COMING OUT OF THE WOODWORK: Prohibition-era sign found during Schuberg’s remodel

Jenn and Brad Rumsey, who own Schuberg’s Bar and Grill in Big Rapids, pose with a Prohibition-area sign found in the woodwork during a recent renovation project. (Pioneer photo/Tim Rath)

BIG RAPIDS — A remodeling project at Schuberg’s Bar and Grill last week uncovered a surprise — a sign, roughly a foot long, slightly ragged and yellowed, with a message apparently aimed at voters during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and ’30s.

“Your attention is called to the local ballot,” the sign reads in large block letters. “Here is the way to vote for your personal liberty and against the bootlegger.

“Shall the manufacture of liquors and the liquor traffic be prohibited within the county?” the message continues at the bottom, in smaller letters. “Place a cross in the square after ‘No.'”

Jenn Rumsey, who has owned the bar with husband Brad for the past several years, said she isn’t quite sure of the sign’s origins. There is no identifying information printed on it, such as a date, which might provide a clue. The mystery is an intriguing one, she said.

“Because it says ‘within the county,’ we’re not sure if they were campaigning against the same prohibition rule as the national rule. We don’t really know anything, beyond that it was folded up in our wall — the builder said it was being used as a shim,” Jenn Rumsey said.

“We put it on Facebook and people went crazy for it. Like everyone else, we think it’s really cool. How old is it? What could it be? It’s exciting to find history.”

Prohibition in the United States was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages, which went into effect with the ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1920. Criminal gangs seized the supply of beer and liquor in many cities, and home-brewers manufactured their own booze — sometimes with results severely detrimental to their health.

At that point, what is now called Schuberg’s had been a bar, with various different names, for about 40 years. When prohibition was enacted, the original bar was removed and replaced with a pool hall and card room. However, Rumsey said, it’s rumored that proprietors at the time operated the establishment as a speakeasy, and sold alcohol illegally.

In 1933, due to concerns over increasing crime and decreasing tax revenue from lost sales, the 21st Amendment was ratified and prohibition ended. The same year, Carl Schuberg purchased the establishment and ran it for many years with his son, Shi.

Shi Schuberg eventually owned the bar and entered into a partnership with Brad Rumsey’s father, Jeff, who later passed it on to his son.

Rumsey said she plans on framing the sign after some mold on the back has been removed. She’ll hang it up on a wall at the restaurant, which is already adorned with several historical items related to the Prohibition area, including a 1933 front page of the Pioneer, with a cover story celebrating the ratification of the 21st Amendment.

“I think we’re trying to protect our history, as much as we can. We need to modernize some things in order to continue functioning as a restaurant, we’re not being minimalists,” she said.

Schuberg’s reopened Jan. 13 after a week-long renovation project, which was needed to expand the area behind the bar and improve the kitchen area. The Rumseys, who are in their mid-30s, said they plan to continue operating the restaurant long into the future.

“It’s fun. There’s something new every day, as you can see,” Rumsey said.

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Posted by Tim Rath

Tim is the Pioneer's associate editor. He also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Veterans pages. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at trath@pioneergroup.com.

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