March 3, 2015

1915: Prohibition Threatens to Close Prescott's Library

As the New Year dawned on 1915, everyone knew the saloons of Whiskey Row would be closed, but realization quickly set in that Prescott's library would be next.

Voter initiated Prohibition just went into effect in Arizona. But the drying up of legal liquor also meant the drying up of city tax revenues on the sales and licensing of alcohol. This led the town fathers into making some tough decisions and severe cuts to public services.

The library, for example, required an annual budget of $600 ($24,000 in today's dollars) and the money was simply not going to be raised by the city in 1915 to keep the institution open.


Letters to the editor of the Prescott Journal Miner on the subject were several and varied.  One writer thought that those who used the library should pay for it themselves.  He suggested a list of subscription fees that would be the equivalent of a modern cable bill.

Another writer felt that local churches should take on the responsibility.  He thought that the cause of the library was a better use of church money rather than "bringing in an endless parade of out-of-town evangelists."

Still another writer thought that a new general tax should be levied.  He pointed out that state law provided for local municipalities with a population over 5000 to tax for the purpose of having a free library.  But it was unsure if the population of Prescott had reached that point yet and getting that tax money in place would take too long to keep the library doors open presently.

It was finally decided by a committee of three prominent Prescott women to try to raise the necessary funds the evening of January 14th through the day on the 15th.  First the Elk's Theater, which was the premier place for entertainment back then, donated half the receipts of that night to the cause. After the evening's entertainment concluded at the Elk's, a benefit dance was held at the Congress Hotel where more money was raised.

The colorful, true crime story of the career of bootlegger Dutch John Berent in 1916-1917 Prescott, AZ.

Finally, during the workday that Friday, an army of Prescott ladies swarmed downtown requiring all passers-by to purchase a "tag" for passage.  The Journal Miner reported that these women definitely would not take no for an answer: "It was either dig up or go way back out of sight and sit down."

A reading of the account makes one picture a near shake-down. "And strangers to the city were no exception." One wholesaler who "just got off the train was immediately attacked."  He insisted, "I don't need a tag. I'm just a pickle man." That excuse was met with this saucy reply by two young ladies: "Our tags don't need to be pickled, but we need to be tickled, and the only way is to hear the jingle of your coin for a tag."

So, the titillation behind the modern "bikini-carwash" fundraiser may not be so novel after all.

The account of how Arizona's First Territorial Capital In Prescott moved to Tucson in 1867.

The tag sale alone netted $375 (that's $15,000 today!) Many businessmen gave the equivalent of several hundred dollars, with at least two giving what would be $1000 today.  (That is a lot of tickles!) Ultimately, the tag sale along with the Elk's proceeds and the benefit dance saved the day.  More than the required $600 was raised to operate the library for the year.

The very next day, a brand new ad appeared in the Journal Miner:

"WANTED: Librarian for Prescott Public Library...Must be a resident of Prescott."

Tourist Tips:

The Prescott Public Library is located in the downtown area at 215 E. Goodwin St. and offers many programs and events.
CLICK HERE for The Prescott Public Library Website and click on the "Calendar" Tab to check on events there during your visit!

Prescott Journal-Miner 12/15/1914; 1/10/1915; 1/16/1915.

"Today's Dollars" are based on the average weekly wage for each time period ($25 versus $1000.)


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