* The House Republicans have been blogging about Illinois history this year. Here’s their latest…
On Sunday, July 9, 1933, a fire broke out in a store room on the 5th floor of the Capitol’s south wing. It quickly spread to the 6th floor office of the division of oil inspection, and the nearby offices of the division of agriculture and the state supervising architect.
* The fire was eventually extinguished, but only after significant damage had been done by the flames and by the large amount of water used to combat the conflagration. The place was drenched, including the House chambers.
But the story doesn’t end there. An important meeting had been scheduled for the very next day…
Earlier that year, Congress had started the process of adding a 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an amendment which would repeal the 18th Amendment enacting prohibition. Illinois had enthusiastically embraced the cause.
The General Assembly adopted a joint resolution calling for a state convention to meet and discuss ratifying the repeal amendment. In April both houses and the Governor had enacted House Bill 441, setting by law the time and place for the repeal convention to meet: 12 noon, Monday, July 10, 1933, in the House chamber. That is, the very chamber which was now full of water and crumbling, falling plaster.
Elections for delegates to the convention had been held on June 5, and all 50 delegates were members of the “wet” slate, delegates who favored repeal of Prohibition, defeating their “dry” counterparts.
“Before a galaxy of distinguished visitors in the crowded House of Representatives, the 50 wet delegates to the repeal convention formally will place Illinois in the procession of states knocking out the dry paragraphs of the constitution,” the Illinois State Register had predicted on the day of the fire.
They were right about everything but the location.
While water was still dripping into the chamber, the jokes had started floating around: wet chamber, wet delegates.
“The hall had been all arranged for the repeal convention, but became sadly ‘wet’ before its time,” quipped the Journal.
Jokes aside, though, the convention did face a very real problem. The time and place of the convention had been specifically set by law. Convention delegates were arriving in the capital city while the smoke was still rising from the statehouse. The designated location was clearly unsafe. In the hours after the fire, a plan began to come together.
Go read the rest.