PHOTO: Even the steps in the Museum accent the history of Prohibition.
There are many beautiful buildings, programs, activities and people to keep you busy , educated, an d entertained in Savannah, Georgia, whether you’re there for four days or a couple of weeks. But clearly, to someone who knows a lot of stories about Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, actually, the entire Bayshore, during the Prohition era, the Prohibition Museum in Savannah is the highlight of any visit.
The only museum of its kind in the United States, Savannah’s Prohibition Museum tells not only the story in more than 200 vivid photos, writings, exhibits, and costumed docents of the 13 years when alcohol sales were banned throughout the United Sates, but also the many years leading up to the passage of the Volstead Act, the hard work of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union to ensure passage of the law, and the disastrous effects of it due to the rise of gangsterism, the loss of numerous jobs, to say nothing of tax revenues for the nation and the proof that it simply isn’t possible for the government to regulate morals.
Today, it’s one of the best bargains in a city filled with many places to visit at very reasonable prices. For about $15, you can take a self-guided tour that, if you stop to enjoy everything and talk to some of the guides situated thruoughout the two floors of exhibits and programs, will take more than two hours, not counting stopping at the bar for an authentic bit of moonshine.
The Museum also pays tribute to the birth of NASCAR. The famed Jimmy Johnson was the son of a North Carolina farmer known as one of the biggest and most successful moonshiners of his time; Junior and his friends had to build fast cars to keep their hidden gallons of moonshine ahead of the revenuers and police….. and there are some interesting old stock cars and photos at the museum.
Looking back on it, the Prohibition era was a time of fun, flappers, and hard working farmers, clammers and others who saw another way to enhance their economic success by feeding the needs of a population who didn’t like being told whiskey was bad for them and their families. In Savannah, they pay tribute to our own Bill McCoy who made fame and fortune three miles off the Bayshore coastline. They also explore the stories of the bad guys who came later to the game…the likes of Al Capone, Scarface, and the rest of the gangsters who put an entirely new and unsavory slant on Prohibition. The museum also includes items confiscated from mob members and tells the stories of their eventual prison terms.
PHOTO: One of the museum exhibits showing revenuers destroying whiskey
Known as the Bootleg Spigot of the South, because of the vast influx of spirits from across the sea to the port of Savannah, the museum deftly shows the rise of smuggling, speakeasies, propaganda from both sides of the issue, as well as offers those authentic cocktails and displays some of the equipment used in making bathtub and other varieties of gin.
The museum is located in the city’s Market District and is well worth both the time and price of admission. Even the gift shop here is kind of fascinating in its offerings.
In contrast to that, the highly touted ghost tours didn’t seem to be either authentic or fun. On at least one of them, it’s simply a $30 90-minute long bus tour with a customed lady with a cockney accent appearing to have blood dripping from her eyes in mockery of those who do believe in ghosts, pointing out places, people and things associated with the spirit world, tradition, and legend. There’s a half hour stop at the Telfair Academy, where you’re invited in and left to your own decision on whether to look at some of the fabulous artwork adorning the walls or simply sit and wait for a spirit to move you. There are several cemeteries in Savannah, including one dating back to the Revolution where there are also ghost tour s. But having experienced spiritual activity and close-ups with ghosts in both New Orleans and at Linden Hill in Holly Springs, Ms., ghost tours in Savannah seem to be the least this historic city has to offer.
Next: Cathedral, military history and ships
Muriel J. Smith