The Beer Garden That Saved Lives

The Beer Garden That Saved Lives

Alcohol was used in abundant amounts in early America. It was as common and accepted as food and in many cases far more available. Beer and wine were a big part of the European diet and that custom was well evident in the colonies. By the end of the Revolutionary War and into the first decades of the 19th century the equivalent of over 7 gallons of pure 200 proof liquor was consumed yearly per capita in the newly formed United States of America.

By the end of the Revolutionary War and into the first decades of the 19th century the equivalent of over 7 gallons of pure 200 proof liquor was consumed yearly per capita in the newly formed United States of America.

Drink was everywhere. Available to anyone, of any age, who wanted it and had a capped bust silver dime to buy it. The cities and towns grew rapidly over the few decades. Westward expansion was continuing by hopeful seekers of free new land and of a new life. In the 1820’s the resulting social disorder, family breakdown, loss of individual dignity and hampered economic prosperity was readily apparent. The ever flowing use of fermented, brewed and distilled drink was taking its toll. Alcohol use was on the rise. The increase in binge drinking and the public displays of drunkenness by a significant percentage of the population was all too common. Such was the world that spawned the founding of The American Temperance Society in 1826 and more than 1000 other local temperance groups within the next 5 years.
Throughout the remaining first half of the 19th century, clergy inspired by the revivals of the Second Great Awakening spoke out about the social, spiritual and cultural destruction due to the abuse of alcohol. Business groups in need of reliable sober employees for the new industrial economy held meetings, printed articles and exhibited cartoon characterizations in local newspapers. Their purpose was to point out the economic and societal harm due to intoxication and the ever present public displays of drunkenness due to “Demon Rum”. These displays of activism do not occur without cause. They result from the daily observations of abuse by everyone during that period of time. A major problem existed and it needed to be addressed, the ever present abuse of alcohol.

Another issue was also frequently linked hand in hand inside the dimly lit meeting halls and tent revivals of antebellum America, the abolition of slavery.

A Civil War was on the horizon. This eventual four year conflagration between governments, states and brothers resulted in the ending of one scourge yet the exacerbation of the other. By the end of the Civil War in 1865 the abuse of alcohol and now the increase in addiction to opiates such as Morphine and Laudanum was as bad as it had ever been. Once again the focus was on reform.

During this time in a small town in Ohio the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was formed in 1873. Other temperance organizations were also organized. Rescue missions were popping up across the seedier urban areas competing with the saloons, theaters and brothels of all the inner cities. Among them, birthed from the vision of a young woman from Iowa, was the beginning of a small rescue mission in the south side of Chicago.

The mission was founded in 1877 by Colonel George Clarke and his new wife Sarah. Sarah had the original vision and calling for such a mission. The new mission on South Clark Street in “Devils Territory” was immediately met with a positive response. Men were hearing the message given daily by Colonel Clarke and lives were being changed. That first location out grew itself quickly. The building space could barely hold the kerosene stove and seat 40 people. By 1880 the Clarkes needed to make a move. The Colonel began the search and eventually found a new site. He discovered the perfect spot. A location recently vacated by the notorious Pacific Beer Garden, a rowdy saloon in the middle of the “Runyonesque” part of Chicago frequented by railroad workers, stockyard employees, meatpackers, hustlers and gangsters. Some nights more than a few members of the Chicago White Stockings professional baseball team would show up looking for the many diversions the area had to offer after a home game. All was perfect for the Clarkes, except the name in big letters above the door “Beer Garden”. Dwight L. Moody, the famous evangelist, suggested a minor change.

In 1880 the tiny rescue mission with a dream changed the Pacific Beer Garden into the Pacific Garden Mission. The rescue mission exists to this day. It is now the oldest continually operating rescue mission in the United States.
Through these many years the Pacific Garden Mission has saved hundreds of thousands of men and women from the hopeless existence of alcoholism, addiction to other drugs, gambling, prostitution, and other destructive behaviors. People of all
races, genders, ages and backgrounds have regained dignity, relationships and positive productivity. Families have been saved and restored.

The Colonel was the prime nightly speaker in those early days of the rescue mission. He was aided with songs from the hymnal, hot meals from the stove and the testimonies of the newly rescued. One evening that would all change. On a windy Chicago night in 1880 a former Michigan grifter and counterfeiter wandered in to the mission to rest and warm up from the cold. Recently released from a Detroit prison this wayward man’s life would soon enter a new direction. He heard the message of the Gospel preached by Colonel Clarke and made the decision to change his life. That man’s name was Harry Monroe. Monroe became part of the mission staff. He gradually began to preach the daily messages and eventually became the Superintendent of the Pacific Garden Mission for 30 years. One person can make a difference and the impact of this recovered former counterfeiter, Harry Monroe, would be nothing less than miraculous.

The White Stockings were frequent winners of the National League Pennant. They had the best hitters, fielders, pitchers and they had Billy, the fastest runner in baseball. Many players  also had the reputation for heavy drinking.

Chicago had a baseball team in the 1880’s, a good one. They had what was believed by many to be the best team in professional baseball, the Chicago White Stockings. The White Stockings were frequent winners of the National League Pennant. They had the best hitters, fielders, pitchers and they had Billy, the fastest runner in baseball. Many players also had the reputation for heavy drinking. It was rumored that they lost the 1886 League Championship due to inebriated players on the field during the game. One evening in the summer of 1886 after a home game Billy and three other players headed out for fun.

After leaving one of the local saloons, Billy sat on a curb listening to the music coming from the building across the street. The same music he used to listen to as a child. He told the other players to continue on without him, he was sticking around. Billy crossed the street and was invited in.

He heard the message of sobriety, salvation and redemption preached by Harry Monroe at the Pacific Garden Mission. That Chicago White Stocking player, the fastest man in the national league, had an awakening, a changed life. Billy Sunday quit baseball a few years later. He went on to preach the message of the Gospel, temperance and sobriety to millions. The fastest man in baseball, Billy Sunday, became one of the greatest evangelists of the 20th century. Hundreds of thousands of lives, perhaps millions, around the world were changed for the better due to hearing and living his message.

The saga of the Pacific Garden Mission would not be complete without the story of the life of Mel Trotter. Mel Trotter was one of seven children, the son of a bar keeper and an alcoholic. Mel followed in his father’s footsteps. He loved the saloons and gambling dens. By the time he was in his late teens he was a heavy drinker and gambler, always broke and unable to keep a job. Mel got married at the age  of 21. Like so many alcoholics Mel kept the truth about his drinking from his wife. It soon became obvious to his new bride Lottie that Mel was an alcoholic. Every promise Mel made to Lottie to stop drinking became another promise broken. Every new job Mel got was soon lost. Mel and Lottie became parents. Mel knew now he needed to quit drinking for good. He failed. After a ten day binge Mel returned home to find his baby dead in Lottie’s arms. Mel blamed himself for his child’s death. In January of 1897, the 27 year old, defeated alcoholic hopped a freight train for Chicago. Ending up in the Chicago rail yards Mel decided to end his life and headed for Lake Michigan. Drunk, broke and shoeless, The Pacific Garden Mission and Harry Monroe stood between Mel Trotter and the icy cold lake. That night Mel committed himself to God and sobriety. He never touched a drop of liquor for the rest of his life. Mel reunited with his wife Lottie. After working with the Pacific Garden Mission, 29 year old Mel Trotter began his own mission and ministry. Mel Trotter Ministries opened in Grand Rapids, Michigan February of 1900, now the largest in the United States.

The work of the Mel Trotter Ministries has restored the lives  of hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been destroyed by alcohol and other drugs. The work of the Pacific Garden Mission and Mel Trotter Ministries continues into this present day. One person can make a difference. The vision of Sarah Dunn Clarke to open a mission in 1877 due to a nation’s need for help is living proof.

Dr. Michael J. De Vito is a diplomate and is board certified in Addictionology. He is a graduate of Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern Health Science University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has been an instructor of Medical Ethics, Clinical Pathology, Anatomy and Physiology at the College of Southern Nevada.

He is the founder and program director of NewStart Treatment Center located in Henderson, Nevada. NewStart Treatment Center utilizes a drug free and natural approach to addiction treatment. Dr. De Vito is the author of Addiction: The Master Keys to Recovery