Prohibition Was Unpopular and Prohibitionists Knew It.

“In no instance has the League ever nominated a candidate for public office… Nevertheless we are the most skillfully and completely organized political force in the country.” -Rev. Purley A. Baker, national superintendent for the Anti-Saloon League

Calling it a run on liquor was an understatement. Coast to coast, from New York to San Francisco and everywhere in between reports were pouring in of lines stretching around the block, of customers pouring into bars or waiting to hustle last minute deliveries into their cellars before selling or transporting their contents became illegal. One hundred years ago today the 18th amendment became law, ushering in nearly fourteen years of prohibition. And with scenes like these happening all over the country you could easily look at this new law and all its ramifications and think that even at the time it must’ve been extremely unpopular. And what’s more, you’d be right.

The eighteenth amendment, and the constitutional ban on alcohol that it represented, was the product of a small, vocal minority in the American political landscape. Largely white, largely rural and deeply evangelical this movement – the dry lobby as it’s often known – succeeded not by building popular support and fostering consensus but by legislative jockeying. They cowed politicians and worked the numbers until they got their way because they had to; their cause was unpopular and what’s more they knew it was unpopular even as they wrote it into law.

First, let’s set the scene which even a hundred years later plays out like introducing two heavyweight fighters. In this corner you’ve got rural white Protestants, who tend, through time immemorial it seems, to be socially conservative family values types. And in this corner you have your urban centers, your Bon Vivants side by side with your first and second generation Americans, many of whom brought their drinking traditions with them. By the time many of them emigrated the fight to keep the country sober had been going on for a long time, it’d just failed to gain any popular momentum. The prohibition party existed, nominally, but the most it had ever gained was 2.2% of the vote in any presidential election. For most of the 19th century it seemed inconceivable that Americans would ever put down the bottle for good.

It seems worth mentioning that in the late 1800s and early 1900s per capita drinking in the United States was skyrocketing. This has largely, and probably correctly, been attributed to a massive uptick in German immigrants. Buoyed by the United States Brewers’ Association which lobbied for the burgeoning beer industry in close partnership with German interest groups, beer consumption increased twenty-four-fold during the 19th century during a period when the total population merely tripled.

Into this increasingly diverse and sudsy political landscape stepped the Anti-Saloon League. Unlike its predecessors which adopted a wide range of political stances the ASL and its leader Wayne Wheeler had one goal and one goal only: the elimination of alcohol in the United States. They knew they had an uphill battle ahead of them that would only get steeper as time wore on. The segments of the population that drank were large and getting larger so Wheeler and his constituents started tricky and got trickier.

Wheeler’s tactics, by his own admission, were the same as the corrupt political bosses of yesteryear – he used undecided voters to swing elections. Say a close race in the Ohio legislature sat at 45/45 with ten percent of the voters undecided. Wheeler promised, with startling accuracy, that he could deliver those ten percent to a certain candidate so long as they pledged their support to the Prohibitionists. It didn’t really matter what the rest of their platform was, if they were an enemy of booze they were a friend of Wheeler’s. After this happened enough times the message was clear; support the Anti-Saloon League and win, oppose it and find yourself another job.

At this point in history there was a marked lack of across the board enthusiasm for the dry cause and a nationwide ban on alcohol, least of all one enshrined in the constitution, was an unpopular long shot. In a poll taken just two years after prohibition began 41% of Americans supported modifying the law to allow for low ABV wines and beers, while a full 21% supported repeal. Support for enforcement of the law as is was higher among women at 41%, although roughly half that number supported total repeal. It’s likely this happened because prohibition eventually allied itself with the women’s suffrage movement, although admittedly the brunt of alcoholism in the early 1900s fell squarely on women, especially before they had the vote. Still, a poll of factory workers in Detroit – real regular joe blue collar types – showed a staggering 92% support for either modifying or repealing the national ban on alcohol.

Wayne Wheeler understood how unpopular his cause was, perhaps better than anyone else in the country. It’s why instead of building grassroots support and popular consensus he used his agenda like a wedge to drive close elections to his side. And, as it turned out, bringing local politicians over to the dry cause wasn’t just good for momentum and PR. There was another hidden benefit too.

In a study published in Social Science History in 2008 historian Michael Lewis examined the voter rolls for every single state which held a referendum on prohibition. Going county by county he found that one of the single largest factors in wet voter turnout was those voters’ access to saloons. In other words, the closer they lived to a watering hole, the more likely they were to vote nay on prohibition. This isn’t surprising at face value; saloons have a storied place in American politics as a convenient space to campaign and round up voters. Plus on a more simple level if you like bars, you tend to live near bars. What is surprising about Lewis’ study is how much of the wet vote disappears once you remove saloons from the picture. While dry voters tended to meet in churches which, let’s be honest, aren’t really going anywhere, the legality of the opposition’s base of operations is now up for debate. Take away the saloon and suddenly it’s exponentially harder for the other guy to meet and mobilize. This certainly wasn’t lost on Wheeler and the league, who knew their focus on small local elections would pay off once it came time to tally the bigger, statewide votes.

By 1916 twenty-three out of forty-eight states had already passed some form of anti-saloon legislation but Wheeler and his associates weren’t satisfied. They set their eyes on a constitutional amendment to ban alcohol in the United States. Their tactics were quick and merciless, which of course they had to be. They were working on a deadline.

Between 1900 and 1917 the US welcomed 17 million newcomers to its shores. They settled mostly in cities and as a result the number of population centers classified as urban more than doubled from 22,000 to 54,000. The number of Americans that were immigrants or had immigrant parents ballooned from 25.9 million to 36.4 million by 1920 which is bad news if you’re trying to force the nation into sobriety. Remember who prohibition was least popular with: Catholics, immigrants and folks who lived in cities. The 1920 census was the one which would finally tip the balance of power in America from rural to urban for good which meant the years leading up to the new decade were now-or-never for the Anti-Saloon League. As a member of their leadership put it “If we are to save the situation so far as the Congress to be elected in 1916 is concerned, the work must be done at once or it will be too late.”

Later the famous congressional bootlegger and “Man in the Green Hat” George Cassaday would estimate that four out of every five elected representatives on the hill drank. But that didn’t stop the House of Representatives from voting 282-128 in favor of the eighteenth amendment on December 17, 1917 or the Senate from following suit the very next day. After that prohibition passed to the states which had to ratify it by a 36 to 12 margin for the amendment to become law. This, it turned out, was the easy part. ASL strategizers had long ago realized that states with large urban centers were vastly outnumbered by their rural counterparts but even they were surprised by how smoothly their amendment sailed through the state legislatures. It was buoyed by decades of uneven vote distribution, which often meant that politicians from heavily urban areas represented many times the constituents of rural officials, but still had the same number of votes when the time came to say yea or nay. Essex County in New Jersey for example had 33 times the population of Cape May County, yet when the vote came on prohibition the senators from the two districts each only cast one vote. This led to democratic anomalies like the citizens of Missouri rejecting a statewide dry referendum 53% to 47% on the same day they elected a legislature that would ratify the 18th amendment 75% to 25%. Even Ohio, the home state of the ASL rejected statewide prohibition, even though their legislators voted the nation dry 105-42.

Nebraska was the state that finally put prohibition over the line on January 16th, 1919. One hundred years ago today the brainchild of a rural, evangelical and increasingly small movement became part of the US Constitution. Their peculiar brand of American values was the law of the land for almost fourteen years and thanks to journalists, historians and a band of resistive Bon Vivants the problems that caused have been very well documented. But it’s worth remembering that our nation got to that point not by coming together in agreement or through rigourous, fair-minded debate. Bullying, backroom deals and legislative gamesmanship were the progenitors of prohibition and if we can learn one thing from the eighteenth amendment it’s just how hard dirty tricks are to undo once there’s a signature on the law.

 

LINKS AND SOURCES

‘Wets’ and ‘Drys’ in the Digest’s Prohibition Poll

Access to Saloons, Wet Voter Turnout and Statewide Referenda, 1907-1919

Last Call – The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Daniel Okrent, Scribner, 2010

 

The History of How We Eat, part one

There’s a fact about museums that I think we’ve all internalized without ever really noticing it. But if you go to a human origins exhibit and follow our evolution from the dawn of the species down through the hunter gatherer days to the advent of civilization you’ll start to pick up on something rather curious about early hominids: only cavemen ate.

“If you were to go to a natural history museum you would see dioramas of people looking for their next meal, because getting enough food was very important.” This is according to Liz Williams, president of the National Food and Beverage Foundation. “Then, after there was the invention of agriculture and writing you almost never see that. Scientists and historians began to look into government and religion and art and all kinds of aesthetics and they stopped worrying about food. You would actually think that people stopped eating.”

This stunningly obvious and institutionally invisible fact got pointed out to us last month at Tales of the Cocktail, when we popped in on Liz at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, a place where people have most decidedly not stopped eating. In fact, one of the first things you notice about the place is that it’s dedicated to the way people eat — that is, the way they really eat. In addition to intelligent and thoughtful exhibits touting the history of Popeye’s Chicken and Old Bay Seasoning the museum features a loving recreation of a Mississippi BBQ joint called “The Shed.” The floor of SoFAB’s Shed comes with a healthy layer of char, a reflection, Liz says, of the fact that no barbecue joint worth its salt has escaped burning down at least once.

All of this combines to create an air of whimsy, but also intelligence and genuine curiosity. Old beer bottles and fast food packaging get a level of respect usually reserved for fine china or crystal stemware. And it’s real respect too. The whole place vehemently eschews kitsch and doesn’t seem to have an ironic girder in its body. There’s a reverence for these artifacts, the trappings of things us regular people willingly put into our bodies every day.

“There is a sense that what we’re collecting is the trash.” Liz said. “Because it is. It’s packaging, it’s old pots and pans, it’s all the things that people might throw away. But people didn’t all drink out of beautiful glassware that was embossed with gold and beautiful lead crystal and all of that, people drank out of tin cups… And those are the things that nobody collected because they weren’t pretty. And we are collecting those things.”

File_006 (22)
Trying to capture the entire museum requires a very wide panoramic shot

In the early stages of chronicling the history of Southern cuisine, Liz and the museum inadvertently became a part of that history themselves. When SoFAB opened in 2008 it was the first new attraction to come to the restored riverwalk district of post-Katrina New Orleans.

“It was really exciting but it was also scary,” Liz said, “It was at a time where there was no tourism to speak of. Even in 2008 which was about two and a half years after the hurricane things were still being rebuilt, we were still limping along as a city because the city is so very tied to tourism… it was scary because we just weren’t sure how long it would take for us to be established.”

For Liz and for the museum this opening was a learning experience. When she was a student Liz remembers being interested in food, not so much from the perspective of making it but in studying where it came from and how it got into our refrigerators and onto our plates.

“I was interested in why people circumnavigated the globe looking for peppercorns and nutmeg, how can this food drive all of this other stuff,” she said. “So that intersection with food and culture, that was what I was interested in.”

Unfortunately at the time the only non-culinary-school recourse to study that intersection was home economics. So after graduating from law school Liz became part of the early efforts behind New Orleans’ WWII museum and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art before deciding that it was time to turn her attention to food. “There aren’t food museums in every city the way there are art museums,” she said, recalling the project’s formative years. “It would be something that we’d have to make up as we went along.”

Liz and the other forces behind the museum started exploring ways to capture the intellectual side of the things we eat every day. She studied graphic novels to get a sense of how to tell a story without words. They wanted to capture, as she put it, the “tremendous intimacy about food.” But when they opened on a newly restored waterfront in a city that was just starting to fight its way back from the brink, they still had very little idea how people were going to react.

This is part one of a two-part series on the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. The finale will run in this space on Monday.

First Ever Audio Update Live on Patreon!

Hey folks, we’ve got a treat for you live from the Big Easy: A special audio update from the first full day of Tales 2017, as well as a little bit of history about one of the French Quarter’s iconic landmarks. It’s up on our Patreon page right now and is available to subscribers of all levels. This means that for just one dollar you can check out this fun little gem Keegan and I cooked up. Enjoy!

-G

We appreciate your Patreonage

IMG_20160421_105751.jpg

Because we’ve gone live on Patreon!

Here’s our page link!

For as little as $1 a month, you can keep the lights on at Bar None! We have great rewards too, from transcripts to behind-the-scenes photos and cutting-room-floor stories to exclusive recipes that you can try out at home! On top of all that, you’ll keep well-researched, deeply-analyzed and tightly crafted podcasts producing.

Beyond contributing, your voice is important! In the world of independent podcasting, your voices are our transmitters! So, spread the word – share this podcast with your friends, invite them into the Patreon family.

Remember, we’re trying for 1,000 subscribers by the end of June – if even 30% of them support us at the $1 level, we’ll be set for our first Patreon goal.

Thank you so much for your help – we look forward to seeing you on Patreon!

As always, cheers 🙂

– The Bar None Crew

Weekly Check in 2

 

Banner Cover Aviation

We did say we’d be doing weekly check-ins! We’re finalizing our prep for our upcoming Patreon page, and reviewing our website to make it sexier.

It’s June, and all this month, we’re celebrating our first podcast episode, the Sazerac! You can listen to that one on iTunes and Soundcloud. If you’ve got great Sazerac stories or documents, feel free to share them with us on Facebook and Twitter throughout June. We’d love to hear from you.

We’ve also made an ambitious goal for ourselves: 1,000 subscribers by June 30! You can help! Subscribe yourselves, and share our podcast with your friends!

As ever, thanks for following, and cheers!

 

 

22 and Working

It’s 1786, and the world is changing.  It’s been a decade since the British colonies in the New World became their own nation.  You’re living in the capital of Sardinia, a major Italian state, ruled by the Savoy, an old and powerful family.  Business is burgeoning all around you: the cagliarese, your currency, is flowing, and you want some of that sweet, sweet cash.  You’re a distiller, and in Italy, that means you know your wine. You’re 22 and working.

You know the ladies are tired of all the red wines out there.  They’re too heavy, they’re too dark, they give them the wine teeth look.  You know that there is a long medicinal history of adding spice to wine.  You know about mulled wine, from the Romans, and even about that germanic vermut, where they used wormwood.  You know that in 1733, a fellow named D’Alessio was making a “wormwood wine,” and you know, heck, this could be a goldmine. You’re 22 and working.

So you, Antonio Benedetto Carpano, start mixing together white wine and spices.  You take the French pronunciation of vermut and label your bottled drink.  You make over thirty varieties of the stuff. You start vending it – and everyone starts buying.  Soon, your little shop in Turin is bustling around the clock.  Literally.

You’re Antonio Benedetto Carpano.  You’ve just invented vermouth.  You’re 22, and working.

The Ghost Story of Mary Surratt

Today we bring you a ghost story.  A little odd for mid July, but timely in its own context.  A good story to tell amongst your regulars.

Now, when it comes to regulars, there are many you love, and some you cannot stand.  They’re the folks who love the culture, the climate, the location of your bar.  They bring you business, they give you stories.  Some good, some bad.  But no one has had worse luck in their regulars than Mary Surratt.

Now, your regulars may know Mary Surratt’s place.  They may have eaten there.  They may have passed by in the wee hours.  It’s a little house on H street, right in the thick of Chinatown.  They may have felt, as they passed, a chill run down their spines.  They may have seen a woman upstairs, in antebellum attire.  They may have heard the sound of chains.

Whatever the case, you can tell them, this was the boarding house of Mary Surratt, one of the most controversial victims of the Civil War.  Hanged as a conspirator in the assassination of Lincoln, her death reads like a moment out of Julius Caesar.

In the play, a poet is torn limb from limb by the mob, torn for the mob’s fury at the death of their ruler. The poet is slain for his performance, his bad verses.

In real life, the woman, a tavern keep and landlady, was tried and executed for being an auditor, a hostess.  Mary Surratt was hanged on July 7, 1865.  And you may say she was innocent, that she was convicted on the consistency of her regulars.

In many ways, Mary Surratt was an everyman. Life happened to her. A Catholic who married young, Mary found herself paired with a complex man.  Her husband, John, made money selling land and building property.  He lost it to drink, to debts, and for his frustrations, became violent. What was more, John was a southern sympathizer.  The tavern he built in Maryland became a safehouse for confederate soldiers.  Dangerous regulars in a union state.

John’s life would be a swing of ups and downs, building his debts, then squashing them, and building a small town by the name of Surrattsville.  Eventually, he used his means to purchase a townhouse on H street in Washington, DC. John’s luck ran out at the end of August, 1862, when he died of a stroke.

Mary moved to the townhouse on H street, tired of managing all of her husband’s properties, and moved in with her daughter and son.  It was 1864, and the civil war had ended. But for Mary, the real trouble was about to begin.  Mary’s son had taken up with Conspirators, among them John Adzerot, Lewis Powell, and David Herold, and one John Wilkes Booth.   These became Mary’s regulars.

After the Lincoln assassination, authorities local and federal would visit Mary’s boarding house.  Due to the items they found there, likely stored by the conspirators, Mary was arrested.

Among the eight persons tried simultaneously, Mary’s case was found to be the most controversial.  On one hand, she must have heard the conspirator’s stories, she must have known their plot.  On the other hand, the main witnesses in the case against her were a drunkard and a liar, and all evidence against her was circumstantial.  Nevertheless, she was convicted of abetting, aiding, concealing, counseling, and harboring the seven men in court beside her.

Even as she was about to be hanged, one her regulars pleaded her innocence.  Nevertheless, her feet floated as high as his.  It was July 7, 1865.

In the weeks after her appearance, there were sightings of her ghost at the boarding house and at her tavern.  People said they heard the sound of chains.  Who is to say if Mary felt vengeful, or if, perhaps, everyone just felt a bit guilty?

Whatever the case, as you chit chat with your regulars, or about them, count your blessings.  Well behaved, poorly behaved, humorous or hectic, they never brought you half so much trouble as the regulars of Mary Surratt.

-K

America’s First Whiskey

As we all recover from Independence Day, I am going to give you the story of America’s first whiskey.

image
We're all ears. Photo by João Silas

First, let’s look at that guy.  You know the type: the nice guy, the next door neighbor, the smug so-and-so with the wife and the kids and the real estate business he runs (thanks to some money from family and friends).

That guy is George Thorpe, and he — and the drink he may have made — is the focus of our story.

However, I would love to give you this story not as it comes from a long line of historians with access to the Ferrar Papers and other documents from the Virginia Company of London, but through the eyes — the odd, indigenous eyes — of a man named Opechancanough.

Yeah, it’s a tough name. But Opechancanough is a tough fellah.

You also know him.  Maybe you have been him.  You’re a local, you do your thing, and you are damn good at it.  And by the way, your thing, as Opechancanough, is warfare.

Now, you’ve been living in the shadow of your brother, or half-brother, whose name, Powhatan, is also the name of your whole tribe.  In fact, it’s the name of like thirty tribes.

Now he’s passed on and you, friend, are in charge of foreign relations.

And in moves George Thorpe.

Not only does he move in, no, he says he gets ten thousand acres that you can’t use anymore.  Which, I mean, these settlers have been doing for a while. They don’t really get farming.  They don’t get occasionally moving to let the land recover.  They’re kind of religion nerds.  And they’re struggling.

But this guy George Thorpe, sure, he’s fine, whatever, but he’s that new neighbor who Loves You and that thing you all do, and he Wants You to Join Him at Church.

He’s making a school, he says.  He wants to introduce your kids to Jesus, he says.  He invites you over to dinner every Sunday. And I mean, every Sunday, and oh, do bring those kids.  He had one in England, you know, an indian kid.  Yeah, it knew Pocahontas.  Poor thing.  It got sick or something.  These savages just can’t handle the english rain, eh?  No offense.

George, now, George loves real estate.  He has his hands, his money, you know, in few ventures here and there.  Oh, and he likes you so much, by the by, he wants to give you, personally, your own house.  As a gift, you know.  Which he can give you.

Oh, and by the by, you have to try this new distilled corn stuff he made, in a still, isn’t it the craziest?  I mean, he’s never really made this stuff before, but like, try it, man, it’s a fun thing he’s trying – better than beer!

So you are Opechancanough.  What do you do?

You get a party together.  You go over to Thorpe’s on March 22, 1622.  You laugh, you schmooz, you try out that distilled stuff, America’s first whiskey, you know. Then you kill George Thorpe and 347 of his friends. You go home.

Because you’re Opechancanough, and, like the rest of us, you could not stand that guy.

– K

Semi-Social Media

So a bit about what we’re gonna track here, in this podcast, in this little movement we’re making with our…media… we’re gonna cover the social scene that comes with the movement of cocktails.  Or the movements cocktails moved.  Or the…

Anyway.  We (Americans, anyway) have gone from a home-grown house-party culture to a out-at-the-bar, not-in-your-car drinking culture, to a social media driven hybrid phenomenon that, one drink too many, posts one tweet too far.  And this, by the way, is written here in broad historical strokes that only seem short in the life of a cocktail recipe.

So yeah.  As we cover the change in social drinking, we kind of get to do so while following some new rules of social media etiquette.  Because wherever we’re drinking, we’re drinking online.

So here we are.  Blog two.  A month later.  We’ve got our social media up.  Twitter and Instagram are growing (they’re very phone friendly).  Facebook‘s saving face.  And now we’ve got our latest player in the game up: Our site.  /blog.  /site.

Okay, we’re still working on the youtube channel (note the lack of link)  We’re talking through when that’s gonna come up.

But people might ask me, might ask Greg, where’s your site been?  What took so long?

Honestly, it was that donate button.  We had to decide on our business status, if we wanted to do this nonprofit or whatnot, and how that button was going to work.

So for now, I want this site up.  So that button exists, but it’s WIP.

Because it’s April.  And we’re testing our pilot at the end of the month.  And I think you all are going to like that more than you’ll like a working donate button (though if you wish we had one, just message us…)

So while we get the ingredients together for the pilot, and get ready to release a draught at the end of April, we hope you don’t mind some lack of sheen on our site.

In fact, if you see something, say something!  (Oh god, that recalls the metro in DC… ugh)  We want your feedback, your critique, your input.

We’re brewing up a fresh podcast for you all, so in the meantime, let us know if there’s anything you’re peckish for… and we’ll see what we can’t do.

– K