Fireworks shot off East Sixth Street. “We want beer! We want beer!” shouted revelers on Euclid Avenue. Hundreds of Clevelanders crowded into the Terminal Tower, awaiting the train bearing their hero, state Sen. Joseph N. Ackerman, author of the bill legalizing beer in Ohio.
Seventy-five years ago, our great-grandparents celebrated the return of a beloved, hard-won liberty. They shook off the cruel tyranny of a primitive age, when ranting tent-show moralists and blue-nosed women in petticoats had made beer itself — brewing it, quaffing it — a crime.
It was March 31, 1933. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the new president, had decided not to wait for a constitutional amendment to end Prohibition. He’d signed a bill declaring that 3.2-percent-alcohol beer was not intoxicating. Ackerman then convinced Ohio to do the same.
In Public Square, thousands cheered the senator. An impromptu parade kicked off. Fire rose from barrels on pretzel-factory trucks, beer trucks and an old-time, horse-drawn beer wagon. Ackerman rode to Hotel Hollenden in a convertible, waving like Charles Lindbergh home from his trans-Atlantic flight. Good-looking women in dirndls passed out pretzels. In the hotel ballroom, an orchestra played FDR’s campaign song, the song of repeal: “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
At 9 a.m. on April 7, dubbed New Beer’s Day, two trucks of Grossvater beer from Akron’s Renner Brewery rolled into town. Beer from throughout the country followed. Hotels and restaurants sold it for 10 cents a glass and 20 cents a bottle. Happy drinkers filled streets and taxis. The Hollenden served 2,200 people at lunch, compared to the usual 750. One big, happy man walked into a hotel restaurant and whispered to the waitress, who came back with three beer steins.
“You’ll forgive me,” he said, “but I’ve been thirsty for 13 years.”
On Dec. 5, 1933, Ohio was one of three decisive states that ratified the 21st Amendment, legalizing all alcohol and guaranteeing our constitutional right to beer.