Events that shaped us 

Walcott Trust & Savings Bank
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Rock Island, IL 61201

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Rock Island, IL 61201

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ASAP Equipment
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Morton Building
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Pathway Hospice
500 42
Rock Island, IL 61201

QC Carbide
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Lyss Chiropractic
5500 30 Ave
Moline, IL 61201

Prohibition painful for many

By Lisa Mohr, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Despite the novel ways people found to overcome the restraints of Prohibition, there was a dark side to the enterprise that caused illness and death and produced violence that spilled into the lives of everyday people.

``The fact that Prohibition was a bad idea was evident to many at its onset and to increasingly greater numbers as time went by,'' said Dr. Paul Johnston, a member of the Rock Island County Historical Society. ``It was observed to a great extent only by those who did not drink anyway and made criminals of the rest of society -- thus making a mockery of the law. And then there was the injury and death due to the ingestation of poisoned, contaminated or substitute liquor.''

The biggest toxic problem in homemade liquor was lead -- it would get into the bootleg mash if fermentation took place in a ceramic vessel such as an old bathtub with a lead glaze. But most often it was introduced when old car radiators were used as condensers in distilling. Radiators in those days were constructed with lead solder.

``Deliberately added poisons were innumerable and probably accounted many deaths from drinking bootleg liquor,'' Dr. Johnston said. ``Physicians of those days saw an almost epidemic of severe burns of the throat and esophagus from liquor laced with lye.''

Some bootleggers made the discovery that a 25 percent solution of alcohol with 0.5 percent lye had the same taste as a 50 percent solution of alcohol. Thus, with just a little lye, a nefarious bootlegger could double his profit. And some bootleggers, hardly being chemists, ran the lye concentration up to 1 percent or 1.5 percent -- with disastrous results.

Another painful aspect of bootlegging was violence caused by local members of organized crime. John Looney's reign as local crimelord ended in 1922, just two years after the advent of Prohibition. However, from the mid-1920s to the end of Prohibition, much of the organized Quad-Cities rum-running was done by a gang made up of mostly Greek and Italian immigrants who operated on both sides of the river.

Authorities were later able to prove in federal court in Peoria that the liquor ring involved hundreds of thousands of gallons of alcohol and other liquor worth more than $1 million.

Toward the end of Prohibition, however, the ringleaders of the operation came to a bloody end.

On May 1, 1931, gang member Angelo Kaloudis was found shot to death in the blood-drenched rear seat of his car on a lonely country road near Durant, Iowa. On May 25, 1932, Nick J. Coin, another bootlegger and partner to Kaloudis, was gunned down in front of his Davenport home. The assassins were never found.

``My wife's family are the Runges who have the funeral home, and they can recall the night Coin's body was brought in,'' Dr. Johnston said. ``Suddenly, two men burst into the room where Coin was laid out, looked him over and left. I'm sure they were there checking to see if he was really dead.''

Stories printed in The Rock Island Argus in 1932 reported how the gang ran its operation.

Sugar is essential to the manufacture of liquor, and one gang member was the former owner of a Rock Island candy store. He was able to make the connections to buy vast amounts of sugar at a low price, and he had the candy cookers necessary to process it. He also had connections with Tri-Cities Malt & Extract Company in East Moline and the Davenport Candy Company for other supplies.

Mr. Kaloudis also made arrangements for delivery of corn sugar for manufacture of alcohol from a Keokuk company to a Muscatine concern, and he arranged the delivery of yeast to the various stills operating in Iowa for Quad-Cities distribution.

The gang also ran liquor in from Chicago, operated a speakeasy camp on the Wapsipinicon River north of Davenport and operated a large alcohol manufacturing still in Carbon Cliff.

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.