GRANITE FALLS — For three to four years now, Mary Gillespie has been trying to make Granite Falls known for its role as the home of Andrew Volstead.
She had not had the success she would have liked, until she hopped into her car a few weeks ago for a trip north to a conference. Her phone started ringing. "CBS This Morning Saturday." Twin Cities Public Television.
“I should have left town a long time ago,” said Gillespie, laughing just moments before Twin Cities Public Television "Almanac" reporter Kaomi Goetz and videographer Mike Phillips arrived Oct. 17 at the Bluenose Gopher Public House in Granite Falls.
It’s all about timing. Oct. 28 is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the law that made Prohibition the law of the land.
Better known as the Volstead Act, it brought international attention to the congressman from Granite Falls.
Not all of it was favorable.
“Andrew Volstead did not come up with the idea of Prohibition. He came up with how to enforce it,” said Melanie Gabbert-Gatchell with the Granite Falls Historical Society. It’s a point she made to Jeff Glor, the host for the "CBS This Morning Saturday."
Glor has interviewed heads of state from French President Emmanuel Macron to President Donald Trump. Glor arrived in Granite Falls on Oct. 9 to interview the local historian and visit the Volstead House Museum.
Gabbert-Gatchell said the CBS show's producer contacted the Granite Falls Historical Society expressing interest in doing a segment on the 100th anniversary of the law. The producer called her and asked: “Are you an expert on Volstead?”
“I kind of chuckled and said I’m not too sure about that and I proceeded to talk his ear off for a half hour about Andrew and he said, ‘yup, you’re an expert,’” said Gabbert-Gatchell, laughing.
The CBS feature is expected to air Oct. 26. It will focus on the 18th Amendment — which prohibited the manufacture, sale or transportation of alcoholic liquors — and the Volstead Act which enforced Prohibition. The story is one of national significance and its lessons remain important today, Gabbert-Gatchell said.
She has done a great deal of research into Volstead the person, and has heard the first-hand accounts of locals who knew the late congressman. He was not a strict teetotaler.
“He was not against people drinking. He was against what it was doing to people, abusing alcohol, spending their money in saloons,” she said.
The congressman was a supporter of the women’s suffrage movement as well as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. It is said that he never uttered a racial slur, he spoke out against the lynchings of African Americans, and encouraged his daughter, Laura, to pursue her aspirations despite the challenges women faced in a male-dominated society.
Volstead served as chair of the House Judiciary Committee in 1919. The 18th Amendment had been adopted, and Volstead was called on to draft the law to enforce Prohibition. He was respected for his command and understanding of the law, Gabbert-Gatchell said.
What he was most proud of, she said, was his role in co-authoring the Capper-Volstead Act that made farmer cooperatives possible.
Kaomi Goetz said her "Almanac" feature on the 100th anniversary will likely air sometime after Oct. 28. Along with looking at Volstead’s legacy, she said she focused on Granite Falls and how his legacy lives on in the community.
Mary Gillespie has had a big role in keeping that legacy alive. She is among the founders of the Bluenose Gopher. The downtown establishment is a cooperative public house, owned by its members. It exclusively serves Minnesota-made beers and wines. It is one of only a few cooperative public houses in the world. Its name is a nod to Volstead, who was drubbed by his critics as a “Bluenose Gopher.”
The cooperative’s board chair, Sarina Otaibi, who is Gillespie’s daughter, sees no irony in offering fermented beverages in Volstead’s name. She told Goetz that he was all about communities working together, and that is what the Bluenose Gopher represents.
Gabbert-Gatchell said she also believes that there is much Volstead would appreciate in the community that now celebrates his legacy. She pointed out that he was an early proponent for ethanol. He wanted farmers to be able to produce the fuel they needed from the land. The community is home to Granite Falls Energy, which has been producing ethanol since November 2005.
Goetz attributed her visit to Granite Falls to having met Gillespie one year earlier at an event at Pioneer Public TV, and learning from her about the upcoming 100th anniversary of Prohibition.
Goetz reports for the "Almanac" show's One Greater Minnesota initiative, which focuses on stories about life outside the Twin Cities. She said she appreciated the community spirit she discovered in Granite Falls. “Seeing the kind of energy here is really nice to see,” she said.
The Granite Falls Historical Society will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Volstead Act’s signing with an open house and (alcohol free) punch from 2 to 6 p.m. on Oct. 28 at the Volstead House. The Bluenose Gopher will open its doors to tip a glass in his memory from 4 to 6 p.m. that day as well.
It will also host a celebration of Volstead’s Oct. 31 birthday on Halloween night.