WILLMAR (AP) -- Selling alcohol, watching movies on Sunday, and dancing are considered acceptable activities today, but were once outlawed or viewed as sinful in the past.
Reminders of these and other prohibited activities can be seen in an exhibit titled "No! No!" at the Kandiyohi County Historical Society Museum on North Business 71 in Willmar.
The exhibit displays objects that were or are considered immoral or shocking. Confiscated liquor bottles from the Prohibition era, century-old "racy" stereopticon views, and spittoons and other tobacco items are some of the obviously "sinful" pieces in the exhibit.
The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the manufacture, sale or transport of alcohol from 1920 to 1933. Before that time, many states from 1880 to 1914 either banned alcohol or gave communities the local option of banning the sale of alcohol.
Watching movies on Sunday in Willmar was prohibited until residents narrowly gave their approval in a 1931 special election. The vote was 1,083 yes to 1,041 no. In 1936, a plush new movie theater opened in downtown Willmar, and the first movie shown was "The Gorgeous Hussy."
Dancing was not allowed at Willmar High School until 1952 when city residents voted 1,392 to 1,042 in favor of lifting the ban on the activity.
Other exhibit items remind viewers that acceptable practices such as Sunday shopping or trends like bobbed hair or jazz music were formerly considered "No, No's."
Some of the exhibit items were selected several years ago by two students from Ridgewater College. Rick Molenaar of Prinsburg and Jason Haug of Danube were working with the museum's collection when they came up with the idea for a sin exhibit, said Historical Society Executive Director Mona Nelson.
The liquor issue has yo-yoed its way throughout Kandiyohi County's history, according to a 1986 historical society newsletter article. The county was known for its many "dry" years when liquor sales were not allowed.
"Our county has been known for all the years that it was dry," said Nelson. "It was one of the last counties to go 'wet."'
Temperance speakers -- those who favored reduction or elimination of alcohol use -- appeared here as early as 1878. Saloons were voted out in 1902, then voted in again in 1906. One of the items on display is a copy of a 1906 federal retail liquor license sold to Nobel Schagel for his downtown establishment at 201 Third Street.
Groups campaigning against alcohol included the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which had chapters in Willmar and towns throughout the state, and the Willmar Tribune, whose WCTU supporters included Victor Lawson, Tribune publisher.
Copies of two cartoons by Eben Lawson, Victor's brother, and published in the March 1908 Tribune, are on display. One depicts Kandiyohi County as a woman attempting to sweep the "spider" of alcohol from her home, and the second shows her actually sweeping the "spider" out the door.
"Willmar Stays True" was the headline in the April 6, 1910, Tribune after city residents voted 398 to 238 to defeat local liquor sales.
Ordinances banning alcohol were diligently upheld by law enforcement authorities who confiscated large amounts of beer, wine and distilled alcohol produced at home illegally. One of the more famous local law enforcement officers was Peter Bonde, who was Kandiyohi County sheriff from 1906 to 1927.
The Tribune regularly published accounts of his enforcement efforts. According to one story, Bonde broke up a Sunday evening party in 1923 at Kandiyohi Beach on the north shore of Kandiyohi Lake, located 11 miles southeast of Willmar. The story said 25 couples were dancing to the strain of the latest fox trot by the Litchfield orchestra. According to the story, Bonde arrested partygoers for conducting a public dance without a permit, and he ordered the partygoers off the premises.
A photo taken in the early 1920s shows dozens of confiscated bottles and jugs of illegal liquor sitting outside the old courthouse in downtown Willmar. A copy of the photo, and three of those bottles -- one of which is half full -- are in the museum exhibit.
Attitudes toward liquor changed, however. After a 50-year "dry" period, the city of Lake Lillian in southern Kandiyohi County approved the sale of intoxicating liquor in 1965, according to the historical society newsletter. And after 56 years, Willmar voted "wet" by a 700-vote margin in a liquor election on Feb. 28, 1966.
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