April 5, 2023 | Last updated Jul 17, 2023

“Wine” poisoning kills five in Lyons, 1930

Five young men, ages 17 to 22, died in Lyons after drinking what they thought was wine. A report in the Omaha Bee-News (Feb. 23, 1930) explained that the jug actually contained “antifreeze solution which had been used two winters in the radiators of two different automobiles and was rusted to the color and aged to the flavor of spoiled dandelion wine, according to those who tasted it and still survive.”

The newspaper pointed out that the World War killed eight Lyons residents in 18 months, but the “spurious wine” killed five “in about as many hours.”

Seen in context, the lurid Bee-News report appears to have been part of the paper’s campaign against Prohibition. Like other newspapers owned by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, in the early 1930s the pages of the Bee-News were filled with horror stories of prohibition raids gone awry, innocent bystanders shot or roughed up by police, while organized crime profited from the scarcity and resulting  high price of liquor. The public, meanwhile, grew accustomed to drinking on the sly and consuming beverages of questionable origin and safety.

Hearst advocated legalizing beer and wine while continuing the ban on hard liquor. Nebraska was not among the states that voted to ratify the 21st Amendment (repealing federal Prohibition in 1933), but in November 1934 Nebraskans voted by a 60-to-40 margin to repeal the state’s constitutional prohibition.

Voter pledge card and sample ballot distributed by the Anti-Saloon League of Nebraska. (RG0755-AM)

–By David L. Bristow, Editor, posted 4/5/2023


Read more about Prohibition in Nebraska:

Louise Vinciquerra, Nebraska’s bootlegger queen

Prohibition in Douglas County (photo)

Bootlegger’s carnival

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