The American Prohibition Museum – You BOOZE, You LOSE!

The American Prohibition Museum – You BOOZE, You LOSE!

 

When you think of visiting Savannah, Georgia, many things come to mind. Hanging out in one of the twenty-two, oak-lined squares dripping with Spanish Moss might make your “to-do” list. Your plans might include eating at one (or more) of the scores of restaurants featuring southern fare such as fried chicken and grits and gravy. And, like many tourists to the area, you might book a tour to learn about the Civil War history of the area – and how General William T. Sherman spared the city from a fiery demise due to its incredible beauty.

madison square savannah ga
Madison Square / Savannah, Georgia – beautiful, right??

AMERICAN PROHIBITION MUSEUM:

But did you know there’s a “new kid in town”?  Yup, opening not quite two years ago is the American Prohibition Museum.  And it is the only museum in America dedicated to this, ahem, “spirited” time in our nation’s history!  Located in the vibrant City Market area of Savannah, this is THE place to learn all about moonshine stills, the temperance movement, gangsters, rum runners, and the illegal whiskey biz of the Prohibition era!  Their slogan?  “Not your average “DRY” museum” – makes you want to visit if only to reward their wit!

American Prohibition Museum
The American Prohibition Museum @ City Market

The museum tells the story of the era leading up to and including the Prohibition years by way of historical artifacts, as well as actual and restored memorabilia.  They’ve included interactive exhibits and displays, wax figures and costumed interpreters to convey the story in a first-hand way that immerses you into the time period.  Through photographs, documents and video you learn the exact ramifications of the “dry time” between 1920 and 1933.  Thirteen years, ten months and eighteen days to be exact.  But then, who’s counting?

wall of photographs at museum
See those two facing each other? They carry on a conversation.

PROHIBITION FUN FACT: Did you know that NASCAR is a direct result of Prohibition?  It’s TRUE!  Moonshiners souped up their engines to evade the FUZZ.  And, the result?  Car Racing!

TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT:

The temperance movement began in the 1850’s when groups of people began to tout the idea that the consumption of alcohol was a threat to the nation.  The fight for a legal ban on alcohol was championed by organized movements and a few infamous individuals, in particular.

TEMPERANCE VIP’s

WCTU and Anti-Saloon League – The WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) and the Anti-Saloon League were leaders in coordinating efforts to ban alcohol.  They espoused that NO ALCOHOL equaled a happier home life and healthier children.

Alcohol is poison exhibit
The Temperance movement to ban alcohol.

Carry Nation – This radical, hatchet-wielding Anti-Saloon League member smashed saloons with a hatchet in an effort to destroy the establishments promoting the evils of alcohol.  Her “hatchetations” resulted in her being arrested for vandalism over thirty times!

Carrie Nation in a saloon exhibit
“Men are nicotine soaked, beer besmirched, whiskey greased, red-eyed devils.” – Carrie Nation

Billy Sunday – Not only did Billy Sunday preach the gospel in his traveling tent meetings, he preached the evils of alcohol and how it’s illegalization would lead to less crime.  So much so, he exhorted, that prisons could be converted to factories and jail cells into storehouses!

Billy Sunday preaching
“I am the sworn, eternal and uncompromising enemy of the liquor traffic.”   – Billy Sunday

January 16, 1920 – The 18th AMENDMENT is ratified and prohibits the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol.

The push for a more prosperous society – a safer, healthier and more moral society – through the illegalization of alcohol was certainly a noble desire.  However, as a result of Prohibition, the opposite would prove to be true.

6 Negative Results of Prohibition:

Corrupt Public Officials – Law enforcement and public officials resorted to making their own “hooch” and “bathtub gin”.  They succumbed to bribery and by the end of Prohibition it is estimated that half of Chicago’s Police force was on the “take”.

Speakeasies – These secret drinking establishments not only sold bootlegged alcohol, they attracted other illegal enterprises too, such as gambling and prostitution.  In 1927 there were an estimated 30,000 illegal speakeasies – TWICE the number of legal bars pre Prohibition.

Black Rabbit Tavern w policeman
No more saloons!

Tax Loss – States lost the taxes previously collected on alcohol.

Dangerous Moonshine – Toxic and poisoned alcohol from the lead found in moonshine stills resulted in thousands of deaths, as well as cases of paralysis and blindness.

kitchen still
Making moonshine in the kitchen.

Job Loss – The closing of breweries, distilleries, and saloons was an obvious loss of jobs and income.  But less obvious was the loss of wages for truckers, barrel makers, glass workers, and hospitality workers.  The negative economic impact of Prohibition was tremendous.

Organized Crime – With the destruction of legal occupations came the rise of the black market.  Gangsters and their illegal activities were on the rise with notable names such as Bugsy Siegel, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Al Capone.  The homicide rate in larger cities increased by as much as 78%!

gangsters in a car
Wise guys. Yikes!

December 5, 1933 – The 21st Amendment is ratified that repeals the 18th Amendment.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt ratified the 21st amendment that ended National Prohibition and essentially left it up to the individual states whether to, once again, legalize the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol.  Mississippi was the last state to repeal Prohibition, maintaining its statewide temperance laws until 1966!  I bet lots of folks, at long last, “drank to THAT”!

PROHIBITION FUN FACT:  You know that Walgreens store you see on every corner?  They, too, are a result of Prohibition!  When alcohol was illegal to purchase during the 1920’s and early 30’s, whiskey could be obtained legally through a prescription.  A million+ gallons of whiskey was consumed every year by way of a prescription.  At the beginning of prohibition, only a few Walgreens existed in the state of Illinois.  At the end, they operated 600 stores in thirty states!

Walgreens at museum
Filling prescriptions for whiskey.

If you purchase your tickets to the museum at the door, you have an option of a “museum only” admission or a “combo” version that includes a cocktail in the museum’s speakeasy.  It saves you a couple of bucks and you will probably be happy that you went this route once you encounter the speakeasy.  AND, you get to give them a password to gain entrance!

guy at speakeasy door
Gimme da password …

For me, touring a prohibition museum made me crave a drink much like touring an aquarium makes me crave seafood.  Weird?  Maybe – but boy, was I glad I went for the “combo” ticket.  Mr. Jones and I opted for the “Brown Derby” – a concoction consisting of bourbon, honey and super-chilled grapefruit juice.  Shaken, not stirred.

Speakeasy bar
Belly on up to the bar.

So the next time you visit the wonderful city of Savannah, Georgia, be sure to include the American Prohibition Museum on your list of things to see and do.  It’s a surprising slice of history you don’t expect to discover in Savannah – but one that you’ll certainly enjoy.  And don’t forget to “tell ‘em Jonesy sent ya”Contact Info:  209 W. Saint Julian St., Savannah, GA 31401 / 912 220-1249 / www.americanprohibitionmuseum.com

Have you visited the American Prohibition Museum?  What did you think?  What are some of your favorite things to see and do while in Savannah?  We would love to hear some of YOUR suggestions in the comments below!

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