As anyone from Anderson, SC, knows, if you want to throw back a cold one watching the game on Sunday, you better buy your beverage of choice the night before.
Anderson’s “Blue Laws,” prohibiting liquor sales on Sunday, are a throwback to a time when properly observing the Sabbath meant Sunday was a day of rest – for businesses as well as residents.
But did you know that Anderson’s Blue Laws once forbid the sale of another “intoxicating” beverage – Coca Cola?
In January 1914, D. H. Russell, the city recorder for Anderson, stated he would begin enforcing “Blue Laws” that prohibited the sale of anything except necessities on Sunday. In his view, drug stores should be able to sell prescriptions, but not cigars, cigarettes or soft drinks. And according to the laws, everything else was to be closed.
By February, the city ministerial association had decided that druggists who sold soft drinks on Sunday were the cause of their falling Sunday School attendance.
Giving access to caffeinated sodas was too much of a stimulant, the ministerial union said, and too much of an enticement for young men to hang about the streets, leaning on telephone poles instead of spending time in church.
Bowing to pressure from the city recorder and the ministerial union, Anderson’s city council had voted to return to enforcing Blue Laws on Feb. 13.
On February 24, the Anderson Intelligencer reported its first Blue Law violation. A black woman, Mary Thornly, was arrested and accused of dispensing cigars, cigarettes and certain drinks to her customers. She was tried and immediately found guilty.
Frustrated, area business owners asked for clarification on the laws and accused the city council of over-reaching their authority. And while the Anderson’s police chief said it only applied to druggists, Russell re-affirmed his stance that the only things to be sold on Sundays were necessities.
By May 5, two local entrepreneurs, George and Gus Antonekos, who owned several businesses in Anderson including the Piedmont Café at 114 W. Whitner Street, had already violated the law. Their employee, Norman Burris, was charged with selling a soft drink on Sunday. He was arrested and ordered to stand trial where he faced a fine of $5 or 10 days in jail.
The community was divided. Some residents wanted to be able to buy things on Sundays, but others wanted there to be a more pious observation of the sacred day.
By then, at least one county official had his fill of Blue Laws.
On June 7, the Anderson County Sheriff announced that residents should vote for whomever they thought would enforce the city’s laws. Ashley, essentially, was wiping his hands of the whole affair.
“Sheriff Joe M. H. Ashley states he is leaving the enforcement of the city’s laws to the next elected mayor,” said an article in the Anderson Intelligencer. “Ashley said that during his time in office, he has devoted a good part of his time looking after lawlessness in the city, but he has reached the conclusion that it is none of his business. He said the city has the right to pass its own laws and as much right to run its own affairs.”
When Burriss was brought to court July 25, the Antonekos brothers brought representatives from Chero-Cola and Coca-Cola to the courtroom to testify as experts. They told the jury that drinking soft drinks was not more stimulating than drinking tea or coffee. The jury found in favor of the Antonekos brothers, and found Burriss not guilty.
Immediately, the rumors flew, that the end of the Blue Laws had come. But Mayor J. H. Godfrey was quick to point out the rumors were unfounded.
Interestingly enough, by February of 1915, Piedmont Café was advertising special Sunday dinners from 12 to 5 p.m. for 35 cents, including coffee, tea or water… but no soft drinks.
Copyright Liz Carey 2017
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