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WSU students celebrate Purple Gang
link to speakeasy on Third Street.
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December 19 • 2013
Students involved in the project pose in their 1920s-era finest.
wo hundred people came
to Tommy's Bar on Third
Street in Downtown Detroit
on Thursday, Dec. 5, to celebrate
the 80th anniversary of the repeal
of Prohibition and for a tour of the
144-year-old bar's basement, where
evidence of a Prohibition-era speak-
easy connected to the Purple Gang was
found this summer.
The summer excavation was under-
taken by Wayne State University's
anthropology department and
Preservation Detroit. According to
Krysta Ryzewski, Wayne State assistant
anthropology professor who oversaw
the project and conducted the tour,
the speakeasy had posed as an Italian
restaurant, where people could secretly
drink in the 1920s.
"We found everything but the kitch-
en sink in there:' she said of the hid-
den passageway the team uncovered.
"We found artifacts dating back to the
1880s and ceramics from the 1930s:'
Students from Wayne State,
University of Michigan and Eastern
Michigan University who worked
on the project dressed up in their
1920s finery at the "Speakeasy Project
Reveal Party:' where students created
an exhibit showcasing their find-
ings, which included the discovery of
an underground tunnel in the alley
behind the bar and numerous artifacts,
including bottles, bar stools, antique
Attendees got to see the
underground passage uncovered in
the basement of Tommy's Bar.
wrenches and miscellaneous bar trash.
The speakeasy was rumored to be
a popular hangout of the infamous
Jewish-run Purple Gang. The bar at
that time was owned by a Russian Jew
named Harry Wietzman, who later
changed his name to Harry Bianchini
and opened Little Harry's on Jefferson.
Ryzewski said the anthropology
department will likely put on another
event in the near future at Tommy's
Bar for those who were unable to
attend Dec. 5.