Kansas did not prohibit the sale of alcohol in 1919 — it already had those laws in place nearly 40 years before it became a federal regulation.
"Kansas was ahead of most of the United States in pushing the banning of alcohol," said Isaias McCaffery, a historian and the chair of the humanities and social sciences at Independence Community College.
McCaffery will present a Humanities Kansas program, "Foam on the Range: Prohibition in Kansas," at 7 p.m. July 15 at Newton Public Library, 720 N. Oak.
"Kansas was never really dry," McCaffery said. "You had this law in place in 1881, but you also had saloons in most sizeable Kansas communities."
The loopholes in Kansas laws regarding liquor set the stage for a continuing debate around the consumption of alcohol.
"That really sets off an ongoing battle in Kansas history of temperance supporters and people against the temperance movement," McCaffery said.
While some followed the laws, others — especially communities of German, Italian, Greek and Irish immigrants, whose cultural heritage included the manufacturing and drinking of beer, wine and whiskey — found creative ways to continue their traditions.
McCaffery himself used to live in a house that belonged to German merchants whose son was in charge of a bootlegging operation, which may have been the reason behind the odd layout of the home's basement.
"They were prominent local citizens," McCaffery said. "They were never arrested."
In Wichita, according to McCaffery, raids of speakeasies found wealthy businessmen having cocktails — an event that was rarely reported locally.
"If you wanted to find out about local raids, you could read about them in the paper from the next town over," McCaffery said.
Fines were levied against establishments caught serving alcohol, but that money was used to pay for police and fire departments.
"If you went in at the right time, you might find the mayor or the chief of police having a drink," McCaffery said.
Even with nationwide Prohibition beginning in July 1919, speakeasies could still operate in broad daylight without the fear of being busted.
This was not, however, the case in Newton.
"There was a funeral at the court house yesterday," read an article printed in The Evening Kansan-Republican on June 19, 1919. "It was a case wherein several ministers, WCTU (Woman's Christian Temperance Union) ladies, missionary society representatives, county officials, doctors and newspaper reporters took part. The patient who died in the process of the operation was about 400 quarts of whiskey and 129 quarts of beer, the accumulation of booze gathered in by the law since last January when the big 'cleaning' took place."
The beer was poured into the sewer and the whiskey given to the hospitals, the article stated, "for use in bathing patients or any hospital work in which such denaturized whiskey may be used. ... It was expected that this 100 gallons of whiskey would be more than the hospitals here would use in a year."
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Kansas kept laws against alcohol sales on its books until 1948, then still frowned upon it being sold by the drink.
"Older people ... many of them can remember having to order food if you wanted a drink," McCaffery said.
In recent years, alcohol regulations have been relaxed, allowing wineries, breweries and distilleries to flourish.
'We've kind of gone full-circle as a state," McCaffery said.