One Last Drink For The Road
(written by Bill Petersen, Archives Staff)
December 31, 1919 was the last New Year’s Eve to be celebrated before the Prohibition era took effect on January 16, 1920. So how did La Crosse celebrate? Residents marked the New Year pretty much like they always had, only with a certain feeling of finality when it came to the availability of liquor.
One of the big events of that New Year’s Eve in La Crosse was the return of the Sylvester Ball sponsored by the Deutscher Verein, a German social club in the city. The annual New Year’s Eve event had been cancelled the previous two year because of World War I. The formal, members-only dance was held in Pioneer Hall at 720 Fifth Avenue S. and attracted a capacity crowd.
In a little historical side note, Pioneer Hall was originally called Germania Hall, but with the over-zealous anti-German sentiment that erupted when the United States entered World War I, the name was changed, much like Berlin Street on the city’s North Side was changed to Liberty Street.
Hundreds of people attended “watch night” services in city churches, bringing in the New Year with prayers, songs and socializing.
Some residents may have decided to take in a movie that night. Men, Women and Money was playing at the Rialto on Rose Street. The Isle of Conquest, starring Norma Talmadge, was playing at the Strand, 1113 Jackson Street. William Farnum starred in The Last of the Duanes at the Casino Theater, 303 Main Street. The price for a movie ticket was 22 cents for adults and 11 cents for children. Those prices included the War Tax.
However, it was this paragraph, found on the front page of the La Crosse Tribune of January 1, 1920 that summed up many residents’ choice of New Year’s celebration on the eve of prohibition:
“In just a few places in the city, the New Year was welcomed in the old fashioned way, with the cup that cheers quite as much in evidence as in the olden days before Uncle Sam clamped the lid on the country. Treasured stocks reserved for this occasion were depleted last night, and with the fortitude of a camel, Tom, Dick and Harry started their long journey across the desert today, not satisfied, but almost reconciled to their lot after a final ‘blowoff’ party in welcome to little old 1920, which will probably live in memory for many a day.”