So, I learned today that “Baptists and Bootleggers” is shorthand/slang for diametrically-opposed groups supporting the same thing for their own reasons. (Evangelical groups wanted to ban Sunday liquor sales on moral grounds, bootleggers wanted a bigger market.)
But all I could think was that “Baptists and Bootleggers” sounds like a fantastic RPG set in 1920s New Orleans.
Early temperance advocates had warned that drunks were in danger — because of their high blood-alcohol levels — of spontaneous combustion (a claim that has since been proven impossible), but instead Prohibition sparked its own public health crisis. Drinking tainted bootleg liquor caused blindness, paralysis, and an estimated national average of 1,000 deaths a year.
The book’s outside cover boasted poems by a disgraced writer,
but inside was page after page of handwritten recipes for alcohol — the
secretly preserved know-how of a Prohibition-era doctor. Decades later, the
book found its way to writer and former museum curator Matthew Rowley, who set
out to discover who its author was and why he documented recipes that could
have sent him to jail in the 1920s.
Rowley shares his hunt for answers in Lost Recipes of Prohibition: Notes from a Bootlegger’s Manual.
Americans visiting Paris in December 1933 celebrated the end of Prohibition in a “real two-fisted manner,” the NY Times reported that year. Just 15 years earlier, the paper had run a large advertisement with the headline, “BOOZE is the worst non-essential. STOP IT!”
In time, I learned that not everything in America was what it seemed to be. I discovered, for instance, that a spare tire could be filled with substances other than air, that one must not look too deeply into certain binoculars, and that the Teddy Bears that suddenly acquired tremendous popularity among the ladies very often had hollow metal stomachs.
‘But,’ it might be asked, 'where do all these people get the liquor?’ Very simple. Prohibition has created a new, a universally respected, a well-beloved, and a very profitable occupation, that of the bootlegger who takes care of the importation of the forbidden liquor. Everyone knows this, even the powers of government. But this profession is beloved because it is essential, and it is respected because its pursuit is clothed with an element of danger and with a sporting risk. Now and then one is caught, that must happen pro forma and then he must do time or, if he is wealthy enough, get someone to do time for him.
Yet it is undeniable that prohibition has in some respects been signally successful. The filthy saloons, the gin mills which formerly flourished on every corner and in which the laborer once drank off half his wages, have disappeared. Now he can instead buy his own car, and ride off for a weekend or a few days with his wife and children in the country or at the sea. But, on the other hand, a great deal of poison and methyl alcohol has taken the place of the good old pure whiskey. The number of crimes and misdemeanors that originated in drunkenness has declined. But by contrast, a large part of the population has become accustomed to disregard and to violate the law without thinking. The worst is, that precisely as a consequence of the law, the taste for alcohol has spread ever more widely among the youth. The sporting attraction of the forbidden and the dangerous leads to violations. My observations have convinced me that many fewer would drink were it not illegal.
Count Felix von Luckner was a German naval war hero who visited the United States with his wife in 1927. He provides a visitor’s impression of Prohibition
A race car driver at the Culver City Speedway looks thrilled to receive a garter from a leggy chorus girl. The woman was there to promote the Music Box Theatre (now the Fonda Theatre) at 6126 Hollywood Blvd. The Music Box offered Ziegfeld like live entertainment…and a speakeasy on the top floor. Los Angeles, 1927.
With the passing of the Volstead Act and 18th Amendment in 1920, the production, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages became illegal in the United States. However, the Volstead Act was not absolute, and there were a few exceptions to the law. The first was a religious exemption, which permitted religious organizations to produce wine for ceremonial purposes. The second was for farmers, who were permitted to a certain amount of wine from their crops for personal consumption. Finally there was a medicinal exemption.
In the 18th and 19th century alcohol was believed to have numerous medicinal and therapeutic properties, treating almost any illness and ailment. However by the beginning of the 20th century modern medical science had debunked the supposed medicinal properties of alcohol. Regardless, the Volstead Act included a medical exemption, issuing licenses to six large distillers to produce whiskey and brandy for medicinal purposes. A number of other licenses were issued in response to a rise in demand for medicinal whiskey during prohibition. In order to get legal medicinal whiskey, one would have to receive a prescription from a doctor. The prescription was filled out on a special prescription form issued by the government. The prescription could then be filled by a local pharmacy. “Patients” were only permitted 1 pint every ten days.
Not all of those who bought medicinal whiskey during prohibition were sick people. Many people who were prescribed medicinal whiskey were simply trying a legal way to obtain booze. If you personally knew a doctor, or went to a doctor who wrote scripts out to anybody, you could easily pretend to be sick (cough, cough) and with a wink and a nod the doctor would hook you up with some liquor.
Today prohibition era medicinal whiskey is highly collectible among antiquers and fine whiskey connoisseurs, with bottles selling for hundreds or even thousands of dollars a piece. Most collectors never intend to open and consume their collectibles. Recently the LA Whiskey Society held a sampling of 16 different brands of prohibition era medicinal whiskey, describing the taste of all to be much different from whiskey today, and rated them “good” to very “good”. Keep in mind that medicinal whiskey tended to be cheap bottom shelf swill. As one of the samplers put it, “Whiskey just isn’t made like this any more”.