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For the under-21 set, there's a lot of power in a plastic card. A driver license reflecting a legal drinking age for some underagers is a golden ticket granting entrance into otherwise-off-limits places and allows them to play the booze-buying big shot for their equally-as-underaged friends.
Back in the day, fake ID-making involved car travel or mail order, but today, like most things, young'uns have to look no further than the Internet. YouTube videos demonstrate how to make fake IDs and online businesses sell them for as low as $20. However, the chances of any of these IDs actually working are next to nil. Liquor store owners, bartenders and bouncers are highly skilled in spotting a fake or tampered-with ID.
"We get a couple a week," says Pat Nelson, an employee / owner at Otto's Beverage Center, 3476 N. Oakland Ave.
Nelson says most of the time the IDs are real but being used by someone who is clearly not the same person. Otto's has a "wall of shame" showcasing hundreds of confiscated IDs, including one made from a Blockbuster card, another from an elementary school ID and one from photo paper.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the fine for using fake driver licenses or ID cards is $200 to $600 and / or six months in prison for the first offense. After the first offense, the fine increases to $2,000 and mandatory prison time is enforced. Manufacturers of fake IDs face more severe penalties which can include a $10,000 fine and three years or more prison time.
And yet, the consequences haven't stopped people from making, buying and using fake IDs for generations. Last year, Andy Tarnoff wrote an article about fake IDs from the bartenders' perspective. Here, Milwaukeeans who used false forms of identification weigh in with their stories.
Traveling to another state was common for fake ID seekers. Connie Grunwaldt went all the way to Colorado for hers.
"(The ID maker) had bulletproof glass, guns on the wall, dogs and a metal detector," says Grunwaldt.
In 1983, Robert Szocik – who was a high school student at the time – drove to Henderson's Studios on Addison Avenue in Chicago to buy what was rumored to be a "real" fake ID. The cost was $12.50 each and Szocik decided to buy two so he had one as a back-up.
"You got to pick your own state. I had two from Indiana and they worked for about three or four years until they both finally got nabbed," says Szocik.
Jenni Buehler purchased one for $50 in the mid-90s from a black-windowed, strip mall storefront in Gary, Ind. She remembers posters of official IDs from each state were hanging on the walls and stacks of telephone books for choosing names and addresses lined shelves around the room.
"I decided the of-legal-drinking-age me would be from Michigan," she says. "Of all the other choices offered, their ID format was the least sophisticated for the changing times, and I wasn't looking to have the thing confiscated for missing some official seal or watermark."
Buehler says it worked like a charm for several months in many different states, but she lost it when a police officer pulled her over for speeding and saw it peeking out from the wallet window when she removed her valid Wisconsin license above it.
"Smooth," she says.
Mitchell Wakefield ordered his first fake ID from the back of a Rolling Stone magazine. It was from the state of Idaho and it was eventually confiscated. His second fake ID was purchased when he and some friends drove to what he remembers as a "seedy neighborhood on California Avenue in Chicago." Wakefield had better luck with this one.
"The first place we went once we got back to Milwaukee was Century Hall for a pitcher of beer," says Wakefield. "It worked like a charm."
Craftier types of people attempted to make their own. When Jeff Bray was in college in Notre Dame, a few guys in his dorm designed a board that was supposed to look like the backdrop for a North Dakota license. They took pictures, cut out cards and laminated them. Surprisingly, they actually worked at the local liquor store.
"While I was geeky enough not to have a fake ID, I enjoyed plenty of beer that was purchased by several of the fellas who got the homemade fakes," says Bray.
The history of Wisconsin's drinking age is interesting. In 1866, the legal drinking age was 21 for all alcohol. For a while in the mid-1900s, the drinking age was lowered to 18 for beer consumption. In 1972, the drinking age was set at 18 for all alcoholic beverages. It was raised to 19 in 1984 and back to 21 in 1986. (Anyone can drink when parents or legal guardians are present.)
Other underagers got duplicates from friends or relatives who looked vaguely like them. Tracey Sheasby got an ID from a friend, but the tricky part was she and the friend wanted to go out together, so they would have to space out their arrival time at a bar or club so the bouncer wouldn't catch on.
The fake ID worked, even though her friend didn't look very much like Sheasby.
"The only thing that sort of resembled me was that we both had red hair. I think I was at least four or five inches taller than her and she had blue eyes and I had brown, but this was when the drinking age kept changing and people would be grandfathered in so I don't think bouncers really much cared if it was real, as long as you had something," she says.
Amy O'Neill, a former Milwaukeean now living in Boston, took the gutsiest approach to acquiring her fake. She took her friend's information to the DMV and had a real license made.
"I had a bonafide fake. But I had to duck out to the pay phones to call information to see what county Detroit was in. I was a little unnerved by my cool during the whole thing. But, you know, drinking matters," says O'Neill.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.