In February Granite Fall’s own Pioneer PBS hosted a listening session, bringing together their Twin Cities counterparts, staff of the TPT Almanac program, and local active residents. The goal of connecting the urban based Almanac program with local stories almost instantly bore fruit. That day TPT Reporter, Kaomi Goetz, and show host Eric Eskola, met a force of community pitching like no other in local resident Mary Gillespie. “I heard about the upcoming anniversary from Mary Gillespie, of the Granite Falls Historical Society, who attended the event, I wrote it down and have had it on my to-do list for most of this year.” said Kaomi.
The Almanac program is a weekly public affairs show airing on PBS stations statewide and in North Dakota. Like this writer, and the setting of a famous George Orwell novel, the program came to life in 1984. In 2017, Kaomi Goetz was hired to enhance the in-studio political and cultural discussions and state Capitol reporting with stories from Greater Minnesota. “I have logged countless miles reporting from places like International Falls, Bemidji, Luverne, Dawson and Thief River Falls” stated Goetz. Jumping forward to this past week in Granite Falls, citizens may have noticed a film crew at all their favorite places.
“We came down to do a story on the 100th anniversary of the Prohibition Act” said Goetz who explained “We came to Granite Falls because that is where the museum and historical society is. Quite honestly, it also just made sense to anchor the story there as that was where Andrew Volstead and lived”. The TPT(Twin Cities Public Television) staff had visited Granite Falls in the past but this would be their first effort in reporting on the rural community. “I was surprised to find how many young people I saw in the fabric of the community – people in their 20s and 30s – who were visible and were living in the area” noted Goetz. In her travels through small towns across the state, this immediately stood out “it’s something you don’t often see. That indirectly suggests that the community has enough of the things that draw and retain young people - arts, culture, entertainment and jobs. That is wonderful to see”.
Starting with the Volstead House, the Almanac crew made the most of their time and efforts even in their breaks by exploring what Kaomi rightly points to as the “bellwether” for any community, the bakery. “We took a break for coffee at Carl’s Bakery, which is also a bellwether for me of a town’s health if there is a local bakery. It is a delicious gem in the community, and we ran into the town’s mayor there as well” relished Goetz, “On the morning we visited, it was chock-full of customers. The only thing I wished is that they would’ve accepted credit cards. I had only enough cash on me for a coffee and a few donut holes and would have bought much more.” Only if poor Kaomi had known, Carls may not do cards but they do do tabs, acting on the faith of human decency to eventually pay a bill which may be an even more accurate marker of community spirit.
Goetz and photographer/cameraman Mike Phillips, later visited Bluenose Gopher Public House and spoke with board member Sarina Otaibi and other residents. The reporter looked for lines of connection in the community history of Prohibition and the cooperative pub, as it was a “throwback to speakeasies that proliferated as a consequence” Goetz referring to the prohibition Act.
As quickly as the TPT crew arrived they were gone and off to the cutting room, piecing together the connections of people, places, and stories from Prohibitions home. While viewers wait for the product of this endeavor, they will be satiated by an oldie but goodie. Pioneer Public TV first completed a documentary on the subject in 2011 “Volstead Fever: Prohibition in Minnesota” which will be rebroadcast on October 28th at 2:00pm. Volstead Fever was originally produced as a local companion documentary to the national release of the five-and-a-half-hour documentary film series Prohibition by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
Volstead Fever tells the stories of Congressman Andrew Volstead of Granite Falls, the impact prohibition had on the historic Schell's Brewery of New Ulm and about how the Silver Dollar Bar in Ghent was the first place in Minnesota to be licensed to serve alcohol when prohibition ended.