Westerville's role in Prohibition as the home of the Anti-Saloon League has long been part of local lore.
Westerville’s role in Prohibition as the home of the Anti-Saloon League has long been part of local lore.
The city now is gaining national attention for that role as famed documentarian Ken Burns prepares to release his “Prohibition,” which will air on PBS Oct. 2-4.
In creating the documentary, Burns’ team of researchers traveled to Westerville to visit the Westerville Public Library’s Anti-Saloon League Museum, where local history coordinator Beth Weinhardt and assistant Nina Thomas helped them scour the archives for materials that could be used in the documentary.
Weinhardt said a researcher visited the library in early 2009 and spent a week going through all of the Anti-Saloon League materials. Over the next year and a half, the researcher followed up occasionally to request high-resolution images from the archives or to ask questions, she said.
“It was a fun process,” Weinhardt said. “It’s always exciting to think that the materials are going to end up in something like a Ken Burns’ documentary.”
The upcoming documentary also led a team from CBS’ “Sunday Morning” to the library.
The documentary prompted the show’s producers to look for a Prohibition museum to do a piece on the topic. A Google search brought them to Westerville’s Anti-Saloon League Museum, Thomas said, and a film crew, with TV personality Mo Rocca, visited the library earlier this month.
Thomas said she gave Rocca a tour of the museum and answered his questions while the film crew shot footage of Westerville, the museum and its collection. The segment is expected to air the morning of Oct. 2.
Over the years, Weinhardt said, the library has been contacted by documentarians from The History Channel, textbook writers, graduate students and others from across the country and around the world looking for Anti-Saloon League materials.
Nevertheless, she said, there are many in the community who don’t know that the library’s Local History Center exists in what was once the headquarters of the group that was one of the driving forces behind Prohibition.
“I bet no week goes by that we don’t have someone walk through the door and say, ‘Oh, I had no idea what was back here,” Weinhardt said.
Thomas said people are often led down the library’s hall to the history center’s entrances.
“A lot of people don’t know that we’re here, one. Two, they don’t know that this was preserved as a museum,” Thomas said.
With the release of Burns’ documentary and the attention it will generate, Weinhardt and Thomas said they expect to see more people contacting the museum for information and coming in for tours.
“It’s one of those things where it’s like a snowball, and once we get the exposure, more people come in,” Weinhardt said. “I think it will be great. É It makes our day when more people come in.”
Thomas said she hopes the attention will raise awareness locally about the Westerville library’s historical resources.
“I’m excited that the library is going to get recognition for the fact that we have this and it is used all over the world, and people here don’t even know we’re here,” she said.