Anoka County History: The Dark Lantern Purifying Committee

In 1905 Albert Goodrich published “A History of Anoka County.” I refer to it frequently for my columns, and sometimes it’s just downright fun reading. In the spirit of Halloween, I’d like to share Albert’s rib-tickling account of the Temperance Movement in Anoka with you.

During territorial days temperance sentiment was very strong in Minnesota. In 1849 the first Minnesota territorial legislature passed a law prohibiting liquor, but this act was nullified by the U.S. Supreme Court After this decision was made, public drinking saloons sprang up all over the territory, and this gave rise to the Temperance Movement.

Now, we all know that when the law does not reflect the will of the people, the people tend to take matters into their own hands. Such was the case in Anoka. Demonstrators marched the streets in front of the saloons loudly protesting the evils of King Alcohol. A picture in the collections of the Anoka County Historical Society shows some imbibers inside the saloon retaliating by dumping the contents of chamber pots on the heads of the demonstrators below from the third floor windows above.

Matters came to a head in the spring of 1858 when Daniel D. Dudley established the “Empire Saloon” in Anoka. An article in the newspaper detailed how he had started selling the most villainous and filthy stuff to whoever would drink it, and it went on to say the people of Anoka did not take kindly to Dudley seducing several young men from the Path of Recititude, and ruining them on the Rock of Appetite.

A public meeting was called to discuss measures for ridding the town of the intruder. Various citizens made speeches, some advocating moral persuasion, and others advising a resort to force in case of the failure of milder means. A committee of seven was appointed to visit the saloon keeper offering to buy him out. Dudley made fun of the offer and said he’d only sell for $11,000, an outrageous sum in 1858 Anoka. Dudley also said he had weapons with 50 rounds which he could reach at all times. So, the Dark Lantern Purifying Committee decided to pay him a visit.

In the dead of night on May 6, a dozen or so men dressed in dark clothing, their faces smeared with lamp black, and hair frizzed, used a battering ram to knock on Dudley’s door. They seized, gagged, and bound Dudley as he lay asleep on a sofa. Everything used to hold, serve, make, sell, or store liquor was smashed.

The next morning, according to the newspaper, Dudley’s cellar ran six inches deep in a flood of perfect nastiness. As a warning, tacked to his door was a note that said he had been visited by the “Dark Lantern Purifying Committee.”

Well, it didn’t end there.

Dudley swore out warrants for the arrest of about a dozen upstanding Anokans, charging them with the destruction of his property. The defendants were freed on their own recognizance, but great difficulty was experienced in getting them all together again at one time, causing numerous delays and postponements with their trial.

When the trial finally began A.P. Lane made a vigorous plea against reopening the case, and the proceedings dragged intolerably. Finally, Benjamin Shuler got on his feet and made a motion to adjourn, which motion he proceeded to put to a vote of the spectators. The astonished justice rapped for order but Shuler declared the motion carried, and the crowd, including the defendants, filed out of the court room.

Dudley cautiously recommenced business and continued to serve his patrons until May 11, 1859, when his saloon mysteriously caught fire and burned to the ground. Dudley’s wrath was terrible. He swore that he would burn the town.  Two months later, on July 14, the Methodist church, then nearing completion and awaiting its steeple, was totally destroyed by fire. Many members of the Methodist denomination had been active in their opposition to Dudley.

The indomitable Dudley moved into a barn in the back of his property where he sold whiskey in jugs. Over time he got in trouble with the law for such things as stealing a hog his neighbor had just butchered. He sealed his fate by forging a note that lay claim against the estate of his deceased uncle. Finally, the good citizens of Anoka had him where they wanted, and sent him (literally) up the river to St. Cloud. After serving his time he returned to Anoka briefly, but was persuaded to leave town permanently for his own good.

For a considerable time thereafter any traffic in intoxicants was conducted with a good deal of secrecy, and it was a number of years before anyone dared to open a public saloon in Anoka.

June Anderson is a volunteer member of the Anoka County Historical Society and the author of several books. If you have a story to share, please contact her at [email protected].

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