During the era of Prohibition, Americans no longer could manufacture, sell, or transport intoxicating beverages from 1920 until 1933. Spirited: Prohibition in America, a new exhibition opening Saturday at the Churchill County Museum explores this tumultuous time in American history, when flappers and suffragists, bootleggers and temperance lobbyists and legends such as Al Capone and Carry Nation took sides in this battle against the bottle.
Organized by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in partnership with Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City, Spirited: Prohibition in America explores the era of Prohibition, when America went “dry.” Visitors will learn about the complex issues that led America to adopt Prohibition through the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919 until its repeal through the 21st Amendment in 1933. Through the exhibition, visitors will learn about the amendment process, the changing role of liquor in American culture, Prohibition’s impact on the roaring ‘20s, and the role of women and how current liquor laws vary from state to state.
In 1830, the average American consumed 90 bottles — or about four shots a day — of 80-proof liquor each year. Saloons gained notoriety as the most destructive force in American culture, where men would drink away their families’ money. Following extensive campaigning and lobbying by the Anti-Saloon League along with groups representing women’s suffrage and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, on Jan. 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, and beginning Jan. 17, 1920, Americans could no longer manufacture, sell, or transport intoxicating beverages. However, the Volstead act, the law enforcing the amendment, made exceptions for sacramental, medicinal and industrial purposes as well as allowing families to “preserve fruit” through fermentation.
In the years following, the country was split between “wets” and “drys,” speakeasies flourished, legal authorities gave chase to gangsters, and many created inventive ways to circumvent the law. Governmental agencies, including the Prohibition Bureau and the Justice Department, charged with enforcing the Volstead act were ill equipped to deal with the flood of illegal booze. Along with rampant law breaking, Prohibition brought unexpected cultural and societal shifts from the development of mixed-gendered speakeasies to the growth of organized crime syndicated into national enterprises.
The exhibition draws on the histories told from both sides of this divisive issue that riled passions and created volatile situations. In the end after a decade of widespread corruption, wavering public opinion, and the need to generate revenue from an alcohol tax, the 18th Amendment became the first ever repealed. With the passing of the 21st Amendment, Prohibition ended on Dec. 5, 1933, to a very different America. Today, Prohibition’s legacy can be traced through state laws regulating alcohol, created to avoid the excesses before Prohibition and the corruption and lawlessness experienced during the roaring ‘20s.
Drawing on the themes of the exhibit the Churchill County Museum is collaborating with several other Maine street institutions to present prohibition themed programing.
Monday Movies and Mixology -- featuring Ken Burn’s and Lynn Novick’s American Experience documentary Prohibition at the Fallon Theatre 71 S. Maine St. The three-part series will be shown beginning at 6 p.m. on Nov. 12 and 19. Following the film, a mixology lesson featuring the products of the Frey Ranch Estate Distillery will be held at Jo’s Stillwater Tea Room 85 S. Maine St. This program is sponsored by the Churchill County Museum Association, Churchill Library Association, Churchill County Library, Frey Ranch Estate Distillery, Jo’s Stillwater Tea Room and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
A Jazz Age Party – Will be held at the William N. Pennington Life Center, 852 S. Maine St. This gala fundraiser is sponsored by Frey Ranch Estate Distillery and benefits the Churchill County Museum Association. Tickets are $40 and Table of 8 are available for $300. They may be purchased at the Churchill County Museum, 1050 S. Maine St. Black Tie optional – period dress encouraged. Join in the “fun raising,” with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, raffles and dancing.
Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition in America will be the subject of a Book Talk Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. at the Churchill County Library, led by Rik Andrews, Churchill Library Association Board member. This New York Times Best Seller by Daniel Okrent traces life in America during Prohibition, why America did it and how it changed America forever. Copies of Last Call are available at the Churchill County Library. The Churchill County Library, Churchill Library Association, Churchill County Museum Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities are sponsoring this program.
Last Call Supper Club. On Dec. 31 at 8p.m. join the Churchill Library Association and the Churchill County Museum Association as they ring in the New Year at the Churchill County Library. Enjoy dinner, dancing and complimentary cocktails in the unique ambiance of the Churchill County Library. Tickets are $65 or tables of eight for $480 and are available at the Churchill County Library, Churchill County Museum and Jo’s Stillwater Tea Room. Frey Ranch Estate Distillery, Churchill Library Association, Churchill County Library, Churchill County Museum Association, and Jo’s Stillwater Tea Room sponsor this event.
Spirited: Prohibition in America is based on the exhibition American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, organized by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in collaboration with Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Spirited has been made possible through NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It has been adapted and toured by Mid-America Arts Alliance. Founded in 1972, Mid-America Arts Alliance is the oldest regional nonprofit arts organization in the United States. For more information, visit www.maaa.org or www.nehontheroad.org.