SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — A new attraction opened in Savannah this Memorial Day that examines a chapter in American history that gave rise to organized crime. The Prohibition Museum in Savannah is now open to visitors.
Kayla Black, the museum director, says the soft opening is the culmination of two years of work to convert the space at 209 West Julian Street in City Market. Black says Savannah won out over seven other cities for the new museum because it’s the site of the first-ever prohibition, which occurred by decree from King George back when Georgia was a colony and the colonists used their rations to make rum. “Oglethorpe eventually asked King George to write a decree banning the consumption, sale, and transportation of hard liquors in Georgia.” Black said.
Savannah’s newest museum is filled with room after room of history, depicting decisive points in the push to remove alcohol from American society, from Colonial days into the dawn of the Industrial era. Black says the Temperance movement gained enough steam by the time the 1920’s roared in, and alcohol was on its way out thanks to the 18th Amendment. She says in many ways, Prohibition changed the nation forever. But the negative impacts of Prohibition started almost immediately, beginning with the loss of jobs in the alcohol industry. Then there were thousands of deaths with people dying from alcohol poisoning due to liquors made with toxic methods. One of the biggest negatives is how the landscape of crime was forever altered in the United States.
Several effects from that 13-year chapter of American history still linger today, both positive and negative. “There are many different blue laws that are specifically traceable back to Prohibition, like Sunday alcohol sales here in Georgia. There are also just regular social ramifications from that time period.” Black said, adding, “Things like federal wiretapping never ended, that’s still something t hat can happen today. The rise of organized crime. there are still gangs and mobs around today. It’s the same thing with the rise of opiate use, which happened in the speakeasy’s and Black & Tan clubs of the time. That was not something that was around before prohibition.” said Black.
One of the more positive impacts is the rise of NASCAR, as moonshine runners, many from Georgia, began racing their souped-up cars on dirt tracks when prohibition was repealed with the passage of the 21st Amendment. The Prohibition Museum is dedicated to that pivotal period in U.S. history. “It was the first time in American history where a constitutional amendment had been signed that limited the rights of the American people rather than expand them.” Black said, adding “During that 13 years, people really did look at it as an infringement upon themselves. It made criminals of the best people in America.” Black said.
There were nearly a dozen people lined up for the soft opening of the Prohibition Museum. Diana Noble was with the very first group of visitors to get the tour through the museum. Noble says she found a balanced presentation of the historical facts. “You can see both sides…is alcohol that great? You can see both sides, but again, what they were saying in the one room was, I think moderation. Moderation is the key to anything,” Noble said.
The museum employs seven docents, in period costumes, to guide visitors through the museum, which is home to a real-life speakeasy. Black says they will begin serving alcohol, with a concentration on handcrafted cocktails from the Roaring 20’s, as soon as their liquor license is approved.
Tickets to the prohibition museum are $12 for adults and $9 for kids. The American Prohibition Museum will be open everyday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.