- St. Paul Daily Globe; June 07, 1887
What bad and bold thing had Luhm done? He had offended prohibitionists in Washington D.C. who were “horrified by the report that the saloon keepers of Oshkosh have organized baseball clubs for the purpose of playing on Sunday for five kegs of beer.”
Aside from the enormous amount of beer at stake, what Luhm and his cohorts were up to sounds innocent enough. At least these days it does. But in the 1880s, it was exactly the sort of thing guaranteed to drive the anti-fun crowd into full hiss. Luhm was circumventing the law. They wanted him punished.
Luhm’s ball game for beer was a way to get around Wisconsin’s so called “blue laws” which, among other things, ordered the closing of saloons on Sunday. It was part of an 1849 relic of a statute that was only sporadically enforced. In some places, such as Milwaukee, it was altogether ignored. In Oshkosh, enforcement of the blue laws was intermittent at best. In 1887, though, Oshkosh Mayor Dr. Harvey B. Dale was going by the books.
Mayor Dale and his predecessor, Carlton Foster, had been pressed by Oshkosh religious leaders to enforce the antiquated Sunday laws. Both mayors gave in and the saloons were closed. One way or another, though, people in Oshkosh were going to have their beer. An unnamed Oshkosh saloon keeper described one of the popular work arounds.
|A Beer Wagon at the Glatz Brewery, late 1880s|
- Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; April 17, 1886
Saloon men like Luhm weren’t going to be left out. Their Sunday games became popular events where the beer flowed freely. Luhm raised the ire of the Prohibitionists after the Northwestern published a story about one of his slapstick ball games.
Gottlieb Luhm, who keeps a saloon on the south side of the river, was the captain of a ball team that defeated a nine at Fitzgerald's Corners yesterday. The game was played for four kegs of beer and was won by Luhm's nine. Mr. Luhm caught behind the bat with yarn mittens and made a very acceptable backstop, though at one time he was knocked out for fifteen minutes by a foul tip which struck him in the head and made his face resemble a barrel. Mr. Luhm's face still bears the relics of the contest. It is proposed to have another game for five kegs of beer one week from Sunday.
- Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; May 31, 1887
You have to admire a guy that’ll play catcher with “yarn mittens” and who after being knocked-out cold for 15 minutes wants to play for even more beer the following Sunday.
Luhm had celebrated his 37th birthday just a couple weeks before the performance that made him the villain of the prohibitionists. At the time, he operated a saloon at the corner of Sixth and Nebraska streets. He was born in Germany in 1851 and came to America in 1860. Gottlieb Luhm died in Oshkosh in 1903.
Luhm and his fellow Oshkosh saloonists wouldn’t have to keep the Sunday charade going too much longer. The blue laws would be sporadically enforced into the 1890s, but by the end of the century it was, for the most part, a dead issue in Oshkosh.
It wasn’t until 1933 that the blue laws were finally taken off the books. But by then, Oshkosh’s saloon keepers had faced 13 years of all-out Prohibition. In comparison, the old Sunday law would have seemed like a harmless opportunity for fun.