Opening reception: “Prohibition & The Rise of Organized Crime in America”
- Jun 23, 2016
Join us from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, June 23, 2016, to introduce our new Distillery Museum exhibit. Suggested $5 donation at the door, members are free, RSVPs required by Monday, June 20. We’ll enjoy legal wine, cheese and charcuterie. Must be 21 and older to partake of the libations — obviously.
We’ll explore the roots of Prohibition in the women’s Temperance movement, and how the politics behind Prohibition allowed for notorious gangsters like Al “Scarface” Capone and George Remus, the historical basis for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, rise to international infamy.
Several staff and volunteers will wear flapper costumes or 1920s outfits, and guests are welcome to dress up as well. Guests can also participate in a modern vote of “yea” or “nay” for Prohibition, vote for their favorite images for West Overton’s new postcards and can and create their own Prohibition protest/support signs.
More details about the exhibit:
“Sometimes you do things with the best of intentions but everything still goes wrong, and that’s what happened with Prohibition,” said Stephanie Koller, West Overton’s registrar and curator of the exhibit. “Everything that Prohibition set out to do backfired.”
She said that instead of lowering crime, violent crime rates skyrocketed; instead of making money, the government lost money; people lost their jobs instead of finding employment opportunities. More wholesome forms of entertainment were expected to flourish; sales of chewing gum were projected to skyrocket. Most importantly, America would return to its natural, God-fearing state.
“Eleven years later, the Great Depression happened. You may not have known the two were related,” said Koller. “And the end of Prohibition then brought about the end of the Great Depression.”
Timeline Leading to Prohibition
After the Civil War, America was becoming an industrial powerhouse with the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the 1870s. The world was changing — America had become a hard working nation with a serious drinking problem.
Working long hours with little pay, and in highly dangerous conditions, men would often look to escape reality and unwind at the local watering hole. More and more homes were affected by rising alcoholism rates and reports of domestic abuse. In response, women banded together and formed the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
This was the first step toward national prohibition of alcohol. The WCTU deemed alcohol a threat to the American way of life and to the American home.
Pressure groups like the Anti-Saloon League finally convinced the federal government that saloons must go. In effect, on Jan. 17, 1919, the taps ran dry in America with the National Prohibition Act, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.
As we know, America’s thirst for intoxicating beverages did not disappear or even decrease. Prohibition made alcohol more of a commodity — a very profitable one if sales were managed by the right people. The onset of Prohibition ushered in a new type of criminal — smarter, more organized, and unafraid of the law.