When Prohibition hit the country in 1920, once prosperous breweries who were no longer legally able to sell alcohol still tried to find ways to appease the general population of people who still wanted to get loaded. Through smuggling, secret speak-easies and bootlegging – much of it controlled by gangs – alcoholic drinks were still widely available.
Legally however, some former breweries decided to start selling malt extract syrup. The process of producing malt extracts is very similar to producing beer. Malt extract could be mixed or just ferment on its own and it would become an alcoholic drink. Nicknamed “Near Beer,” these beverages were sometimes promoted for baking and “home uses.” Many advertisements were purposefully vague.
“Saves time… saves bother.”“Pure, Uniform, Dependable. Try Buckeye!”“They tell me this Buckeye is wonderful stuff”“Possessing all the virtues for which the old favorite was and still is famous”
I’ve only spotted two existing Buckeye ghost signs in the city, most likely from Prohibition in the 1920s:
- 1215 W. Grand Avenue on the Near West Side.
- 1919 W. Chicago Avenue in West Town. This one is barely noticeable on some days.
- When Miller Lumber at 1817 W. Division Street in the East Village was torn down in November last year – apparently to be replaced by a couple of restaurants or apartments – I snapped a photo of one of the exposed walls showing a very well intact Buckeye ghost sign. The wall fell a few days later.