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October 28, 2020

Putting a “Lid” on Candy in 1907

By David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

I’ve been watching the discussion on how to have fun and stay safe on Halloween this year, and seeing the disappointment about not being able to get candy. It’s not the first time that we’ve had this kind of debate. In 1907, the city of Noblesville banned selling candy and sodas on Sundays. Newspapers called it the “Candy Ban” or “Soda War”.

This was as a result of the statewide Sunday closing laws known as “Blue Laws” meant to encourage moral reformation. Mayor E. C. Wilson said “This reform movement is not a sudden fancy. I have three years to serve and I intend to see to it that the Sunday laws are observed.” He put a halt to sales in a July 26 order, which covered ice cream, soda water, candies and chewing gum. He also closed the meat markets and said that housewives could just store meat purchased on Saturday in the icebox overnight. The newspapers said that he put a “lid” on things and this became a buzzword in later articles.

While some merchants objected, others obeyed. Customers went to other towns like Cicero for ice cream.  In addition to the above, the mayor had closed cigars stores three weeks earlier. However, cigar vending machines had been recently installed on the Interurban cars, and these got much use. In Noblesville, candy stores and soda shops were hit the worst. A photograph of children in front of one of the closed stores was staged for the Richmond newspaper.

One of largest and most popular of the confectioners was Dold’s Candy, which first opened as the Candy Kitchen at 34 South Ninth Street in 1897. (It was the favorite of a young boy named Norman Levinson, who later became the internationally known fashion designer Norman Norell. He remembered the store fondly in a 1962 letter about his hometown.)

Other merchants backed John Dold to open and defy the ban. He did on August 11, and he and his wife Marie were arrested by Noblesville Police Department Patrolman Frank Barnett. Barnett was experienced in law enforcement as he had been elected city Marshall between 1890 and 1900, and appointed as a police officer in March 1907.

This was to be a test case, so the Dolds were released without bond and the trial was held quickly. County Prosecutor Cassius Gentry brought the case, which was to be tried in the Mayor’s court. (It can be found in the Mayor’s Docket books put online by HEPL.) Because of the obvious conflict of interest, the Mayor was recused and local attorney W. S. Christian was appointed judge. He and a jury of 12 men heard the case.  Patrolman Barnett and John Dold were the only people to testify.  The jury was unable to reach a decision and the case was eventually dropped.

The city would repeat this effort in July of 1908 when a young man was put on trial for playing baseball on Sunday. That case failed as well. Interestingly, Mayor Wilson officially lifted the candy ban that same month. He claimed this was on the advice of doctors, who said that sodas and ice cream were beneficial to one’s health during the summer. Many of these laws would be revoked by the state legislature in the next few years.