Introducing American Spirits: The Rise And Fall Of Prohibition, A Feature Exhibition Opening At The National Constitution Center This Fall With 120+ Rare Artifacts And A Re-Created Speakeasy Complete With Bar And Bandstand

The era of flappers and suffragists, bootleggers and temperance lobbyists, plus real-life legends like Al Capone will come vividly to life in this brand new exhibition opening October 19. (Photo courtesy National Constitution Center)

Get ready for the 20s to roar to life as the National Constitution Center presents American Spirits: The Rise And Fall of Prohibition, a world premiere exhibition that brings the whole story of Prohibition vividly to life for the first time.

American Spirits will debut from October 19, 2012 to April 28, 2013, before embarking on a nationwide tour.

This traveling exhibition created by the NCC is being curated by Daniel Okrent, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, and will go on to hit other cities around the country until 2016. The tour schedule so far includes Seattle, St. Paul, St. Louis, Austin and Grand Rapids. So cool that a piece of Philadelphia will be seen from coast to coast over the next four years.

Check out our overview of what to expect at this dazzling 5,000-square-foot look at one of the spiciest times in American history. Our favorite element? A re-created speakeasy complete with a bar, dance floor, bandstand and powder room. Read on.

The Background

The era of flappers and suffragists, bootleggers and temperance lobbyists, plus real-life legends like Al Capone (who occupied a cell at Fairmount’s Eastern State Penitentiary at one point) will come vividly to life. The exhibit spans from the dawn of the temperance movement in the early 1800s, through the Roaring Twenties, to the unprecedented repeal of the 21st Amendment during the Great Depression.

More Than 120 Rare Artifacts

The exhibition will feature 120+ rare artifacts, including:

• A hatchet used by Carry Nation during one of her barroom-smashing raids

• A Prohibition Bureau Badge issued by the Department of Justice in 1931

• The phone used by Roy Olmstead, the defendant in the landmark Olmstead v. United States wiretapping case, to run his bootlegging empire

• Flapper dresses, cocktail couture and other 1920s fashion accessories

• Original home manufacturing items used for making moonshine and homebrewed beer

• One of the first crates of Budweiser produced after the “Beer Act,” which passed in April 1933 and changed the legal limit for “intoxicating” beverages to 3.2% per volume to allow for the return of beer production.

Continue reading, below, for the exhibit’s cool interactive elements, the grand opening party and more.

Interact with History

Immersive environments will bring to life the sights and sounds of the time period. Wayne Wheeler’s Amazing Amendment Machine, a 20-foot-long, eight-foot-tall carnival-inspired contraption, will trace how the temperance movement culminated in the 18th Amendment. You’ll also be able to:

• Sit in a pew of a recreated early 1900s church to learn about the rise of the Anti-Saloon League

• Explore a re-created speakeasy complete with a bar, dance floor, bandstand and powder room and learn how to dance the Charleston

• Play the role of a federal Prohibition agent chasing rumrunners in a custom-built video game where you drive your own speedboat

• Join gangsters in a criminal lineup for a memorable photo opp.

Daniel Okrent, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick will lend their commentary to an iPod audio tour that will guide visitors through the exhibition. Additionally, a special theatrical performance will take place inside the speakeasy, during which a “bartender” will explore the impact of the speakeasy on fashion, music and culture in the 20s.

Save These Dates

As always, the NCC has planned a series of punchy programming to go with their marquee exhibition. Get a sneak peek at American Spirits during the “Bootlegger’s Ball” on Thursday, October 18, 2012, when the Center’s Grand Hall Lobby will be transformed into a speakeasy. Two additional parties are planned for Thursday, February 14, 2013 and Thursday, April 4, 2013.

With the still-on-display Bruce Springsteen exhibition and last year’s Spies, Traitors and Saboteurs and Art of the American Soldier, the NCC has been really pushing the envelope in terms of constitution-related programming, and it’s exciting to experience.

Tickets are already available online, for a pre-premiere price: $14.50 for adults, $13 for seniors, $13 for students and kids 13-18, $8 for kids 8-12, free for active military.

American Spirits: The Rise And Fall Of Prohibition
When: October 19, 2012-April 28, 2013
Where: 525 Arch Street
Cost: Admission to the exhibit will be $17.50 for adults, $16 for seniors and students and $11 for children ages 4-12
More info:


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