• About
  • Portfolio
  • Stream
American Spirits exhibit at the National Constitution Center. Fall 2012 - Spring 2013.
After viewing an introductory video set on the eve of Prohibition (http://hsgadv.com/video/as-intro/), visitors are met by a towering display of bottles showing the amount of alcohol the average American adult consumed in
American Had a Drinking Problem.

1830. The lit bottles represent the amount the average American adult drinks today – only a third of the 90 bottles of 80-proof liquor consumed in 1830, the highest measured volume of consumption in U.S. history.
At the Saloon.

In the 1800s, the country was swimming – and nearly drowning – in liquor. A gallery exploring the ubiquity of alcohol in America features a saloon scene displaying artifacts primarily drawn from the Anheuser-Busch Archives. These male-only drinking establishments – found in both urban and rural areas and often sponsored by big brewing companies, who supplied fixtures, barware, and furnishings – were targeted by reformers as being the most destructive force in American life.
Women Lead the Crusade.

In the 1870s, politically active women brought temperance to the forefront. The movement went hand in hand with the fight for suffrage, seen as a tool for women to vote for representatives and legislation that would protect them and their families from alcoholic husbands, fathers, and brothers. In the gallery adjacent to the saloon, visitors can see artifacts from the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the women’s suffrage movement, and join the crusade with a temperance worker and suffrage activist.
The Rise of the Anti-Saloon League.

Around the turn of the century, the Anti-Saloon League (ASL) supplanted the WCTU as the dominant force in the temperance movement. The ASL was led entirely by Protestant ministers, and they used churches as the primary vehicles for spreading their message. This tactic is reflected by the temperance church gallery, which uses the architectural features of the room – like the wall displaying various forms of print, educational, and entertainment propaganda and the “windows” featuring important icons from the movement – to engage visitors and deliver content.
Are You “Wet” or “Dry”?

The church gallery contains pews featuring a timeline graphic where visitors learn about the growth of the temperance movement and the strange bedfellows it attracted. iPads embedded in two of the label decks feature the “Wet or Dry?” quiz, which calculates whether a visitor would have been likely to support or oppose the “dry” cause based on demographic information and opinions on other Progressive-era issues (http://youtu.be/GlgPE02AIuA). Visitors can also explore the fiery speeches of some of the era’s famous orators, who traveled the country delivering their temperance messages to thousands of followers, at another iPad interactive located in the pulpit.
Wayne Wheeler’s Amazing Amendment Machine.

Led by the incomparable political strategist Wayne B. Wheeler, the Anti-Saloon League became the most effective political pressure group in American history. Wheeler figured out how to swing elections in favor of Congressional and state legislature candidates who supported prohibition and ushered the 18th Amendment to its successful ratification. Covering the time period 1913 to 1919, the dazzling, 20 foot long, carnival-inspired contraption animates the process of how he did it step-by-step in five bays that combine mechanical and digital audiovisual effects (http://youtu.be/aofcJIKLGtE).
Wayne Wheeler’s Amazing Amendment Machine.

Led by the incomparable political strategist Wayne B. Wheeler, the Anti-Saloon League became the most effective political pressure group in American history. Wheeler figured out how to swing elections in favor of Congressional and state legislature candidates who supported prohibition and ushered the 18th Amendment to its successful ratification. Covering the time period 1913 to 1919, the dazzling, 20 foot long, carnival-inspired contraption animates the process of how he did it step-by-step in five bays that combine mechanical and digital audiovisual effects (http://youtu.be/aofcJIKLGtE).
The Volstead Act.

In a short interlude before entering the speakeasy, visitors encounter Representative Andrew Volstead, the congressmen who lent his name to the 18th Amendment’s enabling legislation and would forever become synonymous with Prohibition enforcement as a result. The Volstead Act details precisely what was legal and what was not, the agencies responsible for enforcement, and how violators would be prosecuted and penalized. Visitors can read hate mail sent to Representative Volstead from unhappy citizens across the country, and play an iPad game that tests how well they know the legal loopholes contained in the act.
The Speakeasy.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is the speakeasy. Visitors are fully immersed in the sights and sounds of the Roaring ’20s, learning how Prohibition and the widespread consumption of illegal booze changed American culture and society and gave birth to the modern nightclub.
Speakeasy Etiquette.

At the café tables, visitors learn the dos and don’ts of speakeasy culture featured in the tabletop graphic. The plates were developed and designed to be whimsical and conceptually repetitive – two plates facing each other at each table contain lessons on 1920s slang, while the other settings cover topics on how to behave, what to order, and what to do if your speakeasy is raided. Two coasters on each table also feature short stories on various figures who helped make the ’20s roar.
Put on Your Dancing Shoes.

Thanks to the liberating freedom of the speakeasies, jazz music and popular dance crazes like the Charleston and the shimmy spread across the country. On the dance floor, visitors can kick up their heels while watching an instructional video containing historic footage and following the steps to four different versions of the Charleston. The bandstand area further explores the influence of jazz music and African-American culture, which resulted in a bizarre form of segregation at some nightclubs (all-black entertainment and wait staff serving an all-white clientele) while promoting short-lived social integration at other speakeasies known as “black-and-tans.”
Powder Your Nose.

Next to the bar is a necessary feature of any speakeasy: the powder room. The mixed-gender speakeasy replaced the male-only saloon, and made it necessary for owners to find tucked-away facilities for their new clientele to go “powder their noses.” Visitors entering the space learn about the flappers – daring young women who broke sharply with the previous generation and took great social liberties – through graphics and a display of 1920s cosmetics.
Fashion That Roared.

The changing morals and habits of the speakeasy era sparked a revolution in modern fashion. A display of 1920s clothing and accessories demonstrates the shift in styles and provides a guide on how to be fashionable for a night out on the town.
Illegal Ingenuity.

After exiting the glitz and glamor of the speakeasy, visitors encounter a gallery where they learn the primary reasons why Prohibition failed: widespread disregard for the law by previously law-abiding citizens; inept, corrupt, and underfunded government enforcement; and the rise in violent organized crime. Law breaking is explored through an imaginative infographic that uses integrated artifacts to place popular Prohibition products on a scale from benign, nonalcoholic beverages to illegal, bootlegged liquor. A still used by a farmer in North Carolina during Prohibition, along with graphics on how to make moonshine and “bathtub gin,” is also featured.
Catch the Rumrunners.

Bootleggers and rumrunners transporting illegal alcohol into and across the country overwhelmed law enforcement during Prohibition. Visitors can experience the challenges of trying to stop this flood for themselves by taking on the role of federal agents helping the Coast Guard catch rumrunners in a highly interactive, one-or-two player, custom-built video game set in Seattle’s Puget Sound. Gameplay involves visitors driving their own boats in a quest to stop wily – and faster – rumrunners to collect their bottles and seize their hidden stashes.
Enforcing the 18th Amendment.

The loopholes in the Volstead Act (primarily, permits for alcohol made for medicinal, industrial, and sacramental purposes) along with a poorly administered and underfunded enforcement agency set the stage for official corruption on an unprecedented scale. In the Prohibition enforcement office – with a cheeky, two-way mirror that looks into the speakeasy – an agent’s desk embedded with artifacts, organizational chart, bootlegging map, and cabinets containing mock personnel files ranging from “excellent” to “abysmal” make this interpretive point. The office also features the telephone of Seattle bootlegger Roy Olmstead, whose Fourth Amendment challenge of evidence gathered from warrantless wiretaps went all the way to the Supreme Court.
In the Prohibition enforcement office, an agent’s desk containing artifacts and personnel files ranging from “excellent” to “abysmal” convey how incompetence and corruption reigned.
Booked!

Visitors can line up with the likes of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano and get their mug shot taken. After being ordered around by an unseen policeman behind the camera, a kiosk allows visitors to enter their email address to send themselves a fun and memorable souvenir.
Happy Days Are Here Again.

The exhibition concludes in a celebratory fashion as the nation raises its glass to the end of Prohibition. By the end of the 1920s, enforcement was almost nonexistent, organized crime was on the rise, and the Great Depression sent Congress in search of new revenue streams, leading to Prohibition’s swift repeal and the return of a legal, regulated, and taxable alcohol industry. An official copy of the 21st Amendment that was sent to the states to consider for ratification is on display, along with another case of memorabilia from the groups that organized for repeal.
Cheers to Beer.

With no exceptions available to legally brew beer, the nation’s brewers were forced to shut down or reconfigure their facilities to manufacture other products during Prohibition. A newsreel set in April 1933, using historic footage with a newly scripted voiceover, celebrates the return of beer containing 3.2% or less alcohol thanks to a bill President Roosevelt signed almost as soon as he took office. It also covers Michigan’s ratification of the 21st Amendment that same month – the first of the necessary 36 states to do so – and anticipates full repeal, which would finally come on December 5, 1933, after 13 long years of Prohibition (http://hsgadv.com/video/repeal-newsreel/).
  • o
American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition is a 5,800 square foot, traveling exhibition that debuted at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on October 19, 2012. Developed and designed by the Center’s Exhibitions team with Daniel Okrent, Pulitzer Prize finalist and best-selling author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010), who served as curator, it is the first comprehensive exhibition about America’s most colorful and complex constitutional hiccup.

Spanning 100 years of American history, American Spirits immerses visitors in multisensory environments that contain more than 100 rare artifacts; historic film footage, music, and photos; and a variety of media and interactive exhibitry. As reviewed by The New York Times (10/18/12), “The exhibition … touches on important themes in its narrative, but there is almost nothing dry about it.”



View Website
Liana Kalushner
Designer Philadelphia, PA