This year marks the 82nd anniversary of Repeal Day. Can you imagine going 13 years without a legal drop of alcohol? I don’t know anybody who can. Well, wait. I can. But I’m a lightweight and also a wet blanket, so you won’t see me getting invited to many parties. Which is why I live with cats.
From 1920, the start of Prohibition, to 1933 when Amendment XXI was ratified (to repeal Amendment XVIII), Americans either had to abstain or become very creative. Creativity ruled. But why Prohibition in the first place? There are a few theories floating around as to why Prohibition was instituted (one of which has to do with nefarious oil dude, John D. Rockefeller, but I leave that for you to explore here).
As Amendment XVIII went into effect on January 17, 1920, Americans could no longer manufacture, sell, or transport intoxicating beverages. Picture this: One day, you’re having a beer with your friends, and the very next day–poof!–you’re no longer allowed to consume alcohol. What a blow to the American psyche it must have been when Prohibition became part of the Constitution, holding the same status as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the abolition of slavery.
Maybe some people alive today remember Prohibition, but I sure don’t. Still, you can get a taste of that era at American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, a world exhibition created by the National Constitution Center. At the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) now through January 17, 2016, this exhibition explores the tumultuous years of 1920 to 1933, and why the country went dry in the first place. Prohibition’s advocates said that they wanted to improve the nation’s moral and physical health, and in some ways they succeeded. But the nation also endured a huge rise in corruption, crime and cynicism. By the time Prohibition ended with the ratification of Amendment XXI in 1933, America had become a very different country. Personally, I don’t think the collective psyche ever recovered.
But let’s not worry about that right now. The whole idea here is to have fun and celebrate. There are plenty of engaging community and educational programs to round out the exhibition, so go here to find out what’s happening. The GRPM is hosting special Repeal Day activities: For example, you’ll get to meet the characters who were important in passing the first and only amendment to repeal another amendment ever. (Uh, never say “ever.”) Adults and children are invited to join in on some hands-on activities in the Museum’s Galleria to learn about this “milestone” in our country’s history.
Repeal is a huge deal, folks, so huge that other venues are joining in the celebration. That includes the SpeakEZ Lounge (600 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503). Beginning at 7 pm on December 5, 2015, you’ll time-travel back to the day Prohibition ended. Savor special appetizers and cocktails as you listen to the River City Jazz Ensemble. They’ll be playing vocal jazz hits and classical instrumental music that was popular during Prohibition. Be sure to wear your favorite 1920s and 1930s attire to immerse yourself in the experience. Cover is $10 and includes snacks.
Repeal Day at the GRPM is Saturday, Dec. 5 from 9 am-5 pm, 272 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Call 616.929.1700 for more information, or visit the website.