Much of my learning about Prohibition came from the movie The Untouchables. Thanks to a challenge from my sister, I know more now.
Beginning in 1920, Prohibition was mandated through the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Legislation was passed to set down rules for enforcement and for defining the types of alcoholic beverages that were prohibited.
There was much corruption as you can imagine. Police, judges, senators, congressmen, and others were cursing drink in public but enjoying drink in private at their homes and in their clubs.
Ken Burns stated in his documentary Prohibition that those with money or those in powerful positions didn’t need to worry about the purity of what they were drinking. Everyday people though were not so fortunate.
Drinkable liquor was made by ‘renaturing’ denatured industrial alcohol. Bootleggers hired chemists to make this happen according to this article from The Slate. Sometimes other chemicals were added to cancel out the effect of the denaturing chemicals; these new additives weren’t always effective and they introduced their own set of problems.
According to the same article, “new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons” like kerosene, mercury salts, gasoline, cadmium, either, chloroform, acetone, and more. The article says, “The Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added – up to 10 percent of the total product. It was the last that proved most deadly.”
Edward Behr, author of Prohibition, wrote about hundreds of New Yorkers dying from alcohol poisoning and hundreds of thousands more suffering irreversible injuries including paralysis and blindness.
Think about your ancestors that lived during Prohibition. Were any of them blind or suffer with paralysis, have curious early deaths, or act crazy like my grandmother’s brother, Gilbert Price? Although it’s not black-and-white that Gilbert suffered from side effects of bootleg liquor, it’s easy to see the possibility knowing what I know now.
Copyright © 2016 Nancy H. Vest All Rights Reserved