tavern was one of the early drinking establishments in Arlington Heights.
    Courtesy Arlington Heights Historical Society

  • Carl Skoog

    Carl Skoog
    Courtesy of the Arlington Heights Historical Socie

By Gerry Souter
Special to the Daily Herald

In 1917, Arlington Heights became part of the national mobilization, sending fathers and sons to the battlegrounds of France. Following the turmoil, in 1919 and 1920 two social issues came to a head: women got the vote and booze got the boot. When the doughboys came home from war, they couldn't buy a drink to celebrate. Emboldened groups like the Women's Christian Temperance Union, backed by the federal government, demanded enforcement of a dry America.

Arlington Heights had its own Temperance Movement reaching back to 1910, but it had been a minority gathering due to the large German beer-loving population among the farmers and Slovaks in the local factories. For decades, Italians made their wine and the Yankees fermented their applejack.

For years, the Anti-Saloon league made concerted efforts to close the five saloons in the village. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution did the trick, drying up the saloons and putting Meyer's Blatz beer distributorship out of business.

@$ID/NormalParagraphStyle: Daisy Paddock Daniels, Prairieville, USA, Ibid

Feeling their patriotic rights had been trampled upon, many village residents joined millions of Americans in defying the Prohibition law. People who had rarely taken a drink brewed up concoctions from dandelions, cherries, plums and grapes. They exchanged recipes over the back fence, and dipped out their first ladles of homemade gin from their bathtubs. It was said driving through some neighborhoods with the car windows open could create a buzz from the cooking stills and simmering pots.

Police Chief Carl Skoog claimed all he had to do was "follow my nose" to the 1,500-gallon operations. Restaurants and road houses contracted with local suppliers -- and, eventually, with the Roger Touhy and Terry Druggan mobs -- for spirits served in coffee cups. Neighborhoods turned in some of the high-volume offenders when the noise of the trucks coming and going disturbed their sleep and the stink of leftover corn mash spoiled dinnertimes. Houses had 500-gallon St. Louis distilling towers shoved up through first-floor ceilings. Noisy visits by federal officers became routine.

Illegal booze traffic brought the mob, who now reached out to the suburbs, using intimidation to install slot machines and punch cards in local businesses.

In the early 1930s, the Great Depression crushed down on virtually every aspect of village life. Reeling beneath the "double whammy" of Prohibition and Depression, the village government was forced to go to extremes for survival. To aid the police in shutting down stills, trustees were deputized and given shotguns to make flying raids.

For the gambling problem, Mayor Julius Flentie had another solution.

The mayor cut a deal with the mob. The slots and boards could stay, but the village got a rake off the top of the take. Chief Skoog was incorruptible so the mob agreed. With that money, the village bought a tractor, built a grandstand for the baseball field, bought 800 feet of new fire hose and a Buick Roadmaster police car.

@$ID/NormalParagraphStyle: Beth Willwerth, 'The Great Depression: The Village Pulls Together,' Chronicle of a Prairie Town, Ibid.

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