Review – American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

Nothing says "Welcome to the state museum!" like spelling out the state you're in in giant letters.

Nothing says “Welcome to the state museum!” like spelling out the state you’re in in giant letters.

Neither Caitlyn nor I have ever been drinkers. Sure, I might have the occasional vodka and Coke, but I’m pretty sure there are more new moons in the year than alcoholic drinks in my body.

That said, the concept of Prohibition has always fascinated me. It’s not just the shoot ‘em up gangsters of the era that are so captivating, but the movement’s origins (religion and exponentially increasing drinking rates—even among children) and downfall (lack of enforcement, the need for a large tax base) that made Prohibition such as a great social experiment.

The coolest part of the exhibit is this carnival-like machine.

The coolest part of the exhibit is this carnival-like machine.

We’re lucky in that the Indiana State Museum has its “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” exhibit on display through Feb. 15. The exhibit, made possible by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, does an excellent job of introducing visitors to the key players—and illegal trafficking—behind the movement through a mix of multimedia displays.

Chief among those displays is “Wayne Wheeler’s Amazing Amendment Machine.” This “machine”—which follows the attorney-turned-ardent prohibitionist’s playbook—shows you how to create the 18th Amendment through a device that looks better suited in an old-timey carnival. Between the lights and moving parts, it’s a bit of sensory overload, but interesting nonetheless.

Take note, ladies.

Take note, ladies.

Visiting with a little (or big, I suppose) gangster? They can get their picture taken among a lineup of cutouts of famous criminals, including “Scarface” himself. And don’t forget to check out some of the lesser-known artifacts, like Kool-Aide (it had the “e” back then), which was created as a sweet alternative to alcohol during Prohibition; and Budweiser’s “malt syrup,” which, once one added water and yeast to it, could have home brew in no time. The best part? Malt syrup was perfectly legal to buy during Prohibition … as were water and yeast.

The 18th—and, perhaps, least popular— Amendment.

The 18th—and, perhaps, least popular—modern Amendment.

Admission to the museum is $13 for adults and $8.50 for kids and includes tickets to the American Spirits exhibit. The museum, located along Washington Street, just south of the IUPUI campus, is also home to an IMAX theater and a two-story gift shop full of all sorts of Hoosier-themed memorabilia and treats.

The 21st—and, perhaps—most popular modern amendment.

The 21st—and, perhaps, most popular—modern Amendment.

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