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Prohibition: Robert St. John - about his personal contact with Al Capone
United States, Chicago, Illinois, 1999
Robert St. John, a journalist and prolific author was beaten by Al Capone's thugs, wounded by Nazis in the Balkans and competed against Edward R. Murrow in London.
Mr. St. John, who wrote 23 books, worked for many news organizations before losing his NBC job in the Red Scare of the 50's and becoming a full-time author. He was an old-fashioned reporter who banged out his books with two fingers on a manual typewriter.
His steel nerves were apparent in NBC's New York studio in the last hours of World War II. The network rang five bells to signify big news, 10 for something earthshakingly important.
In an interview with National Public Radio in 2001, he recalled the scene that day: ''I am sitting in the broadcasting booth talking to the entire NBC network when suddenly I hear the bells.''
He stalled until he heard six rings. ''Ladies and gentlemen, World War II is over,'' he announced without waiting further. ''The Japanese have agreed to our surrender terms.''
In 1919, the requisite number of legislatures of the States ratified The 18th Amendment to the Federal Constitution, enabling national Prohibition within one year of ratification. Many women, notably the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, had been pivotal in bringing about national Prohibition in the United States of America, believing it would protect families, women and children from the effects of abuse of alcohol.
Prohibition began on January 16, 1920, when the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect. Federal Prohibition agents (police) were given the task of enforcing the law.
Even though the sale of alcohol was illegal, alcoholic drinks were still widely available at "speakeasies" and other underground drinking establishments. Many people also kept private bars to serve their guests. Large quantities of alcohol were smuggled in from Canada, overland and via the Great Lakes.
While the government cracked down on alcohol consuption on land it was a different story on the water where they argued that ships outside the 3 mile limit were exempt. Needless to say, this technicality was exploited by everyone including the State owned shipping line.
Legal and illegal home brewing was popular during Prohibition. Limited amounts of wine and hard cider were permitted to be made at home. Some commercial wine was still produced in the U.S., but was only available through government warehouses for use in religious ceremonies, mainly for communion. "Malt and hop" stores popped up across the country and some former breweries turned to selling malt extract syrup, ostensibly for baking and "beverage" purposes.
Whiskey could be obtained by prescription from medical doctors. The labels clearly warned that it was strictly for medicinal purposes and any other uses were illegal, but even so doctors freely wrote prescriptions and drug-stores filled them without question, so the number of "patients" increased dramatically. No attempt was made to stop this practice, so many people got their booze this way. Over a million gallons were consumed per year through freely given prescriptions.
Because Prohibition banned only the manufacturing, sale, and transport - but not possession or consuming of alcohol, some people and institutions who had bought or made liquor prior to the passage of the 18th Amendment were able to continue to serve it throughout the prohibition period legally.
Even prominent citizens and politicians later admitted to having used alcohol during Prohibition. President Harding kept the White House well stocked with bootleg liquor, though, as a Senator, he had voted for Prohibition. This discrepancy between legality and actual practice led to widespread comtempt for authority. Over time, more people drank illegally and so money ended up in gangsters' pockets. Arguments raged over the effectiveness of prohibition. It appears to have been successful in some parts of the country but overall led to an increase in lawlessness.
Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947) was an Italian-American gangster who led a Prohibition-era crime syndicate. Known as the "Capones", the group was dedicated to smuggling and bootlegging liquor, and other illegal activities such as prostitution, in Chicago from the early 1920s to 1931.
Born in Brooklyn, New York to Italian immigrants, Capone became involved with gang activity at a young age after being expelled from school at age 14. In his early twenties, he moved to Chicago to take advantage of a new opportunity to make money smuggling illegal alcoholic beverages into the city during Prohibition. He also engaged in various other criminal activities, including bribery of government figures and prostitution. Despite his illegitimate occupation, Capone became a highly visible public figure. He made various charitable endeavors using the money he made from his activities, and was viewed by many to be a "modern-day Robin Hood".
However, Capone gained infamy when the public discovered his involvement in the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, which resulted in the death of seven of Capone's rival gang members. Capone's reign ended when he was found guilty of tax evasion, and sent to federal prison. His incarceration included a stay at Alcatraz federal prison. In the final years of Capone's life, his mental and physical health deteriorated rapidly due to neurosyphilis, a disease which he had contracted several years before. On January 25, 1947, he died from cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke.
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