When my grandparents, William and Emilie Zehnder, purchased the Exchange Hotel in 1928 the country was on the brink of the Great Depression and Prohibition had been passed just 11 years earlier. Not a great time to start a business, particularly a restaurant.
Prohibition presented a conflict for my grandfather, in that alcohol, primarily beer, was part of the culture of Frankenmuth’s German ancestry. Many businesses, including Zehnder’s and Fischer’s (now Bavarian Inn), sold alcohol to the “right customers”.
Well, that was against the law and on July 30, 1930 ten federal agents from Detroit raided Zehnder’s and Fischer’s. My grandfather and Herman Fischer were charged wtih violating Prohibition. The hearing was held in Federal Court in Bay City on August 4, 1930.
It was assumed that the penalties, if any, would not be severe in that both men were community leaders and this was their first offense. Instead, presiding Judge Tuttle fined Herman Fischer $10,000, the highest fine possible and William Zehnder $5,000. They and their attorneys were stunned.
Herman Fishcer’s fine was the highest fine paid in the histoy of Prohibition in the United States. Judge Tuttle offered to deduct $1,200 from each fine if both men would consent to have their bars and back bars smashed. Which they did on November 15, 1930. Judge Tuttle also compelled them to agree that their places of business could be searched without warrant for one year. Prohibition, which was widely unpopular, was repealed on December 15, 1933.
My Grandfather (our entire family for that matter) never agreed with Prohibition and in fact the sign that hung in our bar in 1930 that simply stated “Repeal Prohibition” is part of our history wall today. It’s a much different time now and on July 30th of this year I will commemorate the frustration my grandfather must have felt 81 years ago and toast a cold beer in his memory.
Meet me there, let me know you read this story, and if I am still there personally, I’ll buy you one. You have my name on it!
Written with assistance and excerpts from Herman Zehnder’s book, “Teach My People the Truth”.