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‘Spirited’ Prohibition exhibit opens at Tampa Bay History Center

It was an era that changed American behavior in ways no one could have anticipated.

On Jan. 17, 1920, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect, banning the manufacture, sale or transport of intoxicating liquors.

Over the next 13 years, until the ban was repealed with the 21st Amendment, Prohibition ushered in a sexual revolution and the country’s first real integration, as men and women of all races sought out places where they could imbibe.

And it helped create a new wave of violent crime unlike any seen before, which ultimately led Prohibition’s downfall.

The tumultuous time is captured in “Spirited: Prohibition in America,” an exhibit that opened Monday at the Tampa Bay History Center.

“I like history,” said Sue Curd, 71, of Valrico, as she strolled through the exhibit. “The Prohibition era was a very interesting time.”

Adapted from the National Constitution Center’s flagship exhibition, “Spirited” explores the history of Prohibition, from the dawn of the temperance movement to the unprecedented repeal of a constitutional amendment in 1933. “Spirited” tells the story of how the Anti Saloon Society managed to gather enough support to not only bring about a Constitutional Amendment, but to see President Woodrow Wilson’s veto overridden by Congress. Despite the ban, this was a nation that still had an unslaked thirst, quenched with homemade stills, clubs called “Speakeasies” and blood that flowed as gangsters such as Al Capone killed to further his profit off the illegal enterprise.

The law, also known as the Volstead Act, for U.S. Rep. Andrew J. Volstead, the Minnesota Republican who proposed it, did not directly forbid the consumption of intoxicating beverages, according to encyclopedia.com. There were even some parts of the law that will sound familiar to voters going to the polls in November. Not only did the Volstead Act exempt wine used for religious sacraments it also allowed liquor prescribed by a physician as medicine.

Though a touring exhibit, “Spirited” pays homage to Tampa, with the 1928 Hillsborough County Jail Registry, bottles from the Florida Brewery and the White Rose Saloon and menus from the Tampa Bay Hotel, which on Feb. 19, 1921, included fresh fruit cocktail, clear green turtle au vin with green olives and iced celery, grilled Kingfish hoteliere with radishes and pommes Saratoga, broiled chicken on toast with currant jelly and Delmonico potatoes, grape water ice, whole tomato salad and cafe parfait, assorted cake and demi tasse for dessert.

For some visiting the exhibit there were a few surprises.

“The most surprising was an advertisement that ‘beer is healthy for babies,’ ” said Lauren Polt, 26, an insurance analyst from Dunedin.

For Tom Van Antwerp, 63, a state worker enjoying Labor Day off, the biggest surprise was how the term Speakeasy was given to clubs that sold liquor.

“I didn’t know that it came from Ireland,” said Van Antwerp. “It meant keep your voice low, or don’t attract attention.”

The Tampa Bay History Center, however, hopes the exhibit attracts a lot of attention.

It runs now through Oct. 20.

Go to tampabayhistorycenter.org for more information.

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