Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Walt Sent Me

by Connie Cortright

Speakeasies were products of the Prohibition during the 1920s. Not too many people today know what they are, so here's a bit of explanation.

First, a bit of background. In 1919 the country passed the 18th Amendment banning the sale of alcohol in the United States. The law took affect on January 16, 1920.  The Temperance Leagues around the country celebrated the end of over-drinking in bars. They thought the problem was solved.  

           The law banned the manufacturing and sale of all alcoholic beverages. It didn’t include private ownership or consumption, so many people made their own beer for occasions like weddings. In many parts of the country homemade stills were erected to make whiskey, however, when the whiskey was sold illegally and secretly, it became known as “bootleg whiskey”.

            The problem with the new law was that there was no way to enforce the law nationally. Thus, the illegal sale of liquor gained popularity during the Roaring 20s in places called “speakeasies,” where the sales went underground. I read that New York City had 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasies alone.

            A speakeasy was a former tavern that had to be converted after Prohibition became the law.  The structure was divided in half by building a wall in the middle – or maybe a back room or basement was added to house the speakeasy. The front of the building housed an ice cream soda shop or other above-board enterprise. 

There would be a “secret door” somewhere on the back wall that only local customers would know about. If a known customer would use the password (example: “Walt sent me”), the door was opened up into another world entirely. 

A quote from "Guide Me Home" my first novel describes a speakeasy:

“Emma looked through the smoky haze to see that the area was much larger than the restaurant. It held a wooden bar almost mirroring the ice cream bar in the front – the major difference was bottles of liquor lining the shelves instead of ice cream bowls. The crimson wallpaper, accented by golden colored leaves, seemed to wink mockingly at the dark wooden wainscoting encircling the entire room. In the corner a piano played tinny music as several half dressed young ladies on stage strutted their stuff. The room was filled with men and women, who were mostly dressed in knee length fringed flapper dresses with feathered headbands and long strands of beads, laughing and talking loudly enough to drown out the music – most of them with cigarettes in their hands – including the women. In the other hand, almost everyone had a glass of liquid – some drinks were golden colored and others coffee colored. Emma could easily recognize other full glasses of amber liquid topped with snowy white foam – beer. Was this a speakeasy?”

            At least you can get the feel of what they were like. On some occasions these establishments were raided by the police, but with the overwhelming numbers around town, they couldn’t be controlled.  That is the eventual reason the Prohibition was repealed in 1933.            

No comments:

Post a Comment