Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A post for the evening's second cocktail

Though I’m back from my travels, they’ve left me a tad behind, so today all I’ve got to offer are two bits from Daniel Okrent’s endlessly entertaining history of Prohibition, Last Call.

First, a detail that’s tucked away in a footnote: for fifty-two years, the trade organ of the Chicago liquor dealers was called The Champion of Fair Play. I think I could spend a lifetime trying without ever topping that name.

Second, a brief moment from the long, strange, passionate, and prim life of William Jennings Bryan:
For William Jennings Bryan, the spectacle of Prohibition-induced tourism was all too vivid. After his humiliation at the 1920 Democratic convention in San Francisco, he had started his withdrawal from political life, moving to Miami and settling in a Spanish-style waterfront mansion he called the Villa Serena. Bryan spent some of his time in Florida holding weekly Bible classes for audiences numbering in the thousands and some of it making a living. In The Perils of Prosperity, William E. Leuchtenberg describes how, during the great Florida land boom, a Coral Gables real estate operator hired Bryan “to sit on a raft under a beach umbrella and lecture on the beauties of the Florida climate.”

But Bryan was less rhapsodic about the view from the lawn of the Villa Serena, where he could watch ships from the Bahamas hook up with the rumrunners of Biscayne Bay: His 1921 call for an invasion of Bimini had gone unheard, so the following year he turned his attention to the perfidy of those American citizens chasing the bottle on foreign soil and in some cases trying to bring it back home. For thus “conspiring” against the Constitution, Bryan told Representative W A. Oldfield of Arkansas, such malefactors should be stripped of their citizenship.
A real estate man who thinks that the way to part people from their money is to subject them to harangues--sermons, even--by Bryan on the glories of beachfront property! Bryan quietly fuming at the flouters of Prohibition! The casting of alcohol tourism as the equivalent to treason! A call for an invasion of Bimini! Good god, what glorious absurdities does that passage not have?

I’m really going to have to read a biography of Bryan one of these days.

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