Who Knew?

In preparation for an interview that airs next week with PBS film-making team Ken Burns and Lynne Novick, I got a sneak preview of their new series, “Prohibition” which will air on Channel 11.  Chicago gets heavy face time in the series; some of the things I learned:

  • It was prohibition and the structure needed to sell illegal booze that gave rise to the Chicago crime “outfit.”
  • During the height of Chicago’s “beer wars” there was a drive-by execution in front of Holy Name Cathedral.
  • During prohibition, drug stores could still sell alcoholic beverages if they were prescribed by a doctor and Walgreens went from 10 drug stores to 500.
  • The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was not just a one-note organization but was considered progressive and worked on many issues including womens’ education and rights, the rehabilitation of prostitutes and raising the age of legal consent to 16 from 10!
  • Al Capone had three portraits in his Cicero office:  Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Big Bill Thompson, the crooked Republican mayor he helped put in office.

And the nuggets about Chicago abound.  The “Prohibition” series is a fascinating look at a subject which is surprisingly nuanced and which continues to bear lessons.  Ken Burns says one of those lessons is the power — and vulnerability — of single-issue movements.  Hmm.  The series airs on WTTW the nights of October 1st, 2nd and 3rd.  I give it four stars!

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  • Viviana B.

    I love that period of time. I know that Capone had a hang out place out here in Aurora along with Dillinger, somewhere along RT 25.

  • Kayt Nelson

    Really interesting program, Phil. I was struck as well by all the “new” facts I learned about Prohibition’s role in Chicago and thought how nice it is for you to be able to learn so much via your role as host on Chicago Tonight. I’ll definitely watch for the series.