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Historical Society ready to offer toast to prohibition

Some of the bottles that will be part of the Dunkirk Historical Society event are pictured.

Dunkirk Historical Society’s ‘Taste of Prohibition II’ on April 15 to feature auction of rare sealed quart bottle of 1933 ‘medicinal’ whiskey

Thanks to a Dunkirk resident who saved three bottles of Prohibition whiskey given to her by a neighbor, the Dunkirk Historical Museum will host ‘Taste of Prohibition II’ on Saturday, April 15, including the auction of rare whiskey from 1933.

Proceeds help finance eventual return of the Neptune fountain statue to a special display inside the museum, where an exhibit on its history can be seen during the tasting. The Friends of Neptune Capital Campaign seeks to raise at least $20,000 to fund its return.

The museum will be open 4 to 6 p.m. April 15 as ticket holders gather to taste two 100-proof pints of ‘medicinal’ whiskey at 5 p.m. Tickets are available for 1-1/4 oz. shots of Old Crow rye, distilled in Spring 1917 and bottled Fall 1931, or O.F.C. (Old Fashioned Copper) George T. Stagg whiskey, distilled in Spring 1916 and bottled Fall 1926. Both brands were sold at a Dunkirk pharmacy by a doctor’s prescription during Prohibition.

A total of 24 tickets (one dozen of either brand) are available for $50 each on a first-come basis.

The 2019 tasting event sold out. Participants must be at least 21. Non-drinking guests may attend for free. Refreshments will be served.

Buy tickets at the Dunkirk Historical Museum, 513 Washington Ave., 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays or Fridays, 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays. For information call 716-366-3797. Check, cards, PayPal accepted.

A scarce one-quart (32 oz.) bottle of O.F.C. George T. Stagg 100-proof whiskey will also be silently auctioned. Sealed with a federal tax stamp, it was distilled starting Fall 1917 and bottled Spring 1933, six months prior to the end of Prohibition.

Still in very good vintage condition, the bottle will be viewable during the event, with the auction ending at 6 p.m. Virtual bids may be texted to tasting participants. All bidders must be at least 21. It is not necessary to purchase a tasting event ticket to bid on the bottle.

This historic whiskey has a distinctive pedigree: it was distilled by Albert B. Blanton (1881-1959), who devoted over 55 years to producing and promoting fine Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Blanton rose from the job of office boy at age 16 to the role of president, keeping his distillery (now Buffalo Trace) operating through Prohibition by obtaining one of four special government licenses to produce medicinal whiskey.

All three bottles are from the estate of J. Howard Smith, who died in 1953. He saved them as souvenirs after the end of Prohibition, while working as a pharmacist for the West Drug Company at 309 Central Avenue. The bottles were gifts from his widow to her neighbor in the 1980s, who kept them in her home. She contacted Smith’s grand-nephew and historical society board president Paul Scheeler, after reading about the 2019 Taste of Prohibition event in the OBSERVER. Scheeler donated the 1920s bottle of “Antique Spiritus Frumenti” Prohibition-era medicinal whiskey used in that tasting.

Prohibition lasted from 1920 until its repeal at 5:32 p.m. EST on December 5, 1933, when Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment. During this period, the manufacture, sale and transport (bootlegging) of alcoholic beverages was illegal in the U.S., with the exception of medicines and “alcoholic stimulants” prescribed by doctors and dispensed by druggists. Such bottles were labeled, “For medicinal purposes only.”

Tasting participants will receive a Friends of Neptune Dunkirk History Museum shot glass while supplies last, commemorating their helping fund the campaign to bring the historic Neptune fountain back to Dunkirk, including moving expenses and upgrades. Neptune adorned the Brooks Locomotive Works headquarters from 1883 until the site’s demolition. It was then installed as a fountain in Washington Park from 1937 to 1967.

In 2001, suffering damage and deterioration from spending more than half its 138 years out in the harsh weather, Neptune was expertly restored by arts professor Robert Booth at a cost of more than $20,000. It has since been temporarily displayed in the atrium of the aquatic center on the SUNY Fredonia campus. Owned by the Historical Society of Dunkirk, it was decided that due to its age, value and importance to the community, the 900-pound monument should be safely and permanently housed inside the museum.

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