The Empirical Strikes Back: Historians debunk speakeasy

PHOTO: Annabella's Antique Mall in Bovey

PHOTO: Annabella’s Antique Mall in Bovey

Two weeks ago I joined media outlets around the state in reporting on the speakeasy re-enactment held at Annabella’s in Bovey, Minnesota. Organizers held a fun event recreating a Prohibition era party in an underground room featuring unusual “escape” tunnels. And, by most accounts, a good time was had by all.

However, the way organizers depicted the “possible” speakeasy in the recent “Gems of Itasca” film series and promoted this recent speakeasy event has drawn criticism from some of Bovey’s most prominent historians. The site under the old Bovey Mercantile building was not a speakeasy. The heavy doors and tunnels were to prevent potential fires in the flour mill from taking out the store. Most of the building was built in 1939, years after Prohibition ended.

Beth Bily and Ron Brochu of the Scenic Range News Forum in Bovey have the scoop, complete with full-on historical scolding.

Meantime, don’t forget that there were vast rivers of whiskey running across the Iron Range during Prohibition. But the action was in the woods, as is often the case in these more modern times. There was no need to risk getting caught at a speakeasy in town when alcohol was served freely at remote locations too difficult for law enforcement to reach in secret.

I have to say, I accepted the story at face value for the same reason it was such a popular story. It was fun to imagine this part of local history in a way that seemed so tangible. But, as historian Don Boese points out in the Scenic story:

“Yes, it’s nice to have Bovey recognized as a ‘Gem’ but its history is quite vivid enough without adding fantasy,” he said.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.