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Review: American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

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The Indiana State Museum's engaging, interactive exhibition on Prohibition — American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition — invites conversation on a number of topics, both while you're there and after you get home.

What propelled the American Temperance movement? Did anything of value result from Prohibition? How does alcohol consumption affect each of us on a personal level? Whose responsibility is it to ensure responsible consumption?

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Exploring in depth one of the most hotly debated issues in American history, this exhibit can’t be rushed through. When you go, plan to spend at least two hours. To drink or not to drink — or more to the point, to be allowed to make your personal choice — changed drastically with the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution.

Migrating from farm to city challenged most people who found it hard to adjust to the harsh realities of urban poverty. They drank to cope with and escape from what they considered dehumanization as factory workers. While the situation warranted concern, moralists attacked and admonished the workers but did little to mitigate the circumstances created by industrialists paying low wages and demanding long hours.

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You’ll have the opportunity to experience a re-enacted sermon by Evangelist Billy Sunday, work up some sweat doing The Charleston, engage in a Coast Guard rumrunner operation, marvel at the ingenuity of discreet whiskey flasks and food products spin-offs, and get to see artifacts and mementos not otherwise accessible.

Perhaps the most poignant take-away is Al Capone’s comment: “When I sell liquor, it’s boot legging. When my patrons serve it on a silver tray on Lake Shore Drive, it’s hospitality.” 

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