Bootlegging exhibit comes to Pittsburg museum

Bootlegging in the Kansas Balkans in the 19th and 20th centuries comes alive for the first time in an exhibit at the Crawford County Historical Museum in Pittsburg.  

“Visitors will experience the many layers to what communities faced during ‘America’s Great Experiment as they walk through the exhibits and learn about the causes and effects of Kansas and Federal Prohibition,” said Amanda Minton, the museum’s Executive Director. 

“Some historians believe rich soil and wine making traditions of the European immigrants who came to work the mines positioned Eastern Kansas to rival California’s Wine Country,” said Chris Wilson, Communications Manager with the Crawford County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Sixty-seven years of Kansas Prohibition changed that. Hollywood likes to glamorize that era, but the reality was harsh, and even today, some families who were involved don’t like to talk about it.” 

“Unique displays will tell the stories and describes the methods of bootleggers as they worked their trade, often as a means of survival, in violation of the law and against the forces of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies,” Minton said. “This is your chance to discover America’s ‘Great Experiment’ as we break down the law, the liquor and the lifestyle.” 

“Ken Peak approached the museum last year with the idea of having an exhibit on bootlegging in Southeast Kansas,” Minton said. 

Peak has published two books on the subject. Those will be on sale at the museum with proceeds going to the museum. He is also providing a still to be on display. 

“We have been corresponding over the past year of when will be a good time to launch the exhibit. Since 2020 events have been canceled, we have had an opportunity to start planning and putting together this exhibit for January 2021. The original Ted Watt paintings from Ken’s book covers will be on display as well.” 

“We are also lucky to have the community to be involved in the exhibit. Frontenac Homecoming Committee and Shawn Brown have contributed to the exhibit – their loan of stills will show the process of making whiskey. Linda Grilz has also been instrumental with the process of the exhibit.” 

The “Bootleggers versus Badges: The Law, The Liquor, The Lifestyle” exhibit runs January, 2021 through March at the Crawford County Historical Museum, 651 S US-69, Pittsburg, Kansas. Admission is free. The museum is currently open Wednesday-Friday, 9am-3pm. 

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