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Art & Museums

Heinz History Center's Prohibition exhibit shows Pittsburgh's tipsy history

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, 1:18 p.m.

The Senator John Heinz History Center's roaring new exhibit, "American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition," brings the story of the 18th Amendment to Constitution to life, from the dawn of the temperance movement, through the Roaring '20s, to the law's unprecedented repeal.

The traveling exhibit was developed by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. It runs Feb. 10 through June 10.

"We take you on a journey of how we ended up with Prohibition," says Leslie Przybylek, lead curator for "American Spirits." "You will learn about the earliest days of alcohol productions and about the speakeasy and how women felt empowered during this time — it was a dramatic change in the roles of women — and that there are always loopholes such as you could make wine for yourself but not sell it."

Visitors will step back in time to an era of flappers and suffragists, bootleggers and temperance workers, and real-life legends like Al Capone and Carrie Nation.

The 9,000-square-foot exhibit also will examine Pittsburgh's deep connections with the regulation of alcohol, which has been a catalyst for civic dissent since the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791-1794. During the Prohibition era, Pittsburgh — with its immigrant population heavily involved in the liquor business — earned a reputation as one of the "wettest" cities in America.

"This is a terrific exhibit," says Andy Masich, president and CEO at the history center. "Prohibition changed a lot of things, and you will learn about those changes in this amazing exhibit."

WHAT YOU'LL SEE

There are more than 180 rare artifacts, including Pittsburgh's first "Tommy Gun," flapper dresses, temperance propaganda, flasks used for bootleg liquor during Prohibition, and a hatchet famously flaunted by temperance advocate Carrie Nation.

• See immersive areas like a re-created speakeasy — a term purportedly coined by saloon owner Kate Hester in the 1880s, just outside of Pittsburgh in McKeesport.

People gather at a speakeasy to toast the repeal of Prohibition in this vintage photo.

Photo by Senator John Heinz History Center

 


• There are two classic Prohibition-era vehicles, a 1922 Studebaker and a 1932 Model 18 Ford V-8 (the favorite of Clyde Barrow and John Dillinger).

One of the cars used during prohibtion which is a featured part of the Senator John Heinz History Center's latest exhibit, "American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition," which opens Feb. 10.

Photo by JoAnne Klimovich Harrop

 


• The dazzling Wayne Wheeler's Amazing Amendment Machine – a 20-foot-long, carnival-inspired contraption that traces how the temperance movement culminated in the passage of the 18th Amendment.

The Amazing Amendment Machine helps tell the story of Prohibition.

Photo by Rich Myers

 


• Visitors can learn to dance the Charleston (a popular Prohibition-era dance craze), track down rumrunners in a custom-built video game, and pose for a mugshot beside a lineup of some of the era's most notorious gangsters like Al Capone and Meyer Lansky.

The mugshot lineup is one of the featured parts of the exhibit "American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition," at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District..

Photo by Rich Meyers

 


• The Smithsonian-affiliated History Center will also display a model of a Prohibition-era "rum runner" motorboat, on loan from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

• The exhibit will include several local artifacts that showcase Western Pennsylvania's long history with alcohol, including items from the region's new wave of spirits distributors like Wigle Whiskey and Maggie's Farm Rum.

SPECIAL EVENTS

Throughout the run of "American Spirits," several events are planned. These take place at the History Center, unless otherwise noted:

Opening Day: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 10. Wigle Whiskey, the first distillery in Pittsburgh since the Prohibition era, will offer free whiskey and cider samples to guests age 21 and over beginning at 11 a.m.

History Uncorked — Roaring '20s: 7-11 p.m. Feb. 16. The 20th annual party for young professionals will feature drinks from Wigle Whiskey and Penn Brewery and entertainment by the Boilermaker Jazz Band.

A Cozy Bar Crawl: 5 p.m. Feb. 23, Omni William Penn Hotel, Pittsburgh. The History Center, Wigle Whiskey and the Omni William Penn are teaming for an indoor bar crawl inside the hotel.

21+ Speakeasy Socials: 5:30-8:30 p.m. March, 29, April 19, May 31. Step into the history center's speakeasy and learn how to concoct the perfect Prohibition-inspired cocktail with Wigle Whiskey, sample spirits and dance the Charleston.

Tipsy History: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. April 29, Threadbare Cider & Meade House. Celebrate the history of cider and tour Wigle Whiskey's new Threadbare Cider & Meade House as part of this Tipsy History event.

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or jharrop@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.

Andy Masich, president and CEO at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District, strikes a pose in front of the sign for the museum's latest exhibit.
JOANNE KLIMOVICH HARROP
Andy Masich, president and CEO at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District, strikes a pose in front of the sign for the museum's latest exhibit.
Speakeasy patrons toast to thed repeal of Prohibition in this vintage photo. The Heinz History Center's 'American Spirits' exhibit, focused on the Prohibtion era, runs through June 10.
COURTESY JOHN BINDER
Speakeasy patrons toast to thed repeal of Prohibition in this vintage photo. The Heinz History Center's 'American Spirits' exhibit, focused on the Prohibtion era, runs through June 10.
Bee Jackson was the world champion of the 1920s dance craze 'The Charleston.' Learn about the Charleston at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.
© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
Bee Jackson was the world champion of the 1920s dance craze 'The Charleston.' Learn about the Charleston at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.
Prohibition agents pour confiscated liquor during prohibition. See this and more at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Prohibition agents pour confiscated liquor during prohibition. See this and more at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.
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