John Ollila, the manager of Oinonen’s Warehouse at 301 Third Street in Fairport Harbor, had a premonition that this might be the night that his world would come crashing down.
Ollila was right. On Saturday night, he was handcuffed and ushered out of his place of business, looking sheepishly hang dog, as his employer Niles Oinonen followed him, protesting loudly. The two were arrested for violating the Volstead Act, or Prohibition.
The pair was picked out from a group of about thirty or more people who were dressed in 1920’s garb; re-enacting one of Dr. Amy Kaukonen’s famous raids on speakeasies, hotels, houses, pool halls, and soda pop joints in Fairport, Ohio. Mayor Kaukonen and Marshall Lee Congos were notorious for those legal invasions, breaking up the illicit traffic and consumption of hooch, or homemade alcohol. The raids always came after months of undercover investigations by agents the Mayor had hired.
Arriving in two vintage cars provided and driven by Alan and Lorinda Wilder of Painesville, the cars transported Mayor Amy, portrayed by Lake Erie College junior Sara Spivak whose grandparents were Fairport Finns, and Marshall Lee Congos, portrayed by Fairport’s present Police Chief, Mark Kish. Kish is married to a Fairport Finn, Anneli Kallinki.
“The Finnish Heritage Museum’s purpose is to celebrate our history and educate people. This particular event was to show, right before general elections, that a person’s vote does count, considering that Dr. Amy Kaukonen made history by 75 votes when she was elected the first woman Mayor in Ohio in 1921. She ran on the promise to clean up Fairport and rescue it from the evils of crime, particularly alcohol manufacture, distribution, and consumption,” said Lasse Hiltunen, web-master and Hall of Fame Chairman.
Conceived as a vehicle to illustrate history, the event took on additional meaning and flavor, when the members wholeheartedly embraced the concept and dressed the part of 1920’s people, related Kathy Kuivinen, the museum’s curator. “I had a ball trying to figure out what I should wear to be accurate. I think I spent more time on this costume than I did my wedding. It was really fun.”
Museum member and historian Vivian Heikkinen contributed additional displays. Heikkinen brought in 1920’s men’s and woman’s wool bathing suits which covered most everything, and ladies white fashion shoes and boots. Also featured was a man’s silk shirt with a removable paper collar. The collar was discarded when it got dirty and replaced with a new one. It was cheaper to re-collar than wash the whole shirt.
“I had a wonderful time taking part in this event. This is what brings people together and really teaches what things were like back in those days. It is important to recall that,” related Heikkinen. Heikkinen was dressed in 1920’s period finery, with hat, black dress and lots of sparkle!
Other female members including the floozy flapper five (pictured below) spared no efforts to show perhaps another side of life in the twenties.
FHM members Don Cleary, Dennis Nelson, Don Ohler, and president Heikki Penttila came in gangster garb, with Cleary toting a ukulele while having a concealed cap pistol safely tucked in his coat.
Veikko Malkamaki appeared as a Finnish immigrant, freshly arrived from the docks with black saapat (boots), heavy trousers (housut), thick woolen shirt (paita), and a wooden braided backpack (selka säkki). Malkamaki actually just returned from a real Finland trip.
Guest Dr. Mat Price affected his best Irish brogue and seemed to be in danger of getting busted on the spot. “His raised glass was a bit too saloon-like and his eyes had that alcoholic twinkle,” remarked Mayor Amy.
As Mayor Amy and Marshall Congos worked their way through the party, both asked people what they were drinking and tried to sniff out alcohol. The speakeasy patrons were too cagy and had disguised the booze with other drinks.
The turn came when the legal duo turned the corner and found Niles Oinonen and another flapper (Nile’s wife, Kathy) running a gambling wheel, complete with chips. After a heated argument, the attention turned back towards the main door, where John Ollila was doing his best to get the law to pass by the still, working its steamy best, producing more fantasy hooch.
Ollila tried his best, but the still was the last straw. Marshall Congos pronounced, “You sir, are under arrest for violation of the Volstead Act! Give me your hands while I place the handcuffs on you!”
After Ollila was arrested, Marshall Congos turned his attention to Oinonen, who thought he had apparently avoided arrest. “Mr. Oinonen, you sir are also under arrest for running a gambling joint and for owning the building where alcohol is being produced. Give me your hands!”
Both were shooed outside where a group of five women were holding signs protesting alcohol and supporting the Mayor and Marshall’s actions.
The clincher that caused the arrests was sitting in the museum’s “featured display.” It was a real, twenty-five gallon still, which according to its owner, “produced hundreds of gallons of illegal white lightning, plum brandies, and other alcoholic beverages. It was used in Akron and Cleveland in the twenties and thirties, but has not been used for years.
In the display, the still was set atop a make believe stove and showed a copper coil leading to a galvanized cooling bucket and then to a bottle for collection.
“This is actually wrong, said Museum member Bob Noponen, since there should be a filtering unit between the still and the condenser.” Noponen went on to relate that he had been involved in the distilling process when he was much younger and had additional tales to tell. “This is good though, since it depicts reasonably accurately what happened, and that is a real still,” said Noponen.
Food provided reflected the 1920’s also with hardtack bread; small open faced sandwiches, tiny sausages, and smoked salmon. Root beer and crème soda from gallon kegs, and the omnipresent Finnish coffee pot sated thirsts nicely.
The group played card games, spun the “take a chance wheel,” and tried to define 1920’s terms: “A bent bell bottom who wasn’t a big cheese was given the bum’s rush from a gin mill, lost his cheaters, but still drove away in a breezer.” This translates to “A drunken sailor (not an important man) was ejected from a speakeasy, lost his glasses, but still drove away in a convertible.”
Oinonen and Ollila were released to continue the festivities after pictures were taken.
FHM member Jovette Hiltunen had the original idea for the event, but the work was carried through by her retired educator husband Lasse and other members of the Museum.
Next year’s event is already in the planning stages and promises to be more fun. The Finnish Heritage event is to draw attention to Fairport’s history and to honor the memory of Dr. Amy Kaukonen, who spearheaded a dramatic change in the makeup of the town. “It was headed for a criminal social element that paralleled other communities that suffered for years from organized crime,” related Hiltunen.
(NOTE: This article also appeared in the Finnish American Reporter.)