Today is the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Lately I’ve been researching a book that takes place the year Prohibition went into effect, so I know plenty about the beginning, but not nearly as much about the end.
Some of my favorite stories are of the tricks bootleggers and drinkers used.
By 1933, virtually no one wanted Prohibition anymore–even teetotalers had realized that it did more to CREATE drinking problems and violence than it did to prevent them. The year it began, 1920, deaths from drinking dropped slightly, but then every year after deaths from alcohol poisoning went up and up and up as people imbibed alcohol from sketchy sources.
People would take industrial grade alcohol–the kind of stuff used in toothpaste and household cleaners–which was cheap and technically legal, and try to take out the poisonous part of it to make it drinkable. Of course, these people were not chemists and they often only managed to make it slightly less deadly.
And trying to make a quick buck, bootleggers would throw anything they could think of into a still to turn it into alcohol. Prohibition officers found alcohol with formaldehyde, among other things, in it. Which seems strangely fitting, as a favorite method of transporting illegal moonshine for some bootleggers was to load bottles into a casket, put it in a hearse, and drive it through town right under the authorities noses.
There were a few good things that came out of Prohibition, however:
#1: Before then, women were not supposed to go out to the bars to drink. On the rare occasion they did, there was usually a separate door and a separate area of the bar to keep them from getting corrupted by the men. During Prohibition, however, since everyone was drinking sneakily anyways, women were free to go to the speakeasies since technically NO ONE was supposed to be there. No separate doors, either, since ALL doors were secret.
#2: Cocktails! To cover up that nasty industrial poison, er, alcohol taste, bartenders started adding fruit juices and sodas to your favorite liquor. Ah, rum and coke.
So here’s to safe drinking! I’m happy to live in a world in which the only danger in drinking lies squarely in my own inebriated hands, and I can belly-up to the bar and get as corrupted as I want by both the men and women all around me.
To celebrate tonight: Beer at Joe’s will be attending 21st Amendment’s Prohibition Parade, then over to Cantina for Prohibition Era drinks, then back to 21st Amendment to their in-house speakeasy–be warned that you need a password to get in! We’ll leave it up to you to figure out how to get it.