American Spirits: The Indiana State Museum highlights the Rise and Fall of Prohibition

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The Indiana State Museum has had some amazing exhibits but I was most excited for American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. I’m not a big drinker. In fact a glass of wine here and there is pretty much it for me BUT I LOVE the 1920’s. So much happened during that time to help shape the America I was born into and enjoy today. There were even some fun things for the Geeklings to do and enjoy.

When you first walk in you taken back in time to a period where the average household drank 4 shots of alcohol in a day. Yes in ONE day the average American over the age of 15 drank the equivalent of 4 shots of pure alcohol each day. That is 3 times greater today and remains the highest volume of consumption in recorded in history in the United States. Suddenly my 1-5 glasses per month seems like I’ve been drinking water.

ismspirits copy (27)We were lucky enough to have Katherine Gould, one of the curators for American Spirits, as our tour guide through the exhibit. When I wasn’t chasing down my children I was taken back to a time in American history when American went Dry for 13 years. Katherine told stories of under funded police departments, bootleggers and rumrunners, the rise of organized crime and how Prohibition changed American forever in so many ways.

The exhibit has many wonderful items on display that show what lengths people went through to have a drink and sell (or buy) alcohol. With the country drinking as much and as often as it was you can sort of understand why people wanted the 18th Amendment, which declared the production, transport and sale of (but not the consumption or private possession of) alcohol illegal established.

On January 17th, 1920 the 18th Amendment went into effect and America became Dry. During the next 13 years America saw a decrease in crimes related directly to consumption of alcohol but a rise in crimes related to its distribution and sales.ismspirits copy (35)

Organized criminals took advantage of under staffed and under funded police, and corrupt public officials to create smuggling networks.

Ultimately Prohibition failed and on December 5th, 1933 the 21st Amendment was ratified in under a year and repealed the 18th Amendment. This was the ONLY time an Amendment was repealed in its entirety. The one great thing that did come about was Americans were drinking less after all was said and done.

There was a wealth of knowledge about Prohibition and Indiana’s role in it. You could put on a sash and march with the Temperance Movement or the Suffragettes (awesome photo op spot with flags and sashes) in one spot and right around the corner have a seat and listen to an actual Temperance speech. My kids liked the mini dress up area.

Here is a gallery of some of the things we saw in the exhibit.

There was a mug shot area where you got to stand next to Al Capone and other gangsters to get a mug shot. There was even a computer so you could email it to yourself! This was great only my kids were too short and my mug shot of them had my son’s face and the top of my daughter’s head.

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It would have shown but the picture comes with a cool “I got caught..” image on top of the bottom half of the picture. So if your kids are little maybe give them a boost before their picture.

The kids (and adults) LOVED Wayne Wheeler’s Amazing Amendment Machine!  It was a musical, mechanical wonder straight out of a carnival but if showed you how Wayne Wheeler, a lawyer, pushed (not quite so nicely) the 18th amendment. The machine was amazing and so well done.

Prohibition did create some wonderful things such as Jazz, fashion changes for women’s dresses, men and women were drinking together for the first time, and even Welch’s grape juice was created during this time.

All of this was on display just around the corner where there was a bar…well a Speakeasy of sorts complete with a door to go through in secret.ismspirits copy (25)

There was a screen on the wall with a movie of dancers or flappers and on the “dance floor” were steps to various dances that sprung up during this time. The Charleston was a fun one! I can really only do the Charleston Tap but all the variations are there for you to learn if you want. My daughter gave it a try but her legs weren’t quite long enough to reach the numbers.

There is a table to sit at and pretend do order a drink and even a bar where my kids were “bartenders” for other visitors. My son kept asking people what they wanted and offered apple juice or milk or water along with grilled cheese, sandwiches or mac and cheese. We spent a little bit of time playing in this area.

My Geeklings were a little too young to understand any of what they saw but if you have older kids this is a great way to show them some of America ‘s (and Indiana’s) history. The entire exhibit was fascinating and informative and even fun. If you have a chance you should take a trip back in time and check it out for yourself.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
~ Margaret Mead

Author: sandyz