|Two of these are Sisters in Crime members, not notorious villains||.|
My Sisters in Crime chapter has a taste for adventure. Luckily for us, we’re based in Savannah, Georgia, a city bursting at the seams with adventure. We’ve toured the county jail, practiced our handgun proficiency, and tested our mystery-solving skills in a haunted escape room. This December, we explored one of Savannah’s newest attractions—the American Prohibition Museum.
|Carrie Nation and her Infamous Hatchet|
The time before and during Prohibition was a showplace for our nation’s contradictions. On one side, the Temperance movement united strange bedfellows—women’s right’s organizations, Protestant firebrands, and the KKK, which unfortunately found common ground with Prohibition’s peculiar strain of moral zealotry. Temperance’s most visible champion was the hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation (at right), who eventually took her show on the road vaudeville-style, destroying bars nightly for a paying audience.
The anti-Prohibition side was just as diverse. On the one hand were those wealthy manufacturers who stood to lose a powerful amount of money—familiar names like Busch, Pabst, and Yuengling. But the small brewers also suffered, especially the Scots-Irish immigrants who brought their whiskey-making skills to America only to find themselves bankrupt, their families suddenly destitute.
|Moonshiner and Product|
And thus began the second chapter of the story—the black market and all its associations. The Roaring Twenties ushered in the age of backyard stills and bathtub gin, glamorous speakeasys and shabby “blind pigs,” which were storefronts that pretended to feature some sideshow attraction (see the amazing blind pig!) but instead sold liquor by the drink. Crime became both sophisticated and organized, with quasi-celebrities like Al Capone trafficking in luxury and bloodshed and notoriety.
Savannah was at the heart of the illegal liquor trade. The city was filled with eager customers, and the marshland provided both remote locations for brewing and a convoluted system of waterways for transportation. Once the illicit cargo reached the land, young men in souped-up cars took up the supply chain, racing down twisty dirt roads with jars of moonshine crammed into every available square inch of trunk space. During their downtime, these racers tested their skills against each other for bragging rights. From these races came NASCAR, that quintessentially Southern cocktail of cockiness, rebellion, and potentially lethal speed.
I learned a great deal during my visit to the museum. Prohibition is a fascinating chapter in American history, especially for those of us interested in criminal undertakings. Its effects still ripple through our culture today. I don’t know about my fellow mystery writers, but I found a lot of writerly inspiration in this story of deluded do-gooders and crafty wrong-doers and the potent liquid that fired their equal if opposite obsessions.
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Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph mysteries for Poisoned Pen Press. The sixth book in this Atlanta-based series—Necessary Ends—is scheduled for an April release. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and serves as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories: www.tinawhittle.com.