For several years I compiled “From the Files of The Chronicle,” a today-in-history column that was a fascinating scroll and stroll through our community’s history. What a treat it was to bring history alive from black-and-white newsprint.
I’m pleased to see that The Chronicle has brought that kind of history review back with its new “A Look Back in Time” feature. It’s great to see old photos included as well, like a two-headed calf born in 1982 near Littlerock.
I got a kick out of an item last week, from 90 years ago this month, about a presidential candidate who visited Lewis County from his home in Oregon.
George Edward Steward, 40, was the candidate for his self-declared “Whip Party,” although he told The Daily Chronicle that he wanted a better name for his party and a better candidate than himself.
“I do not choose to run for the presidency, because I can win in a walk,” Steward told the newspaper in 1932. “I am 40 years of age and have never done anything to brag about. I have a home and a mortgage. I have a fine car and no gas. I have one suit of clothes, and thank God for it. (I) owe money I can’t pay. And I’m not a politician.”
It reminds me of another presidential candidate who was actually born and raised in Lewis County.
Gene Amondson was born in 1943 in Kosmos (a timber town east of Morton that no longer exists; it was submerged by the creation of Riffe Lake). He recalled of his childhood that he saw alcohol-fueled fights and he remembered witnessing a drunken logger molest a five-year-old child.
Politics ran in his family. His uncle, “Porky” Anderson, was a county sheriff, and his brother Neil later served in the state Senate.
According to his Wikipedia entry, Gene became a pastor and eventually came to be a strong opponent of alcohol, joining the remnants of the temperance movement that had been strong in the 19th century, peaked with passage of Prohibition in the United States, but faded after Prohibition proved unpopular.
For Gene, though, the battle was still raging. He toured the nation giving prohibitionist sermons, even traveling to New Zealand and Africa.
He was best known for dressing as the Grim Reaper and protesting outside bars or the headquarters of Anheuser-Busch or other alcohol manufacturers. His car had bumper stickers reading “Dumb People Drink” and “Your Kids Need You Sober.” He’d honk in protest when driving past taverns around his new home on Vashon Island.
In 2004, Gene first ran for president under the Prohibition Party banner. He acknowledged that he had no chance of winning, but said third-party candidates can “say wise things” to help guide the nation.
He was featured on The Daily Show, telling the comedy correspondent, “alcohol cuts the supply of oxygen to the brain and puts you in a kind of retarded state.”
To the Associated Press, addressing public criticism of organized crime during Prohibition, he said, “I’d rather have 100 Al Capones in every city than alcohol sold in every grocery store.”
Amondson earned 1,896 votes in the 2004 presidential contest.
He ran again as the Prohibition Party candidate in 2008. He campaigned in Louisiana, walking Bourbon Street dressed in his Grim Reaper outfit in protest of alcohol. That year, he received 653 votes.
One of my favorite photos of him was taken in a Seattle-area tavern. He’s sitting on the bar, wearing his clerical garb and a take-on-the-world grimace, holding a Stihl chain saw. It’s an homage to the hatchet that famous temperance activist Carrie Nation used to smash up bars in her campaign against alcohol a century ago. (Carrie Nation described herself as “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.”)
Gene Amondson died in 2009. His brother remembered him as a “Howard Stern of evangelism,” uninhibited by anyone. His children said he taught them, “Don’t be normal. Don’t be part of the herd.”
Gene was proud to come from “a town that doesn’t exist,” going all over the world to fight what he saw as a drug that destroys brain cells, lives and families.
“I’m going to fight booze til hell freezes over, then I’m going to buy a pair of ice skates and fight it some more,” Gene said during his appearance on The Daily Show. “I’m going to make America so dry, a man will have to be primed before he can spit.”
I’ll drink to that. (A soft drink, of course. With ice.)
Brian Mittge and his family live in rural Chehalis. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.