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While searching for an unrelated newspaper article for a library patron, I stumbled upon a unique piece of local news reporting in the 28 October 1937 Coalfield Progress, a newspaper located in Norton, Virginia, near the Kentucky border.

The article describes an unnamed defendant who found himself in Dickinson County court on the charge of possessing “illicit liquor.” The man claimed that the whiskey found in his pint bottle had mysteriously emerged from a “mountain spring” rather than from an illegal distillery. The man may have been a coal miner, as he reported that he had filled the bottle to use in his carbide lamp, an early type of acetylene-burning lamp used in mining.

The defendant’s claim that the contents of his bottle had emerged from the side of a mountain put the reporter in mind of the song “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” the popular 1928 folk song about a paradise for self-identified hobos where “you never change your socks, and the little streams of alcohol come trickling down the rocks.” Then as now, untaxed liquor was illegal in Virginia, and despite his daring claim, the Dickinson County man was convicted. The fate of his bottle of “mountain dew” is not recorded.

Coalfield Progress, October 28, 1937

Header Image Citation

“Moonshine still, Henrico County, Virginia”, Virginia State Chamber of Commerce photograph collection.

Rebecca Schneider

Senior Reference Librarian

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