In the National Parks: Yellowstone’s Friends in High Places

Yellowstone National ParkYellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

Yelliowstone hot springs

1903

Probably the greatest conservationist among all American presidents was Theodore Roosevelt. When he visited Yellowstone for a vacation in 1903, it wasn’t a quick run through. He stayed for 16 days. He was joined by naturalist and writer John Burroughs and by Park Superintendent Major John Pritcher. He dedicated a new archway to the park from Gardiner, Mont., that was named after him. He also met with architect Robert C. Reamer to go over plans for the construction of the Old Faithful Inn which would be completed the followed year.

Yellowstone National ParkBut what Roosevelt was most interested in was the wildlife at Yellowstone and he recorded his observations. Here’s an excerpt from Roosevelt’s April 16, 1903 letter to  C. Hart Merriam at the Department of Agriculture, including his observations of the elk at Yellowstone. “From very careful estimates, based for instance on actually counting the individuals in several different bands, I am convinced that there are at least fifteen thousand of these elk which stay permanently within the Park. But an insignificant number of them are killed by hunters… The cougars are their only enemies, and in many places these big cats, which are quite numerous, are at this season living purely on the elk, killing yearlings and an occasional cow; this does not damage, but around the hot springs the cougars are killing deer, antelope and sheep, and in this neighborhood they should certainly be exterminated.”

While he was president, Roosevelt created five national parks, 18 national monuments, 51 bird sanctuaries and created the National Wildlife Refuge slystem. In 1947, President Harry Truman created the national park that is named after him, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.

President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1903 Visit to Wyoming

 

1937

Franklin D Roosevelt, accompanied by his wife Eleanor, his daughter and son-in-law arrived at Yellowstone by train on Sept. 25, then took a drive through the park in an open car. They spent the night at the private home of Harry Child, president of Yellowstone Park Company, and the following day visited Monmouth Hot Spring and had lunch at the Old Faithful Inn. Eleanor recorded her observations:

Yellowstone National Park“Of course, the first thing that strikes one is the extraordinary hot springs, bubbling up and changing constantly so that what is a colorful terrace today with the hot water flowing over it, will in a little while be white as chalk when the water ceases to bubble and flow and keep the tiny plants alive which give the color to the hillsides.

“The next greatest interest is the animals. The herd of buffalo was interesting though we only saw it from a distance, but we saw a wonderful sight in a great elk with fine antlers close to the road, herding his harem of ladies. A little later we saw a lone elk, all by himself against a background of pines and wondered if he had been driven off and had lost his ladies to the other gentleman. Even in the animal world the ladies seem to cause some trouble!”

FDR’s greatest contribution to the national park system was the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps which provided much needed jobs during the Depression and sent an army of workers into the parks to improve infrastructure, build roads, plant trees and work on soil conservation projects. He also created 11 national monuments during his terms.

My Day, by Eleanor Roosevelt, Sept. 27, 1937

Yellowstone National Park

 

1978

Jimmy Carter and family took a fishing trip to Yellowstone, setting up on an island in Yellowstone Lake  and accompanied by famous fly fisherman Bud Lilly.  Based on the book “Yellowstone Ranger” by Jerry Memin the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune provided an account of the scene on the day of Carter’s visit.

Yellowstone National Park“In 1978, President Jimmy Carter arrived by helicopter to Yellowstone Lake’s southern arm.

“When the helicopter landed the rangers rode over to introduce themselves. The Marine in charge said his only worry was grizzly bears.

“Then came the president, his wife, daughter and entourage. The Secret Service deployed in canoes, along with the First Family. The female anglers, especially Amy, were quick to catch fish. Things began to look awkward for the president.

“’Judging from the body language some seemed to be holding their breath while others seemed to be hyperventilating. Then the president caught a fish,’ Memin wrote. ‘a sigh of relief swept through the onlookers, and everyone seemed to relax.’

“Then Memin hopped off his horse so the president could ride it… ‘I would say he was an accomplished gentleman and an adequate horseman,’ Memin wrote.”

Carter made several visits to the park after his time in office and is remembered for joining the park staff for pizza in an employee pub at the Lake Hotel. His signature is still on the wall there.

In 1980 Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The law created 10 national parks and preserves, two national monuments and nine national wildlife refuges. All told it set aside 104 million acres of land.

Park ranger found a life of adventure in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park

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In the National Parks: Lost in the Tetons

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Missing teen

Talbot Lake trail, Grand TetonWord reached Cincinnati on the evening of Aug. 5, 2016 that a local teenager was missing in Grand Teton National Park. The 17-year-old had gone to the park on a conservation project with a group called Groundwork USA. She was working with a group of other teenagers on a trail making project when she headed off on a bathroom break and never returned. The news seemed even more ominous the following day when KLWT5 News in Cincinnati reported that one of her hiking boots had been found.

The TV reporter reached her math teacher who expressed his concern: “I’m really worried about her safety because I know her and I know this is not something that she would do of her own accord.” He added that she is a straight-A student and president of the Vegan Club. Just the day before going missing she had posted on her Instagram account “Last day in Wyoming is tomorrow. I can’t wait to be home and see everyone. Today I am blazing a trail, pretty siked.”

The search initiated by the park rangers was broadened to include the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and the Wyoming Civil Air Patrol. More than 100 people were involved. And they found her!  But when they did, she tried to run away. And she had cut and dyed her hair and changed her clothes. Eventually they corralled her and held her under “protective custody” until her parents arrived and brought her back to Ohio.

I trust all is well now and she will be able to look back on this incident and dismiss it as “one of the stupid things I did when I was 17.” We all have some of them.

Boot of missing Cincinnati teen found during search of Wyoming Park

Ohio teen found in Grand Teton National Park had changed her appearance

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Missing ring

Grand Teton National ParkRichie Jones had a plan for proposing to his longtime girlfriend Ashley Allen that no woman could refuse. Packing away a purple sapphire engagement ring, he set out with Ashley to conquer the Grand Teton, a 14,000 foot peak that is the tallest at Grand Teton National Park. It took them two days to reach the summit. Here’s a companion climber’s description of what happened when they got there.

“Richie stepped back, took a knee on the summit of the Grand Teton, and looked deep into Ashley’s eyes.

“’Will you marry me, Ashley?’

“She threw her hands in the air, screamed in obvious delight, and with tears of joy streaming down her face she reached toward the ring box as Richie held it out and opened it.

“She gave Richie a puzzled look.

“Richie returned the puzzled look. He slowly rotated the box and an expression of utter astonishment swept across his face.

“The ring was gone.”

He later told ABC News “One of the guys saw it bounce off the rock and it goes spiraling, just spinning with this top spin down through the air, and saw it on another rock.” Allen never got to see the ring, but she said yes anyway and Jones tried to look on the bright side: “To know our engagement ring is on this incredibly dramatic, spectacular peak just sitting up there, what more could you ask for?”

Not exactly what he planned but a memorable proposal nonetheless. No word on whether anyone ever found the ring.

A Mountaintop Proposal Doesn’t Go as Plannd Engagement Ring Lost on ‘Spectacular’ 14,000-Foot Peak ‘Meant to be There’

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Missing skier

Jacson Hole Ski ResortA Houston man and two of his buddies from Wyoming, ranging in age from 24 to 37, were spending Christmas in 2016 skiing at the Jackson Hole Ski Resort, adjacent to Grand Teton National Park.  But at 6:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve one of the men’s girlfriend got a text that they were in trouble. She called Teton County Search and Rescue who forwarded the alert to the park rangers.

The skiers were hoping to reach the Rock Spring Bowl but after they left the ski area’s boundary, they got lost in the poor visibility. They were able to hike to an area where they could get some cell reception and contact with the park rangers was established at about 10 p.m. It was determined that the men were uninjured and that they had some equipment with them, including probes and shovels. They were instructed by the Rangers to build a snow cave and fire and the rescue would take place in the morning when it was not as dangerous.

Two park rangers and two members of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Ski Patrol started their Christmas morning on the tram that goes to the top of the mountain. They skied into the area where they believed the lost men were camped out, were able to find their ski tracks and followed them to the three skiers. The men were safe, albeit cold, and the rescuers escorted them down the mountain and back to Teton Village.

The advice from the park rangers: “remind those that venture outside of the ski area boundary that they should be prepared for emergencies and the potential for extended stays outdoors.”

Lost Skiers Rescued in Grand Teton National Park on Christmas Day

Jenny Lake waterfall

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The Wounded Knees Diary

As I write this I am three weeks into recovering from a double knee replacement. I think that name makes it sound worse than it is. You don’t get your knees replaced, it’s really about slapping some titanium in where your cartilage has aged out. Rehab takes a long time and while it has been described as painful it is more about being uncomfortable. All the time. And I’m getting a little bored. (If you’re a hacker following my social media accounts to find out when no one is around, you’re out of luck. I’m here 24/7.)

knees

(not my knees)

Prior to the surgery I had osteoarthritis in both knees for about 3-4 years. It is apparently more common than I would have guessed, at least judging from the vast array of relatively worthless cremes, lotions and roll-ons you can find at any drug store aimed at the knee pain sufferer. The hospital where I had the surgery does 60 knee replacements a week. I half expected them to load me up onto a conveyor belt, but if that happened they apparently did it after they knocked me out.

Since this seems so common I thought some might be interested in what I learned along the way. But first one warning. I am the last person you should look to for medical advice. Prior to my recent knee episode you could measure my time between doctor visits in decades. I know nothing about medicine. Nothing about pharmaceuticals. And subjects like anatomy and biology are blank spots for me.

Doctor #1 – My first venture into getting some professional help for my knee problem is when I mentioned it to a general practitioner who I was visiting for a long-overdue physical. He asked if it was keeping me awake. No, it wasn’t keeping me awake and in fact never did. His advice, “Don’t go to an orthopedist until you can’t sleep at night.” No idea why he said that but I suspect it was bad advice. Had I started to get some sort of treatment early on it likely would have saved me some painful times.

knee

This is not my knee either.

Orthopedist #1 – Why are doctors seemingly so distrustful of other doctors? One of the first things this guy told me is that I was lucky I didn’t go to a university hospital because if I did they would send me straight to surgery. Not sure the rationale behind this advice either but I’ve never wanted much to do with hospitals so I readily accepted it. This visit set me on the strategy of trying to avoid surgery, of doing everything possible before going that route. He gave me cortisone shots which usually but not always relieved the pain for 3-4 months. Three times over a period of two years he gave me three-shot treatments of orthovisc. This stuff is supposed to strengthen your cartilage. It did nothing for me. He prescribed naproxen, which is prescription-strength Aleve. At one point my right knee, which had been my good knee, suddenly became my bad knee. My orthopedist diagnosed a torn meniscus.  I had arthroscopic surgery to repair. I felt great for a week. Then the painkillers wore off and I discovered I was no better off than before the surgery. Not long thereafter I came across a story in the New York Times about how this surgery is likely the most often performed unnecessary operation there is. I suspect that I did have a torn meniscus, but that isn’t what was causing me the pain. Instead it was what the professionals refer to as “bone on bone,” another way of saying your cartilage is gone. I asked about physical therapy and was told “it won’t help you.” Another piece of bad advice.

 

Orthopedist #2 – I thought it was time for a second opinion. But without so much as looking at an x-ray, this guy’s opinion was that I was going to need surgery and since he didn’t perform that surgery he lost interest in me as a patient right away. In fact the guy spent his whole 5 minutes with me talking to his tag-along intern. I might as well have been one of the posters on the wall that shows deteriorated joints. I did, however, prevail upon him to give me a prescription for physical therapy.

Physical therapist #1 – Physical therapy helped me more than anything I had done to this point. (Except for maybe buying the Hoka sneakers that I wore everywhere for two years.) Two weeks before she started treating me, my physical therapist was a full-time bartender. But she never chose to put my knees on ice. Instead she taught me how to exercise and what I was able to do on my own in the gym afterwards. The PT loosened me up to the point where I felt better than I had in a while. I had a prescription for eight weeks of therapy and then I renewed it for another 8 weeks. I spent a full hour twice a week with my physical therapist as opposed to 5 or 10 minutes per shot with all of the doctors. So I felt she knew me and my knees better than anyone I had been treated by.

Acupuncturist #1 – Determined to try absolutely everything, I decided to see an acupuncturist and ended up doing about eight treatments with him. We got along great. We had similar tastes in books and music and common political views. So we had a lively conversation while I laid on a table with needles stuck in me for an hour or so. Not a bad way to break up the day. As for my knees? It did nothing.

At this point I was maintaining myself on quarterly cortisone shots, working out in the gym four or five times a week and taking naproxen daily. I was uncomfortable continuing with the medication because of warnings about prolonged use making you susceptible to other things, like strokes or heart attacks. And while I could do most things, I had stopped playing tennis, I couldn’t run, I didn’t take my dog for long hikes in the woods anymore, and I found myself avoiding anything that involved a lot of walking. It was time.

Orthopedist #3 – This time I went for the best surgeon I could find. This was a guy whose waiting room walls were adorned with New Jersey Nets and New York Giants jerseys, apparently worn by guys who had their knees done there too. No question in this guy’s mind that I should go for the surgery and that I should get both knees done. (One of my knees was much less painful so there was some question in my mind about doing one or two.) This guy I had confidence in. For one thing, he looked at my x-rays and determined that I also had had a stress fracture of the fibula in my right leg. That explained why one leg felt worse than the other even though the knee cartilage looked equally decrepit on an x-ray. Why didn’t any of the other medical professionals or radiology shops notice this? So I took the plunge. That was three weeks ago.

So here are some of the issues you might think about if you are in a similar situation:

knees

(image by Autumn Goodman)

To operate or not? All the other things that are offered to people with osteoarthritis in their knees, the creams and ointments, the braces, the shots, are intended to make a bad situation tolerable. (The only crème I found that helped was some Tiger Balm that my wife brought back from Thailand. But it also smelled so strong that even my dog didn’t want to come near me.)  You won’t get better! The best case scenario is that you reach a point where you are not that troubled by the pain and are not limited in what you want to do in life. Not being prepared to accept that, I went for the surgery as what I perceived as the only cure. There are some stories out there about people who had a bad experience and had to have the surgery repeated, in some cases multiple times, but everyone I talked to who had the operation or knew someone who had it was glad they did. Some even described it as life-changing.

One knee or two? I’m not sure why you would have the cartilage deteriorate in one knee and not the other but I guess that happens. As I said up front I really know nothing about this stuff. A case can be made for doing one knee. The recovery is no doubt much easier and much less limiting if you are operating on one good leg. I also had one knee that was considerably worse than the other so in that way the one-knee option made sense. Ortho #3 talked me into the dual remake. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to go through this and then find I had to do it again a couple years later. The decision to have surgery a second time is likely even tougher than doing it once.

Now or later? As described above I had followed a plan, in concurrence with doctor #1, orthopedist #1 and physical therapist #1, of doing everything possible before submitting to surgery. While it made sense to me at the time, I would urge some caution in following this. I’m probably a little younger than the average knee preplacement patient and don’t have any other health problems. How otherwise fit and healthy you are has a lot to do with how well you are going to recover from this. So there is some risk in putting off surgery and finding yourself in a less advantageous position to deal with it further down the road.

At this point I’m happy with the decisions I made to have the surgery and to go for the double. The rehab, which some described to me as brutal, isn’t really. But it is tough and long. All and all, I’m doing alright.  I doubled my time in the gym for the weeks prior to surgery. I think that helped with the recovery. I was walking after a couple weeks and only use a cane for stairs.

Don’t expect me to update this anytime soon, because I’m thinking of getting out of here and doing stuff on my new knees.

Pepper and me

Canine therapy

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Headless Art and Scary Stuff from Asia

A Walk Through the Newark Museum

Headless Art

African art at Newark Musaeum

Lady Walking a Tightrope, Yinka Shonibare

Ballantine Housae dining room

Headless reveler in the dining room of the 1885 Ballantine House, which is now part of the Newark Museum. This was the home of John Ballantine, sone of New Jersey beer baron Peter Ballantine.

Scary Stuff from Asia

Articulated Dragon

Articulated Dragon, Meiji Period (1968-1912).

Somethings Old

Thai Wheel of Law

Wheel of Law, Thailand, 7th Century

Japanese drum

Small Drum, Japan, Edo Period (1603-1868)

Buddhist Altar

The Newark Museum’s Tibetan Buddhist Altar was visited by the 14th Dalai Lama in 1990

Somethings New

Jensen piece at Newark Museum

Seeking to Unravel the Shape of an Enzyme, Alfred Jensen, 1977

Chinese Television

Television, New China Series, Ma Jun, 2006

Rauschenberrg at Newark Museum

Tibetan Locks and Keys, Robert Rauschenberg, 1987

Some Burger Art

burger art

Meso-American Big Mac Pyramid, Diego Romero

and Warhol’s Juice

Warhol at Newark Museum

Campbell’s Tomato Juice, Andy Warhol

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Thanks to Prohibition, We Now Have…

In Alabama, there are 24 of the state’s 67 counties where you can’t buy liquor. Except in 23 of those 24 counties there is one city where you can. If you’re in Kansas don’t volunteer to bring the beer for the Memorial Day, Independence Day or Labor Day picnic, because you can’t buy beer on those holidays. In Kentucky you can’t buy alcohol on Election Day.  The 21st Amendment which repealed the 18th Amendment still left the doors open for states and municipalities to set their own rules. Mississippi didn’t give up on Prohibition until 1966.

So now as we approach the 100th anniversary of Prohibition we find as part of its legacy a sometimes bazaar, but nearly always inconsistent set of liquor laws that ensures that Americans who live in different parts of the country have different rules to live by. But the mixed up alcohol regulations are fairly trivial compared to the influence Prohibition had on American lifestyle, culture and politics.

flapper girlFor one thing, Prohibition irreversibly changed nightlife in America. Tens of thousands of saloons closed. Ten of thousands of speakeasies opened. The image of the saloon drinker is a workman with a mug of lager set up next to his lunchpail. The image of the speakeasy patron is a young, stylish man or woman sipping cocktails in a carefree party atmosphere. It is the speakeasy that created the romantic image of the “roaring twenties” and one of the biggest changes is that it was about, and henceforth would always be about, men and women.

It was the young, urbane speakeasy crowd that would set the tone for style in America. While  Prohibition may in some ways be viewed as the last gasp of a moralistic, conservative Protestant America, the result of Prohibition for many meant the abandonment of the restrictive social and sexual mores that went with conservative religion.

Not only did men start hanging out with women, but there were also some glimpses of an integrated society emerging. It is easy to make too much of this as America remained a very segregated country and even when white revelers headed up to Harlem for the jazz clubs, many of these clubs still only had black doormen and musicians while the patrons were as white as they were downtown. But there were also some “black and tans,” truly integrated clubs where black and white customers intermingled on an even footing.

Cab Calloway

And the roaring 20’s introduced America, and all Americans, to jazz. This would not be the last time that a predominately African American inspired musical form would be adopted by Americans of all races and become part of the national culture. Some 30 years later primarily black rhythm and blues musicians would provide the foundation for rock n roll.

Our politics as well reflect changes that came about because of Prohibition. Prior to this era voting lines were still largely drawn according to the country’s division over slavery and the Civil War. The Republicans were the party of Lincoln. As such they had the black vote locked in while the white South was dominated by the Democrats.

All this began to change with the issue of banning alcohol. Prohibition was the solution of white, Protestant, rural America. On the other side of the line stood the working class, the immigrants and the city dwellers. This clear division showed itself at the polls in the 1928 Presidential election between the Democrat, a “wet”, Catholic New Yorker, Al Smith, and the GOP candidate, an Iowa born backer of Prohibition (at least publically) Herbert Hoover. Hoover won that vote, but by 1932 Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats were swept into office and in just about every election since the Democrats have carried the urban, ethnic and minority vote. It was Prohibition that changed black voters’ perception of the GOP from the party of emancipation to the party of repression and the KKK. On Election Day all over the country we still view the Democrats ability to marshall the black and ethnic vote as a key indicator. And likewise we still see Republicans at the state and local level trying to find ways to disenfranchise these voters.

33678693501_cc45f4a386_kAnd finally, Prohibition turned out to be something of a trial run for what later generations would call the war on drugs. The alcohol ban created the idea that drinking was a crime While it is doubtful that most Americans shared that perception, it is what various law enforcement groups ran with and as a result our prisons filled up with non-violent offenders, criminals whose offense might be brewing a little home wine and selling some to your neighbors.

Jail time

(Image by Pablo Padilla

While the speakeasy folks made the twenties roar in a relatively undisturbed manner, the brunt of enforcement came down on immigrant and black populations. How different is that from what is happening in America with respect to marijuana. Blacks and Hispanics make up a disproportionate volume of incarcerated recreational drug offenders in our prisons. And while polls and referendums clearly show most Americans support legalization, we once again have a right wing administration preaching heightened enforcement through Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Few today see Prohibition as anything other than an abject failure. It didn’t stop Americans from drinking. It gave rise to a widespread criminal underbelly. And it only exacerbated the already existing divisions in our society. And while Prohibition has been repealed, those divisions have certainly not gone away and if anything have become more acute.

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Sources:

The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr, 2017.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent, 2010

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America, Edward Samuel Behr, 1996

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Prohibition and Hypocrisy: Living Wet, Voting Dry

Do our public officials vote based on their conscience? Or do they bend with the tides, an eye on their next exposure to the electorate? Or maybe they are motivated by providing some ROI for their biggest donors.

It is hard to say when hypocrisy began to play a role in the American democracy but one suspects it was pretty early on. Clearly it is alive and well today. Consider the Western Pennsylvania congressman who campaigned as a pro-lifer until his former mistress went public with his entreaties to her to have an abortion.  

Prohibition drinkers

Prohibition was high time for hypocrisy, in Washington, in state houses and in city halls. There was, in the words of Last Call author Daniel Okrent “a large and liquid gulf between how people voted and how they drank.” It was a time for voting dry, but living wet.

Starting at the top, Warren Harding was President when Prohibition went into effect. The Harding Administration is renowned for rampant corruption. The President himself may have been more a victim of bad judgement rather than an outright crook. And that bad judgement applied to more than just filling his administration with scoundrels and shysters. This is a guy who brought his 20-year-old lover into the White House and made love to her in a broom closet. So it’s not surprising that he might have slipped a bottle or two of contraband into the Presidential home.

Warren Harding
Warren Harding

Harding was a drinker. Scotch and soda was his preferred inebriant and he reportedly had some stock in a beermaker. He campaigned for Prohibition when he ran for the Presidency because that’s where he thought to votes were. In his book Prohibition, Edward Samuel Behr describes what Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth found when she was invited to the White House for a social event.  “Run of the mill guests were kept downstairs, where they were served fruit juice. Harding’s cronies, and other privileged guests, were invited upstairs where liquor flowed like water.”

It was the Treasury Department that was initially responsible for enforcing Prohibition. Harding’s choice for Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, had little use for the new law. Not only was Mellon a drinker but he was part owner of the Old Overholt Rye Distillery.

Herbert Hoover oversaw the last years of Prohibition. He had not been an advocate of the 18th Amendment, but captured the “dry” vote in 1928 when running against the “wet” and Catholic governor of New York Al Smith. Upon assuming the Presidency, he attempted to enforce it by upping the penalties for violations. This from a man who, in his previous job as Secretary of Commerce, was known to have ended each workday with a visit to the Belgian Embassy for cocktails.

1932 election posterFranklin Roosevelt swept into office in 1932 with a platform that included a call for repeal. But earlier in his career, a young FDR as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, supported banning alcohol in that branch of the armed forces. And in 1919, with the 18th Amendment approved but not yet in effect, FDR bought four cases of Old Reserve for his New York apartment.

Twenty-two members of the Senate held seats both in 1919 when the 18th Amendment banning alcohol was approved and in 1932 when the 21st Amendment, repeal, was approved. Seventeen of those 22 voted for both amendments. Did they see the light of day? Or did they see which way the wind was blowing?

One of the strongest voices for Prohibition in the House, Ohio’s Republican Congressman Everett Denison, got caught smuggling wine after a cruise to the West Indies. Pennsylvania Senator Philander K. Know voted for Prohibition. Then, in the time before it went into effect, scored 20 cases of Old Overholt rye whiskey.

Smugglers reported keeping the basements of the Capitol building well stocked. Okrent quotes one senator who claimed that of all the “drys” in the Senate he only knew of three who didn’t drink.

At the state and local level corruption and bribery were rampant. The large-scale bootlegging operations that were prevalent in cities all over America went about their business often with little impediment because they had local officials, police and judges “in their pocket.”

Here are just a few examples I found:

  • The State of Georgia tapped a lawyer named Thomas B. Felder to write its Prohibition law. Felder was an alcoholic who would go on to represent a number of smugglers. Eventually he was indicted for bribery.
  • Coast Guard Captain Frank J. Stuart set the fee at $2,000 for liquor boats looking to land at Montauk.
  • Colonel Ned M Green was the federal Prohibition czar for Northern California. That is until he was indicted for embezzling confiscated government liquor stores. While he was acquitted of those charges he was later quoted referring to the Volstead Act as ‘silly’ and ‘foolish.’
  • When the feds raided Mobile, Ala., in 1923 the resulting list of indictments included a state legislator, the Mobile County Sheriff, five deputy sheriffs, the police chief and a member of the county board of revenue.

Prohibition raid

But if there is one person who is held up as an example of someone who was diligent and dedicated to enforcing Prohibition it was Mabel Willebrandt. Known as the First Lady of Law, she was assistant attorney general from 1921 to 1929. During that time, her office prosecuted nearly 50,000 Prohibition cases and she is regarded as being personally responsible for bringing down the famed Cincinnati bootlegger George Remus. She resigned in 1929 after Hoover snubbed her in naming a new Attorney General and went on to represent a company that produced raisin cake, an ingredient used to make wine at home.

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Sources:

The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr, 2017.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent, 2010

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America, Edward Samuel Behr, 1996

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Prohibition and America’s Outlaw Entrepreneurs

Being what many would consider the leaders of the capitalist world, Americans have always celebrated the accumulation of wealth, whether it was the robber barons of the 19th century or the tech entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley. Some have made their name and their fortunes by living outside the law, not to mention the norms of polite society.

Prohibition brought forward a whole host of criminals who became part of the folklore of the times: George Remus and Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. But there were a host of others who came from all walks of life and who straddled the line between felon and successful entrepreneur. Some were clearly in violation of the ban on selling, transporting and making alcohol, others violated merely the spirit of the law.

Here are some of their stories:

Spanish Marie

Spanish MarieMarie Waite was by all accounts a beautiful woman. With mixed Swedish and Mexican heritage, she was six feet tall with black hair and blue eyes. And to top it off she had a ton of money. But she was, in the words of Rum War at Sea author Malcolm Willoughby “a fickle and dangerous person, with morals as free as the four winds.” Many a man was attracted to her charms. And some are believed to have gone from her bedroom to the bottom of the Florida Straits encased in concrete.

Marie took over her husband’s rumrunning business after Charlie Waite was killed in a shootout with the Coast Guard. She set up shop in Havana and through a combination of bribery and ruthlessness became a leading supplier for Florida’s east coast from West Palm to the Keys. One of her tactics was to send an armada of four boats toward Florida. Three were packed with liquor, one with guns. If they were intercepted by the Coast Guard, the gun boat would hold them at bay while the floating liquor stores sped away. She also set up radio communications on her boats. Coded advisories, consisting of common Spanish words, were sent out from a pirate radio station in the Keys.

The Coast Guard eventually caught up to Spanish Marie. She was arrested in 1928 while overseeing the unloading of more than 5,000 bottles of liquor at Coconut Grove. When brought before a judge, she pleaded to be allowed to return to her two young children. He set a relatively low bail of $500 which was posted. And that was the last anyone saw of Spanish Marie. But her legacy lives on. There is a Spanish Marie Brewing Company in Miami and in Key West, Chef Distilled offers a bottle of Bad Bitch Rum with Spanish Marie’s photo on the label.

Bill McCoy

Bill McCoy was the son of a New York state mason of the same name who had fought in the Civil War. The family moved to Florida when he was in his 20’s and he and his brother started a motorboat service. He also built luxury boats for customers like Andrew Carnegie and the Vanderbilts. By the 1920’s, new highways and new vehicles made the McCoys’ boat transport business obsolete but by then it was Prohibition and another opportunity opened up.

McCoy bought a schooner, registered it as a British vessel, and began bringing rye, Irish and Canadian whiskey from the Bahamas to New Jersey. When things got hot along  coast, McCoy would anchor his boat three miles offshore in international waters and sell to smaller boats that would head out for a liquor shopping expedition.  Eventually the Coast Guard caught up to McCoy, boarding his ship the Tomoka after a chase and hauling him in.

McCoy saw little wrong with what he was doing. He was not a drinker, but he was not a fan of Prohibition either. He was proud of his reputation for selling high quality, undiluted liquor. He is credited with inventing the “burlock” a burlap sack for carrying six bottles of liquor stacked pyramid style. After his capture he pleaded guilty, did a nine-month term in a New Jersey prison, then headed back to Florida. You can still come across the McCoy name in liquor stores where you may be able to find “The Real McCoy Rum.”

Roy Olmstead

Roy OlmsteadRoy Olmstead was born on a farm in Nebraska. He moved to Seattle when he was 18 and got a job working the shipyards. Olmstead later joined the Seattle Police Department and rose rapidly through the ranks until he became a lieutenant in 1919. Washington State had prohibition laws starting in 1916, before the national constitutional amendment. So one of his jobs was to stake out folks running liquor down from Canada, something that gave him an idea for a more lucrative occupation than police work.

Olmstead started bootlegging while still on the force. In 1920 he got caught in a roadblock set up by federal agents. He was fired from the police force and fined $500. Now he had the time to make some real money. He would eventually make more money in one week of bootlegging than he did in 20 years of police work. Olmstead became known as the “the King of Puget Sound Bootleggers.” He became a significant employer in the Seattle area, where most did not consider him a criminal. At the height of his operation he was bringing 200 cases of Canadian liquor into Seattle per day.

Olmstead and his wife Elise started a radio station KFQX. One of its most popular programs was “Aunt Vivian” which consisted of Mrs. Olmstead reading bedtimes stories to children. But the station and the stories went off the air when the Olmstead residence was raided and Roy was arrested.

Olmstead appealed his conviction for conspiracy to violate the National Prohibition Act based on the fact that evidence was gathered from a wiretap that was set up without a warrant. His appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the prosecution. But the dissenting opinion, by Louis Brandeis, eventually would become the basis for anti-wiretapping laws. Olmstead did a four year jail term after which he returned to Seattle and became a fumigator and insecticide salesman. In 1935 he received a full Presidential  from FDR.

Jimmy McGhee

motor boat

(image by Skeeze)

Jimmy McGhee had nothing to do with moving or selling liquor, but he made a significant contribution to rumrunners as the maker of a boat that the Coast Guard simply couldn’t keep pace with. McGhee was a self-taught mechanic in Manorville, N.Y., and during Prohibition he figured out how to attach engines from World War I fighter planes to speedboats to produce a boat that could hit up to 65 mph. Coast Guard boats couldn’t. McGhee’s boats were used by the bootleggers who would go out to meet the larger boats anchored in international waters, fill up with liquor, then speed back to the Hamptons area outpacing the Coast Guard.

McGhee never did anything illegal and never took a cut of the money from the bootlegging his boats enabled. With the end of Prohibition, McGhee continued his mechanical work. He was involved for awhile with race cars and he was brought on as an adviser to a company that made fighter places during World War II.

Georges de Latour

The coming onset of Prohibition sent shock waves through the Napa Valley. But there was one winemaker who didn’t seem that concerned. Turns our Georges de Latour of Beaulieu Vineyard was buddies with the archbishop of San Francisco and with sacramental wine still being legal during Prohibition, his business was set to boom.

California vineyard

(Image by Tim Mossholder)

De Latour founded Beaulieu in 1900 when he purchased four acres of land near Rutherford, Calif. He made a name for himself by importing rootstock from France which was resistant to Pylloxera, a disease that was plaguing other California vineyards. During Prohibition, through his connection with the archbishop, he sold wine to all of the priests in the district. And some of those priests were buying at bootlegger volume. De Latour’s sales increased four times. He frequently hosted priests from all over the country at Beaulieu. A couple years into Prohibition he had distribution outlets in seven midwestern and eastern cities. Last Call author Daniel Okrent notes: “Beaulieu’s wines were put into circulation beyond the alter by the irreversible physics of the era, that form of gravity that deposited potable alcohol in the cupboards of people whose need was not particularly spiritual.”

By the time of repeal, de Latour had some of the best and oldest vineyards in the state. He brought over world class winemakers from France and produced some of the best wines to come out of Napa Valley. Beaulieu still exists, although like most of the liquor industry it went through multiple owners during the late 20th century corporate consolidation. It was purchased by Heublein, which was then acquired by Nabisco, which sold it to Grand Metropolitan, which merged with Guinness and became Diageo. Most recently, Diageo sold Beaulieu to Treasury Wine Estates in 2016.

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Resist! Prohibition Era

It is part of America’s legacy that we don’t have much interest in obeying laws we don’t like. That’s what the Boston Tea Party was about. And this national will to resist didn’t go away after independence.

Perhaps no law was as widely disrespected and disregarded as the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Commonly known as Prohibition, the amendment banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors. Even before it went into effect, there were protests in many cities, including one in Boston Commons that included 50,000 people One clue about how this law would be received could be found in the New York Daily News on the day Prohibition took effect in January of 1920. They published a citizen’s guide on how to keep drinking.

One of the ways that could be accomplished was to exploit loopholes in the Volstead Act, the legislation that was supposed to provide for enforcement of the Prohibition amendment. The legislation was passed a few months before it went into effect and distillers used that time to move their stock out of the country. One of the favorites destinations was the Bahamas. Then, when the law was in force, they loaded up floating liquor stores and anchored three miles offshore in international waters. Local fisherman would ferry customers out to the booze boats.

The law allowed for the sale of alcohol for medicinal purposes. (Sound familiar?) In Chicago alone, 15,000 doctors and 57,000 retail pharmacists applied for licenses to sell medicinal alcohol. Dentists and veterinarians got into the act as well. Thirty million gallons of “medicinal” liquor was consumed during the first five years of prohibition. Another way around the Volstead Act was by partaking in “sacramental wine.” Quite a lot of that passed through the hands of priests and rabbis during their 20’s as their Catholic and Jewish constituents where almost universally opposed to Prohibition. The 18th amendment also produced a boon in legal production of industrial alcohol which tripled in the first half of the decade.

Moonshine

(Image by Levi Saunders)

One other way around the law was to make your own. Breweries that were supposedly put out of business by the 18th amendment initially tried selling soda and something called near beer, but eventually found a more lucrative path to pursue – malt extract. With the addition of yeast and water you could home brew real beer. Malt shops opened up in many cities selling the malt, yeast and various paraphernalia like bottles, filters and bottle-stoppers. These were the predecessors of the head shops that would emerge later in the century.

In Last Call, Daniel Okrent tells the story of a product called the Vino Sano Grape Brick, produced by some California grape growers. The brick came with instructions to add water to produce grape juice. But it also came with a warning. Customers were cautioned not to “add yeast or sugar, or leave it in a dark place, or let it sit too long before drinking it because it might ferment and become wine.” He also tells the story of Bowdoin College students brewing their own beer in their science labs. Prohibition led to an increase in student drinking as drinking age laws meant little when alcohol was banned entirely.

Making your own and consuming it at home was within the law. But some, mostly working class families, went a step further and turned their apartments into “blind pigs,” offering up some of their production to their neighbors, for a price. Prior to Prohibition, in 1917, Americans consumed 70 million gallons of legal wine. In 1925, they were putting away 150 million gallons of the homemade stuff.

Prohibition hung in efficy

Prohibition hung in effigy. (From New York Public Library public domain collection)

Resistance to Prohibition was not confined to the moonshiners, rumrunners and bootleggers. In fact, it went all the way to city hall and the statehouse. Running for governor of the state of New Jersey Edward I. Edwards promised to keep his state “as wet as the Atlantic Ocean.” He was elected. In Chicago when Big Bill Thompson was running for re-election as mayor he promised “we will not only re-open places these people have closed, but we’ll open 10,000 new ones.” He won as well. New York Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia went one step further. He announced a plan to go to the drugstore and buy the ingredients to make beer and then make it, inviting Prohibition agents to come and arrest him. They didn’t show. In the courthouses, federal Prohibition agents found that local juries had no interest in convicting their peers of Volstead violations.

By 1924, the state of New York passed legislation rescinding its Prohibition regulations. There was essentially no local enforcement of Prohibition in New York, New Jersey, Montana, Nevada and Wisconsin. In cities there was a situation similar to the current day “sanctuary cities.” Federal Prohibition agents got little help from local police or officials much the way ICE agents today are shunned in their hunt for undocumented immigrants.

By the end of Prohibition, many, many Americans were drinking openly and very publicly. The mostly male working class saloons which were the target of the advocates of Prohibition were indeed closed. But they were replaced by speakeasies, patronized by men and women.  In New York City by 1927, there were 30,000 of them.

The resistance was ultimately successful, albeit 13 years later. The 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment, was ratified on December 5, 1933, Repeal Day.

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Sources:

The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr, 2017.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent, 2010

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America, Edward Samuel Behr, 1996

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Prohibition as Class Warfare

Prohibition, America’s 13-year experiment with banning liquor, has been called the “War on Alcohol.” It could just as well be called the war on America’s working class.

New York Public Library imageIn the first decades of the 20th century, America was experiencing a new flood of immigrants from Europe. Industrialization concentrated these new Americans in its cities. Labor unions were growing and making themselves heard. Socialist, Marxist and anarchist ideologies were finding followers among the immigrants and workers. The folks that filled the tenements in our cities and production floors of our factories were no longer all Protestant, no longer all white and no longer all English speakers. And for many of the more comfortable classes, this was a cause for alarm.

One of the primary forces behind the drive for Prohibition was the Women’s Christian Temperance Society. They were upper and middle-class women. Many of their leaders became known as heroes in the fight for women’s suffrage. But, as their name suggests, Prohibition was their primary goal and the saloon was their target. Their motives were indeed benign, improve family life, protect women from drunken husbands, children from inebriated fathers, free the workers from the evils of alcoholism, etc. But unmistakably this was a group of the privileged seeking to impose a way of life on the not so fortunate. They weren’t looking to cut off the flow of liquor in their husband’s posh clubs, just to shutdown the saloons.

They were joined by businessmen, industrialists, the hierarchy of the Protestant Churches and the descendants of the Southern landed gentry. The Anti-Saloon League, a Protestant church-based Ohio organization that became a driving force in bringing about Prohibition, didn’t get all their money by passing around the collection plate. John D. Rockefeller kicked in $350,000. Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie backed them as well.

There was no national referendum on banning alcohol and there is significant doubt as to whether any such referendum would have ever passed. But in terms of electing “dry” vs. “wet” public officials the odds were stacked against the largely disenfranchised immigrant and black populations. At the same time, women’s suffrage was viewed by some Prohibition backers, including the KKK, as a way to ring up more votes on the dry side.

Once the Prohibition amendment was ratified and became part of the Constitution it became even more apparent who this was aimed at. Congress passed the Volstead Act which established the rules and enforcement process for Prohibition (a piece of legislation substantially written by the Anti-Saloon League). If you were among the well-heeled, there was a pretty significant loophole right out of the gate. One of the provisions of the Act was that Americans could consume alcoholic beverages that they had purchased for personal consumption prior to Prohibition going into effect. Congress completed its override of President Woodrow Wilson’s veto in October of 1919, but the act didn’t go into effect until January of 1920. In his book Last Call, author David Okrent tells some stories of what happened in the interim. Charlotte Hennessy, a silent film actress and mother of the more celebrated actress Mary Pickford, bought up the entire inventory of a liquor store and had it transferred to her basement. In Arizona, department store magnate Baron M. Goldwater, the father of Barry Goldwater, bought the bar and the brass rail from his favorite saloon and installed it in his basement where his son made beer.

The experience for working class Americans, immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities was very different. In the words of War on Alcohol author Lisa McGirr, “An unprecedented campaign of selective enforcement lurked beneath the surface glamour of the roaring 20’s that left the urbane elite sipping cocktails in swank, protected nightclubs…while Mexicans, poor European immigrants, African-Americans, poor whites in the south and the unlucky experienced the full brunt of Prohibition enforcements deadly reality.”

Home distilling

moonshine still

With no regulation, with the legitimate alcohol producers driven out of business, and with prices for black market beer and alcohol soaring, working class Americans often turned to dubiously produced moonshine, wood alcohol or other forms of industrial alcohol. Poisonous alcohol resulted in deaths, paralysis and blindness. The government itself played a role in this (The Chemist’s War). Frustrated by their inability to stop Americans from drinking the U.S. Treasury department ordered an increased use of methyl alcohol in the denaturing process used in producing industrial alcohol. The idea was that the added toxicity and befouled taste would keep people from drinking it. The impact was immediate. Some 700 deaths were reported as a result of poisoned alcohol in New York City alone that year.

Working class neighborhoods became crime scenes and were the site of gang violence. But it wasn’t the celebrated gangsters of the era that were showing up on court dockets. It was more likely to be a working class housewife busted for selling some homemade wine to her neighbors.  In Illinois, Italian-American homes were raided by Ku Klux Klansmen who were deputized in one Illinois county to help with the enforcement effort. And on the Mexican border some prohibition agents acted more like wild west gunslingers.

police action

The Volstead Act created new categories of crime and as a result U.S. prisons were filled to overcapacity with the addition of people who committed these new crimes. During the course of Prohibition, the number of inmates in federal prisons increased more than 350 percent. Some federal prisons were housing twice as many inmates as their maximum capacity. This foreshadows what would happen later in the century as American prisons were filled with non-violent drug violators, many of whom are held without being convicted of any crime because they are two poor to afford bail. And, as was the case in the 1920’s, it is minority groups that are vastly over-represented in the incarceration state. The NAACP reported that African-Americans and Hispanics made up 56 percent of the inmates in the U.S. in 2015, but only 32 percent of the overall population.

But there is one thing that both the rich and the poor had in common. They drank their way through the 13 years of Prohibition. In next week’s post I’ll look at how Americans resisted the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act.

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Sources:

The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr, 2017.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent, 2010

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America, Edward Samuel Behr, 1996.

 

 

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Prohibition: A Nation of Immigrants, a Nation of Xenophobes

Statue of LibertyThe United States is a nation of immigrants. We have the largest immigrant population of any country in the world. One of the most iconic symbols of the American democracy is the Statue of Liberty with its inscription “give us your tired, your poor….” In 2015, 13% of our population was foreign born. According the Census Bureau, one out of every four children under 18 in the U.S. has at least one foreign born parent.

And yet time and again we have proven ourselves to also be a nation of immigrant haters. One need only watch the campaign of any present day right wing politician to see how he or she tries to scare up votes by fanning the flames of xenophobia. That is led by the president. His campaign promises emphasized things like building a wall on the Mexican border and banning Muslins from entering the country.

This type of immigrant hatred has at times been a significant influence on government policy in the United States. Prohibition was one of those times. In my previous post I noted that there were a lot of reasons why Americans in different walks of life supported Prohibition, but the final thrust that brought the constitutional amendment into being was based on the anti-immigrant sentiment that was fueled by the First World War.

The U.S. entered WWI in 1917. That same year, Woodrow Wilson submitted the 18th Amendment, banning alcohol, to the states for approval. It was ratified by the necessary three-fourths of states within a year and in early 1919, Prohibition was enacted by Congress. The campaign leading up to that moment had started in the 19th century and had always been tinged by reactionary attitudes toward immigrants. Edward Samuel Bahr, author of Prohibition , describes it this way: “Prohibition was the rearguard action of a still dominant overwhelmingly rural, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment, aware that its privileges and natural right to rule were increasingly threatened by the massive arrival of the largely despised (and feared) beer swilling, wine drinking, new American immigrants.”

Twenty million people immigrated to the U.S. between 1880 and 1920. By 1910, almost 15% of the population was foreign born. In cities, that percentage was higher. Forty-one percent of New York City residents were foreign born. For many of these new Americans, Irish, German, Italian, Mexican, Slavs and Eastern European Jews, alcohol was a part of their culture. It was how they socialized, how they wound down after work. It was a part of their family gatherings and their religious services. They became the target of a broad range of Prohibition backers, ranging from moralistic reformers to vile bigots.

 

One of the primary focuses of Prohibition was the saloon, the largely male dominated local drinking hole.  It is estimated that there were about 300,000 saloons in the U.S. in the early 20th century and that 80% of them were owned by first-generation Americans. Their clientele likely reflected that percentage. The saloon was not just a place to go have a beer. For many new immigrants is was where they got their mail, where they looked for a job and where they found people who spoke their language. It was also a hub of political activity, a place where political machines set up shop. The primarily female progressive reform movement of the time, in its typically patronizing manner, saw the eradication of the saloon as a way to improve the lives of immigrant families. The name of the nation’s most powerful Prohibition lobbying group, the Protestant fundamentalist Anti-Saloon League, speaks for itself.

Those Prohibition advocates were high-minded compared to the outright bigots who saw immigration as a threat to both religious and racial purity. Last Call author Daniel Okrent notes, “Like the Catholics, the Jews peered behind the Prohibition banner and saw the white-hooded hatred of the Ku Klux Klan and foaming xenophobia of the nativist pastors who dominated the Methodist and Baptist churches.” And this despite the fact that in many Southern states there were hardly any immigrants.

Although Americans had been drinking somewhat heartily since the Mayflower arrived equipped with kegs of beer, Prohibition advocates saw the alcohol industry in the U.S. as an immigrant business. Germans had dominated the beer brewing industry since the second half of the 19th century and the distilleries were often owned by Jews. Henry Ford, an anti-Semite, decried the distilling industry as 95% Jewish controlled.

It was the German-ness of the brewing industry that finally pushed the battle to ban alcohol over the starting line. World War I gave rise to a wave of anti-German hysteria in the U.S. In Iowa it was illegal to speak German. Wisconsin burned German books. And in Boston you couldn’t play Beethoven, The Anti-Saloon League seized on this sentiment and put its considerable propaganda machine in motion associating alcohol with the enemy and positioning Prohibition as a patriotic act that would help win the war.

Once Prohibition was enacted it was immigrants that often bore the brunt of enforcement. Williamson County, Illinois, actually brought in the KKK to help with enforcement. They raided the homes of Italian-Americans and if they found wine, carted the men of the family off to jail. One noted Prohibition agent, Izzy Einstein, made a name for himself in New York by busting rabbis. And along the border, a government commission empaneled to study the failure of enforcement of Prohibition, concluded that treatment of Mexican-Americans was “unconstitutional, tyrannic and repressive.” Congress passed an Immigration Act in 1924 that limited the number of Europeans who could immigrate and outright banned Arabs and Asians.

One result of the way Prohibition was imposed on immigrant communities was a fundamental change in voting patterns in the U.S. that persists to this day. Urban, immigrant populations began voting in droves for the Democrats, starting in 1928 with the candidacy of New York’s Catholic and anti-Prohibition Governor Al Smith. While Smith was defeated, immigrants were a key block of the voters who elected Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and while the nationalities of immigration has changed, new Americans continue to support the Democratic Party to this day.

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Sources:

The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr, 2017.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent, 2010

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America, Edward Samuel Behr, 1996.

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