On June 23, 1932, at the height of Prohibition, Columbia residents of all ages enjoyed six hours of free beer as 200,000 gallons of the amber brew was dumped into a Fourth Street storm sewer as a result of a police raid.
Just after 4 am, Pennsylvania State Police descended on 247 South Fourth Street, surprising the beer runners inside. Police seized one truckload of beer that had just left the warehouse and another still inside the brewery yard. Seven men were arrested.
With the crime scene secured, the troopers began to drain the enormous vats of their contents into the nearby storm sewer.
Almost immediately, residents began to gather where the Fourth Street sewer emptied into the Shawnee Run. With them, they brought anything that could hold a liquid.
Soon scores of people surrounded the lager waterfall. Completely unconcerned about sanitation, they ladled the brew into buckets, kettles, and cups. Parents sent their kids into the stream to scoop up the beer and hand it back to them as hundreds of spectators cheered.
While the adults drank, many children played in the stream of beer. A few even indulged in the beverage. A beer splashing battle even broke out, soaking everyone!
The popup beer fest came to an end six hours later, early in the afternoon, when brewery owners were able to get a temporary injunction to stop the police from destroying the beer. Unfortunately, by the time papers were served, the last of the 200,000 gallons had been drained headed towards the Susquehanna River.
The Google Map below shows the approximate location of the impromptu beer gathering.
Here’s a transcript of the original Thursday, June 23, 1932, Lancaster New Era article describing the events of what happened.
Free Beer “On Tap” at Columbia Sewer
Scores Drink Free Beer As Raiders In Columbia Empty Vats Into Sewer
Men, Women, and Children Fill Kettles at Mouth of Drain After State Police Raid Brewery; Injunction Halts Flow
Beer — real foamy, high-powered beer—gushed through the sewers of Columbia this morning– and into the mugs and kettles of many thirsty Columbian.
Scores of men, women, and children, armed with containers of every description, collected at the mouth of the line, where the sewer empties into a small stream flowing Into the Susquehanna River and scooped up the potent beverage while hundred of spectators lined the banks and cheered.
The beer revelry, resulting from a raid early this morning on the Columbia brewery, 247 South Fourth Street, came to an end early this afternoon after the amber fluid had poured freely for more than six hours. It was ended when the brewery owners obtained from Judge John M. Groff a preliminary injunction restraining State Police from destroying the beer.
Shortly after 4 o’clock this morning, a carload of State troopers, acting under orders from Major Lynn G. Adams, superintendent of the Pennsylvania State Police, surprised beer runners in the act of moving contraband from the brewery.
They seized one truck load of beer after it had left the brewery and another truckload, ready to be moved, in the brewery yard. Seven prisoners were rounded up.
Taking charge of the brewery, the State Police at once communicated with Major Adams for further orders.
“High-powered beer has no property rights—pour it down the sewer.” Major Adams declared when his men informed him they had confiscated more than 200,000 gallons of beer stored in the brewery vats.
So down the sewer went the foamy beer.
Beer circulating through the sewers is no innovation in Lancaster county, but Columbia developed a new wrinkle this morning.
In Columbia, the creamy fluid gushed through the sewer proper, not through an inner pipeline or any other new-fangled contraption.
Down the Fourth street sewer line rolled Old Man River Beer, down to the exit under the Reading Railroad bridge, where it poured into the small stream leading into the Susquehanna.
It didn’t take long for the news to spread that the Columbia Brewery
had been raided. It took even less time for the report to get around that the beer was being dumped down the sewer.
Then followed a rush that smacked of the gold rushes in the pioneer days of the West.
“Thars’ beer in them sewers!” was the gleeful cry set up with the first discovery, and then the populace scurried for pots, pans, kettles, kegs, jars, and buckets. One individual even rolled up an empty beer keg but suddenly changed his mind.
Casting aside all rules and regulations of sanitation, the army of beer scoopers waded into the stream as Old Man River Beer kept rolling along.
Parents who refused to risk their lives to climb up and down the steep banks of the stream into which the sewer emptied sent their more agile children. The children delighted in splashing about in the creamy beverage but nevertheless saw to it that their pots, pans, and kettles were filled to the brim.
The beer drinkers themselves turned out en masse. Someone produced a glass stein, which served as a drinking receptacle for many. Others used small tin cans and pails to scoop up the beer and drank from them without formality.
Set Up “Bar” Under Trees
A group of the unemployed, having nothing else on their mind, established a camp under some shade trees a short distance upstream, and the members took turns in relaying the beer to the spot where it was consumed in comfort.
Two youths, having imbibed pretty freely, became a bit hilarious. The mere scooping and drinking of beer failed to satisfy them. One of them dowsed his companion with a pail of beer, and the other retaliated. Then came a general “dowsing” party, with high-powered beer splashing in all directions.
No attempt was made to interfere with persons dipping the amber fluid from the sewer stream. In a previous raid, the police had reportedly poured kerosene into the vats before opening them.
The detail of State troopers under the command of Lieutenant Keller, of the State Police Training School at Hershey.
Those arrested are: Robert L. Reed and Charles Edwards, Lebanon, charged with illegal transportation and possession: C. R. Bushong, W. M. Lobeek and William Myers, all of Columbia, charged with illegal possession and conspiracy to violate the liquor laws: Charles Mack and Sam Dorman, both of Columbia, conspiracy
Reed, Edwards, Bushogg, Lobeck, and Myers furnished bail of $800 each, while Mack and Donnan were released under $300 bail. They will be given hearings before Justice of the Peace Hasselbach, Columbia, tomorrow afternoon at 4 o’clock.
An injunction halting the flow of beer was granted at noon by Judge John M. Groff to Mathias Schmalhofer, administrator of the Joseph T. Dierson estate. ‘The order was directed against the Pennsylvania State Police and restrains them “from any act which may in any way result in the loss, waste or diminution” of the property and the liquor housed there.
The petition for the Court of was brought by Henry Palmer, Esq., and M. Edna Hurst, Esq., and set forth that “the real estate (Diersonts) was occupied for the purpose or manufacture of cereal beverages and has been in the custody and control of your petitioner” (Schmalhofer).
Liquor was manufactured under permits from the Alcohol Board of Pennsylvania and the Prohibition Bureau of the United States, the petition claimed, and ”an application for a renewal or the permit is now pending before the proper governmental authorities.”
The affidavits of Harold Miller and Michael Sweeney were attached to Schmalhofer’s petition, which was approved immediately upon hearing by Judge Groff and executed by the sheriff’s office.
Lancaster’s Sewer Beer
This wasn’t the first time beer was flowing through the sewers of Lancaster County. In nearby Lancaster, a Reading Beer Baron, Max Hassle, was shipping his suds 3,000 feet through the city’s sewers with the aid of two spelunking dwarfs.
The whole scheme came to a crashing halt on March 17, 1932, when a city employee found the beer hose on an inspection at King and Pine Street sewers. Read the full story here.