Saturday, July 29, 2017

Prohibition project: The Leaping Hound

This two-story structure on Summit, behind La Posada restaurant, once was home to "Swede" Benson's  Leaping Hound.
Continuing the series on the Prohibition era in Kansas City, 1920 to 1933, about surviving buildings and other structures with stories to tell about moonshine, bootlegging, speakeasies, "wets" and "drys," and associated events, activities and personalities.

*     *     *

The Volstead Act – the working part of the Eighteenth Amendment – took effect January 16, 1920, making it illegal to "manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, furnish or possess any intoxicating liquor except as authorized." But part of this had been true since the previous summer, which was how guys like Swede Benson wound up on the wrong side of the law.

In 1918 President Woodrow Wilson had signed an agriculture bill that included a wartime prohibition amendment, outlawing the sale and importation of intoxicating liquors until after the army had demobilized. It became law July 1, 1919. Real enforcement of wartime prohibition didn't get serious until after Congress passed the Volstead Act that October. 

In November 1919, police raided and closed Benson’s notorious Leaping Hound, a whisky-and-beer joint on the second floor of a building on Summit near Southwest boulevard. The place reportedly got its name after a customer declared "the booze sold here would make a hound leap at a lion." 

The joint in 1919.

Frank O. "Swede" Benson was a longtime gambler, saloon owner and political operative. A former deputy county marshal, he counted votes and cracked heads in elections for Miles Bulger, a Democratic rival of Tom Pendergast. After the Leaping Hound closed, he opened a pool hall across Summit on the opposite corner, and later a barbecue joint on Main near 20th. Both were raided several times. Political protection kept him open until Bulger’s power faded. By the time the barbecue was padlocked for liquor violations in 1925, Pendergast was firmly in control. Benson got three months in county jail.

In 1934, a love triangle caused him to shoot and kill a man on a northern Missouri farm. He fled, was captured four years later in Los Angeles, and eventually sent to prison for second-degree murder.

*     *     *