You’ve probably heard the expression, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Well, I don’t exactly agree with that. When the lottery recently reached an all-time high, it set me to thinking about how over the years things have changed, though not always for the best. For example, many of us can recall when there was no lottery at all in West Virginia.
When I was barely more than a toddler, I always listened intently to various people who visited my grandparents. Sometimes the conversation would turn political. One of my grandparents was a republican and the other a democrat, although I cannot recall which one was which, and never did I hear either argue with the other. However, many times during their conversations with visiting friends there were disagreements over religious beliefs; not necessarily arguments, but most definitely disagreements.
One mild argument I recall concerned the wearing of lipstick or makeup by church going women. I overheard the argument that “any woman wearing lipstick was going straight to hell.” Add to that the fact that the female was also hell bound if she wore pants, or if her dress was deemed too short, then one can understand why the fiery underworld could be overcrowded, if those beliefs prove true. Then there was the tobacco thing. Some churches did not allow its members to use tobacco; smoking or chewing of the stuff could send you, some said, straight to hell. I guess marijuana use didn’t apply in those days because nobody had even heard of the stuff. All I really know about all of this is that things sure have changed.
Heck, former Logan Police Chief Roy Platt, who policed the town with an iron fist during the 1960’s, would spot a girl or woman on the crowded streets of Logan and tell her to “get out of town” if he thought her dress was too short. I can only imagine what would have happened back then if there was a transvestite on the streets. Like I said, things sure have changed.
None of us were around during the Prohibition days of the 1920’s (and that’s a good thing because it would most assuredly mean that we would now be deceased), but we’ve all heard of Al Capone and the many other gangsters and related deaths and corruption that resulted from organized crime actions in trying to control their “booze” and gambling territories in Chicago and other places. Believe it or not, a few local newspaper accounts from those days compared Logan to Chicago. From all accounts, illegal liquor, prostitution, murders, gambling, and maiming were quite rampant throughout the county, especially during the Prohibition Era. One man, whose full story shall be told later, almost single handily tried to stop all of this illegal activity; starting from the time he became Mayor of Logan and continuing for almost the remainder of his life when he served as Logan’s only Circuit Judge for 32 years. Of course, I’m speaking of Chester “Cush” Chambers, who was better known as Judge C.C. Chambers, or “Alimony Slim.”
Chambers, who died here in 1973, became Mayor in 1925 and he wasted no time in announcing his plans to stop the bootleggers, a feat not even the Federal government could do—and Chambers didn’t either. “There are several persons in Logan without visible means of support, who are making a living by the illicit sale of the liquid that cheers,” said Chambers, shortly after becoming Mayor. “All such persons are given three choices. They can go to work, get out of town, or go to jail.”
Though he jailed and fined many people for buying, selling, or distributing moonshine, homemade beer (called home brew), or wine, alcohol consumption never stopped. You might say it simply “went underground” in Logan. Countywide, moonshiners continued to make their crude, with many being killed, along with several police officers or agents while trying to make arrests. Resulting drunkenness from those who managed to obtain the potent spirits also led to many fights and murders, especially at the domestic level where many women took the lives of their spouses because they became tired of “him coming home drunk and beating on me.” Even after Logan County and the rest of our state voted to ratify the appeal of Prohibition, Chambers never quit chastising the use of alcohol.
In June of 1933 Logan County citizens voted by almost a seven to one majority to repeal the prohibition amendment and put the control of liquor under the state. The official count was 7,820 for repeal and 1,226 against it. All but one precinct in the county voted for repeal, the one exception being Lake Precinct where the repeal was voted down with 74 people against the amendment and just 22 voters for it. A strong political line was shown at the time as there were only 22 registered Democrats in that precinct. At one Chapmanville Precinct (Conley), there was nobody that voted against the county becoming “wet”, while in three others (Pine Creek, Shamrock and Big Creek) only one person voted against the repeal. Only two people voted against repeal at Bulwark of Harts, while West Logan residents were separated in their balloting by just eight votes. Chambers’ influence in the town of Logan made little difference as citizens there voted by a six to one majority to bring back their liquid spirits.
For the record, 16 of the state’s 55 counties voted to stay “dry”; none of them were located in the southern parts of our state. So, of course, things changed once again. By 1937, the state found a way to make public consumption of beer legal by redefining beer as “non-intoxicating” and thus permitting the sale of the product in bars and restaurants. So called “non-intoxicating beer” was defined as a malt based beverage that contained no more than 6 percent alcohol. At the time, that meant that two-thirds of the world’s beer could not be sold in West Virginia since most beers had higher alcohol content.
Two years later in 1939, Judge Chambers was fuming when he called on law enforcement officers, the sheriff, the mayor and the “good” people of the city and county to assist him in breaking up “these beer gardens that are the gathering places of prostitutes and drunks.”
Discrediting the legislature for ruling that five percent beer was non-intoxicating and then making it illegal between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m., Chambers told a grand jury: “The legislature ought to be ashamed. You get can get as drunk as an owl—as the old saying goes—on the stuff.”
By 1948, the state provided for licensing of private clubs, such as country clubs, veteran’s organizations and fraternal organizations. Chambers, a member of all three of those type organizations, did not say much about that, but 14 years later in 1961, when the state legislature was debating the sale of wine and liquor by the drink to the general public, Chambers again was raising hell. “I am old enough to remember the days of the old saloon,” said the longtime judge. “The evils of that day made an impression on my mind that will never be erased. I am unalterably opposed to the sale of liquor by the drink in West Virginia.” Again, allow me to say that things sure have changed.
Chambers was not happy when a compromise was made that created private ABCC clubs, some that still exist. Even though there were many so-called beer joints and clubs throughout Logan County, technically, even today, public bars remain illegal in West Virginia. Because this constitutional amendments still exists, every one of you who like to dine at various “good” restaurants and perhaps enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with your dinner—well, sorry, but you’re probably violating state law. I mean, did you sign up for a private “club card” the last time you visited The Outback, Longhorn, Chili’s, etc.? Are you officially a “member” of any of these fine eateries? Remember, state law says only private “clubs” can sell alcohol by the drink.
It should surprise you to know that the legislative compromise to create private ABCC clubs came because of the name of Marshall University. Yep, southern legislators wanted to rename Marshall College, which had been accredited as a university since 1937, to Marshall University, but the northern legislators had consistently blocked it. So, the southern boys agreed to a deal that the north wanted, and the north agreed to acknowledging Marshall as a university.
Too bad Judge Chambers isn’t still around. If he were, I’m sure he wouldn’t sit still for this state’s hypocritical law. I can almost hear him now: “The laws of this state need changed. These clubs aren’t private and people should not be served alcohol in them.”
If the honorable Judge Chambers could today hear me, I would say to him: “Actually, your honor, alcohol is the least of our problems, sir. And, if you think you had a battle with the boozers back then, welcome to our hellish times when pills and powder have devastated our local society, killed many, and created numbed and shallow-eyed people that rob, steal and kill to support powerful drug habits that, unfortunately, do not leave hangovers.”
A closer look at the not too distant past reveals that the legal drinking age in West Virginia was raised to 21 in 1986. Prior to then and now, although there were more residents in the county, far less police officers were needed, there was far less major crime, and not nearly as many people incarcerated. Though years ago, unlike today, a joint of marijuana could land you in jail or prison, burglaries and overdoses were almost unheard of in comparison to today. Again, I say, things sure have changed.
So, what does all of this rambling have to do with the recent 1.5 billion dollar lottery? Well, I can remember the battle and some protests that were waged against the lottery back in about 1984 when West Virginia voters approved the Lottery Amendment with a 67 percent vote. From its inception in 1985, about $3 billion has been produced for state schools and education, $940 million for senior programs and service, and over $860 million for tourism and parks. In addition, state lottery winners have pocketed close to $3 billion. Naturally, I have no idea how much money people have lost, or how much the “Help for Gambling” billboards cost. You know—the ones that are scattered along the state’s major highways.
It makes one wonder, especially during today’s difficult times, just how our “wild and wonderful” state would be without the lottery revenue—or the alcohol tax, or the cigarette tax that’s likely going to be increased. What I do know is that you only have to be 18 years-old to buy a lottery ticket, a package of Salem Lights, or to die for your country in some God forbidden barren land. Just don’t try to buy a beer. Of course, you can always buy a Xanax off the street for five bucks. Age doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to illegal drug sales as you enter the narrow road to hell.
Like I said at the beginning, the more things change, the more they do NOT remain the same.
I believe even Judge Chambers would agree with that. Rest in peace, your honor.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.