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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 year ago in Spokane: ‘Giggling, gum-chewing charmers and toothless granddads’ among those seeking prohibition-era liquor permits

About 500 people lined up at the Spokane County Courthouse to obtain liquor permits as prohibition rules tightened, The Spokesman-Review reported on Feb. 28, 1917. (Spokesman-Review archives)
About 500 people lined up at the Spokane County Courthouse to obtain liquor permits as prohibition rules tightened, The Spokesman-Review reported on Feb. 28, 1917. (Spokesman-Review archives)

Hannah Hinsdale, the society editor of The Spokesman-Review, spent an afternoon talking to 500 people lined up at the Spokane County Courthouse to obtain liquor permits.

The line contained all ranks of society, from the highest to the lowest.

“Never in my life have I seen so many decrepit and sad-looking shirts and collars,” she wrote. “Men who had not the price of two collars had the two bits to purchase a permit.”

Yet there also were women in furs and lace, and grandmothers in spectacles.

“There were giggling, gum-chewing charmers and toothless granddads and long-chinned bushy-eyebrowed old harridans that looked as if they had walked straight out of the French Revolution.”

The SR was decidedly in favor of prohibition, and Hinsdale did not mask her disapproval of the throngs clamoring for liquor. She said that “watching them was like watching people going up to enter themselves in the book of doom.”

Here’s how she described the eyes of one fashionably dressed lady: “Her bedeviled soul was looking out of the windows of her being and it was not a beautiful soul. It was a tormented one.”

The throngs descended on the courthouse out of fear that the state Legislature was about to close the loophole that allowed people to buy liquor permits for medical, cooking and other purposes.

Hinsdale said that some of their excuses were comical. One man said he wanted whiskey for bathing. A woman said she wanted it for washing her hair.

And then there were the cooks. “Enough whiskey has been taken out for flavoring mince pies to put in all of the pies in the universe.”

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