I went to the Prohibition Museum in Savannah, Georgia, expecting to find a stale room of walls adorned with old articles and photos. Boy, was I wrong. The Prohibition Museum is an exciting place of theatre, featuring life-size dioramas, costumed docents, artifacts, videos, newsreels, and signage. It is an exciting, fascinating place.
Forces Behind Prohibition
Nationwide Prohibition began with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on January 16, 1919. The museum does a great job showcasing the social and political forces behind Prohibition and helps explain why the movement swept the country. For instance, a diorama of a smashed bar and a menacing mannequin brings the activist Carry A. Nation to the forefront, while audible newsreels of the preacher, Billy Sunday, show how he captivated audiences.
Prohibition lasted for 13 years, until it was repealed with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933. Savannah’s Prohibition Museum shows the unintended consequences of this government interference. The economic fallout was huge. Manufacturers, farmers, restaurant owners, truck drivers, family businesses, and more failed, while states lost revenue from the loss of alcohol excise taxes.
The mafia rose in power, while family-run distilleries–that had once been legal–found themselves on the opposite side of the law. And the great irony of Prohibition? People drank more alcohol than ever. In fact, some of my favorite displays in the Prohibition Museum show how US citizens got around the law to continue smuggling and drinking alcohol.
Parallels to Covid-19 Shutdown
The whole time I toured the Prohibition Museum, I couldn’t help but think of the unintended consequences of the recent Covid-19 shutdowns, including the educational, social, medical, and economic fallouts, and the ways people got around restrictions. I hope someday there will be a Covid (shutdown) museum like the Prohibition Museum in Savannah.
Location of the Prohibition Museum
The Prohibition Museum is located in the City Market next to Ellis Square, at 209 W. St. Julian Street, Savannah GA 31401. It’s open every day from 10 am to 5 pm. There is also a reconstructed Speakeasy where patrons over 21 can buy a cocktail.
Before ending this blog, here’s a clip of Billy Sunday to “entertain” you. I filmed it from the display at the Prohibition Museum.