- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

ROCKY MOUNT, Va. — The young moonshiner told of how a tax man came up to him asked him where his family was.

“At the still,” he said.

“Then he told he’d give me a dollar if I took him to the still,” said the moonshiner, played by Garren Bare, 24, of Roanoke. The revenuer said he’d give him the dollar when he got back. “I had to tell him, ‘Mister, you ain’t comin’ back.’”

Franklin County has never been much ashamed of its long association with untaxed liquor. Its role in the county’s economy long ago prompted locals to adopt the boastful title of “Moonshine Capital of the World.”

Mr. Bare was part of yet another celebration of the ?likker? trade Sunday, when money changed hands over the stuff again.

Three sold-out bus tours rolled through this hub of the moonshine trade to acquaint a crowd of mainly Yankee expatriates with the county’s 100-proof past. Ticket sales benefited the Franklin County Historical Society, which played host to the event.

“It’s a history group, so we hope everything we’re telling you is the truth,” announced tour guide Joe Stanley. “But it’s Franklin County, so you never know.”

Though forever surrounded by mayhem, violence and ruined lives, bootlegging yarns get spun with a chuckle around here, as they did again Sunday.

Patrons could buy a “moonshiner’s lunch” of either Vienna sausages or potted meat, Nabs, a Moonpie and a Coke in brown paper poke for $2.

“They said lunch. We didn’t know what it was going to be,” said Fred Griffin, 68, of Lynchburg, who with his wife, Jan, was one of the early takers of the food offering.

“I can’t remember the last time I had a Vienna sausage,” said Mrs. Griffin, 70.

“The challenge was eating them with a wooden spoon,” Mr. Griffin noted.

A couple of bluegrass pickers laid down the soundtrack, kicking off their set with the unavoidable “Mountain Dew”:

“My Uncle Mort is sawed off and short, he measures ‘bout 4-foot-2, but he thinks he’s a giant when you give him a pint. …”

The tour hit 17 sites around Rocky Mount that played a role in early- and mid-20th-century life in Franklin County, from the massive moonshine-driven sugar trade to rumrunners to the temperance movement.

Much of the history centered on the 1935 Moonshine Conspiracy trial, in which the government set out to prove a conspiracy on the part of everyone from still operators to the commonwealth’s attorney to cheat the federal government out of liquor-tax revenue.

Mostly high school-age actors mounted the bus at each stop to lay out some history.

Some played actual Franklin County figures, such as “blockader” turned race car driver Curtis Turner, defense lawyer J. Bradie Allman and “the Queen of Rumrunners” Willie Mae Carter Sharpe. She is said to have run more than 200,000 gallons of “white lightning” out of Franklin County between 1927 and 1931, when she was finally caught.

She spent three years in federal prison at Alderson, W.Va.

“I hear another famous woman just got out of there,” noted Emily Rose Tucker, who played Sharpe. “I think her name is Martha.”

“It certainly is a wonderful, colorful piece of history in Franklin County,” said Mary Weiler of Union Hall, a New York transplant who moved to Smith Mountain Lake with her husband, Dave.

Moonshining “is part of our heritage,” said Linda Stanley, special-projects coordinator with the historical society.

Still, guides Sunday started off with a disclaimer.

“The Franklin County Historical Society knows that it’s illegal to make, haul and buy moonshine liquor,” Mr. Stanley said. “But it’s not illegal to talk about it.”

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