A Thirst For History

MOHAI Debuts American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition Today

Liquor smuggling, moral decay, corruption, and jazz... This Prohibition exhibit is anything but dry.

By Rosin Saez April 2, 2015

Edythe Turnham and Her Knights of Syncopation, 1925, Black Heritage Society of Washington State

Calling all bootleggers, moonshiners, flappers, pulpit thumping anti-boozers, and more: Today the Museum of History and Industry in South Lake Union premieres American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition through August 23. For the first time on the west coast, this Prohibition era–focused exhibit explores the growth of the Temperance movement, highlights anti-liquor advocates, follows the rise in organized crime and the birth of the speakeasy all the while incorporating trivia, interactive games, and plenty of photo ops.

Eighty-eight bottles of beer on the wall…literally. That is the exhibit's introductory display, illustrating the average consumption of 80-proof liquor per person per year in 1830. From here, meander through artifacts like temperance activist (and badass) Carrie Nation’s righteous hatchet used to split open saloon windows and barrels of fermented sin—er, beer—in Kansas. There are also both original ratification copies of the 18th and 21st Amendments, the two documents that flank this moral rollercoaster in American history between just 1920 and 1933.

There’s a bit of something for everyone here: rich in original artifacts there are letters, temperance propaganda, and a moonshine distiller (OMG cue booze history nerd swoon); a videogame in which the feds (you) drive a boat to catch bootleggers bringing rum from Canada; a mob lineup–style photo booth where you can mug next to Al Capone. A mock speakeasy offers a lesson in flapper and dandy slang, a dance floor where visitors can Charleston to the jazz stylings of Edythe Turnham and Her Knights of Syncopation (pictured above). Plus, a lineup of cocktails (recipes only, sorry) born during the nation’s driest period.

Come June 6, MOHAI is introducing 21st Century Speakeasy, an exhibit that will spotlight the Puget Sound area's specific role in national Prohibition. Seattle forbade liquor five years earlier than the nationwide law, which gave local police-lieutenant-turned-bootlegger extraordinaire Roy Olmstead a head start in the organized crime biz. This story and more will also be on display through August 23 in addition to MOHAI's roster of events inspired by the Prohibition.

Museum of History and Industry, April 2 thru August 23, 860 Terry Ave N, $17

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