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Robbers, gunfire and groundhogs under the influence during Prohibition in Carroll County

It was March 30, 1923, and Carroll County, like the rest of the nation, was in the depths of Prohibition.

Prohibition, known as the Volstead Act, did not go into effect throughout the nation until Jan. 20, 1920. But Carroll Countians had voted to outlaw the sale of alcohol in the county six years earlier, in 1914, according to research by historian Jay Graybeal for the Historical Society of Carroll County.

Prohibition remained the law of the land until the passage of the 21st Amendment on Dec. 5, 1933.

But until then, in Carroll County, Graybeal reports, "production at local distilleries continued even after Prohibition began. ... These rural distilleries became tempting targets for gangs. …"

On March 30, 1923, a local newspaper informed its readers that "About 25 men, all from Baltimore, it is reported, attempted to raid the McGinnis Distillery in Carroll County, just east of Westminster."

The article in the Westminster newspaper, the Democratic Advocate, reported that in the attempted heist, the guard on duty was prepared and defended the distillery from the would-be whiskey-robbers. "Guard Charles Thomson, who was on duty, was the target for the raiders. … They opened fire on Mr. Thomson, who returned it, and made it so hot for the gang that they retreated over the hills for safety. …

"Two men, Saturday morning, it is said, full of blood and mud, took the 6:30 a.m. train at Cranberry for Baltimore. It is evident that some of the gang received some of the buckshot in their hide, but none were seriously injured."

Although this 1923 attempt on the distillery ended in failure, a lengthy newspaper account from Jan. 8, 1926, detailed how a gang of 50 men literally attacked the distillery. The ensuing battle appears to have lasted for a considerable length of time, with even the Carroll County state's attorney and the sheriff joining the battle and being fired upon.

Other newspaper accounts of activity during Prohibition in Carroll County took a lighter approach. According to Graybeal, "An article from the May 30, 1924 issue of the Democratic Advocate newspaper about the discovery of bootleg hooch provided the writer, Ira N. Barnes of Freedom, with an opportunity to comment on Prohibition. …"

In an effort to properly dispose of the alcohol, Barnes "dumped the contents of the jars, one by one, into the secluded" home of a groundhog that had taken-up residence on the Barnes farm.

"The next night following this eventful discovery, a lone wanderer traveling down Morgan Run Valley was greatly surprised to observe by the light of the moon about a dozen ground-hogs engaged in a disgraceful tango, bunny-hug and turkey trot to the accompaniment of jazz music, furnished by a frog orchestra from an adjacent morass.

"A large number of sober animals ranged around viewing the performance were so completely scandalized at the affair that they were compelled to bow their head in shame, excepting a few old skunks."

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