Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Sin City Beer Gardens

The first Brews on the Bay of the 2023 season is tonight in Menominee Park. A beer garden hosted in a city park is hardly unusual these days. But it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the mere idea of it inspired fits of fear and trembling.

The sale of beer in Oshkosh city parks was illegal from 1889 until 1940. When the law changed, some folks lost their shit. Among them was William Beck, a fun-starved cynic with an overactive imagination. Beck protested long and loud about the Oshkosh parks being “desecrated” with beer. I thought today would be a good time to share a taste of his ranting.

Here are a few passages from a lengthy and delusional letter Beck wrote to the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern in the summer of 1941. You won't see this sort of “fun” at Menominee Park tonight.

Can the parks commissioners remember back to the days before we had city parks, when Sunday picnics and holiday celebrations were held in private parks and groves and were commercialized from the sale of beer and liquor?

Can they recall the disgusting sights of men and boys staggering about in all stages of intoxication? The frequent drunken brawls? The bloody fights with fists, clubs, and rocks, when knives and guns were drawn and used with serious and sometimes fatal effect? When women and children were terrorized, knocked down, trampled, and stampeded in all directions, and many families who had planned a pleasant outing for the day fled in panic for their homes in fear of being injured by drink-crazed men and rowdies?

It was to prevent such occurrences that the people wanted a city park where no intoxicating beverages would be sold. They demand a stop to such frightful, shocking, and disgraceful conditions for once and for good.
     – William R. Beck, June 21, 1940.

Beck's vision of Oshkosh's private beer gardens is almost entirely divorced from reality. He didn't know a damned thing about them. Beck was born in 1878 and was a lifelong bachelor who spent most of his adult life raising chickens in the Town of Oshkosh. During Beck's time there, the township was under the thumb of anti-alcohol zealots. Beck and his ilk voted the Town of Oshkosh dry in 1911.

Beck moved to sin city after he retired from his chicken farm. He planted himself in an apartment on Merritt Avenue, where he had to suffer the spectacle of fun seekers going to and from Menominee Park. Maybe that's what did him in. Beck died two years after penning his beer-garden letter.

Poor William. If you get to the beer garden tonight, raise a glass to our nervous, gloomy friend. Prost!

... such frightful, shocking, and disgraceful conditions.

No comments:

Post a Comment