Northeast Times

Bootleggers and booze

Dav­id Eis­ner re­cently stepped down as pres­id­ent and CEO of the Na­tion­al Con­sti­tu­tion Cen­ter, but he be­lieves the cen­ter has a bright fu­ture with ex­hib­i­tions such as Amer­ic­an Spir­its: The Rise and Fall of Pro­hib­i­tion.

At a re­cent press pre­view, Eis­ner called it a “must-see ex­hib­i­tion.” He be­lieves the Amer­ic­an pub­lic is in­ter­ested in the sub­ject, point­ing to the pop­ular­ity of the HBO show Board­walk Em­pire and the re­cent movie Law­less, along with the much-an­ti­cip­ated movie The Great Gatsby, which will star Le­onardo Di­Caprio and de­but on the big screen next May.

“Pro­hib­i­tion is an ex­cit­ing, fun, com­pel­ling, amaz­ing story, and we’ve told it really well in this ex­hib­i­tion,” he said.

The ex­hib­i­tion will run through April 28.

At the press lunch­eon, a trio from the So­ci­ety Hill Dance Academy gave a 1920s per­form­ance, and pro­hib­i­tion en­force­ment of­ficers made a sur­prise “raid.”

The ex­hib­i­tion is the story of two amend­ments to the United States Con­sti­tu­tion.

The 18th Amend­ment, which went in­to ef­fect in 1920, out­lawed the man­u­fac­ture, sale or trans­port­a­tion of al­co­hol­ic bever­ages in the United States. The 21st Amend­ment, en­acted in 1933, re­pealed the 18th Amend­ment. It’s the only amend­ment to re­peal an­oth­er amend­ment.

The ex­hib­i­tion chron­icles the im­prove­ment in the na­tion’s mor­al and phys­ic­al health dur­ing Pro­hib­i­tion, but also de­tails the rad­ic­al rise in crime and cor­rup­tion.

Stephanie Rey­er, the cen­ter’s vice pres­id­ent of ex­hib­i­tions, views Amer­ic­an Spir­its as en­ga­ging, fun and edu­ca­tion­al.

The 5,000-square-foot ex­hib­i­tion fea­tures more than 100 ar­ti­facts, and Rey­er said plan­ners had fun design­ing it.

One of Rey­er’s fa­vor­ites is a re-cre­ated speak­easy, com­plete with a bar, dance floor, band­stand and powder room. She’s also par­tial to an Amaz­ing Amend­ment Ma­chine, which is a 20-foot-long, 8-foot-tall con­trap­tion that traces how the tem­per­ance move­ment cul­min­ated in the 18th Amend­ment.

As part of her job, Rey­er gets to tell the story of all 27 amend­ments, but ex­pects the 18th and 21st amend­ments to es­pe­cially in­terest vis­it­ors.

“These are by far the sex­i­est,” she said.

Daniel Okrent, a former New York Times ed­it­or and au­thor of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Pro­hib­i­tion, ex­plained that he spoke with Rey­er four years ago as he was writ­ing the book.

Okrent, the ex­hib­i­tion cur­at­or, said the 18th amend­ment las­ted 13 years,  yet mer­its only a sen­tence or para­graph in school text­books.

“It’s an ex­traordin­ary story,” said Okrent, who col­lab­or­ated with film­maker Ken Burns on the 2011 PBS doc­u­ment­ary Pro­hib­i­tion.

The ex­hib­i­tion is fun­ded in large part by the Na­tion­al En­dow­ment for the Hu­man­it­ies.

Dav­id Wein­stein, its seni­or pro­gram of­ficer, ex­plained that the ex­hib­i­tion’s in­nov­a­tion and cre­ativ­ity wowed the NEH.

Out­side the en­trance to the ex­hib­i­tion is a mod­i­fied 1929 Buick Mar­quette, known as a “Whis­key 6” of its day. Boot­leg­gers would speed away in six-cyl­in­der cars, usu­ally Buicks or Stude­bakers.

In­side the ex­hib­i­tion, ar­ti­facts in­clude cop­ies of the rat­i­fic­a­tions of the 18th and 21st amend­ments; a hatchet used dur­ing a bar­room-smash­ing raid; a Pro­hib­i­tion Bur­eau Badge is­sued by the U.S. De­part­ment of Justice; pamph­lets, school les­son manu­als, speeches, hym­nals and oth­er tem­per­ance pro­pa­ganda; a wiretapped phone used by boot­leg­ger Roy Olmstead; wo­men’s and men’s fash­ion ac­cessor­ies from the 1920s; man­u­fac­tur­ing items used for mak­ing moon­shine and homebrewed beer; Pro­hib­i­tion agent Eli­ot Ness’ signed oath of of­fice in which he swore to sup­port and de­fend the Con­sti­tu­tion; Al Ca­pone’s 1931 guilty ver­dict; and a crate of Bud­weiser pro­duced after re­peal of Pro­hib­i­tion.

Vis­it­ors also can take a quiz in a church pew, where the Anti-Sa­loon League gained strength in the early 1900s; take part in an “Is It Leg­al?” touch-screen game; learn how to dance the Char­le­ston; play the role of a fed­er­al Pro­hib­i­tion agent chas­ing rum­run­ners in a video game; and have their pic­ture taken with gang­sters in a crim­in­al lineup. ••

Drink to that …

The cost is $17.50 for adults, $16 for seni­or cit­izens and stu­dents and $11 for chil­dren ages 4 to 12, and in­cludes ad­mis­sion to the cen­ter’s main ex­hib­i­tion. Act­ive mil­it­ary per­son­nel and kids 3 and un­der are ad­mit­ted free. Group rates are avail­able. Ad­mis­sion is free on Sundays. Call 215-409-6700 or vis­it www.con­sti­tu­tion­cen­ter.org

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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