Prohibition exhibit open at Neville Museum
By Josh Staloch
GREEN BAY – Between now and late October, a trip to the second floor of the Neville Public Museum will take visitors back to the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition.
Visitors can learn about when the 18th Amendment was enacted to curb the nation’s accelerating taste for alcohol by making it illegal to sell, manufacture or transport.
In the early 1900s, the average American adult drank about 2.5 gallons of pure alcohol a year, or around 13 drinks per week, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The societal problems which arose were cause for concern among religious leaders and those involved in the temperance movement, which advocated for complete abstinence from alcohol.
Eventually, the 18th Amendment, and the corresponding legislation known as the Volstead Act, proposed by Congress in 1917, came to be the law of the land, ratified on Jan. 16, 1919.
“Well, we were still producing (alcohol) here in Wisconsin,” Beth Kowalski Lemke, executive director of the Neville said. “When the 18th Amendment passed, there were… I don’t want to say loopholes, but it was written so that churches still could have wine involved in their services. You were still allowed to have alcohol embedded in the medication. So here in Wisconsin, we never really stopped making alcohol.”
The exhibit at the Neville, titled “Spirited, Prohibition in America” took the museum team at the museum two days to assemble.
It comes to Green Bay as part of a traveling national exhibit.
There are several items added to the exhibit which come directly from the Neville’s stash of Wisconsin artifacts.
In addition to a wall of crisp black-and-white photos from the era that were taken in Wisconsin, there is an authentic flapper dress on display.
As the exhibit illustrates, Prohibition began to fall apart quickly as the government structures set up to enforce it were never well funded.
Resourceful individuals were then able to easily skirt emerging regulations.
Also, the network of bootleggers and underground rumrunners were festering a criminal element, as the likes of Al Capone came to prominence during the Prohibition era.
By 1933, with President Franklin Roosevelt in office and the Great Depression causing mass unemployment and plummeting tax revenues, Congress enacted the 21st Amendment to repeal the 18th and, on Dec. 5, 1933, Prohibition ended.
“I’ve learned a lot more about the Constitution,” Kowalski Lemke said when asked what she’s learned from the exhibit. “I wasn’t aware of all of the intricacies of what happened and then ultimately how the power went back to the states.”
From 11 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 2, the museum will host an event called “Neville Soda Series: Ice Cream Soda – Root Beer Float where the family can learn how to make natural soda with a hands-on workshop.
“Spirited, Prohibition in America” wraps up Oct. 19.
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