January 16, 1920 the day national prohibition went into effect, proving once again that Puritan moral values don’t always work they way those on the right wish they would. Prohibition gave rise to the Mafia big time as bootlegging became not just a national pastime but the biggest business in the nation, giving rise to more murder and mayhem than had ever happened before and was one of the direct causes of the infamous Valentine’s Day shootings.
The nation went nuts over prohibition and there was more liquor consumed illegally than had ever before been consumed and tax revenues plummeted dramatically. It took the rise of the Great Depression and FDR to bring our nation back to its senses and getting legal liquor flowing again.
And it was a big boost to organized religion because now they once again had a bug-a-boo to rail against and as fast as the speakeasy’s and beer joints began to fill up again so did the churches around the country. And of course the right wing evangelicals had a lot of new avenues to pursue that they didn’t have before now that bootlegging had been conquered, even though it hadn’t.
I can’t say enough about depression era bootlegging because it helped keep my Mother’s family fed and healthy and alive during some really hard times in Dust Bowl Depression ravaged Oklahoma, as my grandfather Everist and his Drumright partner in crime were premier bootleggers so well known for their product that they came to the attention of none other that Charles ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd the infamous (or famous depending upon your point of view) Depression Era Gangster who came by to purchase some of my grandfather’s ‘wonderful stuff’ and whom my Mother allowed was the prettiest man she had ever laid eyes on (she being about 10 years old at the time).
My grandfather eventually set aside his bootlegging business to go help my great-grandfather Everist (a tee-totaler by design) run his 620 acre farm west of Geary. Although he gave up making his ‘wonderful stuff’ he did continue to make his area-wide famous ‘homebrew’ clear up until a couple of years before he passed away in 1959. Folks (mostly men) would come from all over western Oklahoma to sample his special brand of ‘home brewed goodness’. All of his kids and all of his grandkids right down to my younger brother helped prepare and bottle his ‘special stuff’ as when grandpa was ready to bottle the finished product he would form an assembly line of kids to strain out the impurities, wash the bottles, fill them with his prized brew and cap them package them in a six pack and sometimes when he wasn’t looking take a sip.
My first real hangover came when I was living with my grandfather west of Geary in 1955 and I came home from school one evening in late winter and while cooking supper I would, when I thought he wasn’t looking, take a nip or two out of the bottle he was sipping on while waiting for me to finish preparing our supper. Woke up the next morning (a school day) with one terrific hangover. Grandpa would have none of it and off to school I went with my hangover intact. I swore off liquor for many years thereafter wondering what in the hell grown ups saw in getting themselves drunk. That is until I decided to take it back up when I went to college.
Prohibition didn’t work with liquor it doesn’t work for much of anything despite the continued railing by a lot of people who keep having to re-learn the past because they never study it.
Happy Non-Prohibition Day to all!