Iron Range town re-opens secret speakeasy tunnel

UPDATE: Photos from the Aug. 29, 2014 event (via Annabella’s Facebook page)

PHOTO: Annabella's Antique Mall in Bovey

PHOTO: Annabella’s Antique Mall in Bovey

PHOTO: Annabella's Antique Mall in Bovey

PHOTO: Annabella’s Antique Mall in Bovey

This screenshot from the film series Gems of Itasca shows a reenactment of a popular speakeasy in Bovey, Minnesota, a western Iron Range town where the night life stayed wild all through Prohibition.

This screenshot from the film series Gems of Itasca shows a reenactment of a popular speakeasy in Bovey, Minnesota, a western Iron Range town where the night life stayed wild all through Prohibition.

Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range experienced a lot of history in a short amount of time. From its rapid transition from native hunting and ricing grounds, to logging fields, to rural industrial mining region 120 years ago, to the collision of dozens of ethnic immigrant groups here 100 years ago, we have no shortage of relatively recent human drama imprinted into our DNA.

One of the more fascinating periods, however, was Prohibition. As with many places around the country during America’s “grand experiment” with banning alcohol in the 1910s and ’20s, a robust black market of booze thrived in and around the Iron Range. Close proximity to Canadian suppliers and a vast network of woods and backroads made this place a constant headache for federal and state law enforcement officers.

The Iron Range had already developed a strong system of illegal alcohol distribution prior to Prohibition. Federal officials had used a treaty signed with the Ojibwa people to enforce liquor bans along much of the Iron Range. So when the spigots were capped nationally, the Range already had stills running and boots legging.

A while back I had written about the film series “Gems of Itasca,” a series of shorts designed to show life in Itasca County, Minnesota, in a positive light. Gems of Itasca is well done, and the films are both attractive and informative. But one of the films, the one about Bovey, has prompted the reopening of a particularly mysterious and compelling corner of Range history.

On Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, the antiques mall Annabella’s and adjoining restaurant Nana Chelle’s Cafe will be re-opening a secret tunnel underneath the streets of Bovey. A special event is being held from 6-9 p.m. in which guests are invited to wear Prohibition-era clothing and take part in remembering what might likely have been a popular speakeasy bar and escape network underneath the main thoroughfare of this blue-collar western Mesabi town.

How do you get in? Well, you go to Annabella’s where free-will donations for the Gems of Itasca community project will be taken, and then enter the tunnel. You have to know the password, which can be heard in the Gems of Itasca film about Bovey seen below, or on YouTube:

The event is part of the Farmer’s Day activities in Bovey, which is an old tradition dating back to Bovey’s days as a small agricultural hub set along the Mesabi Iron Range. While most of the region celebrates Labor Day, the folks in Bovey have kept the Farmer’s Day tradition going.

Comments

  1. http://kissa says

    I really enjoy your blog with the very diverse Iron Range stories that I often learn about here first and in much more detail than anywhere else. Some of the stories, I have not seen reported on in our local media as far as I have noticed. It’s clear how much you love the Iron Range. Keep up the fantastic work. You are an Iron Range treasure, imo.

    • Thanks so much, Kissa! That comment means a lot to me. I am compelled to write about things, and thus I share what I write. Thanks again.

  2. http://kissa says

    I forward some of your stories to friends, present and former Iron Rangers now living in other states and they comment how much they enjoy them.

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